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.”