My Romance with the Indian Railways


My journey with the Indian Railway commenced with my first travel way back in 1966 when I was in Grade 1.  In the Malayalam text book there was a small verse on the ‘Steam Engine’ – (കൂ കൂ കൂകും തീവണ്ടി, കൂകി പായും തീവണ്ടി) Koo koo kookum theevandi, kooki payum theevandi.  I was fascinated by the poem and insisted on travelling on a train.   My dad took me on my first train journey – an eight kilometer one from Kottayam to Chingavanam on a steam engine powered passenger.  Little did I realise as a toddler then that I will serve in the Indian Army and travel the length and breadth of the country on trains. It was the beginning of a long and cherished association with the Indian Railways.


My father first took me to the steam engine as the poem was more about the steam throwing coal eating monster.  He showed me three persons working on the engine.  The Engine Driver (Pilot or Engineer) was the overall commander of the engine.  He was responsible for ensuring punctuality, watch the signals, the track ahead and the train behind, see that the locomotive is running safely and efficiently, blow the whistle when required and plan ahead for stops.


The engineer was assisted by two Firemen who stoked the fire, maintained steam pressure in the boiler, watched the track and signals ahead, and relayed signals from Guard.  They took turns with one stoking the fire and the other watching the signal and blowing the whistle. Firemen were also apprentice engine drivers, allowed to run the train under the engine driver’s supervision and expected to learn enough to be ready for eventual promotion.  Even today, the Indian Railways recruit only Assistant Loco Pilots for their Diesel and Electric Engines, who over a period of service are promoted to be Loco Pilots. I am told that the Assistant Loco Pilots of today earn a salary more than that of the average software engineer!


Steam engines of yesteryear may have been slower and ‘dirtier‘ than diesel/ electric ones, but they were much safer.   As per records, out of every 100 accidents on Indian Railways, only two involved steam engines as the steam engine staff had to be on their feet, busy stoking the fire, adjusting gauges, tightening gears and releasing excessive steam pressure, polish gleaming brass fittings and gauges, filling the water tender and so on.

The train was controlled by a Guard who impressed me with his well starched and ironed cotton white trousers and coat as white as snow.  For the life of me, I could never figure out as to how these Guards on the trains pulled by steam engines, maintained their white uniform so well.  A short journey on such a train always invariably resulted in my dress and hair getting covered with coal-dust.


I might add here an interesting aside. The Indian Railways currently runs a luxury heritage train from Delhi to Alwar, renamed The Palace On Wheels, (earlier Fairy Queen, since 1855) powered by a 70-year-old renovated steam engine, named ‘Azad‘- engine number WP 7200, built in 1947 in USA.


Indian Railways is still maintaining its oldest working steam locomotive named Fairy Queen at New Delhi. I wonder whether the Railways still have the drivers to operate it.

When I joined Fifth Grade at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu), in June 1971, travelling from Kerala to the School was the longest train journey one undertook until then.  It commenced by boarding a Meter-Gauge train at Kottayam, hauled by a steam engine to Ernakulum.  From there in the afternoon it was on to famous No 20 Madras Mail – a Broad-Gauge train – which ran between Cochin and Madras to alight at Coimbatore.  The only reprieve was that the train was hauled by a diesel engine, and therefore no coal dust.

The advantage in a diesel or electric engine is that it can run at same speed whether forward or backward. Steam engines were to run at lesser speed when running with its water tank in the front side. To avoid this there were engine turn tables at major loco sheds for turning the engine to keep engine side in the front.


We got off at Coimbatore by 9 PM and at 10 PM there was a train to Rameshwaram, again a steam engine train on Meter Gauge.  This train would drop us at a tiny station called Udumalaipettai at 2 AM.  Then there was the agonising wait in the small waiting room at the railway station for it to dawn so that the restaurants in town would open their shutters. Early in the morning it was a walk of about a km to the bus-stand, lugging our bags.  Near the bus-stand there was a restaurant which served vegetarian breakfast and we would enjoy the last civilian meal of the semester before joining the Military School. From then on it was going to be the much loved ‘bill of fare’.

