Book Review: Unfolding the Legend: The Extraordinary Life of Lala BK Dey, the last Inspector General of Police of Undivided Assam

By Patricia Mukhim  

Legends are called so because they leave a mark on peoples’ minds long after they are gone. They are examples we can model our lives on because they have diligently followed their moral compass in their lifetime. One such legend is Lala Bimalendu Kumar Dey who served as a police officer in undivided Assam and retired in 1978 as Director General of Police, in Shillong.  

Readers might wonder what the prefix ‘Lala’ means. Mr Lala BK Dey’s grandfather, Lala Prasanna Kumar Dey revived the titles given to his ancestor Harkishen Lal, a Persian scholar from Kashmir who taught Persian in the Court of Murshid Quli Khan (Subadar of Bengal, 1717-1727). The Dey family had settled down in Murshidabad where a renowned ancestor Mohan Lal served as the Dewan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in the court of Nawab Siraj Ud Doulah and was also the Nawab’s best friend and confidante, he was later given the title Maharaj. After the Battle of Plassey 1757 the entire family fled to Purnea and other parts of Bengal across the Padma and into remote East Bengal to finally settle down in Sylhet. They adopted the Sylheti language and customs and formed strong links with the gentry also making significant contributions to the educational and cultural life of the people there. Bijoya Sawian the author says, “There is only one family in East Bengal with the title Lala and the family is now spread all over India and the world. The Lala title is what helps them reconnect.”

The book gives graphic account of the life and times of Lala BK Dey. The seven-year-old boy whose family faced adverse circumstances in Sylhet, East Pakistan had to walk and climbed all the way from Sylhet to Shillong. At places they were carried in the Khasi khoh by people as was done at the time, when the going got tough. From then on until his career in the army and later the Indian Police Service (IPS) the book is in parts romantic yet compelling.

Lala BK Dey’s father, Lala Bijoy Kumar Dey graduated from Cotton College Guwahati and obtained his law degree from Dacca University. He carried on with his practice in Shillong and was President of the Shillong Bar Association from 1958 to 1972 when he suffered a stroke and had to stop practising law.

Interestingly, Lala Bijoy Kumar Dey founded the first English weekly in Shillong in 1934 – the Shillong Mail a contemporary of the Rangoon Mail. The Shillong Mail was later revived and renamed the Shillong Times by Sudhindra Bhushan Choudhuri, a relative of the Dey’s from Sylhet. Mr SB Choudhury who is no more today penned an article for the Golden Jubilee of the Shillong Times which is attached as an appendix in the book.

But back to the book and the exploits of Lala BK Dey the soldier who later chose to become a policeman. Dey married into the aristocratic Sawian family.  His daughter the author has recorded the tributes paid by his colleagues in the police, by administrators he worked closely with and above all his son, Bijon Dey Sawian, IPS, formerly with the West Bengal. He later opted for the Assam-Meghalaya cadre.

One distinctive trait of Mr Lala BK Dey is his commitment to the service. His interface with the Naga rebels of the time and his attempt to make them, see reason that fighting India will not pay in the long run and a Naga rebel’s response, “Theek hai. Aap accha admi hai lekin hum log indipinkdink mangta,” while sounding funny is also the stand they adopt till date. But Dey says he respects the Nagas for they lived by their own value systems.

As head of the State Intelligence machinery of then undivided Assam, Lala BK Dey had got wind of young Mizo boys crossing over to Pakistan for weaponry training. He went to Mizoram in December 1965 through uncharted terrain accompanied by sons Bijon and Prabhat on a fact-finding mission. He reported to the Government on the impending rebellion – the Mizo insurgency. This was a retaliation against the apathy of the then Assam Government towards the people of Mizoram at a time when they were passing through a famine on account of the Mautam or the flowering of the bamboo plant.

This once in fifty years phenomenon breeds rats by the thousands which devour all the grains in the fields and leaves nothing for the people. Violence engulfed Mizoram from 1966 until 1986 when a peace accord was signed between the Mizo National Front and the Government of India under Rajiv Gandhi.

Little did Mr Lala BK Dey know that a friendship nurtured over many years with the Mizo philanthropist Pu Thanglula who he visited in 1965 would result in a family bond. Dey’s son Prabhat is married to the daughter of Pu Thanglula.

It’s also significant that another grandson of Lala BK Dey would also follow the footsteps of his great-grandfather and become a successful lawyer practising in the Supreme Court of India.

The book marks a historical journey of a migrant family – one of the many – from Sylhet to Shillong and how they have added to the cultural synthesis of this place apart from serving it with dedication.

Readers will find this book an absolute delight as they heave and sigh with the episodic memories of the proud daughter of a father who was single-minded in his service to the country and its people wherever he was placed.

Mr Lala BK Dey the giant among men who treated everyone with courtesy and equal respect, passed away in July 2001 at the ripe old age of 81 having accomplished what many could only have wished for, a humane soul who gave his best to his profession and to the world.

The hard bound copy of the book published by Eastern Panorama Offset is priced at Rs 675     

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