Pen Pushers

Combat, Faust, Fight, Fist, Hand, Kampf, Lotta
My post ‘Where’s the Creativity?’ was prompted by a remark from a Veteran Regimental officer that  I am a good ‘pen pusher.’ During my regimental service, I often heard  Staff College and/ or  Long Gunnery (LGSC) qualified officers being referred to as pen pushers or at times as ‘paper tigers’ – mostly by the other senior officers who had neither qualification to their credit.  A ‘grapes are sour’ syndrome.  This in no way means that those ‘unqualified’ officers were not good officers, some were even better than many ‘qualified’ ones.

When I was a Battery Commander (BC), our young officers asked me “You keep saying that we must do LGSC and Staff College.  You tell us to read five pages daily and write one.  When we travel with you, you keep posing questions on gunnery and administration for which we hardly have an answer.  In fact, we are a bit scared of travelling with you.”

To answer their question, I painted a scenario “Our Regiment is equipped with 155mm Bofors Gun and we need to conduct a lecture-demonstration on the gun.  We have one Staff College qualified  BC, one LGSC qualified BC and one BC without any.

My question now was “Who will conduct the lecture?  Who will conduct the demonstration?  Who will do the tea and administrative arrangements?

The answer was obvious!  They said “The Staff College qualified BC will conduct the lecture, the LGSC qualified BC will conduct the demonstration and the third BC will be responsible for the tea.”

I concluded “You can select what you want to do.  So, you better qualify the entrance exam for  both.  It could well be that the third BC is better than the other two.  Remember all three BC s were afforded adequate opportunities to study and clear the entrance exams.

When we were young officers, our mentor was Captain Desh Raj (now a Veteran Colonel.)  He was an excellent sportsman and led all the Regimental sports teams.  A true soldier that he was, with excellent sense of humour – obviously all Subalterns homed on to him.

Captain Desh Raj and I moved with the advance party of the Regiment in 1987 and that was when his transfer to Intelligence Corps came through.  The evening before he left, he called me aside and said “Reji, you must qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.  Look at me!  I failed to make the grade in both – mainly because I was more interested in sports and did not care to read at all during my young days.”

His parting advice was “I applied for transfer to Intelligence Corps not because I did not want  to serve with this great Regiment, but an officer without any qualification would not be heard or taken seriously.  I made two attempts at both LGSC and Staff College, but failed.  I want you to qualify for both LGSC and Staff College.”

For the next one year, I read all the books prescribed for the LGSC Entrance Examination – gunnery,  survey, tactics, mathematics, physics and so on.  Three months before the examination, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Mahaveer Singh asked me “Reji, do you need any leave to prepare for the examination?

Sir, please grant me two months leave the day I finish the examination” I replied.  With his usual smile our CO said ‘Granted.”

LGSC Entrance Examination consisted of two papers held on two successive days.  Arrogance or stupidity – I booked my tickets for the Srinagar-Delhi flight scheduled for the afternoon of the day of the second test.

On the second day of the examination, I had to leave one hour before the scheduled finish time of the exam to make it to Srinagar Airport to catch my flight.   I spoke to Major VN Singh, Second-in-Command who was also an invigilator for the exam.  He said “Knowing you very well, you are not going to reschedule your flight.  I am sure  you will answer all the questions well before time and will qualify.   Let me speak to the Presiding Officer.”

Whatever it was, I managed to sneak out of the examination hall as per my plans.  Though the Presiding Officer objected, Major VN Singh managed to convince him to let me go.

As I was about to board the vehicle to Srinagar, Major GR Kaushik, our Adjutant, came running and said “Sir, CO would like to speak to you before you leave.”

I dashed to the CO’s office.  Colonel Mahaveer Singh said “I need not ask you how the examination went – you will surely qualify.  All the best.  Do well in life.”

He got out of his chair, walked to me and hugged me and saw me off.

While travelling to the Airport, I thought “Why did he call me to his office at the nick of the time?  Why did he wish me well in life?  Above all, why did he hug meWhy did he have to see me off?

Two months after my vacation, I returned to the Regiment and all my questions were answered.  (No cellphones those days.) Colonel Mahaveer Singh was posted out after five years of commanding our Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel VN Singh had taken over command.

About my Technical Staff Course Entrance Examination – reserved for another post.

Indian Army Water Bottle


Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.


My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.


This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,


These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.


In 1989, a former paramedic preparing to participate in a bike race was concerned with getting enough water to sustain himself during the race. Reaching for the water-bottle mounted on his bike was dangerous, and water stops were two or three hours apart. So he designed a portable hydration system using a medical tubing attached to an intravenous (IV) drip bag. He stuffed the bag into a sock and sewed the sock onto the back of his T-shirt. Thus the idea for the commercially available CamelBak® water bladder hydration system was born.


The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.

Wind Can Blow Both Ways


(With Santosh the evening I  hung my boots in July 2004)

Great experiences make military life marvelous – even for the family members of soldiers. It lasts a long time, much after we hang our boots and even after we migrate to another continent.

Marina emigrated to Canada in March 2002 and I took over command of the Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment in June 2002. For someone who served his entire regimental life  in a Medium Regiment operating Bofors guns to suddenly land in a Surveillance Regiment equipped with radars, drones and survey gadgets – it was an altogether different experience. I had to learn everything from scratch and had to familiarise with the officers and soldiers.

The regiment was an excellent outfit.  I set off with training on various surveillance equipment, starting with radars.  I had to convert from a Medium Gunner to a Surveillance Gunner. The officers and soldiers helped me to imbibe both the art and the science of surveillance, many a times explaining the procedures and drills repeatedly.  I read all the operator and training manuals of all  equipment and in two weeks time, I was proficient enough to handle them.

My Radio Operator Santosh Kodag a Maratha, took charge of the household, but was surprised that my family had not come along.  Commanding Officer living alone in a fabulous peace station like Devlali – Santosh realised something was wrong.

Devlali is one of the most relaxed military stations located near Nasik city – about 150 km from Mumbai.  It has a colonial charm and is clean with fresh air and lots of greenery and open spaces.  The climate is fabulous all through the year.  The schools in the area are well known for their educational standard.  The Cantonment offers all recreational facilities like horse riding, swimming, squash, tennis, golf, club, etc – all that goes with a good military station.  The School of Artillery is located here where all Gunner officers are trained.  Hence, it is always abuzz with Young Officers and also newly married young couples.

A week after landing in Devlali and when Santosh felt that I was well settled, one evening, handing over a glass of whisky to me said “I know your wife is away in Canada and your children are in Kerala. Why don’t you get the children here?

Our daughter is in Grade 4 and our son in LKG. I will not get adequate time to take care of them. My mother is taking care of them well in Kerala,” I replied.

To this Santosh said “Why don’t you get your mother and your kids here. I will take care of everything. I know your mother is pretty old. You do not have to worry.”

I thought for a while and then called up my mother about my plans to shift her and children to Devlali. She said “I was also thinking about it. My duty is to take care of the children and it would always be better that you are around.

I booked the tickets for my mother and children to travel to Devlali and Santosh went to Kottayam, Kerala to accompany them.

Santosh now took over everything – handing over the medications to my mother and also taking her for her regular medical  appointments with the Military Hospital – getting our son Nikhil ready for school (Nidhi was independent by then)- serving breakfast for all, packing up lunch boxes, etc.

After two years, I relinquished command and also hung up my boots and migrated to Canada.

Now Santosh is married with two kids, serving in the regiment as a Havildar (Sergeant). Every year when we visit India, we send a parcel of gifts for him, his wife and children.

February 2018, we travelled to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of my parent unit – 75 Medium Regiment. The SATA Regiment  deputed Havildar Santosh to receive us and accompany us to the Medium Regiment.

Marina was busy shopping for gifts for Santosh and his family. Marina had met Santosh only twice – when we traveled to India – and she has been ever thankful to him for taking care of the children in her absence.

I recently asked Nikhil as to whether he remembered anything of Devlali days and he said “The only person I remember is Santosh Bhaiyya – the poor guy, I gave him a difficult time – especially when he tried to feed me and get me ready for school.

On 01 November 2018, our SATA Regiment celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. We could not travel to India for the occasion as our daughter Nidhi was expecting our grandson’s birth. I got a silver trophy made for the occasion and it was presented to our Regiment on my behalf by Havildar Santosh.

Wind can blow either way in the Indian Army. A soldier can soothe the pains of his Commanding Officer too.

Mischievous Memoirs by Veteran Colonel Gora Sarkar : Book Review


The author has succeeded in painting his childhood with a brush of childlike innocence which every reader can easily connect with.  I developed an instant connection with the author as I too grew up at home with my three brothers with I too being the third and our pranks were as good.


(Author seated second from left with his Mom, Caesar, Dad. Bonny at the back with Nar Bahadur)

The anecdotes of children’s innocence of marriage at the beginning of  the holidays, tickling and kissing followed by  baby crawling from beneath the bed, divorce at the end of the holidays with the baby disappearing beneath the bed;  Franco-English battle; chocolate deprivation; census enumerator risking his life; holy-dip in the pond; the (un)parliamentary debate  – all stand testimony to the author’s ability to recall the incidents in his growing up years with such finesse and humour. I felt it was as realistic as it could be.


(Author in Nagaland with his soldiers)

Incidents of a soldier’s diplomacy at its best is displayed  with a peg of Sacramental Wine that made two warring sides – the Catholics and the Protestants – come to truce – especially if they are Mallus , that too preaching amongst Nagas. Postponing the cow slaughter in Sri Lankan Army camp  to respect the sentiments of his soldiers establishes it further.  Ensuring that the French Brigadier’s wife netted a good bargain with the Delhi jeweller is another.

The author has displayed his humaneness and love for fellow human beings through his description of the mental state of people of a conflict ridden zone, first Rakhi, dealing with the rudeness of the American Army officer; the parting advise by his helper at the Indian Military Academy to be like Netaji,  empathy towards the Pakistani Prisoners of War; ensuring that the girls did not get hurt during a hockey match.

The most important lesson for a child (and also for an adult) what the book brings out are:

  • ‘When you grow up, I don’t care if you don’t earn a lot of money, but you must be scrupulously honest.”
  • “The most important quality a boy must possess is character.”

You can purchase the book in India on Amazon,in by clicking here.

International readers can purchase it on Amazon.com.  Please click here.

 

 

 

How it all Began?

TN
In June 2002, I took over command of our Regiment in its operational location on the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan.  The Regiment was mobilised from its peace location in Devlali (Maharashtra, near Mumbai) on that year’s New Year Eve.  In November 2002, we returned to Devlali.

After the unit got re-established at Devlali, I said to our officers “I owe you a party from my side as  you all have performed extremely well during our operational deployment.  Above, all, you carried me along as your Commanding Officer.   This Saturday, there will be cocktails at the Officers’ Mess to be followed by a dinner at the Dhaba.”   (Dhaba is a roadside restaurant mostly frequented by the passing truck drivers.)

