Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu – An Ever Smiling Soldier

Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, ADC, Vice Chief of Army Staff, hangs his boots today. Do not get carried away by his smile; he is a rare combination of professional competence, inspiring leadership, humility and chivalry. A quote by John F Kennedy came to my mind As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” There is no better person than General Anbu for whom the above quote applies as he hardly uttered any words, but always lived by them – for over five decades of life in a military uniform.

It began when he was all of ten years old, as a cadet at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) in June 1970. As a cadet, two years our senior, he was identifiable by his cheerful smile, his omniscient trademark insignia. He often walked away with a lion’s share of medals in most sporting activities at school – athletics, swimming, boxing, football, hockey and so on. He was adjudged the most technical boxer while at school and his gymnastics skills were invariably on display during our School Day Pageants.

He graduated from school in 1976 to join the 56th Course at the National Defence Academy (NDA). In his final year at school (1976), he was Chera House Captain – Cadets were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the great ancient Tamil Kingdoms, which somehow paled into insignificance in the History of India as devised by the British. It may be a coincidence that the present Vice Chief of the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM from our batch too was the Chera House Captain in 1978.

His smiling, soft spoken demeanour concealed a firm, no nonsense attitude – no wonder he was appointed the Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM) at the NDA as well as at the Indian Military Academy (IMA). He was awarded BLUE in Athletics and Physical Training and Merit Card in Basketball – an envious record for any NDA Cadet. As a young officer he continued to excel in sports and competed with the soldiers at the highest level.

General Anbu was commissioned into 14 Sikh Light Infantry in June 1980. He served in all operational environments – Siachen Glacier; Counter-Insurgency Operations in Kashmir and Manipur; Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, United Nations Peace Keeping in Namibia, etc. He was awarded the Sena Medal for a very daring operation, showing exemplary leadership and gallantry during operations in the Siachen Glacier.

During my visit to Hyderabad in 2001, he organised an impromptu get-together of all our school mates that evening. There I met Mrs Gowry Anbu – a down-to-earth and compassionate lady who mirrors the very same qualities of her husband.

He was in command of his battalion during operational deployment in Rajasthan deserts and that is where I met him in 2002, when I was commanding a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment in the same Division.

One day I walked into Colonel Anbu’s battalion and was received by Subedar Major Swaraj Singh, a smiling smart confident soldier. The way the Subedar Major interacted with me was indicative of how the character of a Commanding Officer flows down the chain of command to all ranks of the Battalion.

As we waited for Colonel Anbu to get free, I asked the Subedar Major something that had intrigued me about the soldiers in Sikh Light Infantry: How does Colonel Anbu, with his quiet and pleasing manners, command the fierce Sikh Light Infantry soldiers so well?

That was when I got a significant military lesson from Subedar Major Swaraj Singh:

“It is a myth in the Indian Army that Sikh Light Infantry soldiers need tough handling in a language filled with profanity. They are just as sensitive as other soldiers and their sensitivity needs to be respected. Our Commanding Officer from his Lieutenant days (1980) believed in respecting the soldiers under his command and we all respect him immensely for that. The performance of the Battalion under his command amply proves the equation.”

Subedar Major Swaraj Singh also said that his Commanding Officer neither drank alcohol nor smoked in his life – busting another Indian Army myth!

I must relate an interesting story about Brigadier Devraj Anbu when he was posted on deputation as the Commandant of the Assam Rifles Training Centre (ARTC) at Dimapur, Nagaland – a first-hand account narrated by another colleague of mine.

At that time he was on the upward trajectory of a very impressive career graph. This posting was his first exposure to the Assam Rifles and prudence dictated that he swim with the tide. Right from his first day in office, all ranks got a feel of his sincerity of purpose, steely determination, no nonsense attitude and genuine concern for the welfare of his Officers and Soldiers. One soon learnt not to mistake his self effacing modesty and courteous demeanour for weakness.

Like most Indian Army Regiments, the Assam Rifles too has very strong traditions rooted in their rich heritage, the foundations of which were laid by Gorkha Troops who formed the nucleus of the Force. One such tradition was the conduct of animal sacrifice on the Vana Devta Pooja celebrations to propitiate the Gods of the forest.

Over the years, many General Officers, Commanding Officers and Religious Teachers had done their best to sensitize the soldiers about the regressive nature of this tradition, quoting examples from the scriptures, but none issued orders prohibiting this practice as it was felt that such an order would cause deep resentment among the rank and file. As all Army Officers were posted to the Assam Rifles on deputation, most were not keen on risking their careers by ‘rocking the boat’.

He was barely few months in the saddle when it was time for the pooja. A traditional havan (where oblations are offered into the sacred flame) was conducted by the Priest and the principal participants were Brigadier Anbu, his deputy, a nominated officer, the Subedar Major and some selected representatives of the soldiers in the presence of all personnel of the organisation except those on essential duties. The ritual was to conclude with the sacrifice of a goat with a single stroke of the khukri (a Gokha’s machete), wielded by a chosen soldier.

The Priest used the ashes of the havan to anoint the sacrificial goat, the selected soldier, and the sacrificial khukri. The soldier then positioned himself near the head of the sacrificial animal with his khukri ready and formally requested Brigadier Anbu for permission to carry out the sacrifice.

In a steady clear tone, Brigadier Anbu replied “Nahin Hai” (permission denied). For the benefit of those unrelated to the uniform, this needs elaboration. In the army when permission for conduct of a troop related religious act is ceremoniously sought, it is simply expected to be ceremoniously granted. If not, it is deemed to a serious attack on troop sensitivity and could culminate in loads of trouble.