After breakfast it was a bus ride of 24 km on the No 10 Bus which plied between Udumalaipettai and Amaravathinagar – about an hour of a bumpy ride, but it ensured that the heavy breakfast we had consumed was well truly digested without any hiccups.


By the time I was commissioned in the Indian Army in 1982 the railways had evolved a great deal; the steam engines had given way to diesel ones which were much faster and did not deposit coal dust in our hair and clothes. With the army life came some really long and memorable train journeys. For a Mallu posted to most military stations in North India, 72 hours was par for the course.  If your unit was in the North East, it was 96 hours and beyond. A colleague of mine used to travel from Trivandrum, then the southernmost station of the Indian railways to Ledo, in Assam, almost on the then Burma border, where his unit was located. It was small matter of some 4000km, 3970km to be precise, taking seven days.  It involved travel by five different trains, with changes at Ernakulum, Madras Central, Howrah Junction, and Tinsukia. The journey from Trivandrum began with a meter-gauge train and ended at Ledo on a meter gauge train. But the bulk of the journey in the middle was by broad gauge. In some ways, the experience of a journey such as this is as exhilarating as that of a mountaineering expedition

Once or twice a year it was a journey homeward to avail the much awaited leave. Also the initial years in the army one had to undergo a lot of training courses at various institutions widely dispersed all over the country. So this resulted in at least one more long train journey. Very often one had to travel at short notice and therefore without reservation. It was nothing short of high adventure.

As the trains rumbled across the length and breadth of the country, I was able to directly imbibe the diversity of our ancient land. As they crossed the many rivers flowing West to East, East to West and North to South (Only the Son River in India flows from south to North), and climbed the many hill ranges and plateaus, I came face to face with school geography. The vastness of the Indo-Gangetic plains, the stunning beauty of the Konkan tract, tenuous criticality of Siliguri Corridor, mesmerising  beauty of the plains of Punjab engulfed in endless fields of wheat, mustard  and sunflower, and he endless barren expanse of the Thar desert all lay bare before me.   I couldn’t help but notice the gradual change in climate, topography, flora, demography, culture, architecture and so on. It was an ever changing landscape of every facet of human existence. There is no better way to learn about this vast country than to simply travel by train. No wonder, the Mahatma, loved to travel by train.

When I am at Kottayam the Pole Star is not visible as it is always hidden behind coconut trees. As the train takes me northward from Kottayam, on the first night I begin to see it quite high above the horizon. On the second night it is much higher in the sky than the previous night. It was much later, during a training course that I theoretically learned that the latitude of a place is the vertical angle between the horizon and the pole star (altitude of the Polaris.) But the railways had made me understand the phenomenon much earlier. Latitude until then was just a line on a map.


Over the many years of train travel I also realised that the Indian railways is a truly humongous organisation any which way you look at it. It is one of the largest rail networks in the world with over 68500 km of track network and nearly 7200 railway stations. It is one of the world’s largest employers, employing some 1.4 million people. Every day it transports 25 million people. It is simply mind-boggling to think in terms of the likes of the entire population of a country like Australia or Taiwan being transported by the Indian railways on a daily basis. Of the worlds 230 odd nations only 55 odd have a population more than 25 million.  The railways also move some 1200 million tons of freight every year.

One got to fully subscribe to Michael Portillo, British journalist, broadcaster, and former Conservative politician- “The two biggest legacies of the Raj are the unification of India and the English language. Moreover, without the railways, India would not have been connected and could not have become one country.” 

Next : Military Special Trains

Regimental Training for a Young Officer


On commissioning I joined 75 Medium Regiment in January 1983.  The Regiment then had an interesting class composition – one battery of Brahmins (other than those from the Southern and Eastern States of India), the second had Jats and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Management of soldiers in all the batteries differed as their reactions to various situations, their needs, their languages etc were different.  Today the Regiment consists of soldiers from all classes from the entire nation.