Why at the Dhaba Sir” queried our Second-in-Command (2IC), Late Colonel Suresh Babu.  “Our mess staff have toiled hard for the past eleven months and taken good care of us.  I do not want to stress them anymore,” I justified.

That Saturday evening, officers with their wives and children, all assembled at our Officers’ Mess and the party commenced.  After the cocktails, I got on to the driving seat of the Jeep with all children in tow and ordered others to follow.

I drove to the Taj Hotel, Nashik and after we got off the vehicle, Captain Subhash asked “Sir, so this is your Dhaba?

As we sat down for dinner, the waiter enquired “Buffet or A-la-carte?”  “ A-la-carte” I affirmed.  Suresh was not at all amused with my choice and he said “It is going to cost you a fortune – at least one month’s take-home-pay!”  “That’s fine.  You guys deserve it,” I replied.

A few days after the dinner, Captain Mitra asked me “Sir, you need not have treated us to a dinner  at the Taj.  We could have had it at our Officers’ Mess.  It would have saved a lot of expenditure for you.”

What I paid at the Taj is much less than the efforts you all have put in till now.   Above all, you guys cared for me for the past six months with a smiling face.  I am really indebted to you all,”   I said.

Mitra was not convinced.  He asked “But why the Taj Sir? It is obviously the costliest place one can think of in a hundred kilometer radius of this place.”  I declared  “I do not want any of our officers to be sold for a dinner at a Five-Star Hotel like that Brigadier of the Tehelka incident of last year (Operation West End – 2001)Henceforth, all our celebrations will be at the Taj.”

Whatever it was, it resulted  Mitra coining the term ‘Dinner at the Dhaba’.

In December 2002, Southern Army Commander visited our unit and it was an overwhelmingly successful event.  It surely called for a celebration, especially as Christmas and New Year was approaching. So we decided on a dinner at the Dhaba.

It all commenced with cocktails at the Officers’ Mess and as we reached the Taj, Mitra went to the bar and returned to report “Sir, they have an excellent bar out here.”  “Let us all have a drink then,” I said.  Surely, it did not stop at one drink.

As we were all parading out of the bar for dinner, Suresh, like a good 2IC said “Sir, we have run up a  bar bill that is at least  five times that of the cost of the cocktails at the Officers’ Mess.”  I replied “Do not worry.  We will take care of it later.  Let them all have fun and enjoy.”

The next day in office, I had a file waiting, showing the expenditure for the dinner with a noting sheet.  Captain Subahsh, our Mess Secretary,  had opined “Every Officer to pay Rs 1000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund of the Officers’ Mess.

Below that was the noting of Suresh.  He wasn’t that ‘magnanimous.’ Like any good 2IC he wrote “Each officer to pay Rs 2000.  Rest to be paid from the entertainment fund.”

I scored through the entire noting with a red ink pen and wrote “Each Officer to pay Rs 100.  Rest to be charged off from the entertainment fund.”

As soon as the file reached Suresh, he came charging in to my office and said “Why are you putting your head under a Gillette? Haven’t you read my noting.”  I calmly replied “Yes.  I have overruled it and written my decision with my hand.   Don’t worry about my head; it has been under a Gillette many a times before.”

Be Worthy of Your Soldiers’ Love


(With Suresh, Ranjith, Santosh and Thapa during my farewell party at the Regiment)

While commanding our Regiment at Devlali, I was a single parent taking care of our daughter Nidhi, then aged 12 and our six year old son Nikhil as Marina had emmigrated to Canada.  It would not have been possible for me to take of our children alone and the soldiers at home did a marvelous job.  I remain ever thankful to them.

The staff at home was headed by Havildar Chef Thapa, two Radio Operators – Santhosh and Ranjith and Havildar Driver Suresh.  They took care of the children and the home like theirs and like a fortress.  It was as secure as it could be for the children and they did not want anyone else intruding into their fort.

Thapa hailed from Nepal and was the only married man among them.  It was said in the Regiment that when he went on leave to his native Nepal, he returned only when he ran out of cash.  He went on his two month annual leave and the staff at home took over the kitchen for they did not want any ‘intruder.’

After two months, on a Friday evening Santosh said “Thapa is back from leave.”

He was to report on Sunday to commence his duties on Monday.  Why is he here so early?” I asked and summoned Thapa to enquire about his unusual early arrival.

Looking into my eyes he said, “Who will take care of the children and you if I am away for long?”

I kept looking at him for half a minute as I had no words and said “Thank you Thapa.”  Did my eyes well up?

Suresh drove his Commanding Officer’s Jeep with pride and devotion that he never allowed anyone to touch the Jeep.  He was responsible for taking care of my itinerary for the day and instructed Santosh and Ranjith about various uniforms or dresses I had to wear that day and timing for leaving home for an event.  He always carried three ties, a coat and some toiletries  in the Jeep so that I could convert my informal attire into a formal one while he drove, especially when we were short of time.  When Suresh went on his two month annual leave, I mostly walked to office as it was 400 meter away, else I drove.

Keeping four year old Nikhil engaged through the day was the most difficult task they had.  They played cricket with him, ensuring that he always made a lot of runs. I had passed strict orders that Nidhi will not be helped in polishing her shoes, preparing her dress for the school next day, cleaning her cycle and similar chores as I wanted to prepare her for the life ahead in Canada – to live without help.  Santosh and Ranjith flouted my orders on a daily basis when I was away on my evening walks.

Santosh and Ranjith took turns to proceed on leave.  For that they had to approach their Radio-Operator Section Commander.  I had laid down strict channel of reporting for all ranks of the Regiment and my personal staff were no exception.  I came to know of their leave plan only when Subedar Major Thangaswamy said about it during our morning meeting.  He always had a replacement ready for the staff proceeding on leave, but I always declined it as I knew that they disliked intruders in their fort.

We had a large area around the house and along with the staff we decided to turn it into a beautiful  garden and we succeeded to a great extent.  One Sunday afternoon I was at the Mumbai airport while returning from a week long  training event when I received a call from Nidhi. “Dad, our garden was adjudged the best home garden in Devlali Station.  This afternoon I received the prize from General Jambusarwalla, the Commandant.”  I said, “Great job!  You received the prize, so you now arrange a party in the evening and we will celebrate it on my return.”

Recently Nikhil asked, “When we were at Devlali, I never heard you saying anything to your staff.  How did you manage it?”

They knew their Commanding Officer, his needs, likes and dislikes  well and did not need any orders or instructions.” I replied.  In fact they enjoyed their freedom of action.  When I invited guests home, I had to only give the number of guests and their food preferences.  All the guests were astonished by the sumptuous menu our staff laid out.  One vegetarian guest asked me twice to confirm, “Are you sure all these are vegetarian?”  Thapa with his culinary skills had laid out a vegetarian feast with all dishes looking like non-vegetarian ones.

This is a comment on my recent blog-post on Regimental Fund from one of our soldiers:
Walking down the memory lane truly nostalgic sir. We have learned a lot in those golden days. Nice to see old photographs of NCOs and JCOs of SAWA Lakh.  The order of roll call on T-shirt and Shorts was the most popular decision between us youngsters on those days.
I was fortunate to work as your stick orderly and learnt basic of computers at the IT cell you had created for data collection. Now after retirement I am heading security automation department of one of the India’s biggest conglomerate.’

Look at the friends/ followers on your social media accounts.  How many are your soldiers?

Training Two Levels Up & Down


During most military training and courses, the philosophy of training was to train every soldier and officer two levels up with every soldier and officer capable of functioning at a level higher and aware of the functioning two levels up.  A Section Commander was expected to function as a Platoon Commander and was to be aware of the functioning of a Company Commander.

As a Lieutenant, I was the Gun Position Officer (GPO) responsible for deployment of the six guns of the Battery, calculating the technical parameters for engaging targets at about 25 km, ammunition management, administration of the soldiers, maintenance of weapons, vehicles, radio equipment etc.  During our annual training exercise with live firing, our Brigade Commander declared me a ‘casualty.’  Our Technical Subedar took over the duties of GPO and did a commendable job which surely impressed our Brigade Commander.  Four years later, as the Forward  Observation Officer (Captain) during  a similar training exercise, our Brigade Commander declared our Battery Commander a casualty and I carried out the fire planning and engagement of target in support of an Infantry Battalion attack.  We were trained and tested to function a level up.

For the annual inspection when I joined our Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in 1983, our Brigade Commander wanted the officers to form a gun detachment of the medium gun and bring the gun into action and carry out various target engagement drills.  The senior most Battery Commander was the detachment commander with rest eight of us – Captains and Lieutenants – formed the detachment.  We trained for a week with our Gunner Subedar Amarjit, a Punjabi Brahmin who spoke chaste Punjabi interspersed with taunting comments as our instructor.  It was a great learning for all of us and it was fun, especially Subedar Amarjit’s commentary and exalting Punjabi punch lines.

Curious to see our Battery Commander training on the gun, I asked him as what could be the intention of our Brigade Commander in making us go through this drill.  He said that it was to build camaraderie among officers and make them well versed with the handling and functioning of the gun.  I wasn’t fully convinced.

Come June 2002 and I took over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment.  The unit was under the process of being equipped with modern radars, surveillance and survey equipment.  Military technology develops by leaps and bounds in the modern day and what knowledge I had of the equipment were outdated.  I began earnestly training on the equipment with our soldiers with our Subedars as instructors.

It was learning of a different kind.  the soldiers were enthused by their Commanding Officer training as the detachment member and commander of the radar; carrying the theodlite, setting it up and taking observations; operating the long range optical surveillance system; handling the Global Positioning System (GPS) etc.  I enjoyed the training the same way I did as a Second Lieutenant and learned a lot, especially the short-cuts the soldiers adopted.

It helped me know more about our soldiers and my confidence in them increased manifold.  They too must have had a similar experience.  I learned a lot and enjoyed the three morning hours I spent on training and it appeared that our soldiers too enjoyed training with their Commanding Officer.  My computer knowledge – both in hardware and software – helped me assimilate the training fast. Our soldiers were amazed with my speed of learning and were impressed by my finesse in handling the equipment.

That was when the answer to the question I had as a Second Lieutenant propped up in my mind.  Why can’t Commanders at all levels train for a day or two to function two levels down?

I suggest that all commanders – Brigade Commanders and below – must train two levels down.  It will be a  great learning, especially in view of the ever changing military technology.  When I joined our Regiment in 1983, the soldier’s personal weapon was 7.64mm Self loading Rifle.  Over the years we were equipped with the 5.56 Rifles and the AK 47.  Our Regiment was equipped with Bofors Gun in 1989 – a quantum jump in using the computing power in the field of gunnery.  We were till then used to the cumbersome manual procedures involving logarithmic tables, range tables, various graphical instruments and the calculator to calculate various gunnery parameters.  Similar was the case with the Infantry and Armoured Regiments.

Training two levels down – if done with a positive intent to learn – will go a long way in camaraderie and the soldiers knowing their Commanders better.