Everyone was stunned and the Priest, assuming that he had heard incorrectly, repeated the formal request only to get the same reply from the Commandant. Jaws dropped in astonishment and emotions could have flared at the perceived sacrilege. However, Brigadier Anbu remained unmoved despite gentle hints from his Deputy (who was his senior at SainikSchool) to reconsider his decision.

Without batting an eyelid, Subedar Major Arjun Thapa, a Gorkha from Nepal where ritual sacrifices are held sacred, supported his Commandant’s decision and ordered that the goat be set free. A lauki (bottle gourd) was produced and ritually chopped in two by the Khukri in its place. Not one dissenting murmur was heard from any quarter!

That’s obviously a classy example of what is meant by courage of conviction. It is a testimony to the immense respect and affection earned by Brigadier Anbu across the organisational spectrum, that too within a few of months.

Brigadier Anbu’s brief tenure at the ARTC is still remembered for the immense progress made in training, administration, and welfare at the premier establishment of the Assam Rifles.

In April 2017, the 79ers, my batchmates from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar had our annual meet in Srinagar, J&K. I reached Srinagar three days ahead to spend time with soldiers who had served with me. I travelled to a remote locality to be with the boys and that evening I called up Lieutenant General Anbu, the Army Commander Northern Command over the military telephone circuit. Typical of the Corps of Signals’ way of doing things, the duty officer at every successive military exchange came on line and fussed around for ever as the call was being directed to the Army Commander. He finally came on line and spoke to me for over thirty minutes, bantering about the good old days and expressing his inability to fly down to meet his school mates at Srinagar as he had to attend the Army Commanders’ Conference at New Delhi next day.

It is said that a soldier has no holiday in life; but retirement makes every day one for him. Knowing General Anbu, I am sure that he will make the rest of his days more rewarding and entertaining as he is a man of great versatility. He is bound to enrich the life of those around him in a meaningful manner.

Great soldiers do not retire, they just fade away – surely he too will fade away and be rarely be in television spotlight, as is the wont of so many retired senior defence officers these days! Perhaps he will pen down his thoughts covering a momentous half century in uniform.

Bathing Nude


Few years ago an Indian Army Officer undergoing a course at Canadian Forces College, Toronto came over for dinner.  During our conversation he said that one evening he walked into the sauna in the gym to find the Commandant, a General, sitting nude, enquiring his welfare.  He said that he felt a bit embarrassed to face a nude General.  I asked “That means you are surely not an ex-NDA (National Defence Academy)?” And I was dead right.

Bathrooms at the NDA are all open ones with neither any cubicles nor any shower curtains.  There are only shower heads, all in a row.  It is mandatory for all cadets to shower before breakfast and in the evening after games.  As time is always at a premium for any military cadet, the ritual had to be as short as possible, with many waiting in queue – hence an elaborate bath was near impossible.  The highlight of the bath was not its brevity, but by tradition implicitly enforced by the seniors, the cadets are not allowed to wear any clothing – it’s all nude and pretty natural. `

I cannot really say with any great emphasis that bathing nude is hygienically a huge plus as compared to bathing with a small brief on. However, it is more than a century old tradition in many military training institutions the world over. The open shower system meant that a large number of cadets could use the facility within the limited duration of time available.

To my mind, bathing nude has two distinct advantages. It helps one to overcome one’s inhibitions about being nude in the presence of others thereby developing a sort of self confidence about one’s own being and physique. When one learns to overcome this pretty strong inhibition, one automatically develops the capability overcome a lot of other inhibitions of less intensity.  The second is that with everyone down to his skin it builds a sort of camaraderie with the fellow trainees.

There is no awkwardness, nobody made any stupid dick jokes and nobody stared. There was just complete utopian nonchalance about the whole thing as cadets from all regions, religions, castes and creeds bathed under the same shower. In everyone’s consciousness he was down to mother earth, a sort of nude common denominator. The act was indeed a great leveler.  The common Indian mentality is that public nudity is obscene and vulgar and therefore should be abhorred. I do hope that as a nation we can learn to tolerate public nudity, no matter what our personal inclinations are in this regard.

Communal bathing and spas have been around for thousands of years, especially in the Indian context. However, the concept of modesty is a relatively recent one and was mostly dictated by the Victorian British norms.  Many indigenous people still  play sports without any covering and athletes in ancient Greece competed naked. In fact, the Greek word gymnasium means ‘a school for naked exercise,’ but in English it means only athletic exercise.


Men and women bathed nude in Roman baths of first century.  Emperor Hardin is believed to have issued many decrees against co-ed bathing.  There were baths of varying levels of luxury and also at varying levels of propriety. At one extreme were the ones for prostitutes and at the other the ones for royalty.  These baths showcased  Roman architectural expertise where new and innovative building styles were tested.


Bathing complex of Friedrichsbad Baths, Baden-Baden, Germany, opened in 1877, catering to European aristocracy.  It is still open to all and visitors who indulge in a 17-step Irish-Roman bathing ritual – a sequence of hot air baths, steam rooms, showers, pools, and massages, soaking in curative mineral waters. Here on some specific days of the week and on holidays, it is co-ed nude bathing and on other days it is gender specific nude bathing.