I was allotted the Brahmin Battery commanded by Late Major Daulat Bhardwaj.   He was a Brahmin and his first advice was “To command Brahmin soldiers, you got to be a Brahmin yourself, beat them in all aspects – physical, mental and spiritual. You got to be mentally alert and morally straight, else they will never respect you. Once you earn their respect and confidence, they will blindly follow you.

You got to be a better Brahmin than your soldiers.  You are a Christian from Kerala and you got to beat the Brahmins in spiritual aspects too.  You attend Mandir Parades with the soldiers every evening; learn by-heart all the aratis, slokas, mantras and hymns; understand their meaning and apply them to your everyday life.”

Within a month, I could sing the arati and recite the slokas fluently and thus became a ‘Brahmin.’  Even though the first of the Ten Commandments the Christians follow say ‘You shall have no other Gods before Me‘, for any officer of the Indian Army, the religion or Gods of the soldiers they command come before their own. While praying to the Hindu Gods during Mandir Parades, in my heart I was praying to my Lord and Saviour Christ.  In fact, now I was praying to a God I did not believe in for the soldiers who believed in me.

The soldiers, especially the ones who manned the guns called Medium Gunners were all well built and nearly six feet tall.  They were selected keeping in mind that they had to handle the eight ton 130mm Russian gun, the toughest being bringing the gun into action mode from travelling mode and vice versa.  The shells the guns fired being heavier also dictated this.

Training for the gunners involved bringing the gun into action, laying the gun at the specified bearing and elevation to engage targets far away, loading the shell into the gun and firing. This training on the gun is called Gun Drill in artillery terms.  Among these giant gunners, I stood as a Lilliput.  I had to look up to meet their eyes when I spoke to them. Rather than they looking up to me, now I was looking up to them.

The first place I lived in the Regiment was the soldiers’ barracks.  My bed was placed next to Havildar Brij Bhushan Mishra’s, who was better known among the soldiers as BB Major. Soldiers address Havildars as Majors, short for Havildar Majors.  He was then the senior most Gun Detachment Commander and was well known for his gunnery training abilities. BB Major spoke in a soft and low voice and the soldiers had to strain their ears to listen to him. He did not believe in talking much, but the soldiers of the Battery respected him and many were scared of him; all because he knew his job well and he had a reputation of being a tough detachment commander and also he sported a ferocious looking handlebar moustache. He believed in the doctrine that soldiers and brass – they shine well when rubbed hard and polished well.

I commenced gunnery training as any other recruit soldier on joining the Regiment would do – to be the Number 9 of the detachment. I attended Gun Drill classes with the soldiers under the watchful eyes of BB Major. As days passed by, I was ‘promoted’ until I became the Gun Detachment Commander in two weeks.

I was pretty impressed with my ‘promotions‘ until the day I goofed up while bringing the gun into action. My omission at that time would have jeopardised the safety of the crew, but timely intervention by BB Major saved the day for me.  He ordered “Stand Fast” – meaning everyone to freeze as they were. This command is used when a commander or a trainer feels that safety of the soldiers is at risk. BB Major pulled me out, shook me hard and said “Saheb, you have got to take care of the soldiers under your command. You got to be alert at all times. You cannot risk injury to your soldiers because of your callousness.” Major Daulat Bhardwaj who was witnessing the training called out “BB, तेरे  मूछों  में  दम  है  [therey moochon mein dum hai] (there is strength in your moustache).”

I did not speak a word, for I was shaken up and also feeling guilty of committing a major goof-up. After this incident BB Major and I developed mutual respect. While conducting gunnery training later on, BB Major would often quote the incident to the young soldiers and how well I took it in a positive stride. He would also add “If I could do it to the Lieutenant Saheb, you guys better watch out.

