During most military training and courses, the philosophy of training was to train every soldier and officer two levels up with every soldier and officer capable of functioning at a level higher and aware of the functioning two levels up. A Section Commander was expected to function as a Platoon Commander and was to be aware of the functioning of a Company Commander.
As a Lieutenant, I was the Gun Position Officer (GPO) responsible for deployment of the six guns of the Battery, calculating the technical parameters for engaging targets at about 25 km, ammunition management, administration of the soldiers, maintenance of weapons, vehicles, radio equipment etc. During our annual training exercise with live firing, our Brigade Commander declared me a ‘casualty.’ Our Technical Subedar took over the duties of GPO and did a commendable job which surely impressed our Brigade Commander. Four years later, as the Forward Observation Officer (Captain) during a similar training exercise, our Brigade Commander declared our Battery Commander a casualty and I carried out the fire planning and engagement of target in support of an Infantry Battalion attack. We were trained and tested to function a level up.
For the annual inspection when I joined our Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in 1983, our Brigade Commander wanted the officers to form a gun detachment of the medium gun and bring the gun into action and carry out various target engagement drills. The senior most Battery Commander was the detachment commander with rest eight of us – Captains and Lieutenants – formed the detachment. We trained for a week with our Gunner Subedar Amarjit, a Punjabi Brahmin who spoke chaste Punjabi interspersed with taunting comments as our instructor. It was a great learning for all of us and it was fun, especially Subedar Amarjit’s commentary and exalting Punjabi punch lines.
Curious to see our Battery Commander training on the gun, I asked him as what could be the intention of our Brigade Commander in making us go through this drill. He said that it was to build camaraderie among officers and make them well versed with the handling and functioning of the gun. I wasn’t fully convinced.
Come June 2002 and I took over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment. The unit was under the process of being equipped with modern radars, surveillance and survey equipment. Military technology develops by leaps and bounds in the modern day and what knowledge I had of the equipment were outdated. I began earnestly training on the equipment with our soldiers with our Subedars as instructors.
It was learning of a different kind. the soldiers were enthused by their Commanding Officer training as the detachment member and commander of the radar; carrying the theodlite, setting it up and taking observations; operating the long range optical surveillance system; handling the Global Positioning System (GPS) etc. I enjoyed the training the same way I did as a Second Lieutenant and learned a lot, especially the short-cuts the soldiers adopted.
It helped me know more about our soldiers and my confidence in them increased manifold. They too must have had a similar experience. I learned a lot and enjoyed the three morning hours I spent on training and it appeared that our soldiers too enjoyed training with their Commanding Officer. My computer knowledge – both in hardware and software – helped me assimilate the training fast. Our soldiers were amazed with my speed of learning and were impressed by my finesse in handling the equipment.
That was when the answer to the question I had as a Second Lieutenant propped up in my mind. Why can’t Commanders at all levels train for a day or two to function two levels down?
I suggest that all commanders – Brigade Commanders and below – must train two levels down. It will be a great learning, especially in view of the ever changing military technology. When I joined our Regiment in 1983, the soldier’s personal weapon was 7.64mm Self loading Rifle. Over the years we were equipped with the 5.56 Rifles and the AK 47. Our Regiment was equipped with Bofors Gun in 1989 – a quantum jump in using the computing power in the field of gunnery. We were till then used to the cumbersome manual procedures involving logarithmic tables, range tables, various graphical instruments and the calculator to calculate various gunnery parameters. Similar was the case with the Infantry and Armoured Regiments.
Training two levels down – if done with a positive intent to learn – will go a long way in camaraderie and the soldiers knowing their Commanders better.
‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.‘ (Gospel According to St John, Chapter 10, Verses 4 & 5)
This was my guiding light as I trained myself along with our soldiers on assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Battery. Being new to the outfit, it was imperative that I ‘recognise their voices’ and for the soldiers to know the ‘voice’ of their Commanding Officer (CO.)
My mornings were well spent on training with our officers and soldiers on the equipment, as my first priority was to achieve a good level of proficiency in handling and operational functioning of the radars, surveillance and survey equipment.
The deficiency in our posted strength of personnel was made up by the influx of about 20 recruits, whose training had been truncated in view of the mobilisation. They had to be trained further to become effective soldiers. Drill and Weapon Training Instructors were requested from the neighbouring Infantry Battalion. All young soldiers with less than five years of service were trained separately, commencing with 45 minutes of Physical Training, followed by a breakfast break of 45 minutes. This was followed by 45 minutes of Drill after which there was a 15 minute ‘hydration break’ with liberal amounts of lemonade and water being served. This was followed by a 45-minute Weapon Training class under the trees. The technical and tactical training sessions were conducted thereafter.