It was mandatory for students to swim nude in Chicago high school swimming pools till 1970’s.  In those days filtration and chlorination techniques were not as advanced as of today.  Nudity ensured that the swimming costumes they wore, mostly cotton or wool, did not leave any fibres that would clog the pool.

In most gym and swimming pool locker rooms for men in Canada, the baths are all open without cubicles.  Cubicles are provided in family locker rooms used by children and parents.  It is natural for people to have differing standards of modesty, based on their cultural/ religious background and upbringing.  Some are comfortable striding around the locker room naked and some prefer to change their clothes more discreetly. People around are neither stealing glances nor are they being judgmental.  I generally go to swim in the afternoons which is the time designated for adult swimmers.  I surely do not have a body to flaunt and no six-packs to flex.  Everyone around me also passes the same muster with respect to their masculinity.


One has to shower before entering a swimming pool to keep dirt and germs out.  Post a swim-session, it is meant to rinse off salt, chlorine and other harmful chemicals.  You cannot do this well with your swimming costume on.  It is said that the concept of the open bath came to Canada with soldiers returning from World War II when most able bodied Canadian men got enlisted to fight the war in Europe.  The only country where it is a rule to have a nude bath prior to entering a swimming pool is Iceland.  Here the bath may be in public or in a cubicle.

Nudity in public bathroom may offend some people, but most will not react to it though they may avoid it.  The argument that nudity is natural may fall on deaf ears to the puritans who refuse to accept their ties to the natural world.

Sleeping without underwear is another military tradition proven to be good for one’s genitals as per many medical studies.  Underwear tends to trap moisture, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.  For sure, allowing that area to get some air helps to keep it dry and clean.  Royal Marines tend to sleep naked for a similar reason and also to ensure they don’t hold all the juices and skin flakes emitted from their bodies in their clothes.  From this came the expression ‘going commando‘  which means going without wearing any underwear.

In Western militaries where men and women serve together the bathrooms are shared.  Here too there is hardly any awkwardness or sexual discrimination.  In 2011, a woman soldier of the Norwegian Armed Forces complained about being asked to bathe naked with 30 men and in front of other male officers during a field exercise.  The Norwegian Armed Forces initially gave the male officer who ordered the bath a harsh disciplinary warning for his behaviour and a fine of 2,500 Kroner, but cancelled the official reprimand after the officer appealed the decision.  After two separate internal reviews, Norwegian Military ruled that it would not make any changes to its bathing policies, meaning that other female soldiers could find themselves in a similar situation due to Norway’s gender-neutral military conscription policy.

I must here quote from the book ‘Immediate Action’ by Andy Mcnab.    He was a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was involved in both covert and overt special operations worldwide until he retired in 1993.  Teaching young infantry soldiers as an Instructor at the Regimental Training Depot how to bathe, he writes ‘We had to show them how to wash and shave, use a toothbrush…  Then I had to show them how to shower, making sure they pulled their foreskin back and cleaned it.

To be NUDE or not to be – it is your choice – rules permitting. 

Article 370 and Kashmir


Kashmir could better be defined as a paradise in turmoil. Persian poet Amir Khusruhad said “Agar Firdaus bar roy-e zamin ast, hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast” meaning “If there is a paradise upon earth, it is here, it is here, it is here”.

In August 1947 the British divided the subcontinent into India and Pakistan based on religious lines. British India consisted of about 565 princely states and their rulers had the option of joining either of the two new dominions, India or Pakistan.

The princely state of J&K, had three geographically distinct areas – Leh in the North and East with many Buddhist, Jammu in the South mostly Hindus and the Kashmir Valley in the middle with a Muslim majority. The state was ruled by a Hindu Ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. Under British rule, J&K had its own army, police, post, telegraph, transport, etc, akin to many other Indian princely states then.

Maharaja Hari Singh did not want to accede to either and wanted to remain independent. In order to gain time, Maharaja signed a ‘standstill’ agreement with Pakistan so that trade, travel and communication would be uninterrupted. India did not sign a similar agreement. Pakistan believed that Kashmir would accede to them as it had majority Muslim population, was geographically contiguous to them and the area had better road and rail communications with Pakistan than India. As the Maharaja kept delaying his decision, Pakistan imposed a trade embargo on Kashmir resulting in a lot of misery for the people of Kashmir.

Soon Pakistan’s patience ran out. They covertly sent in Pathan tribals to capture Kashmir. These Pathans were lured with a promise of loot, plunder and rape. The invasion commenced on 20 October 1947. Kashmir was then defended by the state forces and many Muslims from the force rebelled and joined the invaders. Despite the desertions, the state forces fought many pitched battles and were successful in delaying the attackers. The invaders reached Baramulla on 26 October. The Pathans now let loose a savage orgy of loot, rape, murder and abduction of girls. The local Muslims could not believe that a force that had come to liberate them could indulge in such barbarism even against fellow Muslims. Raping, looting and plundering at Baramulla in fact delayed the raiders from reaching Srinagar, thus saving the capital.

As the raiders were knocking at the doors of his capital, Maharaja Hari Singh first sought urgent military aid from India on 24 October. The Indian cabinet under Governor General Mountbatten refused to send troops unless the Maharaja acceded, arguing that the Indian Army could only defend Indian territory.

By about 11 PM, the Maharaja sent another request specifically asking for Indian troops to be sent to Kashmir. The Indian cabinet agreed to the request and on 26 October Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession joining India.