 

Welcome Spring 2020 with Tulips


Every year, the cold winter snow melts away and we welcome spring, a new beginning.  This new beginning is marked in our garden by tulips.


April rains bring in May flowers‘ is a common saying in Canada. Tulips and daffodils do not wait for the rain and by end of April they sprout out marking the beginning of spring.


Tulip flowers last only a fortnight.

 
We have Early-Spring, Mid-Spring and Late-Spring varieties.  Thus we extent the Tulip flower season in our garden.
  
This year around we did not receive many showers in April and it did have a telling effect on the quality and size of tulip plants and flowers. It is said that the tulip’s velvety black center represents a lover’s heart, darkened by the heat of passion.
 
At least we were lucky to have the best flowers in the city as claimed by many visitors.

 
Tulips Originated in Persia and Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 16th century. They got their common name from the Turkish word for gauze (with which turbans were wrapped) – reflecting the turban-like appearance of a tulip in full bloom.
 
Canadian Tulips have a great history.  In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family for the preceding three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. 
 
he eleventh wedding anniversary flower is also tulip, it conveys forgiveness too.   
Yellow tulips symbolises cheerful thoughts.
  
The Red Tulip became associated with love based on a Turkish legend.

 
Purple symbolizes royalty.

 
We have multi-colored varieties too.

With all of the history, sentiments and meanings of tulips, it’s not surprising that their popularity continues to endure. The wide range of colours and varieties available allows them to be used for many occasions.

CARS Without Scars

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage. Today, it forms an important part of most competitive entrance examinations for important universities the world over.  To develop this skill, the only mantra is to read more – that too from all disciplines across the board. Some you may question how and why reading is connected to CARS? After all the answers to the questions are all there in the given passage! Now the explanation is pretty simple. The more you read, the more is your ability to quickly comprehend. The more you read, greater is your vocabulary and greater is the speed of comprehension and less the chances of your not comprehending something in the passage. The more you read more will be the chances of your familiarity with the subject matter and with greater familiarity comes greater ease of analysis. So reading is fundamental to development of the mental faculty …no escape!

CARS is a skill that needs to be initiated in a child as early as possible.  Parents and primary school teachers play a very important role in developing this skill in children.  Some of the tips for teaching critical thinking to children, as recommended by American Philosophical Association (APA), are as listed below: –

  • Start as Early as Possible. Children can be encouraged to give reasons for their decisions or conclusions rather than teaching them ‘formal’ logic.

  • Avoid Pushing. Whenever we tell our children to do things. it would be pertinent to give them reasons for the same. Some, they may understand; others, they may not.
  • Encourage Kids to Ask Questions. That is the only way to instill and encourage curiosity in children. They should never feel any pressure in asking questions to their parents or teachers.  Many a times, children are hesitant to ask a question due to this pressure from their peers or siblings.
  • Get Kids to Clarify Meaning. Rather than the rote system, encourage children to explain things in their own words.
  • Encourage Children to Consider Alternative Explanations and Solutions. Allow children to experiment or consider multiple solutions rather than always looking for the bookish right answer. This will surely enhance flexible thinking.
  • Talk About Biases. Children can understand how emotions, motives, cravings, religious leanings, culture, upbringing, etc can influence our judgments.
  • Don’t Confine Critical Thinking to Purely Factual or Academic Matters. Encourage kids to reason about ethical, moral, and public policy issues.
  • Get Kids to Write. Writing helps students clarify their explanations and sharpen their ideas. Only kids who read and analyse develop good writing skills.

When faced with preparing for a CARS test, you are what you are. In  case you have a few months or at best a year before you take the test, can you actually prepare for and improve upon your CARS score? Surely Yes. Let us see some of the aspects of preparation for CARS.

Reading Speed
Speed of reading is very important for any CARS test.  Generally, there are five to six passages and 60 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Thus you have less than 15 minutes to read each passage, the set of associated questions and answer them.   The only way to increase your speed of is by reading and more reading. There are of course many speed reading techniques that one may try but eventually you must settle down to a particular reading technique.

