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.