TREASURY SQUARE is Aizawl’s centre of gravity. Virtually all Mizo dailies and magazines are published out of modest offices on the lanes branching off the arterial road. The two major political parties – Congress and Mizo National Front (MNF) – have their State headquarters here. It’s also where the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police of Aizawl district operate from. Then there’s Vanapa Hall almost always hosting fashion shows, rock concerts, social functions and political conventions.
But to the world beyond, these often aren’t reasons to be in Treasury Square. The destination for many a visitor is a whitewashed, three-storied building sporting six letters, four capitalized – Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR). If you have been to DIPR offices – dingy dump-yards, rather – elsewhere in Northeast India, you are bound to be struck by its exterior. And awe-struck after you step inside the first-floor office of the man who’s captained the department for 17 years.
Public relations or PR, occasionally reduced to pimping, is an integral part of journalism. Good PR can work wonders for the image of institutes, business houses and governments, but the latter often tend to pick the wrong persons for the right job. Fortunately, Mizoram had LR Sailo.
When Sailo joined as a DIPR officer in 1973, Mizoram was going through a critical phase of insurgency and violence. The outlawed MNF was virtually running a parallel government, and managing the media during a conflict situation required great skill. The job was cut out for the young Economics graduate; he was fresh from lecturing on non-violence across universities in England, France, Italy and Netherlands. And after having lived and worked with Irish rebels at Derry and Belfast in Northern Ireland, dealing with homegrown militants seemed a cakewalk. No wonder, each Mizoram chief minister had Sailo as his press secretary until he was made the IPR director in 1992.
Any scribe who has worked across the Northeast would know reporting from Mizoram wouldn’t have been easy without Sailo to turn to. Before you could mouth your requirements, he was ready with a folder containing the A-Z of his hill State; and he had no qualms about ringing up ministers, officials, social activists, priests, musicians to fix your appointment. “It’s possible because I have a lovely team,” he told me on August 19.
Life, however, hasn’t been easy for the man who made other people’s lives easier. His son died a few years back, and he has had more than his share of health problems. Among his ailments is sleep apnea, which doesn’t allow him to sleep properly resulting in drowsiness.
Sailo hopes to sleep better after August 31, the day he retires from the seemingly synonymous post. But the incorrigible workaholic is likely to utilize his waking hours to eat, drink and sleep Mizoram for the consumption of the world beyond.
Come September and the DIPR office at Treasury Square would have a new director who’s likely to be compared with Sailo. “Oh, he might turn out to be better than I am, and you’ll then discover my shortcomings,” said Mr Public Relations with his trademark drawl and smile.
The DIPR will get used to life after LR Sailo from September 1. Thankfully, Treasury Square won’t have to. For, off the lane bang across the one leading to the DIPR office is his residence. And his door, for you, is always open.