Most of the modern-day CARS tests are computer based, the examinee needs to develop speed of reading onscreen.  Reading onscreen in a test environment calls for better training of your eyes and mind as it is 20% slower than reading it on paper.  If the test you are taking is onscreen, you must practice more onscreen.


Some tips to speed up your onscreen reading are: –

  • Do not Move Your Head – either up/down or left/right – to see an entire page on most computer screens. Practice shifting your focus between words and lines without moving your head.
  • Avoid ‘Sub Vocalization’ – also known as auditory reassurance. It is a common habit where readers say words in their head while reading, thus slowing down.  Your mind is capable of perceiving and analyzing text much faster than you think – at least double that of your speaking speed.
  • Never Stop in Between and Go Back and Forth. In case you do not fully understand a part of the passage or you lack clarity about what the inputs are, first read the complete passage and then look for what you need to clarify.
  • Practice Reading Phrases or Small Sentences Rather Than Reading Each Word. Remember that you are looking for the overall meaning and not referring to a dictionary. Reading word by word slows you down as you tend to pause between words.

Selective Reading
As part of your reading in preparation for CARS you need to read for pleasure and entertainment as well as concentrate on some dense and difficult prose. In both categories your reading should be only non- fiction and generally related to social sciences and humanities. The CARS passages are hardly ever science based. In the light reading category, a few national and international current affairs magazines would suffice such as Time, Newsweek, India Today, Frontline and so on. It is also important to read the editorials of daily newspapers and a few articles that appear on the editorial page. As for difficult prose try for example Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Reading such as this is essential so that you develop the ability to read and assimilate difficult prose.

Practice
While wide multidisciplinary reading is the best solution in the long run, if your preparation time is limited to a year or less, then the solution lies in relentless practice. Even if you do nothing else by way of preparation, just practice alone may well see you through. Repetitive practice will in the long run build up your stamina and help improve your reading speed and your analytical skills and above all your scores.   Roughly one mock test a day or five to six per week should suffice. After a month or so, if you are on the right track there should be improvement in your scores. If not there is something seriously wrong in your approach and you may need professional help to identify your weakness.

Vocabulary Improvement
A good vocabulary is a basic requirement for proficiency in the CARS test. If you have been a reader of storybooks since your childhood, generally your vocabulary ought to be good. However, if you have been a poor reader, your vocabulary will need to be supplemented in the short term. Some of the books or Audio-visual materials specifically meant for this purpose are readily available in the market. Some research on effectiveness must be done before you home in on what you need.

Adopt A Simple Strategy
During our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC), the objective tests often contained a section where examinees are required to tick true/false on a series of statements. The questions had negative marking and often bamboozled a lot of us trainees. Eventually some someone came out with a strategy that proved to be effective for at least some of us: –

  • Those questions that you CLEARLY KNOW to be true/false should be first attempted.
  • Then, those that you FEEL are true should be ticked false and vice a versa.

Similarly, there are many strategies in attempting the CARS test. The simplest and the best strategy is to read the entire passage first and then answer questions in the given order. Some may advocate obviously stupid strategies such as reading the first and the last paragraphs and then answer the questions or even reading the questions first (not the answer choices) before you read the passage so that apparently you know where to focus when you read. These stupid options must be shunned. Some other strategies such as devoting a disproportionately longer time for reading and assimilation of the passage and then answering the questions may be useful to some. Yet another strategy may be to devote meaningful time only to say five out of six, or seven out of nine passages and apply pure guesswork on the remaining passage(s) without reading. First skimming through the passages with a view to and identify and attempt the easier passages first may also be another strategy. Early in your preparation time you need to firm in on your strategy and then practice relentlessly on the chosen strategy. If there is no noticeable improvement in scores after a period of time, you may need to think of changing your strategy.