For the next four weeks, all Officers and Soldiers trained sincerely and hard. At the end of our training schedule, we had well turned out soldiers moving about with a smart military bearing. They all proved to be an asset to the Battery as they were ready to execute any task. A strong feeling of ‘espirit de corps’ and Regimental Pride developed due to which, we had zero disciplinary violations. .
Training of JCOs and NCOs to become effective junior leaders was a bit difficult on account of systemic inertia caused due to decades of centralised functioning. Though their duties and responsibilities were explained in detail and all JCOs were granted the financial power to purchase anything up to Rs 100 without prior approval, they were rather hesitant to assert themselves.
On the third day of my training with the Radar teams, I tasked a JCO to drive in a vehicle along the road, for a distance of about 15 km from our location, with a radio-set and a GPS. He was required to stop after every km and report his location while those of us at the radar-end tried and locate him and compare the map coordinates worked out by us with his GPS coordinates reported. After about five reports, the JCO stopped reporting his coordinates because the batteries powering his GPS had drained off. “Why couldn’t he use his initiative and purchase the standard AA batteries from any local shop?” I asked. Though the cost of the batteries was well within his financial powers, the thought of procuring them himself, did not occur to him. “March him up to me tomorrow!” I ordered. In the evening Major Suresh, our Second-in-Command, came to my office and said “At this rate you will end up marching up half the Battery. Please give them time to get used to your style of functioning.”
There were many myths prevailing which had to be broken. This needed persistent efforts as it is rather difficult to introduce new ideas and practices without uprooting deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that drive the functioning of any military unit.
As the Battery was all set to move into battle, all soldiers wore their Identity Discs with the oval disc on their left wrists and the round one around their necks. The myth prevalent was that this was to ensure that identification of the body parts would be easier if blown apart due to an explosion. The correct method of wearing the two discs was explained to all soldiers. The oval disc, through one hole of which, a cord 24 inches long is passed through, is worn around the neck like a chain. The round disc is required to be attached to the bottom hole of the oval disc using a smaller cord, about four inches in length. Both the discs, attached to each other, were required to be worn around the neck of each soldier! In case of death during war, the round disc is required to be removed by the soldier’s comrades or at the field hospital and deposited with his unit as proof of his death in action. The oval disc is left on the body for identifying it and conducting the last rites. The round disc, along with the soldier’s personal belongings are despatched to the Depot Regiment/ Company 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.
An aspect that hindered the effective functioning of JCOs was the non-availability of transport, especially when they had to travel outside the Regimental area. Three 100 cc light motorcycles with six helmets were handed over to our Subedar Major, for use by the JCOs. The Subedar Major was directed to issue military driving licences to all JCOs and to those Havildars who had qualified for promotion to be a JCO. One JCO was brought to me with the excuse that he could not drive a motorcycle and hence, did not want any driving license to be issued to him. I cleared his doubts by making him aware that, “All JCOs were required to clear Mechanical Transport Level 3 Test (MT3) prior to attending the promotion cadre. Anyone with MT3 is qualified to drive a motorcycle and other vehicles. In case any JCO is unwilling to drive, he would be marched up to the General Officer for dismissal from service on grounds of inefficiency.” There were no complaints after that.
During our Young Officer days, one has been hearing about training JCOs to be effective junior leaders, capable of taking over duties of Young Officers and executing them. It mostly remained on paper, confined to theoretical realms. Barring a few JCOs, most were not trained or empowered to be junior leaders at regimental level. It could well be attributed to the selection and training of JCOs. One often heard “A good Havildar will often prove to be a bad JCO.”
JCOs are Gazetted Officers meaning that their appointment is published in the Gazette of Government of India. By definition, a Gazetted Officer is a person who is an officer in the Indian Government service, the signature and official seal of which is necessary for verifying and attesting important documents certified copies and/or photographs of the person for the central and state government. He needs to be evaluated as a reasonably high-level public employee. The gazetted officer’s acts are considered as an authorised witness for document verification.
To verify and to attest any document, the first need was a seal. To put this into practice, I ordered that all JCOs be given a seal with their Personal Number, Rank, Name and Appointment. They were to carry the seal with them and had to affix it wherever they signed. All attestation/ verification tasks were given to them.