Regimental Training & Myths


‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.(Gospel According to St John, Chapter 10, Verses 4 & 5)

This was my guiding light as I trained myself along with my troops on assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment. Being new to the outfit, it was imperative that I ‘recognise their voices’ and for the soldiers to know the ‘voice’ of their Commanding Officer (CO).

My mornings were well spent on training with our officers and soldiers on the equipment, as my first priority was to achieve a good level of proficiency in handling and operational functioning of the radars, surveillance and survey equipment.

The deficiency in our posted strength of personnel was made up by the influx of about 20 recruits, whose training had been truncated in view of the mobilisation.  They had to be trained further to become effective soldiers.  Drill and Weapon Training Instructors were requested from the neighbouring Infantry Battalion.  All young soldiers with less than five years of service were trained separately, commencing with 45 minutes of Physical Training, followed by a breakfast break of 45 minutes .  This was followed by 45 minutes of Drill after which there was a 15 minute ‘hydration break’ with liberal amounts of lemonade and water being served.  This was followed by a 45 minute  Weapon Training class under the trees. The technical and tactical training sessions were conducted thereafter, on each day.

For the next four weeks, all Officers and Men trained sincerely and hard.  At the end of our training schedule, we had well turned out soldiers moving about with a smart military bearing.  They all proved to be an asset to the Regiment as they were ready to execute any task. A strong feeling of ‘espirit de corps’ and Regimental Pride developed due to which, we had zero disciplinary violations. .

Training JCOs and NCOs to become effective junior leaders was a bit difficult on account of systemic inertia caused due to decades of centralised functioning.  Though their duties and responsibilities were explained in detail and all JCOs were granted the financial power to purchase anything up to Rs 100 without prior approval, they were rather hesitant to assert themselves.

On the third day of my training with the Radar teams, I tasked a JCO to drive in a vehicle along the road, for a distance of about 15 km from our location, with a radio-set and a GPS.  He was required to stop after every km and report his location while those of us at the radar end tried and locate him and compare the map coordinates worked out by us with his GPS coordinates reported.  After about five reports, the JCO stopped reporting his coordinates because the batteries powering his GPS had drained off.  “Why couldn’t   he use his initiative and purchase the standard AA batteries from any local shop?” I asked.  Though the cost of the batteries was well within his financial powers, the thought of procuring them himself, did not occur to him.  “March him up to me tomorrow!” I ordered.  In the evening Major Suresh, our Second-in-Command, came to my office and said “At this rate you will end up marching up half the Regiment.  Please give them time to get used to your style of functioning.”

There were many myths prevailing which had to be broken.  This needed persistent efforts as it is rather difficult to introduce new ideas and practices without uprooting deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that drive the functioning of any military unit.

As the Regiment was all set to move into battle, all soldiers wore their Identity Discs with the oval disc on their left wrists and the round one around their necks. The myth prevalent was that this was to ensure that identification of the body parts would be easier if blown apart due to an explosion.  The correct method of wearing the two discs was explained to all soldiers.  The oval disc, through one hole of which, a cord 24 inches long is passed through, is worn around the neck like a chain.   The round disc is required to be attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc using a smaller cord, about four inches in length. Both the discs, attached to each other, were required to be worn around the neck of each soldier! In case of death during war, the round disc is required to be removed by the soldier’s comrades or at the field hospital and deposited with his unit as proof of his  death in action. The oval disc is left on the body for identifying it and conducting the last rites.  The round disc, along with the soldier’s personal belongings are despatched to the Depot Regiment/ Company of the Regimental Centre of the soldier and the oval disc is removed at the time of cremation/ burial or despatch of the dead body to the soldier’s home and kept for records.

An  aspect that hindered the effective functioning of JCOs was the non-availability of transport, especially when they had to travel outside the Regimental area.  Three 100 cc light motorcycles with six helmets were handed over to our Subedar Major, for use by the JCOs. The Subedar Major was directed to issue military driving licences to all JCOs and to those Havildars who had qualified for promotion to be a JCO.  One JCO was brought to me with the excuse that he could not drive a motorcycle and hence, did not want any driving license to be issued to him.  I cleared his doubts by making him aware that, “All JCOs were required to clear Mechanical Transport Level 3 Test (MT3) prior to attending the promotion cadre. Anyone with MT3 is qualified to drive a motorcycle and other vehicles.  In case any JCO is unwilling to drive, he would be marched up to the General Officer for dismissal from service on grounds of inefficiency.”  There were no complaints after that.

The Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) and Small Arms Annual Classification Firing results of the Regiment, did not follow a bell curve.  That meant that either the standards set by  the Army Physical Training Corps or the Infantry School were too easy (which, obviously was not the case)  or the soldiers of our Regiment were exceptional in their marksmanship and physical fitness!!  I impressed upon all the need to be truthful in reporting test results and it must follow the bell curve.  The case of Havildar Shivnath Singh who represented India twice in the Asian games and twice at the Summer Olympics  and who wilted due to unscientific over training was discussed.  I summed it saying “Failing in any test is not a sin and the soldier has to be trained systematically to achieve the desired results.

Another retrograde convention among all ranks concerned the use of the telephone or intercom to communicate with the CO. This was considered by most as sacrilege. Our officers felt that calling the CO over the intercom or telephone appeared discourteous and they were not comfortable with it. They felt that they must physically appear in front of the CO to pass on any information. I explained to them, “The exchequer has spent a considerable sum to provide the Regiment with a telephone network and an intercom system.  Please use them. Calling the CO over the phone is not being discourteous.”  It still took them over a month to shed this inhibition.

Did it continue like that for ever in the Regiment?  I did what I could and I cannot ensure its continuity, but I succeeded to a great extent in dispelling many myths and retrograde conventions.

 

Regimental Fund


On taking over command of our Regiment in June 2002, we were deployed in our operational area in Rajasthan, ready to be launched into battle any time.  The mercury tipped many days over 40°C and the Regiment had been there since the dawn of the New Year.

The entire Regiment was living in tents with the Commanding Officer (CO) provided with a much more spacious and larger tent.  The other luxury the CO enjoyed was a desert cooler in the tent and the Second-in-Command (2IC) too had this luxury.  A 5kW generator meant for the workshop powered the lights, fans and desert coolers from 9 AM to 2 PM and then from 7 PM to 10 PM.

My first day in command was spent on familiarisation of the Regiment and the area around.  It ended with my first command order.  Please click here to read https://rejinces.net/2016/04/01/first-comd-order/.

That was when I realised that the dreams and plans I had in mind to be executed on taking over command had to be kept in abeyance as there weren’t adequate funds.  The only money at my disposal was Rs 200000 from a fixed deposit that had matured.  That wasn’t my money and if I used it, I had to make it up.

After working out the power requirement, it was decided to procure three 15kW generators and fifty desert coolers to equip every tent in the Regiment.  Two Young Officers with a team of soldiers were deputed to purchase the same from Jodhpur, the nearest town.  From that evening we had a well lit and well cooled township.  My only worry was that I had spent most of the Regimental Fund.

That evening at the Officers’ Mess, I gave out my command policy.  Anything that does not have a utility value to the Regiment in our operational area or for the families of our officers and soldiers at our permanent location must be disposed offAll funds, Regimental and others must be utilised towards the war efforts.

All Officers and soldiers were asked to propose anything they needed and I found they were too contented with what I gave them the very first day and wanted no more.

We procured two desktop computers to support my automation endeavours. Now I had to conserve all that was left with our Regimental Fund.  The first step was to reduce stationary usage by automation and we succeeded to a great extent.

In November we were ordered to return to our permanent location at Devlali. I ordered that only one of the three generators to be carried along and the rest two and all fifty coolers to be sold off at 60% of their cost with the first priority for our soldiers.  The coolers and generators were of no use to the Regiment at Devlali and would have turned into junk later.  Our soldiers from Rajasthan picked up the entire lot and I recouped half the Regimental Fund I had spent.

The first project we executed was a washroom cleaning device based on the mobile cleaning unit employed by the Indian Railways to clean the toilets of the trains on the platform.  Our soldiers designed and built it.  Now every soldier could carry out janitorial duties and the Safaiwalas (Janitors) were available to accompany radar detachments, survey teams and also operate radio sets.  They turned up smartly in their combat uniforms every morning walking with a swag with the radio set on their back and the operators pad in their hand.

Most of my time in the Regiment was spent at the Computer Cell.  Whenever needed, I relieved at the soldiers’ washroom rather than using the washroom at my office. This ensured that all soldiers kept their washrooms spic and span.

Two weeks after landing at Devlali, Major General RS Jambusarwalla, our Divisional Commander visited us.  I received him at the Regiment and he walked to the rear end of his car and ordered his driver to open the boot.  There it was – a computer, a printer and a multimedia projector.  That was the only time in my military career a visit by a senior officer began with a gift to the Regiment.

Two weeks later was the inspection by Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM,   the Army Commander, Southern Command and his proposal for other units to procure the software we had developed for Rs 10000 was a great boon.  Now I had all the money at my disposal to implement all my ‘wild ideas.’


We were a SATA Battery being converted to a SATA Regiment.  We did not have a JCOs’ Club, an important Regimental institution.  Fighting many a battle with the Station Headquarters, we managed to get a near dilapidated building allotted as our JCOs’ Club. I summoned our SM and tasked him to get the building done up, procure furniture, crockery, cutlery, etc.  I gave him a month’s time for executing the task with my final advice “It’s got to be better than our Officers’ Mess.”  After a month our SM invited all officers for a cocktail at the JCOs’ Club for inauguration.  The above image is the testimony to that day.

The next project was to create a high-end barber shop.  Please read https://rejinces.net/2016/04/29/acgo/.

Our soldiers came up with a request for a multi-gym.  SM Thangaswamy was tasked to execute the project with the assistance of other JCOs.  They suggested procuring the equipment  from Ambala as it would a cheaper option.  I advised them to procure it locally from Nashik to ensure installation and warranty services.

Two weeks later SM Thnagswamy asked me about my availability to inaugurate the gym.  I asked him to inaugurate immediately and make it available to our soldiers.

We automated our kitchen with flour kneader, freezers and coolers for storage of milk, meat and vegetables.  We were allotted a ‘Steam Jacketed Cooking System’ for the soldiers’ kitchen procured from special funds under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Power. I did not want it to turn into an elephant’s teeth for show alone.  How we extracted its full value, please read https://rejinces.net/2019/03/31/elephantteeth/.

I was lucky that I had a great lot of officers and soldiers who accepted me, supported my ideas and worked wholeheartedly to ensure fulfilment of all my dreams.  I must sincerely thank all Officers, JCOs, NCOs and soldiers and a special high-five for our Subedar Major (SM) Thangaswamy who kept me in high spirits with his sense of humour.


Did I realise all the dreams I came with to command?  It’s an emphatic Yes and much more; all because of a great Regiment that I was lucky to command.

Love Thy Soldiers Than Thyself

Listening to an interview of Brigadier General Ross Coffman of the US Army on military leadership, I was fascinated by his revelation that it was his father who too served the US Army was the one who instilled in him a duty to serve the nation, and to love the men and women who fought alongside. General Coffman narrated an incident with his father.

