While commanding our Regiment at Devlali, I was a single parent taking care of our daughter Nidhi, then aged 12 and our six-year-old son Nikhil as Marina had emigrated to Canada. It would not have been possible for me to take of our children alone and the soldiers at home did a marvelous job. I remain ever thankful to them.
The staff at home was headed by Havildar Chef Thapa, two Radio Operators – Santhosh and Ranjith and Havildar Driver Suresh. They took care of the children and the home like theirs and like a fortress. It was as secure as it could be for the children, and they did not want anyone else intruding into their fort.
Thapa hailed from Nepal and was the only married man among them. It was said in the Regiment that when he went on leave to his native Nepal, he returned only when he ran out of cash. He went on his two-month annual leave and the staff at home took over the kitchen for they did not want any ‘intruder.’
After two months, on a Friday evening Santosh said “Thapa is back from leave.”
“He was to report on Sunday to commence his duties on Monday. Why is he here so early?” I asked and summoned Thapa to enquire about his unusual early arrival.
Looking into my eyes he said, “Who will take care of the children and you if I am away for long?”
I kept looking at him for half a minute as I had no words and said, “Thank you Thapa.” Did my eyes well up?
Suresh drove his Commanding Officer’s Jeep with pride and devotion that he never allowed anyone to touch the Jeep. He was responsible for taking care of my itinerary for the day and instructed Santosh and Ranjith about various uniforms or dresses I had to wear that day and timing for leaving home for an event. He always carried three ties, a coat and some toiletries in the Jeep so that I could convert my informal attire into a formal one while he drove, especially when we were short of time. When Suresh went on his two-month annual leave, I mostly walked to office as it was 400 meter away, else I drove.
Keeping four-year-old Nikhil engaged through the day was the most difficult task they had. They played cricket with him, ensuring that he always made a lot of runs. I had passed strict orders that Nidhi will not be helped in polishing her shoes, preparing her dress for the school next day, cleaning her cycle and similar chores as I wanted to prepare her for the life ahead in Canada – to live without help. Santosh and Ranjith flouted my orders on a daily basis when I was away on my evening walks.
Santosh and Ranjith took turns to proceed on leave. For that they had to approach their Radio-Operator Section Commander. I had laid down strict channel of reporting for all ranks of the Regiment and my personal staff were no exception. I came to know of their leave plan only when Subedar Major Thangaswamy said about it during our morning meeting. He always had a replacement ready for the staff proceeding on leave, but I always declined it as I knew that they disliked intruders in their fort.
We had a large area around the house and along with the staff we decided to turn it into a beautiful garden and we succeeded to a great extent. One Sunday afternoon I was at the Mumbai airport while returning from a weeklong training event when I received a call from Nidhi. “Dad, our garden was adjudged the best home garden in Devlali Station. This afternoon I received the prize from General Jambusarwalla, the Commandant.” I said, “Great job! You received the prize, so you now arrange a party in the evening, and we will celebrate it on my return.”
Recently Nikhil asked, “When we were at Devlali, I never heard you saying anything to your staff. How did you manage it?”
“They knew their Commanding Officer, his needs, likes and dislikes well and did not need any orders or instructions.” I replied. In fact they enjoyed their freedom of action. When I invited guests home, I had to only give the number of guests and their food preferences. All the guests were astonished by the sumptuous menu our staff laid out. One vegetarian guest asked me twice to confirm, “Are you sure all these are vegetarian?” Thapa with his culinary skills had laid out a vegetarian feast with all dishes looking like non-vegetarian ones.
This is a comment on my recent blogpost on Regimental Fund from one of our soldiers:
‘Walking down the memory lane truly nostalgic sir. We have learned a lot in those golden days. Nice to see old photographs of NCOs and JCOs of SAWA Lakh. The order of roll calls in T-shirt and Shorts was the most popular decision between us youngsters on those days.
I was fortunate to work as your stick orderly and learnt basic of computers at the IT cell you had created for data collection. Now after retirement I am heading security automation department of one of the India’s biggest conglomerates.’
Look at the friends/ followers on your social media accounts. How many are your soldiers?