The decision was taken on 27 October to launch the First Battalion of the Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh), located at Delhi, to be flown into Srinagar by Dakota aeroplanes of the Indian Air Force. As there were no administrative echelons of the Indian Army in Kashmir, the battalion had to be self-contained, meaning it had to carry anything and everything – from rations to ammunition. Landing a heavily loaded Dakota on a poorly maintained airstrip at an altitude of around 5000 feet was a feat in itself. Neither the pilots nor the soldiers had any experience in operating at such altitudes and were not equipped to do so. The soldiers had only a thin sweater to beat the cold. Biju Patnaik, who later became the Chief Minister of Odisha State, was one of the first pilots to land in Srinangar that day.

The soldiers of 1 Sikh fought many a bloody battles against the raiders and threw them back to Baramulla and then beyond up to Uri. By November 1948, the Indian Army was in a strong position. They were in fact ready to defeat the Pakistani forces and occupy the entire Kashmir. Yet the Indian government requested United Nations (UN) mediation to resolve the conflict. After protracted discussions at the UN, a cease-fire was agreed to by both countries, which came into effect on 01 January 1949. Why India called in the UN to resolve the conflict when the Indian Army was on the brink of achieving victory remains a mystery.

The terms of the cease-fire as laid out in the UN resolution of 5 January 1949 required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, both regular and irregular, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in the state to preserve law and order. On compliance of these conditions, a plebiscite was to be held to determine the future of the territory.

Pakistan claims that a plebiscite must be held to determine whether the people of J&K want join India or Pakistan as stipulated in the UN resolutions. India blames Pakistan for failing to withdraw their forces from the area held by it as stipulated in the very same resolution as a reason for not holding the plebiscite. This simmering bone of contention between two nations resulted in the beautiful state of J&K being divided along the Line of Control (LC) as Azad Kashmir on the Pakistan side with India calling it Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and India Held Kashmir (IHK) as Pakistan calls the Indian part of J&K.

Raja Hari Singh meanwhile appointed Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister, who with three other colleagues joined the Indian Constituent Assembly to discuss provisions of Article 370 of the Indian constitution under draft.  In 1950, the Indian constitution was adopted with its  Article 1 defining J&K as a state of India and Article 370 conferring it a  special status.

Article 370 allowed J&K to make its own laws in all matters except finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications.  It established a separate constitution and a separate flag for J&K and denied property rights in the region to the outsiders.

The events and turmoil thereafter only complicated the existence of the state within Indian Union with all political parties fishing in the troubled waters for a few more votes. This situation led to rampant corruption in all spheres of life.  Even though Indian government was pumping in lot of money, it never reached the grassroots level.   It only alienated the local population from India and they called themselves as Kashmiris and others Indians.

First time I landed in Kashmir was in 1987 as a young Captain and I observed that the most effected due to rampant corruption was basic primary education and healthcare. When I visited the state in 2017, the tale was not different.  When these two basic facilities the state must provide is absent, the area becomes an ideal breeding ground for political extremism.  Now add religious fanaticism to it, it becomes a real Molotov’s cocktail.  This is what has happened in J&K and a similar game is being played in some other areas of Indian hinterland also.

In my view, Article 370 has not served the part it was intended by the authors of Indian constitution, but has led to extreme corruption and difficulties to the common Kashmiri.  Lack of education, coupled with lack of employment opportunities encouraged  Kashmiri youth to take up weapons, with support and facilitation by Pakistan.

Article 370 though gave a separate identity to Kashmiris, it failed to amalgamate the state and its people with the Indian union.  Abolishing it was a mandatory step to ensure the very existence of Indian union.  It had to be done now or later and that must have been what the authors of the very same Article 370 intended.

Like many other such ‘special rights’ articles in the Indian Constitution like  reserving jobs for the under-privileged castes – Article 338, the number of castes were to be reduced each passing year to ultimate removal of the article from the constitution.  The political parties have played hell with this article that the number of castes swelled and beneficiaries have overtaken the normal citizens.

The present Indian Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the strength and support in the Parliament to move any constitutional amendment.  Removal of Article 370 is the first step in the right direction.  It must be followed by constructive steps to ‘Educate, Employ and Empower’ the Kashmiris.  This will help them to amalgamate with the Indian union and also quell extremist forces fighting for independence or cessation.

When the common Kashmiri finds economic and social upliftment as a result of removal of Article 370, they are sure to amalgamate easily with Indian union than when the article was in force.  If necessary steps to improve the lives of a common Kashmiri is not taken up on a war footing, removal of article 370 would prove to be catastrophic.

Meeting Subedar Major Paramjit Sidhu


We were enjoying the Canada Day long weekend from June 29 to July 01.  Our daughter Nidhi and son-in-law Jay had left our grandson James with us and went golfing the weekend.  We the grandparents were enjoying a laid-back and relaxed long weekend with our grandson.

Canada Day is celebrated on July 01 to commemorate Canada becoming a self-governing dominion of Great Britain and a federation of four provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec in 1867. The anniversary of this date was called Dominion Day until 1982.  Since 1983, July 1 has been officially known as Canada Day.  It is a public holiday, a day off for the general population with all schools and most businesses closed.


In many towns and cities, municipal governments organise many events, often outdoors being summer. These include pancake breakfasts, parades, concerts, carnivals, festivals, firework displays and so on. Canada’s national flag is widely displayed and a lot of people paint their faces red and white – Canada’s national colors.