A close relative was skimming through the pages of his father’s album and came across some photographs of his father as the Platoon Commander with Sergeant Elvis Presley.  He said “If you sell these photographs, you will earn huge money.”


(Images Courtesy US Army)

When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation by registering for the US Army draft.  At that time he was a rock and roll music sensation.  Though the US Army offered Presley an option to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops, he decided to serve as a regular soldier. This earned him the respect of his fellow soldiers and countrymen.  Thus Presley became US Army Serial Number 53310761 and after his basic training was assigned to D Company of the Third Armored Division’s 1st Medium Tank Battalion.  This took him to Germany on October 1, 1958 and he served with the Regiment until March 2, 1960.  On January 20, 1960, Presley was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

What impressed young Ross the most was his dad’s reply.  “I love all the soldiers who served with me.  My love for them will never be on sale.

On assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment at our operational area in Rajasthan during June 2002, where we were deployed to go into battle at any moment, I walked into our office and asked for the ‘Last Will and Testament’ of all soldiers.  I realised that most were incomplete or inaccurate with respect to the name of the next of kin, spouse and children. When I inspected the documents of the clerks who were responsible for their preparation, I found the same glaring errors and omissions.  Realising the gravity of the situation at the juncture when war clouds were looming, I decided to automate the personal documentation of our personnel, starting with the generation of the Last Will.

Having served throughout with a Medium Artillery Regiment, and on staff assignments, I had a very basic, broad based knowledge and exposure to the equipment and operational functioning of my new unit which was all about radars, surveillance equipment and survey. Achieving thorough proficiency in these subjects became my foremost priority. Therefore, my mornings were well spent on training with our soldiers on the equipment.  By noon it was too warm for any worthwhile learning and I used the rest of the day to familiarise with the soldiers by interviewing them at my office.  Please read https://rejinces.net/2015/12/28/firstmlname/

When I moved in to command, I had four boxes – two for my personal belongings and two housing my desktop computer, printer, scanner and various other accessories.  My personal computer was the only functional computer in our Regiment then.

I began my automation project by creating a basic database comprised of  the soldiers’ personal number, rank, name, next of kin, spouse and children. With each interview, the database expanded to include other relevant aspects.  By the time I completed the first round of interviews, I had to conduct another round as I had more data to collect.

With the assistance of three soldiers, we captured most of the required data and I programmed it to ease various documentation aspects – Part II Orders, pay & allowances, promotions, qualifications, training schedules, nominations for Insurance & Provident Fund, leave availed and printing of relevant forms and certificates concerning every aspect of documentation pertaining to soldiers.

The interviews went on to the third round and our soldiers appeared to enjoy the experience.  During one of the breaks while on a reconnaissance mission, my radio operator, Naik Ranjith, a good mimic, enacted a soldier’s expression on being summoned to the Commanding Officer’s (CO) tent for an interview.  It commenced with the discomfiture of the soldier seated on a chair in front of the CO.  Until then, soldiers always stood at attention in the CO’s office unless ordered to stand ‘at ease’.  On being seated, he was served a cup of tea and to complicate the matter further, he was offered a biscuit!  The soldier’s dilemma was,  how he could drink the tea and eat the biscuit while answering the volley of questions fired at him by his CO.  The seat in front of the CO’s table came to be named as the ‘hot seat’.

The ‘hot seat’ helped me to learn a lot about our soldiers and also to break the ice with them. Rather, it melted the ice altogether. At the end of this process, we had a robust database which could execute most documentation tasks at the click of a mouse. Our biggest achievement was that we could print all documents that were required to process the grant of  pension to soldiers who were due to retire, running into over sixty pages, accurately, without errors, with the click of a mouse.  It made the clerks redundant.


By the end of November 2002, we returned to our permanent location at Devlali as a cooperating unit of the School of Artillery.  The news about automated functioning and other welfare measures instituted in our Regiment reached the ears of Commandant, School of Artillery. Two weeks later, the Commandant directed me to be prepared to conduct Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM,   the Army Commander, Southern Command, during the administrative inspection of the School of Artillery.  I was tasked to conduct the General in our Regiment for thirty minutes after the briefing by the Commandant at his office.

General Sihota accompanied by the Commandant reached our Regiment and I straight away demonstrated the software and the automated office functioning.  We also discussed various welfare measures that we had initiated in our Regiment.  At the end of the discussion, the General asked me “If other Units of the Army would like to procure this software from you, how much would you expect?

“Ten thousand rupees,”  I replied.

Why ten thousand?”

“This software has been designed for our Regiment. I need to work to customise it for others.  I can provide it free of cost, but then, no CO would value it.  Only those COs who sincerely value the importance of documentation of their personnel will spend money to procure the software.”

The Army Commander was convinced with my reply and he gave me the go ahead.  We all left from our Regiment for lunch and the Commandant was happy that the administrative inspection of School of Artillery was concluded with the GOC-in-C’s visit to our Regiment.  About a hundred units, mostly Artillery Regiments and a few Infantry Battalions procured the software from us.

The money from the software accumulated in our Regimental Fund Account.  Our Second-in-Command, Maj Suresh approached me to say that it was my money as it was the fruit of my hard work.  I refused to accept a penny though Suresh was adamant that I take at least 25%.  I said:-

“I developed this software for our soldiers.  I love our soldiers from the bottom of my heart.  I cannot sell my love for our soldiers.  All the money we earn from this software must go to them.”

Having joined our Regiment with four boxes, I left the Regiment after a very fulfilling command tenure with two boxes, leaving behind my desktop computer which had dutifully served me for seven years.

Making of a General : A Himalayan Echo by Lieutenant General Konsam Himalay Singh


Congratulations to the author for a well written book with the aim of motivating our youth – an aspect that very few military leaders have  attempted.  The journey of life of a young lad from Charangpat (Lake of the Dragonflies)- a remote hamlet in Manipur – ‘the Switzerland of India’,  to becoming a General in the Indian Army and on hanging his uniform.  His choice to return to his roots to serve  the society instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement at any place of his choosing, is well etched.  He was, in his own words, was a child who was physically weak, shy, scared of heights and the darkness.

Manipur has the highest per-capita number of officers in India’s armed forces.  Now, being the Chairman of the Manipur State Public Service Commission, I have a suggestion.  While appearing for Canadian citizenship, we were required to clear an examination which had 20% questions from Canada’s military history, mostly covering Canada’s contribution during the two World Wars.  India has a very eventful military history, especially post independence.  Through my various blogposts I have been suggesting that the Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commissions must have least five percent questions from Independent India’s military history.    This will enthuse the coming generation and will make them aware of the role and sacrifices of India’s Armed Forces. It is sure to make them feel proud.

All through the book, the author’s love for nature has been vividly painted, taking the reader through a visual fete. The description of the author’s grandfather ‘Even the horses kept silent when he coughed,’ kept me thinking for a while. The author’s initiative to recover plastic junk accumulated over the years of army deployment in the Siachen glacier is another example.

The impact of seeing a ten year old handle a weapon by; the need to have a dream in life – to dream big and how to pursue it; participating in family activities and chores; care  for his mother by buying her salt with all his pocket money; overcoming stage fear; moral fibre, by choosing to throw away that ‘chit’ carried by him to the examination hall; listening to the English news to enlarge his vocabulary; the importance of reading (even if not comprehended at that age;) the need to remain focused;   the power of pardon and  courage to be truthful; his adventurous train journey;  the importance of education in the development of any society; the need for hobby – great life lessons that any child will value and benefit from during his growing years.

13th Manipur Polo International 2019 underway
It was a revelation to me that the game of polo originated in Manipur.  His requesting for half a mark to make it to 60 – brought back memories of many of my class mates and also, officers during various courses, begging for a  mark or two to make a better grade.

Team spirit and camaraderie instilled in cadets at the National Defence Academy,  the lack of facilities and time to enhance individual skills; modification of curricula to incorporate leadership skill development;  have been well brought out.

The initial grooming and training  of a Young Officer in his Regiment; the need and role of a mentor; the impact of his carrying the additional load of a soldier during a gruelling professional competition; the importance of participating in adventure activities – provide an interesting peek into the development and growth of a military leader.

The need for re-orienting training and educating the soldiers in dealing with the local population – through the eyes of the author – recipient of the adverse effects of lack of empathy  by soldiers; the adverse effect of Armed Forces Special Powers Act; effect of movies to turn the youth to violence – have been well explained.

The author has given a first-hand information about the plight of the Bangladeshi Chakma refugees; peace-loving Mizos; the clashes between  Meiteis, Naga, Kuki tribes, Manipuri Muslims; religio-communal  divide and its present day implications; present cultural and socio-economic situation   – the voice of a true son of the soil.

Submitting Kanchejunga rolls out like a movie as one reads, especially the fall of the author into a crevasse, coming out of the jaws of death and the felicitation by the Prime Minister of India that followed.

The conviction of the author to stand up against an unsavoury remark against Manipuris by a General at the Defence Services Staff College and the methodology adopted to make the General retract his words shows the maturity of the author and his adeptness in dealing with ‘difficult ‘situations.

A tinge of well appreciated  subtle  humour – panic is fear at highest level of military; the golden epaulettes;   gifting of a telephone by a Pakistani soldier.

The first hand details of the attack on Point 5770, mostly unsung,  gives the reader goose bumps with each activity explained with brevity.  It showcases the leadership traits of the author.  My salute to you Sir for the respect you showed to the fallen enemy soldiers in keeping with the highest military values. Not being awarded the Battle Honour – I hope the Indian Army will make amends for the oversight even at this stage.  It needed an American author, Marcus P Acosta to bestow the honour the author’s Battalion 27 RAJPUT deserved.

The Siachen Glacier experience, the after effects on both the body and mind of the author is well expressed.  The dogs Pista and Pisti and the author pinning his commendation on Pisti, concern against  euthanasia of  aged mules shows the author’s love for all God’s creations.  His wish to command a brigade in the glacier – that too for a rupee – proves his military leadership traits.

The causes that led to the Ind-Chinese recent stand-off as viewed through the author’s eyes is worth a read.


As suggested by the author, the need for a test to assess the psychological and emotional condition of the officers prior to assuming command of units is of utmost importance. If implemented, it will prove to be extremely beneficial to the Army.  Also, the case of boots for soldiers – why every piece of the soldier’s uniform – were privately bought.  There is no worthwhile water-bottle for a soldier since 2000.  The author’s concern for the soldiers’ needs and his moral fibre  to convey it to none other than the Defence Minister in the presence of the Chief of the Army Staff shows the author’s convictions.

The author has fulfilled his childhood dream – he did not stop there – but went on to become a Lieutenant General of the  Indian Army.  He has rightfully credited his achievements to his family, his teachers, his superior and subordinate officers of the Indian Army; above all to the soldiers who served under him.

