During my Indian Army service, I envied all those officers who carried a well organised note pad. The envy was obvious because I could never maintain one whatever and however I tried. My pad was almost like God and Time, with neither a beginning nor an end. I did not know what I wrote where, hence retrieval was never possible. Why? – I never even attempted it.
Some officers of the extreme meticulous variety had their pad separated into sections to note down instructions and orders from their Commanding Officer, Battery Commander, tasks allotted to Sergeant Majors and Sergeants, and so on. Some even used different coloured ink to jot down points based on its priority or severity. Some officers even had note pad beside their toilet seat. Supposedly, all the earthshaking ideas dawned on them while they were on the throne, and it had to be noted down there and then for fear of losing them. I did make an attempt once after observing the pad of a senior officer. I created various sections in the pad, but when I wrote something, it was back to the God status. When I tried to retrieve some information from it, I realised that it could be easier for me to decipher the Harappan script than my own handwriting.
The Harappan script was used by the Indus Valley civilisation some 4,000 years ago. From excavations in present-day Pakistan and North-West India, archaeologists have recovered several thousand short inscriptions, mostly consisting of four to five signs. Till date no one has come out with a satisfactory resolution of these inscriptions. It is ironic that although the Indus Valley Civilisation existed in the heart of present day Pakistan, the nation claims no cultural heritage from this indisputable fact. Due to the non Islamic roots of the civilisation, Pakistan finds it convenient to hand over all cultural heritage claims to the Indians.
The pad often ended up as an appendage in my uniform’s Left breast pocket. In the Regiment of Artillery, we very proudly wore the Lanyard on the Right shoulder with its tail end in the Right breast pocket. So the left pocket was reserved for the appendage! At the slightest hint of an order/ instruction coming my way initiated by a senior officer, I took out the pad and dutifully completed the motions. The pad accompanied me to all the conferences and briefings that I attended. As every other officer, I too often scribbled into it, using my version of the Harappan script. However, when it came to execution I found it more comfortable to rely on my memory.
Captain Desh Raj (now Veteran Colonel) was the self appointed commander for all young officers of our Regiment. He was a great sportsman and captained almost all regimental sports teams. This resulted in him being our mentor and guide in those days. One day, after the Commanding Officer’s Regimental Sainik Sammelan (Commanding Officer’s monthly address to all soldiers and officers), Captain Desh Raj summoned all of us, five young officers of the regiment, and directed us to show him our note pads where we had noted down the points briefed by our Commanding Officer. All of us, except one, were reluctant to display our pads. We were all trying to hide our note pads, but Captain Desh Raj successfully managed to snatch them from us and glanced through them. Soon thereafter he declared “None of you can make a good caricature of our Commanding Officer. Your artistic skills need to be toned up. Look at my note pad and the next time I would like to see a better caricature of our Commanding Officer from you all than this masterpiece of mine“
That was when I realised that all those serious note taking by all young officers were much the same and on similar lines to what Captain Desh Raj did! When I became a Battery Commander and later a Commanding Officer, I ensured that all my Sainik Sammelans were of less than ten minutes’ duration. Possibly, I was mortally scared of my subordinates drawing my caricature! So I resolved not to give them time for the act.
In the Army it was all about check-lists and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and here was I, treading a different path, and relying totally on my memory. I prioritised and analysed all tasks in my mind and executed them to the best of my ability. I too had my failures, but my dedication to execute the task always outweighed my failures. I had a self commitment in that the day I omitted or failed to execute any assigned task, I will accept the consequences and carry a note pad for ever. Well, fortunately, it never got to that.
At the end of our Long Gunnery Staff Course of 13 months, our juniors presented me a mock prize. You guessed it right! It was the smallest note pad available in the market with a mention “This will last for your entire military service.”
I was posted as Brigade Major and our Brigade Commander was often peeved with me for not carrying a pad when he summoned me. He tried all tricks he knew to make me carry one, but failed. One day his Personal Assistant came to me and said “Brigade Commander has summoned you. Please carry this pad and pen when you go in.” I went in to the Commander’s office carrying the pad. He smiled at me and asked me to take a seat. He briefed me on ten tasks to be executed and whatever he said I religiously noted them down on the pad. At the end of it, assuming that he succeeded in making me carry a pad, called for a cup of tea. The two of us sipped our tea while discussing some mundane matters. After that I left his office and commenced with the execution of tasks.
After an hour, I got a call over the phone from the Commander. He wanted a progress report on the tasks and I briefed him about the seven tasks completed with three in progress. At the end he summoned me to his office. As I entered his office, he pointed at the pad on the table and said “What is this pad doing here?” That was when I realised that after the discussion over tea, I had inadvertently left the pad on his table.
“It is where it is supposed to be. I do not need it” I said. Our Commander being a thorough gentleman, even though was livid, asked me “Seriously, please tell me why don’t you carry a pad with you all times like other officers?” My instant reply was “Only cricket players and women use them. I am neither.” (Sorry! My apologies if you deem it sexist). That was it! Our Commander never asked me to carry a pad ever after.
On assuming command of our Regiment, my orders to all was that no one will take out a pad and start noting down the moment I give any directions or instructions. They must listen to me with all attention. In case I felt the instructions were complicated or is likely to lead to any confusion, I or my Staff Officer will issue the instructions in writing with all details.
A few months into command, our Regimental Havildar (Sergeant) Major said “When you start a conversation, my hand first goes into my Left breast pocket. Then I realise that it is an anathema for you and so bring it down immediately. Most of our soldiers too face a similar dilemma.“
How true was the famous military axiom “It is easier to put in a new idea in a military mind, but it is impossible to take out an old one!