On June 30 morning, as I was playing with our grandson and also watching the inglorious defeat of the Indian Cricket team at the hands of their English counterparts in the league stage of the World Cup, I received a call on my cell-phone. The caller spoke in a soft and confident voice introducing himself as Subedar Major (SM) Paramjit Sidhu.  He said that he was visiting his daughter in Toronto and had got my number from his Commanding Officer(CO), Colonel Viveka Murthy of 288 Medium Regiment.  He informed me that he was at the Square One Shopping Mall near my home and expressed his desire to meet me.   I could immediately place Colonel Murthy as I had interacted with him on the Sainik School Amaravati Nagar WhatsApp Group.  Colonel Murthy had joined the school in June 1979 shortly after I had left the school to join the National Defence Academy.

Vet Plate
I briefed SM Sidhu that our home is only two minute away and he must come to Gate 8 of the Mall and my car would be parked outside the gate.  It would be very easy to recognise my black Honda CRV with its unique licence plate.

As I pulled alongside Gate 8, a tall smart Sikh gentleman emerged from the shadows.  From his bearing, gait and the meticulous folds of his turban, I couldn’t have missed him a mile away. He was a true representation of the smart and ramrod straight Indian Army Soldier.  On entering the car, he greeted me and introduced himself.  The way he spoke and his conduct was the reflection of the confidence this soldier had and obviously it came from his CO. I felt he was different from many of the Subedar Majors of the Indian Army that I had come across.  Why else should he ring me up in Canada and express his desire to meet a Veteran Gunner who retired 15 years ago?


We drove home to be greeted by Marina and James.  We spoke at length about his daughter, family and military life.  During our interaction I confirmed my earlier belief that he was ‘something different‘ when he casually mentioned about his achievements in powered hang gliding.

After the meeting, I drove him to his daughter’s home, a 30-minute drive.  He was very pleased and thankful to me for this gesture.  I said to him that I take it as a matter of pride and my solemn duty to take care of all soldiers of the Indian Army who visit me. Irrespective of rank and stature, I treat everyone alike.

On returning home, I decided to research on SM Sidhu’s power hang gliding.  SM Sidhu hails from Sangatpura village in Ludhiana district of Punjab.  He joined 76 Medium Regiment and was later posted with the Adventure Cell at the School of Artillery, Devlali.  He has an experience of over eight hundred hours of hang gliding during his 21 years stint there.

On 17 February 2012, he broke the 33 years old British world record in powered hang gliding by covering a distance of 380 km between Sriganganagar and Sanderav near Jodhpur. Gerry Breen, a British Pilot had on May 7, 1979 created the previous world record by gliding 325 km from Wales to Norwich.


Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India conferred Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award to SM Sidhu, named after the first Everest summiteer Tenzing Norgay.  SM Sidhu also holds three national records in hang gliding as mentioned in the Limca Book of Records. What a great achievement for an Indian Army Soldier!!

I am very thankful to Colonel Viveka Murthy for providing me an opportunity to meet and interact with SM Sidhu. It was an opportunity to rekindle a sense of belonging, regale about the good old times and share a camaraderie and esprit de corps, albeit separated in space and time! I felt wonderful and perhaps a wee bit more thankful to him than he was to me.

A Note Pad


During my Indian Army service, I envied all those officers who carried a well organised note pad.  The envy was obvious because I could never maintain one whatever and however I tried.  My pad was almost like God and Time, with neither a beginning nor an end.    I did not know what I wrote where, hence retrieval was never possible.  Why? – I never even attempted it.

Some officers of the extreme meticulous variety had their pad separated into sections to note down instructions and orders from their Commanding Officer, Battery Commander, tasks allotted to Sergeant Majors and Sergeants, and so on.  Some even used different coloured ink to jot down points based on its priority or severity. Some officers even had note pad beside their toilet seat. Supposedly, all the earthshaking ideas dawned on them while they were on the throne, and it had to be noted down there and then for fear of losing them. I did make an attempt once after observing the pad of a senior officer.  I created various sections in the pad, but when I wrote something, it was back to the God status.  When I tried to retrieve some information from it, I realised that it would be easier for me to decipher the Harappan script than my own handwriting.

The Harappan script was used by the Indus Valley civilisation some 4,000 years ago.  From excavations in present-day Pakistan and North-West India, archaeologists have recovered several thousand short inscriptions, mostly consisting of four to five signs.   Till date no one has come out with a satisfactory resolution of these inscriptions.  It is ironic that although the Indus Valley Civilisation existed in the heart of present day Pakistan, the nation claims no cultural heritage from this indisputable fact. Due to the non Islamic roots of the civilisation, Pakistan finds it convenient to hand over all cultural heritage claims to the Indians.

The pad often ended up as an appendage in my uniform’s Left breast pocket.  In the Regiment of Artillery, we very proudly wore the Lanyard on the Right shoulder with its tail end in the Right breast pocket. So the left pocket was reserved for the appendage! At the slightest hint of an order/ instruction coming my way initiated by a senior officer, I took out the pad and dutifully completed the motions.  The pad accompanied me to all the conferences and briefings that I attended.  As every other officer, I too often scribbled into it, using my version of the Harappan script. However, when it came to execution I found it more comfortable to rely on my memory.