After writing this review, I felt that I missed a great deal in never getting an opportunity to meet or serve under our first General from the North-East – a true soldier and a gentleman. I sign off with a quote from this book:-

Meeting and interacting with thousands of officers and men under my command gave me more faith in the inner strength and capability of our officers to win any situation.  Only the Generals have to live up to it.

Book Review : Float My Boat by Anil Gonsalves


Statutory Warning :  Do not blame the author for gelastic syncope. 

Compliments to Captain Anil Gonsalves for an excellent biographical book.  The book begins with a well composed poem, which I wasn’t expecting in such a book, that too about our alma-mater, the National Defence Academy (NDA.)  Many pages have been written about NDA over and over and the ‘snake killed many times,  still being beaten harder.‘  Is the tail still moving??

This was a welcome change; something different. The narration, all humorously radiant with an infectious enthusiasm.  It is a collection of  hilarious, stimulating, and thoughtful set of events as they unfold.

When I read the anecdotes about life at the NDA, I relived it with a smile at the corner of my mouth though the real life experience was far too terrible.  The readers who have been through this type of training will enjoy reading  it with a smile, both in their hearts and on their face.  The author has captured all the important and landmark events in a Cadet’s life at the NDA.

The habits acquired at the NDA continue with us like the ‘never used, starched handkerchief.’  Measurements of distance and time during the reunion, I thought it was only my mind’s creation during our reunion.  Now I realise that I have company.  Returning to NDA, I too felt that I must not have grown up so quickly.

The author has effectively brought out nostalgic moments of his Naval life with a tinge of humour, beginning with the last sailing of the beautiful INS Mysore, the cadets’ training ship. Various life lessons the author has hilariously unwrapped are :-

  • Taking care of the sailors or soldiers or airmen, acceding to their request for leave even if it was fake, is sure to make any young officer feel like the Captain of the Titanic.
  • Life as a young officer was always about setting up a classic rattrap and ringing the bell, but every time the rattrap by itself and the tone of the bell had to be different.
  • The weatherman is always right on a wrong day and is the only one to keep his job or not get kicked even if he is wrong 75% of the time.
  • It’s the Commanding Officer who is responsible for every action of his ship and he is the ship.
  • Triskaidekaphobia‘ the fear of number 13 (from Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), and deka (‘ten’). Hence look intelligent, talk with technical terms, but always check one’ facts before blurting out.
  • English may not be you mother tongue – ‘working hardly’ on your language skills may not be beneficial always.
  • Beware of un-mastered Indian languages – they will land you in a soup.
  • Bathing nude at the NDA did has its advantages.
  • Bull-shit is Indian Army’s prerogative, never knew that it was Buffalo-shit in the Navy.
  • Gunners – the Naval and Army versions – are well known for their stiffness and pranks.
  • You can’t be thrice lucky – especially with a DRDO scientist – that too with a hammer.
  • You must salute the Armed Forces chopper pilots twice.
  • The hard service lesson to follow the Chetwode credo will remain etched in all Armed Forces officers’ minds even after retirement :-“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
  • Travel the world – you will realise how much you missed of the God’s beautiful creations and how much is left for you to see. The travelogues are excellent – I can vouch for the Canadian part of it – and provide excellent tips and a peek into places of interests.
  • The 16 hour flight from India to Toronto is as comfortable as the Taliban therapy.
  • Canadian side offers the best view of the Niagara Falls.
  • Canadians take courtesies to the extremes. They will say ‘sorry’ even if you stamp on their feet.  The magical words like ‘hi,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ – you have to punctuate every phrase you utter with least one of it. Racism or any racial comment or gesture is not liked – especially with young school going children around. (I have had it many a times from our children.)

A Glossary of NDA and Naval terms at the beginning or explanation of the terms would have benefited the reader.  If the reader finds difficulty in getting the meaning of those terms, always remember –It means the same as the first that came to your mind – else Google it up.

If you believe that ‘Laughter is the best Medicine,’ then this book is for you.

Buy Float My Boat Book Online at Low Prices in India | Float My Boat Reviews & Ratings – Amazon.in

Amazon.com: Float my Boat (Anil Gonsalves) (9798675829514): Gonsalves, Capt Anil Trevor: Books

 

The Final Journey of a Fallen Soldier


My book ‘Son of a Gunner’ is partly inspired by this hero – Late Lieutenant ET Joseph.

June 1992 in Nagaland, Lieutenant E Thomas Joseph had finished packing for his trip home for a two-month-long leave to his hometown – Kanjiramattom near  Kottayam, Kerala. Commissioned in June 1991 in the Corps of Military Intelligence, this young officer had finished his year-long attachment with the First Battalion of the Fifth Gorkhas (1/5 GR.)

Suddenly reports of some movement from insurgents in the area began to come in. The Commanding Officer got his Quick Reaction Team together. No one suggested that Joseph go along because the young officer had already got his posting orders and had been dined out from the Unit the previous day. Since he knew the terrain well, he volunteered to go with the team for the operation at night. The other officers tried to dissuade him, but he insisted on going- never to return.

By the next day, his father, Subedar Major A T Joseph, received the news of his son’s death. He immediately left for Nagaland where he laid the mortal remains of his only son to rest.

Col Sajan Moideen, one of Joseph’s coursemates from IMA days, wrote about this tragedy in his blog years later: ‘Deep down, both Joseph and his wife Thressiamma tried their best to overcome their grief. But a sadness that had no closure couldn’t be overcome. The mother in Thressiamma longed to visit the burial place. But they were unable to afford the long journey. Where would they gather that kind of money? How would they travel thousands of miles? Who would know the place? Who would help them? With old age catching up, the hope just faded away. They hoped to meet their son at God’s abode one day.’


June 2016, Lieutenant Joseph’s IMA coursemates from the 88th Regular and 71st Technical Course celebrated their 25th year of service to the nation.  They remembered their fallen comrades.    Eight spouses, brothers and sisters of the Martyrs travelled from far and wide including Australia to participate in the three day celebrations where over 140 officers, 100 ladies and 100 children attended. To remember and honour the fallen amongst them and  to make their families proud, they were presented an apt memento.

But Joseph’s parents were not there. AT Joseph and Thressiamma could not be contacted as they had settled down in Kottayam, Kerala.

With great difficulty, an officer posted in Kerala traced out Joseph’s parents and the mother, Thressiamma expressed her wish to visit her son’s grave as she was not present for the funeral. She also requested that her son’s grave be shifted from the remote region of the North East to his home town at Kanjiramattom.

Determined to fulfil a mother’s only wish, Joseph’s coursemates swung into action.  There were many hurdles on the way to get Thressiamma Joseph to her son’s grave – the old age of the parents, the finances, the long travel, and most of all to locate the grave.

The search for the tomb of the fallen soldier led them to the grave in Chakabama, 30 km from Kohima.  Though the grave was inside a military garrison, no one knew about it.

Thanks to the efforts of the coursemates of  Joseph to find the finances and the magnanimity of Indigo Airlines, his parents and sisters were flown from Kochi to Bangalore to Kolkata to Dimapur.

08 October 2016, Indigo Airlines with Joseph’s parents took off from Kochi airport.


11 October 2016, the parents reached the grave of their son.  Then  commenced the religious rites for exhuming the body. The tombstone was removed and all the mortal remains gathered and placed in an ornate coffin. Full military honours were observed, the Tricolor draped and the casket was transported to Dimapur.


13 October 2016, Courtesy Indigo Airlines, an airline that always honoured the defence forces – the coffin in the company of  the parents and many of his coursemates – landed at Kochi.  A Guard of Honour was presented as the mortal remains touched Kerala. A decked up cortege led by police escorts transported the remains to Kanjarimattom. The Ex- CM of Kerala, Mr Oomen Chandy and Late Mr KM Mani paid a visit to the parents and conveyed their  condolences. After all their boy had come home, after 8890 days of Martyrdom.


14 October 2016, Lieutenant ET Joseph was finally laid to rest close to his house at Holy Cross Church, Kanjiramattom with full Military and State honours.


Now  the mother can visit her son whenever she wishes and place flowers on the day of his martyrdom. Some of the tears in her weary eyes have been wiped. Her dream, fulfilled by her son’s coursemates.


To order my book Son of a Gunner in India, Please CLICK HERE.

For US customers, please visit Amazon.com by clicking here.

Canadians can buy it at Amazon.ca by clicking here.

(Image courtesy A Mothers Dream – The Final Journey – SajanSpeaks)

Should You Vaccinate Against COVID19???


Our family friend and travel partner, Jijo Sptephen, he is a nurse with a Long-Term-Care-Center, catering for senior citizens.  It was chivalrous of Jijo that during the pandemic he did not miss a day’s work and has been a great motivator for the staff at the Care-Center.  With his wit and humour, he has a knack of keeping every one in high spirits.  We have experienced it many times during various trips together.

As he is in the front-line taking care of seniors, he was amongst the first few to receive the COVID19 vaccine in Canada.  He called me up after vaccination and said that he is safe now and there are no side-effects as being propagated in the social media.

The literature handed over to him said ‘Some people may experience side effects from the vaccine, but they will likely be mild to moderate and resolve after a few days. Some of the symptoms are part of the body’s response to developing immunity.

Serious side effects after receiving the vaccine are rare. Should you develop any serious symptoms or symptoms that could be an allergic reaction, seek medical attention right away. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives (bumps on the skin that are often very itchy.)
  • Swelling of the face, tongue or throat.
  • Difficulty breathing.

After his vaccination, he picked up his wife Annie from work. On reaching home, Jijo called me over the phone and said ”Reji, Please don’t get vaccinated for COVID!”

A bit surprised and assuming that he had had some sever side effects, I asked “Hope everything is fine?

I,m fine, but you don’t get vaccinated before Marina,” he advised.

Why so?” I enquired.

While they were driving home after Jijo picked up Annie, she asked Jijo to stop at the grocers to buy vegetables.  After he parked the car, she handed him the shopping list and said “You go and buy everything as per this list.  I’m staying in the car. You are protected against COVID19 as you are vaccinated!!!!”

 

 

 

Book Review : Serendipity of Soldiering by Colonel (R) Badal Varma

The first word of title of the biographical book ‘ Serendipity’ made me scratch the vocabulary storage of my brain and the obvious way out was to ‘google’ it.  Serendip is the Old Persian name for Sri Lanka.Parts of Sri Lanka were under the rule of Chera kings of Kerala in the fourth and the fifth century.  Dweep in Malayalam, Kerala’s native language means island and hence they called the island Cherandweep.  The Arab traders engaged in spice trade with the Cheras called the island Serendip. The word ‘serendipity’ first appeared in a letter written by Horace Walpole (1717–1797) to his distant relative Sir Horace Mann dated 28  January 1754. Walpole  formed the word from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.’

Serendipity could be defined as an act of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. There are many scientific inventions as a result of serendipity.  Microwave oven, penicillin, x-ray, pacemaker and most importantly and recently Viagra are a few examples.

Kudos to the author, Colonel Badal Verma for essaying the journey of a soldier.  He has given due credit to everyone who helped him traverse through this journey – his soldiers, instructors at various Academies and institutions, his subordinated officers and his seniors.  Shri Bachu Singh, his civilian attendant at the academy too gets a deserving mention. He has brought out the role his parents, wife and children played in this tough and thrilling journey.