The next task was to educate our JCOs about being a Gazetted Officer and the responsibilities accompanying this status. This is a little-known facet. I am not surprised that even today, many COs will be unaware of this fact that our JCOs as gazetted officers receive this power and authority to use their seal directly from the President of India.
The JCOs were appointed in-charge of various stores, equipment and Regimental institutions. All Havildars were accordingly relieved of such charges. The JCOs now had to carry out all documentations, prepare work orders, pay & allowances documentation, leave planning of soldiers under command, leave certificates, railway warrants, etc and sign them with their seal. In many ways they were doing the task of both officers and NCOs and with a quiet efficiency.
The Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) and Small Arms Annual Classification Firing results of the Battery did not follow a bell curve. That meant that either the standards set by the Army Physical Training Corps or the Infantry School were too easy (which, obviously was not the case) or the soldiers of our Battery were exceptional in their marksmanship and physical fitness!! I impressed upon all the need to be truthful in reporting test results and it must follow the bell curve. The case of Havildar Shivnath Singh who represented India twice in the Asian games and twice at the Summer Olympics and who wilted due to unscientific over training was discussed. I summed it saying, “Failing in any test is not a sin and the soldier has to be trained systematically to achieve the desired results.“
Another retrograde convention among all ranks concerned the use of the telephone or intercom to communicate with the CO. This was considered by most as sacrilege. Our officers felt that calling the CO over the intercom or telephone appeared discourteous and they were not comfortable with it. They felt that they must physically appear in front of the CO to pass on any information. I explained to them, “The exchequer has spent a considerable sum to provide the Battery with a telephone network and an intercom system. Please use them. Calling the CO over the phone is not being discourteous.” It still took them over a month to shed this inhibition.
Did it continue like that for ever in the Battery? I did what I could, and I cannot ensure its continuity, but I succeeded to a great extent in dispelling many myths and retrograde conventions.
On taking over command of our Regiment in June 2002, we were deployed in our operational area in Rajasthan, ready to be launched into battle any time. The mercury tipped many days over 40°C and the Regiment had been there since the dawn of the New Year.
The entire Regiment was living in tents with the Commanding Officer (CO) provided with a much more spacious and larger tent. The other luxury the CO enjoyed was a desert cooler in the tent and the Second-in-Command (2IC) too had this luxury. A 5kW generator meant for the workshop powered the lights, fans and desert coolers from 9 AM to 2 PM and then from 7 PM to 10 PM.
My first day in command was spent on familiarisation of the Regiment and the area around. It ended with my first command order. Please click here to read https://rejinces.net/2016/04/01/first-comd-order/.
That was when I realised that the dreams and plans I had in mind to be executed on taking over command had to be kept in abeyance as there weren’t adequate funds. The only money at my disposal was Rs 200000 from a fixed deposit that had matured. That wasn’t my money and if I used it, I had to make it up.
After working out the power requirement, it was decided to procure three 15kW generators and fifty desert coolers to equip every tent in the Regiment. Two Young Officers with a team of soldiers were deputed to purchase the same from Jodhpur, the nearest town. From that evening we had a well lit and well cooled township. My only worry was that I had spent most of the Regimental Fund.
That evening at the Officers’ Mess, I gave out my command policy. Anything that does not have a utility value to the Regiment in our operational area or for the families of our officers and soldiers at our permanent location must be disposed off. All funds, Regimental and others must be utilised towards the war efforts.
All Officers and soldiers were asked to propose anything they needed and I found they were too contented with what I gave them the very first day and wanted no more.
We procured two desktop computers to support my automation endeavours. Now I had to conserve all that was left with our Regimental Fund. The first step was to reduce stationary usage by automation and we succeeded to a great extent.
In November we were ordered to return to our permanent location at Devlali. I ordered that only one of the three generators to be carried along and the rest two and all fifty coolers to be sold off at 60% of their cost with the first priority for our soldiers. The coolers and generators were of no use to the Regiment at Devlali and would have turned into junk later. Our soldiers from Rajasthan picked up the entire lot and I recouped half the Regimental Fund I had spent.
The first project we executed was a washroom cleaning device based on the mobile cleaning unit employed by the Indian Railways to clean the toilets of the trains on the platform. Our soldiers designed and built it. Now every soldier could carry out janitorial duties and the Safaiwalas (Janitors) were available to accompany radar detachments, survey teams and also operate radio sets. They turned up smartly in their combat uniforms every morning walking with a swag with the radio set on their back and the operators pad in their hand.