Captain Desh Raj (now Veteran Colonel) was the self appointed commander for all young officers of our Regiment.  He was a great sportsman and captained almost all regimental sports teams.  This resulted in him being our mentor and guide in those days.  One day, after the Commanding Officer’s Regimental Sainik Sammelan (Commanding Officer’s monthly address to all soldiers and officers), Captain Desh Raj summoned all of us, five young officers of the regiment, and directed us to show him our note pads where we had noted down the points briefed by our Commanding Officer.  All of us, except one, were reluctant to display our pads.  We were all trying to hide our note pads, but Captain Desh Raj successfully managed to snatch them from us and glanced through them.  Soon thereafter he declared “None of you can make a good caricature of our Commanding Officer.  Your artistic skills need to be toned up.  Look at my note pad and the next time I would like to see a better caricature of our Commanding Officer from you all than this masterpiece of mine

That was when I realised that all those serious note taking by all young officers were much the same and on similar lines to what Captain Desh Raj did!  When I became a Battery Commander and later a Commanding Officer, I ensured that all my Sainik Sammelans were of less than ten minutes’ duration. Possibly, I was mortally scared of my subordinates drawing my caricature! So I resolved not to give them time for the act.

In the Army it was all about check-lists and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and here was I, treading a different path, and relying totally on my memory.  I prioritised and analysed all tasks in my mind and executed them to the best of my ability.  I too had my failures, but my dedication to execute the task always outweighed my failures.  I had a self commitment in that the day I omitted or failed to execute any assigned task, I will accept the consequences and carry a note pad for ever. Well, fortunately, it never got to that.

At the end of our Long Gunnery Staff Course of 13 months, our juniors presented me a mock prize.  You guessed it right!  It was the smallest note pad available in the market with a mention “This will last for your entire military service.”

I was posted as Brigade Major and our Brigade Commander was often peeved with me for not carrying a pad when he summoned me.  He tried all tricks he knew to make me carry one, but failed.  One day his Personal Assistant came to me and said “Brigade Commander has summoned you.  Please carry this pad and pen when you go in.”  I went in to the Commander’s office carrying the pad.  He smiled at me and asked me to take a seat.  He briefed me on ten tasks to be executed and whatever he said I religiously noted them down on the pad.  At the end of it, assuming that he succeeded in making me carry a pad, called for a cup of tea.  The two of us sipped our tea while discussing some mundane matters.  After that I left his office and commenced with the execution of tasks.

After an hour, I got a call over the phone from the Commander. He wanted a progress report on the tasks and I briefed him about the seven tasks completed with three in progress.  At the end he summoned me to his office.  As I entered his office, he pointed at the pad on the table and said “What is this pad doing here?”   That was when I realised that after the discussion over tea, I had inadvertently left the pad on his table.

It is where it is supposed to be.  I do not need it” I said.  Our Commander being a thorough gentleman, even though was livid, asked me “Seriously, please tell me why don’t you carry a pad with you all times like other officers?”  My instant reply was “Only cricket players and women use them.  I am neither.”  (Sorry! My apologies if you deem it sexist).  That was it! Our Commander never asked me to carry a pad ever after.

On assuming command of our Regiment, my orders to all was that no one will take out a pad and start noting down the moment I give any directions or instructions.  They must listen to me with all attention.  In case I felt the instructions were complicated or is likely to lead to any confusion, I or my Staff Officer will issue the instructions in writing with all details.

A few months into command, our Regimental Havildar (Sergeant) Major said “When you start a conversation, my hand first goes into my Left breast pocket.  Then I realise that it is an anathema for you and so bring it down immediately.  Most of our soldiers too face a similar dilemma.

How true was the famous military axiom “It is easier to put in a new idea in a military mind, but it is impossible to take out an old one!

Colonel Kizhakayil Kotiath Arun, Sena Medal


Cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) were divided into four houses named after four Tamil Kingdoms – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava.  I was in Pandya House.  Reminiscing through the good old Sainik School days, a thought came to my mind about my many visits to Chera House dormitory in my Grade 11 days (1978), walking through the back alley of Chola House  dorm.

The most prominent object that would catch my eyes was the wheel of a trolley that lay unmoved in the Chola House back alley.  It was black cast-iron wheels, surely weighing over 80 kilos, from  one of the trolleys used during the construction of Amaravathi Dam.  It had a solid axle with two wheels, akin to the wheels of a railway wagon, but a bit smaller.  It obviously resembled the ‘Barbell with Plates’ used by champion weightlifters.   I used to try moving it and many a time realised that it has not moved an inch since  1975.

These trolleys used during construction of the dam found their resting place behind the old Cadets’ Mess, now the Gymnasium and Cinema Hall on completion of the dam.  The Gymnasium building was the workshop during dam construction days, hence these trolleys were abandoned there.

How did this barbell find its way to the back alley of Chera House dorm?

It was brought in by Veteran Commander Ponnar and his friends who managed to pick up the trolley-wheel from their ‘graveyard’ behind the gym and carried it over a kilometer long trail and brought it to its current resting place in the back alley of Chera House.

The toughest senior cadet I came across during my Cadet days at Sainik School Amaravathinagar was Cadet  KK Arun of 1975 Batch.  He was tall and well built, quiet and unassuming, always with a smile on his face.  I realised he too was a Malayalee who found his moorings at Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu like me.  I hardly ever interacted with him – he was too senior and I belonged to a different House – the Pandyas.

It was a matter of pride, sense of achievement and a dream  for any Cadet at Sainik School to be selected to join the National Defence Academy (NDA).  It involved passing a written examination with a qualifying rate less than a percentile or two.  Then was the five day Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and then a stringent medical examination.  Cadets of the graduating  year (Grade 11 then) used to work out mentally and physically to qualify through this rigorous and grueling procedure.