How to Read the CARS Passage
Remember that the CARS test is basically aimed at testing whether you can see the big picture, not the minor detail. By the time you finished reading the passage and applying a few minutes of thought, a central theme should emerge, shouting from roof tops so to say. How do we reach that stage? Central to all prose writing is the point that a paragraph contains a central idea. When we complete each paragraph of the passage, we should ask ourselves what this central idea is and preferably jot this down on a scratch paper in just four or five words. We may call this a paragraph review. We may also jot down as part of the paragraph review, inferences and conclusions that we can draw, comparisons if any and the purpose of anything that is unique Once you have completed this process for all the paragraphs of the passage, look at your scratch paper and go through the ideas jotted down. Try and link these together and form a central theme, which should also be jotted down on the scratch paper. Now give a thought on the authors tone. Is he light hearted, serious or matter of fact? Is he trying to sell a new idea? Is he emotional about the central idea? A clear understanding of the central idea and the author’s tone are essential to answer the following questions. Once this process is done you may answer the questions and there will rarely be a need to re-read any portion of the passage. If there is any question which cannot be answered now, it is better to guess rather than go back to reading the passage as this will only waste time and rarely find the answer.

Instead of using a scratch paper some may be more comfortable with highlighting a few words/sentence in the passage itself to bring out its central idea. To my mind his is an inferior technique but by all means use it if you are more comfortable with it.

Some Sample Questions

Question 1:  ‘Meter’ is a unit of measure derived from one millionth of the radius of the planet Earth. Based on this which of the following is true:

  1. A) The radius of the planet is the perpendicular bisector of all the auxiliary latitudes
  2. B) The first geodetic survey of the Meter was(?) done by Willebrord Snell.
  3. C) The Nautical Mile is equal to Imperial Mile in meters.
  4. D) It is impossible to derive the Meter using land based geodesy techniques and materials as was available in the 18th
  5. E) None of the above.

The answer is E as all of the other statements are red-herrings.  Do not get caught up looking for the red-herrings.  It may be prudent to skip such a question and revisit at the end time permitting.

Question 2
A) Some days are longer than others during the calendar year

  1. B) A few of Da Vinci’s paintings were lost over time.
  2. C) It is possible that there were no protests in Washington D.C. in 1946
  3. D) All students writing the MCAT do well on the CARS section
  4. E) None of the above.

Here there is neither a passage nor a question.  If you analyse, other than for statement D, all other statements are ‘some’, ‘a few’, ‘is possible’.  Statement D is the only specific sentence with ‘all’.  By elimination, the answer got to be D.  Can you now guess the question?

Question 3:  Gautier was indeed a poet and a strongly impressive one- a French poet with limitations as interesting as his gifts. Completeness on his own scale is to our mind the idea he most instantly suggests. Such as his finished task presents him, he is almost the sole of his kind. He has imitators who could not mimic his spontaneity and his temper. Alfred de Musset once remarked about him “at the table of poets his glass was not large, but at least it was his own glass”.

Why does the author quote de Musset in this passage?

  1. A) To show that all of Gautier’s contemporaries were his fans.
  2. B) To prove that Gautier’s poetry was objectively the best.
  3. C) To show how different Gautier and his poetry were.
  4. D) To show the weaknesses of the French style of poetry.
  5. E) None of the above.

The answer is C.  The quote by Musset ending with ‘it was his own glass’ points to the answer.

CARS is not at all be the nightmare that it is made out to be. In fact, if your vocabulary and ability to see the big picture are okay, then half the battle is won. All that remains is to polish the skills by relentless practice, backed up by record keeping of your scores.

 

Identity Discs


The movie 1917, based on the First World War, tells the story of two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals William Schofield and Tom Blake who are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off a scheduled attack that would jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph Blake.


Schofield and Blake cross no man’s land to reach an abandoned farmhouse, where they witness a German plane being shot down.  They drag the burned pilot from the plane. However, the pilot stabs Blake and Schofield shoots the German pilot dead. Schofield promises Blake as he dies that he would complete the mission and to write to Blake’s mother.  He removes two rings from  Blake’s fingers  along with the round Identity Disc worn around his  neck.