In Chapter 9, the author has summarised his relationships with the humans around him and also  brought out the need to respect women, empower them and give them the needed space, both in the society and at home.

Importance of conditioning a soldier’s mind to accomplish the most difficult tasks and how the mind is conditioned for it is explained in detail.  Life of soldiers on a lonely far flung post and his travails, his moments of pleasure and despair, his need to communicate with his family miles away – gives an insight to the reader into the mind of a soldier.

Soldiers’ bond with nature, especially in North-East India, has been captured very well by the author.  The social life of the beautiful people who live in this part of India, their culture, beliefs have been painted well.  I must salute the conviction of the author in pointing out the fault line of the people of mainland India towards these minorities of the North Eastern states and Kashmir, especially the women.

The author has explained what goes through a soldier’s mind when he faces death, that too sure death, having taken two bullets at close range.  The psychology of a soldier and his will to survive and live another day is very well chronicled, especially as the author had a close shave with death not once, but six times.  I haven’t read such a beautiful explanation of the sequence of events and the beautiful line that was ‘The most expensive liquid in the world is a tear. It’s made up of 1% water and 99 % feelings.’

The ultimate sense of soldiering is in forgiving one’s enemy – the man who would have potentially taken his life – by not identifying him in a court.  It proves ‘To forgive is divine’ : from a poem An Essay on Criticism, Part II by poet Alexander Pope.

The author’s encounter with snakes is detailed, but it tends to encourage killing snakes which is unlawful.  The chapter reinforces the prevalent myth that most snakes are poisonous and they got to be killed.  A paragraph or two as to how to deal with snakes, their capture and release in the wild would have been useful.

The journey out of one’s uniform is very difficult for any soldier and even worse is the life in the world outside the army. The experiences of the author in this regard – his candid acceptance of his failures and short comings – and how he faced them must be lauded.

Buy Serendipity of Soldiering Book Online at Low Prices in India | Serendipity of Soldiering Reviews & Ratings – Amazon.in

Mall Walking


Every morning after seeing off my wife to her pharmacy at 8:30, I drive to the Square 1 Mall, about 400 meter from our home.  I drive to the mall only in the winter as the walkways are slippery

One morning Mr Mark, our neighbour inquired, “I always see you with a backpack.  What do you carry in it?” Old habits die hard and you can never take the soldier out of me.

Two bottles of water, three energy bars, a packet of tissues, a bottle of moisturising lotion, a tube of hand cream, a cap, a pair of gloves, a neck warmer, a face mask and some cash,” I said, reminiscent of our cadet days when we had to rattle out the contents of the backpack of our Field Service Marching Order (FSMO.)

This morning as I stepped out of my room with my backpack, our son asked, “What do you do while walking ? Why don’t you get a pair of earphones? You can listen to either music or a podcast while you walk.”  A wise idea! I thought and I immediately placed an online-order for a pair of  earphones.


The Square 1 Mall opens at 6 am, not for shoppers, but for the cleaning staff and for the salespersons to set up their stores.  The aisles are nearly empty where it is always warm at +25°C with music and it never rains or snows.  The ground is even and level and there is no chance of slipping and falling.  Morning walkers, mostly senior citizens use the facility.


Another attraction to walk in the mall are the washrooms at every turn, all spic and span, providing various options.


Square 1 Mall has two levels, the upper and the lower.  Walking fast through the aisles at each level takes me about 15 minutes.  I walk on the upper level for 15 minutes, come down to the lower level and walk for 15 minutes and repeat it.

What do I do while I walk for 60 minutes?

Thanks to Whatsapp, I use this time to call up my friends and relatives in India to exchange pleasantries.  It is the most convenient time – between 6 and 7 pm in India.


While walking, I enjoy the window displays of various stores, especially fashion, attire, accessories, shoes and perfume stores.  While great products and excellent customer service can keep customers coming back, visuals and branding are the elements that get people to walk into a store and the store’s window display plays a big part in this. It got to be fresh and attention-grabbing as possible, positioned at eye level to draw customers’ attention. The message got to be conveyed to a stroller in three seconds and it is not nearly enough time to read anything.


As this is the Holiday Season with the Christmas and the new Year around the corner, it is the time most stores in the mall do maximum business, notwithstanding the pandemic. Thus, all stores put up their best window displays and it keeps changing too.  I look for the changes like the game where one got to identify ten differences in two similar images.

During the walk, I plan out various activities for the day, many based on instructions from Marina in the morning.  It is all about grocery shopping or a visit to our family doctor, buying the correct cut of meat at the butcher’s, trying to figure out the ingredients of the marinade for the meat to be cooked that evening – the list is endless.

I often get calls from her after she reaches her pharmacy about an impending medication delivery with instructions regarding the time of delivery based on the patient’s availability at their home.  Sometimes, it is a query about a report, an invoice or a payment.  In fact I am the CEO, accountant and delivery boy of our company with Marina and I as partners.


These days it is all about Christmas with the mall and the stores all decked up with Christmas themes with red and green – the Christmas colours.  I enjoy all the Christmas trees put up all around the mall.


Last week while walking I observed various advisory and warning signs put up in view of the pandemic.  Many a thoughts flashed through my mind.  Why can’t they be creative?  Why do they have to make it on a drab grey background instead used the Christmas colours?  Why can’t they base it on a Christmas theme with the Santa and his eight reindeer to depict social distancing?


A couple of days ago, I tried to measure my ‘lateral deviation’ while I walked.  In medical terms, it may be classified as gait dynamics. The first time I attempted it was as a cadet to measure my deviation from a straight line as I walked on a pitched dark night during various navigation exercises.  I walked along the side lines of the soccer field and it was about a quarter meter to my right when I traversed 100 meters.

Here I walked along the line made by adjoining tiles on the aisle floor for 100 meters and it was still about a quarter meter to my right.  Neither age nor my being in the Western hemisphere altered it.  I should have measured it while vacationing in Peru in the Southern hemisphere.  May be, it could be to my left.  Anyhow I reserved it for my next trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Book Review : The Be – Know Do – of Generalship by Major General Anil Sengar (Retd)

A well written book – it takes a lot of courage to come out with the truth – and the author has successfully done it.  One could feel the conviction in the writing – not like the utterances of most veteran generals of today – as if the problems did not exist during their times.  My heartfelt compliments to the author.  I have neither served with the author nor interacted with him before and I consider it as my misfortune.

The language is simple and easy flowing.  The book contains worthwhile anecdotes and quotes, mostly from American and German Army and a few anecdotes about Sam Manekshaw.

Our Generals were Colonels and Commanding Officers before becoming a General.  The last place where one is in direct command of soldiers is as a Commanding Officer.

In the book, the word ‘General’  if replaced by ‘Colonel’ and if it is read by Lieutenant Colonels before being promoted to be a Commanding Officer, it  is sure to help them.  The contents are least likely to be of any value to the Generals as most may not accept what is written and their minds are already ‘hardwired.’ A Colonel’s mind can still be influenced.

The chapters 1 to 3 speaks about listening skills in details, but hardly about reading – ‘The Generals who command against me will never read it and the young men who read it will never command.’

The Conference syndrome begins at Battalion/ Regiment levels.  If a Commanding Officer needs to hold a conference, I feel there is something wrong with him – he surely does not know his job and is not clear about the way the task is to be executed.  It is more for finger pointing and to save his ass.  Conferences must be avoided at all costs and must be held only if inescapable.

The author speaks of thirty percent of Infantry Brigadiers being incompetent – thanks to the pro-rata system – in fact only 30 percent are fit.

Lack of moral courage is surely the cause of downfall of many Generals of the Indian Army and it did not happen because they got promoted beyond a Colonel, it was inherent in them during the Academy days itself. Moral values and the lack of it begin to be expressed in command – from battery/ company/ squadron commander days.

It is high time the Indian Army goes in for an objective performance assessment of officers and it got to begin with the Commanding Officers.  Peer evaluation by officers and Junior Commissioned Officers – selected at random, maintaining confidentiality – as suggested by the author will prove credible in the long run – though there may be a few aberrations, but would end more objective and accurate than the present appraisal system.

A must read for all officers of the Indian Army.

Stress Levels : Indian Army Officers


During a recent discussion with a Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer of the Indian Army who was my mentor while I commanded our regiment, he was concerned about the spate of sudden deaths by heart attacks among number of middle level Indian Army officers (Majors / Lieutenant Colonels.) He attributed it to the increased stress level caused due to heavy operational commitments of the Indian Army.

Is it so?

I took my mind back to my Indian Army days – as a Second Lieutenant in 1982 to being a Commanding Officer  (Lieutenant Colonel) in 2004.  As the years rolled by, operational commitments did increase, but with it improved the availability of resources, life styles and more open interaction among officers at least at Battalion/ Regiment level.

The reasons for increased stress levels among Indian Army officers have been attributed by many to:-

  • Lack of freedom among junior officers to give free feedback about work concerns.
  • Incompetent senior officers.
  • Lack of avenues to express domestic and marital concerns.
  • Lack of support from senior level especially when situations went out of control.
  • Difficult and emotionally demanding work,
  • Uncomfortable management/leadership style of senior officers.
  • Non-recognition of efforts.
  • Complexity of performance review system – Annual Confidential Reports.
  • Lack of mutual trust and unsupportive culture, especially while one is in command of a Company/ Battery/ Squadron – where the Annual Confidential Reports become critical for promotion to the rank of Colonel.

It was so when I joined in 1982 as a Second Lieutenant, but it did improve leaps and bounds as years passed by. To cite an example, when I was a Major, our General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division passed an order that the entire Mechanical Transport of the Battalion/ Regiment to be jacked-up for a week in case of any vehicle accident.  Our neighbouring Regiment did have an accident and the Commanding Officer had to walk to the Divisional Headquarters for a dressing down by the GOC.  I always wondered as to whether that GOC knew how a Battalion/ Regiment functioned, especially its transport section.  Such Generals became a rarity as years went by and might even be extinct by now.

Another bugbear was the availability of married accommodation for officers and soldiers.  It improved tremendously over the years and Separated Family (SF) accommodation for those deployed in field areas too more than doubled. More married officers’ accommodation was available at training institutions where officers underwent various military courses.  During our young officer days, it was an anathema for any student officer to bring their spouse for a training course, but a lot had changed while I was in command at Devlali, co-located with School of Artillery.

Resources needed for executing operational tasks improved manifold with better weapon systems, equipment, vehicles, etc.  Grants and funds available at the disposal of the Commanding Officers multiplied  with each passing year, which tremendously improved operational efficiency.  There were marked improvements in the living condition of soldiers and officers in field areas, especially along the border and Line of Control.  The road communication network improved with time.  Soldiers and officers mostly travel today by air while proceeding on vacations – an unheard of luxury during my service days.

