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 migrated to Canada in March 2002 and I took over command of the 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 a lot 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.
In the meantime, I spent extra hours with the soldiers to familiarise with them, their backgrounds, their families, their training needs, administration and documentation. On realising that there were gaps in soldiers’ documentation, I set out to automate the same with the assistance from a few soldiers. We captured basic data on computers and developed an easy to handle software. This resulted in all officers having all data of soldiers on their computers and also we could effectively plan their training, promotion, pay & allowances, leave, etc.
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 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 Santhosh 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 medication pills 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.
This February we are traveling to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of my parent unit – the Medium Regiment. The Surveillance Regiment has already deputed Havildar Santosh to receive us and accompany us to the Medium Regiment.
Obviously, Marina has been busy shopping for gifts for Santosh and his family. Marina has 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.”
Wind can blow either way in the Indian Army. A soldier can soothe the pains of his Commanding Officer too.