After they brought Meghalaya Police officer Raymond P. Diengdoh home in a coffin, his father cursed himself for not being able to convince his son to become a treasury officer, not a police officer.
But there was honour in this death, and his 32-year-old son was a hero, 60-year-old Phillip Basaiawmoit soon found out.
“If I had another son, I would have made him join the police or army to root out violence,” he said.
He doesn’t have another son. So Evagracia, the eldest of his three daughters, who worked as a junior executive in a travel agency in Bangalore after completing a masters in tourism administration, quit and returned home to become a police sub-inspector and live out her brother’s dream.
That dream had ended on a November day in 2007 after Raymond died valiantly fighting ethnic militants in Meghalaya. “It’s an honour being his wife,” said Saphimosha at their double-storey cottage-type home in the upscale Jaiaw neighbourhood, on the fringes of the state’s capital Shillong. Her piano stood in the background. Her husband was her biggest fan.
On November 6, Diengdoh got a tip-off that a large group of militants including those of the Assam-based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) were holed up in a camp of the Meghalaya rebel outfit Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council in the dense jungles of Paham-Umdoh bordering Assam.
Soon after, Diengdoh and his team left the district headquarters Nongpoh, located midway between Shillong and the Assam capital of Guwahati.
They started around 8.30 pm, as they had to walk for six hours to reach the rebel camp. It was a bit like the action movies he so loved.
“Raymond loved the Hollywood cops versus criminals fare, and would try to pick up the way the policemen or undercover officers fought the baddies,” said Basaiawmoit.
In a land of widespread unemployment, Basaiawmoit did not want his son to join the police force when in 2004, his son cleared two examinations — to join the police force or to become a government treasury officer.
The other option might have been boring for the jovial Raymond who loved playing practical jokes, spending time with children and the elderly, and had a penchant for fancy dress competitions, which he often organised as a teacher before joining the police force.
A keen bathroom singer, he loved music, mostly the sentimentals.
It was fitting –– he and Saphimosha had fallen in love at first sight and had a fairytale romance. They lived at his wife’s home, in keeping with the matrilineal traditions of the region.
His soft side dissolved, however, the moment he was at work. Diengdoh abhorred militants, who he believed are glorified criminals.
Back at the battleground, a two-hour gunfight erupted soon between the police team and seven militants. Raymond Diengdoh was hit on the shoulder after he had killed an HNLC rebel. Despite the wound, he carried on the fight, bringing down another one and seizing two more with the help of his subordinates.
Diengdoh was rushed to the Army Base Hospital in Guwahati, which was nearer than Nongpoh. He died on the way from excessive bleeding.
“He was so fun-loving that we never got wind of his occupational hazard,” said Raymond’s younger sister Sonia. “He hated bringing work home, but would often say that a coffin has to be kept ready for him.”