Most of my time in the Regiment was spent at the Computer Cell. Whenever needed, I relieved at the soldiers’ washroom rather than using the washroom at my office. This ensured that all soldiers kept their washrooms spic and span.
Two weeks after landing at Devlali, Major General RS Jambusarwalla, our Divisional Commander visited us. I received him at the Regiment and he walked to the rear end of his car and ordered his driver to open the boot. There it was – a computer, a printer and a multimedia projector. That was the only time in my military career a visit by a senior officer began with a gift to the Regiment.
Two weeks later was the inspection by Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM, the Army Commander, Southern Command and his proposal for other units to procure the software we had developed for Rs 10000 was a great boon. Now I had all the money at my disposal to implement all my ‘wild ideas.’
We were a SATA Battery being converted to a SATA Regiment. We did not have a JCOs’ Club, an important Regimental institution. Fighting many a battle with the Station Headquarters, we managed to get a near dilapidated building allotted as our JCOs’ Club. I summoned our SM and tasked him to get the building done up, procure furniture, crockery, cutlery, etc. I gave him a month’s time for executing the task with my final advice “It’s got to be better than our Officers’ Mess.” After a month our SM invited all officers for a cocktail at the JCOs’ Club for inauguration. The above image is the testimony to that day.
The next project was to create a high-end barber shop. Please read https://rejinces.net/2016/04/29/acgo/.
Our soldiers came up with a request for a multi-gym. SM Thangaswamy was tasked to execute the project with the assistance of other JCOs. They suggested procuring the equipment from Ambala as it would a cheaper option. I advised them to procure it locally from Nashik to ensure installation and warranty services.
Two weeks later SM Thnagswamy asked me about my availability to inaugurate the gym. I asked him to inaugurate immediately and make it available to our soldiers.
We automated our kitchen with flour kneader, freezers and coolers for storage of milk, meat and vegetables. We were allotted a ‘Steam Jacketed Cooking System’ for the soldiers’ kitchen procured from special funds under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Power. I did not want it to turn into an elephant’s teeth for show alone. How we extracted its full value, please read https://rejinces.net/2019/03/31/elephantteeth/.
I was lucky that I had a great lot of officers and soldiers who accepted me, supported my ideas and worked wholeheartedly to ensure fulfilment of all my dreams. I must sincerely thank all Officers, JCOs, NCOs and soldiers and a special high-five for our Subedar Major (SM) Thangaswamy who kept me in high spirits with his sense of humour.
Did I realise all the dreams I came with to command? It’s an emphatic Yes and much more; all because of a great Regiment that I was lucky to command.
Listening to an interview of Brigadier General Ross Coffman of the US Army on military leadership, I was fascinated by his revelation that it was his father who too served the US Army who instilled in him a duty to serve the nation, and to love the men and women who fought alongside. General Coffman narrated an incident with his father.
A close relative was skimming through the pages of his father’s album and came across some photographs of his father as the Platoon Commander with Sergeant Elvis Presley. He said, “If you sell these photographs, you will earn huge money.”
When Elvis Presley turned 18 on January 8, 1953, he fulfilled his patriotic duty and legal obligation by registering for the US Army draft. At that time, he was a rock and roll music sensation. Though the US Army offered Presley an option to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops, he decided to serve as a regular soldier. This earned him the respect of his fellow soldiers and countrymen. Thus, Presley became US Army Serial Number 53310761 and after his basic training was assigned to D Company of the Third Armored Division’s 1st Medium Tank Battalion. This took him to Germany on October 1, 1958, and he served with the Regiment until March 2, 1960. On January 20, 1960, Presley was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
What impressed young Ross the most was his dad’s reply. “I love all the soldiers who served with me. My love for them will never be on sale.“
On assuming command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Battery at our operational area in Rajasthan during June 2002, where we were deployed to go into battle at any moment, I walked into our office and asked for the ‘Last Will and Testament’ of all soldiers. I realised that most were incomplete or inaccurate with respect to the name of the next of kin, spouse and children. When I inspected the documents of the clerks who were responsible for their preparation, I found the same glaring errors and omissions. Realising the gravity of the situation at the juncture when war clouds were looming, I decided to automate the personal documentation of our personnel, starting with the generation of the Last Will.