Cadet KK Arun too had set his aim to join the NDA.  He found the weights and exercises at the gym and the morning Physical Training (PT) inadequate to stress and strain all his muscles.  One often found Cadet KK Arun lifting it with ‘Clean and Jerk’ or a ‘snatch’  in the evenings after the Games Parade.  Whenever I walked past this ‘Barbell’ during my NDA preparation days in 1978, the idea to lift it germinated in my mind.  Obviously, I could only lift it from a side, that too with both my hands. I always had a ‘Hero Worship’ for Arun as to how come he could lift this monster many a times at my age.

Arun joined NDA in 1975 and I followed suit in 1979 January.  We never met since our school days.  Arun remained a fitness freak throughout his Indian Army career.   He was an Instructor at the Commando Wing of Infantry School – an appointment any young officer will even trade his ‘girl friend’ for.

As a senior Major he landed in a coveted appointment – The Adjutant of NDA – an appointment any Cadet who passed out of NDA will sacrifice anything and everything for.  It was a reward for Major Arun’s soldierly qualities, his love for his soldiers, dedication to duty, physical fitness, gentlemanly qualities and so on.

Drill is the bedrock of discipline – thus goes an old saying and it is the Adjutant who meticulously oversees the Drill Training at NDA.  It culminates with  the Passing Out Parade (POP), a spectacular event which marks the  culmination of another successful semester.  POP parade held at the Khetarpal Parade Ground comprises over one thousand cadets bidding farewell to their senior colleagues and will remain etched in the memory of anyone who has witnessed it.  Passing Out Cadets march past the Quarter Deck to the  haunting strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.  The Adjutant on his charger accompany the passing out cadets to their Final Steps.

This entire spectacle is the culmination of five months of rigorous drill training imparted by the Drill Instructors under the watchful eyes of the Adjutant.  It is purely an Adjutant’s show.  Please click here to read more about the Academy Drill Instructors.

Who will ever forget the ‘Josh Pep-talk’ delivered by the Adjutant prior to the commencement of POP, exhorting all cadets to put in their best to make it as spectacular as possible.

A young Officer on commissioning  to our Regiment narrated an anecdote.  He was trained by Major Arun at the NDA.  He said “While delivering the customary Pep-talk by the Adjutant, his Charger, a well built white horse, delivered an anal salute.  Major Arun immediately said ‘SORRY’ and continued.  That was our Adjutant, an epitome of decency.”  I felt very proud of our Alma Mater and did not miss the opportunity  to declare with pride in my voice “I attended the very same school from where Major Arun graduated.”

Major Arun served as a Commando Instructor.  He was a real ‘tough’ instructor and was well known for his teaching abilities with love for his students – A real GURU in all aspects.  Some even say the Nana Patekar’s Hindi movie ‘PRAHAR‘ (please click here for more about the movie) was inspired by him. He was awarded Sena Medal for gallantry.


He rose to the Rank of Colonel and commanded a Rajput Regiment.  There are many anecdotes from his army life worth mentioning.  He hung up his military boots and is now settled with his family at Greater NOIDA near Delhi.

I was lucky to come in contact with him, courtesy Colonel TM Natarajan, our batch mate from Sainik School.  It was a rewarding experience sharing our journey experiences and also relent that we two never met after leaving school.

Pongoes


On 13 January 1979 I joined the National Defence Academy, Pune India as an Army Cadet.  National Defence Academy is a Joint Services academy of Indian Armed Forces, where cadets of the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force train together.   This is to ensure jointmanship amongst the three services.

We, the Army Cadets, were often referred to as Pongoes or at times Grabbies, especially by the Naval fraternity – both officers and fellow cadets.  It often intrigued me as to from where these terms originated. In fact, I disliked it, like every other Army Cadet at the Academy.

The word Pongo is seemingly used in a somewhat derogatory sense evoking a sense of both stupidity and a bad smell, something like a ‘stinking moron’.  Although a bit derogatory, the word is often used by the Naval guys in a friendly manner when they referred to the Army guys.

It is interesting to go into the etymology of the word.

Pongo is a British slang dating from the mid nineteenth century meaning soldiers. The word itself stems from expressions used by comedians in theaters and music halls to get a cheap laugh. The two most common quotes were “where the army goes the pong goes”, or “when the wind blows the pong goes” – pong meaning stink. This quickly became pongoes meaning soldiers (plural) and pongo meaning an individual.

Another possible explanation is that the soldiers were being likened to a large, hairy, smelly ape called a pongo. The expression is still in use today although not common, confined mainly to those who saw service in World War II or in Korea or who did National Service in Britain while this was still compulsory.  (www.urbandictionary.com)

There is another explanation given in a blog post ‘Be Proud to be a Pongo’ at www.theobservationpost.com. During the Napoleonic wars, the British Army was based in Portugal from 1807-1814. The Portuguese word for bread is written pão (this could also be the origin of the Indian street bread – the Pav पाव), and pronounced pong. British soldiers coined the term pongo as there is a letter from a soldier complaining about the lack of pong. One of the distinctive differences in service between the sailors and soldiers of the time was that sailors lived on biscuit while, the army lived on bread. So a sailor meeting army soldiers and hearing them complain about the quality or quantity of pong might reasonably refer to soldiers as pong-goes – meaning bread eaters.

As per Appendix: Glossary of British military slang and expressions, an  Army soldier is referred to as Pongo meaning “Everywhere the army goes, the pong (stink) goes”; derived from the supposed inferior washing facilities in field compared to those on a navy vessel.