Schofield succeeds in reaching Colonel Mackenzie, who reads the message and reluctantly calls off the attack. He is told that Lieutenant Joseph was in the first wave, and after  searching for him among the wounded, finds him unscathed. Lieutenant Joseph is upset to hear about his brother’s death, but thanks Schofield for his efforts. Schofield gives Joseph his brother’s rings and Identity Disc and requests him to write to their mother about Blake’s heroics.

. As I watched it, I made a mental note to write a post on the identity discs worn by the soldiers. On a philosophical note it reminds every man in uniform that martyrdom   is just around the corner. However, at the practical level, it has a specific purpose. They bear the personal number, name, regiment, religion and blood group of the soldier and serve the twin purpose as both a recorded evidence of a soldier’s death in action as well as for the eventual recognition of the body, in case there is a need. When there are a large number of fatal casualties over a short duration, it serves a purpose of keeping a record of death. It must be sounding a bit eerie to the uninitiated.


In the Indian Army we had to wear these Identity Discs while on operations and during various training exercises.  Actually there are two discs – an oval disc with holes punched on either ends and a round one with a single hole.  Our soldiers wore the oval disc on their left wrist and the round one around their neck.  On inquiry they said that it is to ensure that one disc will remain with the body even if the hand shears off.  The logic did not appeal to me at all, but I could not find any instructions regarding the proper way of wearing the discs. Surely we were not fighting a battle with swords to have either our heads or hands to shear off.

I had no difficulty wearing the round disc around my neck, but the oval disc around my wrist was always a worry.  I lost them during most training exercises and had to get a new one made every time.  Obviously there was something amiss – I thought.

In 1988, I had to appear for a promotion examination in which ‘Military Administration’ was a subject.  Disposal of the mortal remains of a martyred soldier was an issue on which I often had many questions.  Our Battery Commander was Major VN Singh, a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran.  He was well known for his knowledge and meticulous military administration skills and had just been posted to our Regiment after a stint as an administration and logistics staff officer of an infantry brigade.  I approached him and he clarified the mystery and explained to me the procedure and the proper way of wearing Identity Discs.

The oval disc, through one hole a cord 24 inches long  is passed through and the chain is worn around the neck.  Using a small cord of about four inches, the round disc is attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc.  In case of death in war, the round disc is removed to identify the dead and the oval disc is left on the body for identifying it whenever the body is recovered.  The round disc along with the soldier’s personal belongings is despatched to the Depot Regiment 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.

Identity Discs of Indian Army owe its origin to the British Army.  The first British ‘Disc Identity’ was introduced in 1907.  It was a single identity disc, fitted with a cord to be worn around the neck underneath the clothing.  The single-disc led to many postmortem problems in identification of the dead in that the disc was being removed for administrative purposes, leaving the body devoid of identification.


In May 1916 the second disc was introduced – octagonal in shape – known as “Disc, Identity, No.1, Green”, with the original disc becoming “Disc, Identity, No.2, Red”. The No.1 disc was to be attached to the long cord around the neck, with the No.2 being threaded on a 6 inch cord from this disc. No.1 Disc was intended to remain on the body whereas No.2 Disc was to be removed for administration.

In the movie 1917, Lance Corporal Schofield is shown removing the Red Disc, leaving the Green Disc on  Lance Corporal Blake’s body.


During World War II, British Army soldiers were issued with aluminum Identity Discs – oval and round.


Canadian soldiers’ Identity Disc is scored by a horizontal groove so that the lower portion may be detached. If the wearer becomes a fatal casualty, the lower portion of the disc shall be detached and returned to the Headquarters with the soldier’s personal documents. The chain and upper section of the disc shall not be removed from the body.


US Army Identity Discs consist of two discs. One disc is on a 24 inch chain and the other is attached to the main chain by a four inch chain.

Soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they’ve been given.”   ― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game