Having served throughout with a Medium Artillery Regiment, and on staff assignments, I had a very basic, broad based knowledge and exposure to the equipment and operational functioning of my new unit which was all about radars, surveillance equipment and survey. Achieving thorough proficiency in these subjects became my foremost priority. Therefore, my mornings were well spent on training with our soldiers on the equipment. By noon it was too warm for any worthwhile learning, and I used the rest of the day to familiarise with the soldiers by interviewing them at my office. Please read https://rejinces.net/2015/12/28/firstmlname/
When I moved in to command, I had four boxes – two for my personal belongings and two housing my desktop computer, printer, scanner and various other accessories. My personal computer was the only functional computer in our Regiment then.
I began my automation project by creating a basic database comprised of the soldiers’ personal number, rank, name, next of kin, spouse and children. With each interview, the database expanded to include other relevant aspects. By the time I completed the first round of interviews, I had to conduct another round as I had more data to collect.
With the assistance of three soldiers, we captured most of the required data and I programmed it to ease various documentation aspects – Part II Orders, pay & allowances, promotions, qualifications, training schedules, nominations for Insurance & Provident Fund, leave availed and printing of relevant forms and certificates concerning every aspect of documentation pertaining to soldiers.
The interviews went on to the third round and our soldiers appeared to enjoy the experience. During one of the breaks while on a reconnaissance mission, my radio operator, Naik Ranjith, a good mimic, enacted a soldier’s expression on being summoned to the Commanding Officer’s (CO) tent for an interview. It commenced with the discomfiture of the soldier seated on a chair in front of the CO. Until then, soldiers always stood at attention in the CO’s office unless ordered to stand ‘at ease’. On being seated, he was served a cup of tea and to complicate the matter further, he was offered a biscuit! The soldier’s dilemma was, how he could drink the tea and eat the biscuit while answering the volley of questions fired at him by his CO. The seat in front of the CO’s table came to be named as the ‘hot seat’.
The ‘hot seat’ helped me to learn a lot about our soldiers and also to break the ice with them. Rather, it melted the ice altogether. At the end of this process, we had a robust database which could execute most documentation tasks at the click of a mouse. Our biggest achievement was that we could print all documents that were required to process the grant of pension to soldiers who were due to retire, running into over sixty pages, accurately, without errors, with the click of a mouse. It made the clerks redundant.
By the end of November 2002, we returned to our permanent location at Devlali as a cooperating unit of the School of Artillery. The news about automated functioning and other welfare measures instituted in our Regiment reached the ears of Commandant, School of Artillery. Two weeks later, the Commandant directed me to be prepared to conduct Lieutenant General GS Sihota, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VM, the Army Commander, Southern Command, during the administrative inspection of the School of Artillery. I was tasked to conduct the General in our Regiment for thirty minutes after the briefing by the Commandant at his office.
General Sihota accompanied by the Commandant reached our Regiment and I straight away demonstrated the software and the automated office functioning. We also discussed various welfare measures that we had initiated in our Regiment. At the end of the discussion, the General asked me “If other Units of the Army would like to procure this software from you, how much would you expect?”
“Ten thousand rupees,” I replied.
“Why ten thousand?”
“This software has been designed for our Regiment. I need to work to customise it for others. I can provide it free of cost, but then, no CO would value it. Only those COs who sincerely value the importance of documentation of their personnel will spend money to procure the software.”
The Army Commander was convinced with my reply, and he gave me the go ahead. We all left from our Regiment for lunch and the Commandant was happy that the administrative inspection of School of Artillery was concluded with the GOC-in-C’s visit to our Regiment. About a hundred units, mostly Artillery Regiments and a few Infantry Battalions procured the software from us.
The money from the software accumulated in our Regimental Fund Account. Our Second-in-Command, Maj Suresh approached me to say that it was my money as it was the fruit of my hard work. I refused to accept a penny though Suresh was adamant that I take at least 25%. I said: –
“I developed this software for our soldiers. I love our soldiers from the bottom of my heart. I cannot sell my love for our soldiers. All the money we earn from this software must go to them.”
The evening I handed over command at Devlali, I flew to Toronto from Mumbai. Having joined our Regiment with four boxes, I left the Regiment after a very fulfilling command tenure with two boxes, leaving behind my desktop computer which had dutifully served me for seven years.