Improved communication with the advent of cellular phones have revolutionised the communication aspects of officers and soldiers.  Even the remotest posts have reliable communication systems and soldiers easily keep in touch with their family, spouse and children.  Gone are the days of the snail paced ‘Forces Letter.’

The better financial status of officers and soldiers coupled with modern banking facilities like credit/ debit cards, online banking, easy credit and advances have made life much more comfortable.  Gone are the days of ‘installments’ and being perpetually indebted to the Regimental Wet Canteen Contractor.  I remember buying Marina a Fashion Maker Sewing Machine, my first wedding anniversary gift to her on six monthly installments.

The lifestyles of today’s Indian army Officers and soldiers have gone up many a rung.  It was a rarity to find a Regimental officer other than the Commanding Officer owning a car during my young officer days.  While I commanded our Regiment, many soldiers were driving to the Regiment in their cars.

During our young officer days the common saying was “No one ever died because of work, but by the lack of it.”  It was also said that “It is better to be in a field area and carryout professional work than be in a peace station and carry out more administrative tasks.”

Taking into account the above two dictum to be true even today in the Indian Army, increased operational commitment should not result in over-stressed officers and soldiers.

Why there is increased stress among Officers and Soldiers?

Today’s military spouses – of both officers and soldiers – are better qualified with equal or greater aspirations than their spouses.  Many spouses prior to their marriage were working in managerial or high-end jobs and some had to leave their jobs to be with their spouses for a better family life. Those spouses continuing with their jobs remained separated, maintaining a long-distance relationship.

These factors causes work-family conflict which results in exhaustion, both physical and emotional.  Many a times this leads to depression, anxiety, frustration, anger and increased levels of psychological strain.  This work-family conflict adversely affects the quality of the officer’s/ soldier’s relationship with the spouse as well as the quality of time spent with children, family and friends.

Here I would again cite my personal example.  The evening the result of my promotion to the rank of Colonel was announced, Marina invited all our friends for a party at home.  Everyone trooped in and complimented me.  After everyone assembled, Marina said “This party is to celebrate my husband  not making it to a Colonel.  Now I can have my plans rolling and he can take a back seat.”  Marina emigrated to Canada and after two years the children followed and then I landed in Canada.  By then Marina was a licensed pharmacist and earning handsomely.  Thus, I became a house-husband taking care of our children and the household.  The turn of events may not be so for many Indian Army officers, especially those who do not make it in the deep selection to the rank of Colonel and then even deeper selection upwards.

Another major cause of concern for Indian Army is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  A study in Canadian Armed Forces showed that among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 percent  were for mental health issues, about half of those were diagnosed as PTSD.  The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that military service meant moving often and spending time on duty far from family and was a major source of mental health risks – a standard practise for most Indian Army officers and soldiers.

Most Indian Army officers and soldiers suffer from PTSD due to the intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situations. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army!  I had never even heard of PTSD while in service with the Indian Army until I read a paper by a US Military Doctor on the subject.  Now think of the PTSD suffered by the driver of the vehicle that met with an accident wherein the GOC jacked-up the entire Regimental fleet.  Did anyone address the PTSD suffered by that soldier driver?

Was I prepared to command the soldiers on being appointed the Commanding Officer?

I will emphatically say “NO.”  It was merely by observation of one’s Commanding Officers and analysis.  The Senior Command Course every officer underwent prior to taking over command was nothing but re-frying of what one learnt during Junior Command Course as a Major and also Staff College Course.

Our son when in Grade 12 worked at the city’s swimming pool as a swimming instructor and lifeguard.  One day he said “I teach the kids for thirty minute class and to become an instructor and lifeguard I had to undergo ten levels of swimming, three courses on leadership and swimming instructorship, first aid, Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), child psychology and obtain a life saving certificate. What qualifications did you  have to parent?”

I did not have any qualifications to be a parent.  It was all by trial and error and also by the knowledge gained through reading and interactions.  Now I asked myself – “What qualifications did I have to be a Commanding Officer? Was I trained for it?  Did I have any formal qualifications like first aid, CPR or soldier psychology?”

There was a suggestion to employ more psychiatrists and psychologists to help soldiers tide over the pressure situations they face.  Where will these psychiatrists and psychologists be located? Will they be available to the officers and soldiers in the field?

It would be prudent to train the officers during Junior/ Senior Command Courses in the psychological aspects of command and HR management to be effective Company/Squadron/ Battery Commanders and Commanding Officers.

Soldiers’ Pensions and Disability


Recently the social media was abuzz with the news of Indian soldiers’ pension being cut by 50% for those seeking voluntary retirement after 20 years of service.  One suggested methodology is to follow the Canadian Armed Forces Pension scheme.  Canadian Armed Forces Pay scales are second only to the Australian.

It is a well established fact that the Armed Forces have a steep pyramidcal structure – more at the officers level – and also at the soldiers level.  The need is to have a young and large base – Lieutenants, Captains and Majors  for officers and Privates for soldiers.

Canadian Armed Forces offers 50% pension on completion of 10 years of service.  Officers who continue further are only put through command and staff courses and they rise up to command battalions/ regiments. This results in:-

  • Those wishing to retire after 10 years of service are generally about 35 years old and many even get married and raise their families on retirement.
  • The 50% pension assures them a constant income and facilitate them to embark on a new career.
  • The pyramidical structure of the Forces is considerably reduced.
  • Those wishing to serve beyond 10 years receive their pension on a sliding scale to be 100% with 20 years of service.

Among those invalidated out or those who sought voluntary retirement due to medical disabilities, about 40 per cent  were for mental health, about half of those were diagnosed as  post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most Indian Army soldiers and officers do suffer from PTSD due to intense combat situations they face – Canadian Armed Forces hardly face any such situation. Luckily the military echelons never accepted the existence of PTSD in the Indian Army – hence no claimants for disability pension.

Canadian Veterans who qualify for disability benefits receive up to 75 per cent of the salary they were earning when they left the Forces. They are guaranteed benefits for 24 months initially, or until age 65 for those completely disabled, after which the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) kicks in.

The rise of mental health claims is often chalked up to Canada’s difficult 2002-11 combat mission in Afghanistan.  The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS) noted that the Afghanistan mission was  far from the only source of mental health risks. Even at home in Canada, military service means moving often and spending time on duty far from family – a standard practise for most Indian soldiers.

Common disability among Canadian soldiers  for Fiscal Year 2018–19 were:-

  • TINNITUS                              6,726
  • HEARING LOSS                   6,139
  • PTSD                                    2,440
  • ARTHROSIS OF KNEE          842
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS KNEE     781
  • DEPRESSIVE DISORDERS  721
  • LUMBAR DISC DISEASE      629
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS HIP         617
  • CERVICAL DISC DISEASE   578
  • FACET JOINT SYNDROME    50

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of a sound in one or both ears or in the head when it does not arise from a stimulus in the environment.  A single indication or complaint of tinnitus is not sufficient for diagnostic purposes. The condition must be present for at least 6 months.  Individuals who experience tinnitus have provided many different descriptions of what the tinnitus sounds like to them. Descriptions include high-pitched sound, ringing sound, whistle, squealing sound, hum, pulse-like sound, etc

There are two general types of Hearing Loss – sensorineural (sometimes called perceptive) and conductive hearing loss.  Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss due to a defect in the cochlea or the auditory nerve whereby nerve impulses from the cochlea to the brain are attenuated. Conductive hearing loss means the partial or complete loss of hearing due to defective sound conduction of the external auditory canal or of the middle ear. A mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive.  A hearing loss disability exists when there is a Decibel Sum Hearing Loss (DSHL) of 100 dB or greater at frequencies of 500,1000, 2000 and 3000 Hz in either ear, or 50 dB or more in both ears at 4000 Hz.

Most Indian Soldiers and Veterans will vouch that a great chunk of them are suffering from  Tinnitus or Hearing Loss and also that most soldiers under their command suffered from it – especially those from the Armoured Corps, Regiment of  Artillery, Aviation  and also Mechanised Infantry.

Will the Indian Military hierarchy ever be willing to accept the existence of Tinnitus, Hearing Loss or PTSD?

Over Structured Training in the Indian Army


While commanding the Regiment, I tasked our young officers to draft a letter in reply to a query from the higher Headquarters on deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones.)  After two days I asked them about the status of the draft and one of them said “Sir, why don’t you please write it as you write much better than all of us.”  I did not like it a wee bit, but my usual response I curtailed and I analysed the reason with them.  I explained to them:-

We all came through the Services Selection Board (SSB) where we were shown nine caricature images of which one could not make head and tail of.  We all wrote nine convincing stories.  The tenth was a blank and still we wrote a story.  We were flashed a hundred words at the rate of two words every minute and were all wrote a hundred sentences.  Had what we wrote not make sense or was not creative enough, none of us would be here.  Where did we lose all those critical thinking, analytical power and  creative thinking?”

A case study I projected to them.  It was about a section capturing two militants in a hideout by an infantry  section.  The situation was posed to ten Gentleman Cadets  (GC), ten Young Officers (YO) Course qualified officers, ten Junior Command (JC) Course qualified officers and ten Staff College qualified officers.

Ten GCs will come out with nine solutions of which eight will work.  Ten YOs will come out with seven solutions of which five  will work.  Ten JC officers  will come out with five solutions of which three  will work.  Ten Staff College qualified will come out with one solution which is sure to fail at its very first step.

It’s all because of the over structured training in the Army at various stages with the level of structuring increasing up the hierarchy.  

It all commenced from the very first document most of us as YOs in our regiments would have created – a Court of Inquiry mostly to regularise an injury suffered by a soldier while playing.  The task would be given by the Adjutant with a caveat “Refer to a previous Court of Inquiry and do the needful.”  From there commences the procedure of looking back and copying forward.

A decade ago, a friend, a Brigadier at DSSC was tasked to suggest methodology to make tactical exercises more creative.  My suggestion was based on the education here in Canada for Gifted Children who form 2% of students.  Gifted Children unusually possess advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided.  They are usually segregated at Grade 4 based on a written examination.

Gifted Children Programme is a  carefully designed the self-contained program to meet the needs, characteristics and interests of gifted students. Self-contained classes for gifted students offer a space where the child can relate to their intellectual peer group.

The programme is run by teachers who have additional qualification for such special education. It aims to provide:

  • Learning content more relevant to their interests and abilities than in a regular class.
  • The opportunity to work with and learn from other children with similar or higher intellectual aptitude.
  • The ability to work with like-minded peers who also have creative and complex ways of thinking.
  • The ability to relate with others who have similar interests.

It was mutually agreed that the Gifted Children situation is similar to the student officers at DSSC.  Based on the experience I gained working with both our children who were in Gifted Children programme, I suggested that for one tactical exercise let the students be given a blank map sheet with minimum inputs regarding force level, weapons, logistics etc and let the students commence by marking the International Boundary onward and create an exercise and also a solution.  Here no ‘pinks’ will come handy as every time only the map sheet is changed and there is no pre-made solution.  The instructors will have to work overtime to correct and assess each solution and one or two  among all the exercises may be conducted for the course.