Congratulations to the author for a well written book with the aim of motivating our youth – an aspect that very few military leaders have attempted. The journey of life of a young lad from Charangpat (Lake of the Dragonflies)- a remote hamlet in Manipur – ‘the Switzerland of India’, to becoming a General in the Indian Army and on hanging his uniform. His choice to return to his roots to serve the society instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement at any place of his choosing, is well etched. He was, in his own words, was a child who was physically weak, shy, scared of heights and the darkness.
Manipur has the highest per-capita number of officers in India’s armed forces. Now, being the Chairman of the Manipur State Public Service Commission, I have a suggestion. While appearing for Canadian citizenship, we were required to clear an examination which had 20% questions from Canada’s military history, mostly covering Canada’s contribution during the two World Wars. India has a very eventful military history, especially post independence. Through my various blogposts I have been suggesting that the Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commissions must have least five percent questions from Independent India’s military history. This will enthuse the coming generation and will make them aware of the role and sacrifices of India’s Armed Forces. It is sure to make them feel proud.
All through the book, the author’s love for nature has been vividly painted, taking the reader through a visual fete. The description of the author’s grandfather ‘Even the horses kept silent when he coughed,’ kept me thinking for a while. The author’s initiative to recover plastic junk accumulated over the years of army deployment in the Siachen glacier is another example.
The impact of seeing a ten year old handle a weapon by; the need to have a dream in life – to dream big and how to pursue it; participating in family activities and chores; care for his mother by buying her salt with all his pocket money; overcoming stage fear; moral fibre, by choosing to throw away that ‘chit’ carried by him to the examination hall; listening to the English news to enlarge his vocabulary; the importance of reading (even if not comprehended at that age;) the need to remain focused; the power of pardon and courage to be truthful; his adventurous train journey; the importance of education in the development of any society; the need for hobby – great life lessons that any child will value and benefit from during his growing years.
It was a revelation to me that the game of polo originated in Manipur. His requesting for half a mark to make it to 60 – brought back memories of many of my class mates and also, officers during various courses, begging for a mark or two to make a better grade.
Team spirit and camaraderie instilled in cadets at the National Defence Academy, the lack of facilities and time to enhance individual skills; modification of curricula to incorporate leadership skill development; have been well brought out.
The initial grooming and training of a Young Officer in his Regiment; the need and role of a mentor; the impact of his carrying the additional load of a soldier during a gruelling professional competition; the importance of participating in adventure activities – provide an interesting peek into the development and growth of a military leader.
The need for re-orienting training and educating the soldiers in dealing with the local population – through the eyes of the author – recipient of the adverse effects of lack of empathy by soldiers; the adverse effect of Armed Forces Special Powers Act; effect of movies to turn the youth to violence – have been well explained.
The author has given a first-hand information about the plight of the Bangladeshi Chakma refugees; peace-loving Mizos; the clashes between Meiteis, Naga, Kuki tribes, Manipuri Muslims; religio-communal divide and its present day implications; present cultural and socio-economic situation – the voice of a true son of the soil.
Submitting Kanchejunga rolls out like a movie as one reads, especially the fall of the author into a crevasse, coming out of the jaws of death and the felicitation by the Prime Minister of India that followed.
The conviction of the author to stand up against an unsavoury remark against Manipuris by a General at the Defence Services Staff College and the methodology adopted to make the General retract his words shows the maturity of the author and his adeptness in dealing with ‘difficult ‘situations.
A tinge of well appreciated subtle humour – panic is fear at highest level of military; the golden epaulettes; gifting of a telephone by a Pakistani soldier.
The first hand details of the attack on Point 5770, mostly unsung, gives the reader goose bumps with each activity explained with brevity. It showcases the leadership traits of the author. My salute to you Sir for the respect you showed to the fallen enemy soldiers in keeping with the highest military values. Not being awarded the Battle Honour – I hope the Indian Army will make amends for the oversight even at this stage. It needed an American author, Marcus P Acosta to bestow the honour the author’s Battalion 27 RAJPUT deserved.
The Siachen Glacier experience, the after effects on both the body and mind of the author is well expressed. The dogs Pista and Pisti and the author pinning his commendation on Pisti, concern against euthanasia of aged mules shows the author’s love for all God’s creations. His wish to command a brigade in the glacier – that too for a rupee – proves his military leadership traits.
The causes that led to the Ind-Chinese recent stand-off as viewed through the author’s eyes is worth a read.