The idea was presented to the DSSC Commandant who asked the Brigadier to present the same to the entire faculty.  At the end of the presentation, senior faculty members came out with a question “How will we assess the students?”

The ‘baby’  was thrown out of the window – with the bath, loofah and soap.  It appeared that the aim of all military training is to assess and not to teach.

Halloween 2020


With the convergence of a full moon, a blue moon, daylight saving time and Saturday celebrations with the pandemic with high transmission rates, Halloween 2020 is bound to be remembered in Canada.

The word ‘Halloween’ means ‘hallowed evening’ or ‘holy evening.’ It is believed to be of Scottish Christian origin, dating back to mid Eighteenth Century. Halloween falls on 31 October, the evening prior to the Christian All Saints Day on 01 November.


Halloween came to North America with the influx of Scottish and Irish settlers by early Nineteenth Century. It was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the Twentieth Century it was being celebrated all over North America by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.


Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go out in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, “Trick or Treat?” The word ‘Trick’” refers to ‘threat’  to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no ‘treat’ is given.

Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario Province recommended against trick or treating door-to-door this Halloween for Toronto, Ottawa and also our city of Mississauga.  Prime Minister Trudeau has declared that his three children will not venture out this Halloween for ‘Trick or Treat.


Most homes put up Halloween decorations as what one sees in the ‘Dracula’  movies with cobwebs, skeletons and various scary models. The most common is the ‘Jack-O-Lanterns’ which originated in Ireland where children carved out potatoes or turnips and lighted them from the inside with candles. In North America, pumpkins were cheaper and more readily available than turnips, thus carving them and making them in to Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became a North American Halloween tradition.


It is said that over 60% of pumpkins grown in North America gets converted into Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween and end up as trash.


Whether Halloween is a devil’s holiday or not, the children really have a lot of fun and enjoy the evening going for ‘Trick or Treat’; the adults enjoy accompanying the children and also treating them at their homes.  People of all ages do have a lot of fun ‘dressing up’ in the most grotesque way and they do not ever associate the devil with what they do.


31 October night happens to be a ‘Full-Moon Night’ and also a ‘Blue-Moon.‘  The idiom ‘once in a blue-moon‘ refers to a rare occurrence, but in fact it appears once every 2.7 years, because the lunar month – from new moon to new moon-  is 29.53 days compared to 30 or 31 days of our calendar month.  Hence February (with 28 or 29 days) can never witness a blue-moon.  Last blue-moon occurred on March 31, 2018.


Now comes the Daylight Saving Time (DST) when we turn our clock by an hour on the first Sunday of November. This year, the day falls on 01 November.  It reduces  one hour to standard time with the purpose of making better use of daylight and conserving energy.  Even though the Sun will rise and set as before, the clocks will show the time one hour earlier than the day before.  The first to use DST was Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada In July, 1908.  Other cities and provinces followed suit by introducing DST bylaws.

DST is now in force in over 70 countries worldwide and affects over a billion people every year. The beginning and end dates vary from one country to another. In 1996, the European Union (EU) standardized an EU-wide DST schedule, beginning  last Sunday in March and ending  last Sunday in October. It is believed that DST showed a decrease in road accidents by ensuring that the  roads are naturally lit during the peak traffic hours.

(Images from Halloween 2019)

The Good Old Days


On my blog on Z – The Commanding Officer’s Jeep,  was a comment by Veteran Colonel BIS Cheema as appended below.

‘How things have Changed with use of Public Property? I was commissioned in 1948, and joined 1 DOGRA, at Jalandhar. No one including the Commanding officer ever used any public transport for any private or personal use, unless, it was specifically hired, on payment of 8 Ana, equal to 50 Paisa, per mile. The duty slip was made out in Red Ink. All offers, including the Commanding Officer, used to come from the residence to Office/ Unit lines in their personal transport, that was mostly cycles. Sahayaks were allowed only in field units, and on payment of Rs. 30/- per Month. The same was deducted by CDA from pay. Ladies and Children were not allowed access to Officers Mess, except a specially dedicated room, that was marked as Ladies Room.

Officers never used any Government item, of clothing and equipment. we purchased cloth from Officer’s Shop, got our uniforms stitched to fit each individual at his own cost. One never saw an officer using regular Government issued Shoes for Other Ranks. We got our Service Pattern Boots made by cobblers under own arrangements. There were no free rations for officers at peace stations. Officers Messes were run on the basis of No-Profit-No-Loss. Daily Messing costs were equally shared by all dining members. Such was concern shown by officers towards use of Public property, to be able to earn the respect of the all ranks under their Command.’

How did these aspects change?  When did these change?

Has any officer ever paid for using government vehicle? I never paid for it during my service (1982-2004).

When was the practise of allowing ladies and children into officers’ mess commence?  When I joined our Regiment, the practise was in vogue. Ladies and children had access to ante-room, dining room and even the bar.

When was a Sahayak/ helper/ buddy/ orderly authorised for officers? When was the system of payment for the same discontinued? I was never charged a penny for the same.

Who was that Doctor?


In December 1992 I attended the three month long Junior Command Course at the College of Combat (now Army War College), Mhow, India.  The Army War College is a tactical training and research institution of the Indian Army. It develops and evaluates concepts and doctrines for tactics and logistics for the army. The college trains about 1,200 officers of the Indian Army, and also from friendly foreign countries as well as paramilitary forces each year.

The Junior Command (JC) Course aims to train Army officers who have gained theoretical knowledge of warfare and practical skills necessary to lead company-size units in various war situations and terrain.

I went to attend the course with Marina and our little daughter Nidhi was about 20 months old.  As a student officer I was busy attending classes, outdoor exercises, working on solutions for the tactical discussion on the next day or reading.  Marina found that she had lot of time at hand after I left for classes by 7:45 AM.

That was when Marina with the assistance of our neighbour’s wife, a Masters degree holder in music, tried her hand at honing her singing skills.  As a child she had a passion for music and did attend a few classes in preliminary Carnatic music.  Later she joined a boarding school and her musical interests perhaps gave way to athletic ones!

Marina learned to sing a few Hindi songs and Urdu Ghazals.  On return to our Regiment after the course, at a party she sang two Hindi songs and an Urdu Ghazal.  It was a real surprise package for our Regimental officers.  A lady from Kerala who could barely manage to communicate in Hindi until then was now singing classical Urdu Ghazals.  At the end of her singing, our then Commanding Officer Colonel Rajan Anand in appreciation remarked   “Even if Reji hasn’t learnt much during the JC Course, Marina has learnt to sing pretty well.

We had a Regimental Jaaz Band, led by Major Gulshan Kaushik and Marina became part of the band.  Her Hindi and Urdu diction was polished up with the help of both Major Kaushik and Mrs. Ritu Kaushik.


Later, in 2001, while I was posted at Delhi, Marina sang a high pitched song during the Christmas party at home.  Next morning, she was in serious trouble with her vocal cords, so much so that she just could not speak.  She went to the ENT Specialist at the Base Hospital Delhi.  The specialist, a Major from the Army Medical Corps, inserting a scope through her mouth (video-stroboscopy) and showing her the lacerated condition of her vocal cords said “You must have tried to sing at a very high pitch and you are not trained in classical singing.  This is what happens when you suddenly strain your vocal cords.”  He diagnosed it as a case of ‘vocal cord hemorrhage.’

Our larynx, or ‘voice box’ houses the vocal cords and has several groups of muscles that raise or lower it when we sing, swallow or yawn.  Many singers raise their larynx unconsciously when they sing high notes. If the larynx is too high on high notes, it can actually strain the vocal cords.  Vocal trauma, such as excessive use of the voice when singing, talking, yelling, or inhaling irritants can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels of the vocal cords. These may then rupture and bleed.


We are familiar with players or other athletes moving into the injured reserve list.  Similarly, many singers too move into the injured list, resulting in cancellation of many of their performances.  This often happens primarily due to vocal cord hemorrhage.

Diagnosis done, but the most interesting was the treatment – complete voice rest – मौन व्रत  (Mauna Vrat).  That meant she should not strain her vocal cords at all.  She was advised not to speak for a week, else she may even end up losing her speech all together. She had to communicate with the children and me through writing and often through a comic sign language.

The news spreads fast – even in those days before the advent of cell-phones and social media – it spreads faster in the Army circles when an officer’s wife is sick.  By evening there were many visitors calling on to enquire Marina’s health, especially those who were guests at the Christmas party the previous evening.

Every officer who came over had only one serious question “Who was the doctor? May be, I need to take my wife to him for consultation

The lesson I learnt after the ordeal was that children must be put through vocal music training and I ensured that both our children attended vocal music training.  To read more about it, please click here.

The Whisky War


The news is ripe with Indo-China border stand-off these days. How does Canada fare in their border management?

Canada and the United States share the world’s longest undefended border, running along the 49th parallel from the west coast to Lake Superior and following natural boundaries for the remainder.


Denmark and Canada share maritime boundary in the Arctic and it runs in the middle of Nares strait  through which runs Kennedy Channel.  This 35 kilometres wide strait separates Ellesmere Island from northern Greenland.  The strait is home to two islands – Franklin and Crozier – which falls within the territorial waters of Denmanrk


The third and the contested island is within the territorial waters of both Canada and Greenland, an uninhabited barren rock of 1.3 Sq km, named after Hans Hendrik, an Arctic traveller.  A theoretical borderline in the middle of the strait goes through the island.  According to an international treaty, any island which is in 12 miles of mainland comes under the territory of that country which technically allows both Denmark and Canada a claim over the island.

The Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations in a landmark judgement of 1933 ruled the island to be a sovereign part of Denmark.  The League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations after World War II and Canada claims that this decision became irrelevant with the demise of the League of Nations.

The dispute between Canada and Denmark re-emerged in 1973 when Denmark and Canada started demarcating their borders through negotiations. They agreed on all other disputes except Hans Island which was then decided to be resolved later.


The Whisky War commenced in 1984 when Canadians sailed to the island and erected the Red Maple Flag on the island and kept a famous Canadian whiskey as a symbolic expression.

In return, the Danish Minister of Greenland visited the island and replaced the Canadian flag with the Danish flag. He took the Canadian whisky and replaced it with world-famous Danish schnapps.

This Whisky War continued until 2015, with both the armies taking turns in unfurling their national flags and placing their famous whisky for the other.

Canada and Denmark, both NATO allies, both agreed to resolve dispute citing the presence of the Russian Army in the Arctic region during the cold war.  On 04 May 2008, an international group of scientists from Australia, Canada, Denmark, and the UK installed an automated weather station on Hans Island.  On 23rd May 2018, Canada and Denmark announced a Joint Task Force to settle the dispute over Hans Island. A committee of arctic experts was constituted to resolve the dispute peacefully. One of the main resolutions, they are thinking of, is to declare the barren stone island into condominium.

A condominium does not mean that the two countries are going to build a high-rise apartment building on the island, but it means that the island will be co-owned and co-managed by both the countries . Thus the will have both Canadian and Danish flags on it.