As suggested by the author, the need for a test to assess the psychological and emotional condition of the officers prior to assuming command of units is of utmost importance. If implemented, it will prove to be extremely beneficial to the Army. Also, the case of boots for soldiers – why every piece of the soldier’s uniform – were privately bought. There is no worthwhile water-bottle for a soldier since 2000. The author’s concern for the soldiers’ needs and his moral fibre to convey it to none other than the Defence Minister in the presence of the Chief of the Army Staff shows the author’s convictions.
The author has fulfilled his childhood dream – he did not stop there – but went on to become a Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. He has rightfully credited his achievements to his family, his teachers, his superior and subordinate officers of the Indian Army; above all to the soldiers who served under him.
After writing this review, I felt that I missed a great deal in never getting an opportunity to meet or serve under our first General from the North-East – a true soldier and a gentleman. I sign off with a quote from this book:-
Meeting and interacting with thousands of officers and men under my command gave me more faith in the inner strength and capability of our officers to win any situation. Only the Generals have to live up to it.
Statutory Warning : Do not blame the author for gelastic syncope.
Compliments to Captain Anil Gonsalves for an excellent biographical book. The book begins with a well composed poem, which I wasn’t expecting in such a book, that too about our alma-mater, the National Defence Academy (NDA.) Many pages have been written about NDA over and over and the ‘snake killed many times, still being beaten harder.‘ Is the tail still moving??
This was a welcome change; something different. The narration, all humorously radiant with an infectious enthusiasm. It is a collection of hilarious, stimulating, and thoughtful set of events as they unfold.
When I read the anecdotes about life at the NDA, I relived it with a smile at the corner of my mouth though the real life experience was far too terrible. The readers who have been through this type of training will enjoy reading it with a smile, both in their hearts and on their face. The author has captured all the important and landmark events in a Cadet’s life at the NDA.
The habits acquired at the NDA continue with us like the ‘never used, starched handkerchief.’ Measurements of distance and time during the reunion, I thought it was only my mind’s creation during our reunion. Now I realise that I have company. Returning to NDA, I too felt that I must not have grown up so quickly.
The author has effectively brought out nostalgic moments of his Naval life with a tinge of humour, beginning with the last sailing of the beautiful INS Mysore, the cadets’ training ship. Various life lessons the author has hilariously unwrapped are :-
- Taking care of the sailors or soldiers or airmen, acceding to their request for leave even if it was fake, is sure to make any young officer feel like the Captain of the Titanic.
- Life as a young officer was always about setting up a classic rattrap and ringing the bell, but every time the rattrap by itself and the tone of the bell had to be different.
- The weatherman is always right on a wrong day and is the only one to keep his job or not get kicked even if he is wrong 75% of the time.
- It’s the Commanding Officer who is responsible for every action of his ship and he is the ship.
- ‘Triskaidekaphobia‘ the fear of number 13 (from Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), and deka (‘ten’). Hence look intelligent, talk with technical terms, but always check one’ facts before blurting out.
- English may not be you mother tongue – ‘working hardly’ on your language skills may not be beneficial always.
- Beware of un-mastered Indian languages – they will land you in a soup.
- Bathing nude at the NDA did has its advantages.
- Bull-shit is Indian Army’s prerogative, never knew that it was Buffalo-shit in the Navy.
- Gunners – the Naval and Army versions – are well known for their stiffness and pranks.
- You can’t be thrice lucky – especially with a DRDO scientist – that too with a hammer.
- You must salute the Armed Forces chopper pilots twice.
- The hard service lesson to follow the Chetwode credo will remain etched in all Armed Forces officers’ minds even after retirement :-“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
- Travel the world – you will realise how much you missed of the God’s beautiful creations and how much is left for you to see. The travelogues are excellent – I can vouch for the Canadian part of it – and provide excellent tips and a peek into places of interests.
- The 16 hour flight from India to Toronto is as comfortable as the Taliban therapy.
- Canadian side offers the best view of the Niagara Falls.
- Canadians take courtesies to the extremes. They will say ‘sorry’ even if you stamp on their feet. The magical words like ‘hi,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ – you have to punctuate every phrase you utter with least one of it. Racism or any racial comment or gesture is not liked – especially with young school going children around. (I have had it many a times from our children.)
A Glossary of NDA and Naval terms at the beginning or explanation of the terms would have benefited the reader. If the reader finds difficulty in getting the meaning of those terms, always remember –It means the same as the first that came to your mind – else Google it up.
If you believe that ‘Laughter is the best Medicine,’ then this book is for you.