Pongo was also used by members of the Royal Navy or RAF.  Sailors noted the similarity of the sand-apes’ colour to the rough brown (khaki) uniform of the British Army.  They believed that a Pongo was an ape that when alarmed did not climb trees, but dug holes and hide itself on the ground reminding the onlooker of the infantrymen.  They said a pongo dug holes and filled it for no rhyme or reason.  However, the only mention of Pongo – the ape – I could find was in National Geographic website which refers to a new orangutan species, Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutanthe rarest great ape species on the planet – found in the high-altitude Sumatran forests.

The term Pongo comes from the days when soldiers were stationed on board ships to protect the Navy when sailing abroad. Usually the first to be sent ashore when the ship docked, soldiers carried out all sorts of different tasks.  One important (the most important… surely) task being setting up of a brewery. The main part of it, the still (apparatus used to distill alcoholic spirits) being called a pongo. Hence the nick-name given to the soldiers who were sent to do the job “send the pongos ashore”. The name seems to have filtered down through the years and is used today by the Navy towards members of the Army.  (www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/Pongo)

Our childhood adventure series – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – in its fifth volume, Five Go Off in a Caravan (1946), has Pongo as a main character who is a circus chimpanzee.   In David Foster Wallace’s novel – Infinite Jest – refers to Checkpoint Pongo, a border post of the Concavity near Methuen, Massachusetts.

That is all about the poor Pongoes, but how did they get their nickname Grabbie?

It is said that the poorly fed soldiers on boarding a ship scrambled to the Galley – the ship’s kitchen – and would grab anything and everything edible

Here I would quote from The Sea Regiments published in The Navy and Army Illustrated MagazineOctober 1806, where it says ‘The Marines, in a word, are a military force maintained by the Admiralty for service in the fleet.  “What’s the good of ‘aving leather-necked grabbies aboard ship?”  said an ordinary seaman once to a private of the Royal Marines.  “To keep you flat-footed, ginger-whiskered swamp rats from eating one another!” was the prompt and unexpected reply.’

Another reference to grabbies I found was in the book The Cameronians – A Concise History by Trevor Royle.   ‘Amongst the officers of my Regiment, nice fellows as they were, only a few cared for the Army as a profession.  All were proud belonging to splendidly drilled Light Infantry Battalion – drilled according to the practice of War in the Peninsula, before the introduction of the rifled musket.  They thought themselves to be socially superior to the ordinary Regiments of the Line, which were always spoken of as grabbies.’

In the book Seven Sailors by Commander Kenneth Edwards ‘The history of British Empire is rife with examples of devotion of British sailors to their brothers in army.  These reached their zenith at Dunkirk, not only among the matelots and the grabbies, but all the way down from the Admiral and staff to the over tired infantrymen.

Matelots, a Naval slang, refers to a sailor and originates from 19th century from French, variant of matenot, from Dutch mattenoot meaning ‘bed companion’, because sailors had to share hammocks in twos.

Whatever you call a soldier, especially an Infantry Soldier, Victory is still measured on foot.

Elephant’s Teeth


Our home state Kerala in India which the tourism department very glibly calls ‘God’s own Country’, has always had an enduring love affair with elephants. Children romanticise the elephant with several fairy tales, nursery rhymes and moral lessons with an elephant as the main protagonist. The Indian elephant (Elephas Maximus Indicus) has been declared as the State Animal and the state emblem symbolises two elephants guarding the state  insignia –  the Shankh (conch shell) of Lord Padmanabha – and the national insignia – the famous Lion Capital.

It is estimated that Kerala has more than five hundred domesticated elephants.  They are used for religious ceremonies in and around the temples, and some churches and mosques also, and a few elephants work at timber yards.


For all the festivities in Kerala, Tuskers are in demand, obviously for their getup.  They are attired in all finery and caparisoned.  Nearly a hundred elephants are paraded during Thrissur Pooram (during the month of May), the largest annual temple festival in the state. Despite protests from several animal rights organisations and quite a few incidents resulting in human fatalities /serious injury, the love affair seems to continue.

Elephantine dentistry is of some interest. Elephants have a total of 26 teeth, their tusks counting for two. Unlike humans, elephants may erupt only two or three sets of molars at birth. When teeth that have erupted get worn out, another set will erupt behind the existing set. So perhaps it is impossible to find an elephant with all 26 teeth as they come out sequentially,  Each time they lose these teeth, the new ones that grow are larger, allowing them to chew even tougher vegetation like tree bark, palm leaves, roots, etc. A single molar in an adult elephant may weigh as much as a humungous 5 kg.

Like most mammals, elephants have teeth called incisors, which eventually become tusks as they grow into full-grown adults. Male Asian elephants have long tusks (hence called Tuskers), but for the females, the incisors barely protrude out. In the African species both males and females develop tusks.   As the tusks are made of ivory, wild Asian male elephants become a target for merciless poaching. The tusks are used as an offensive and defensive weapon in both intra-species and inter-species fights, for lifting weighs and for stripping bark of trees to be used as food. Elephants are also known to dig for water in dry river beds using their tusks, trunk and feet. Besides all this the tusks also serve to protect the sensitive trunk which is a multi-utility organ of great significance.

Perhaps the mistaken belief that the elephant’s tusk is not of much use to the animal, has given rise to the Hindi idiom ‘हाथी के दांत दिखाने के और, खाने के और – Hathi ke dant dekhane ke aur khane ke aur’. Literally translated it means, ‘Elephant has two set of teeth – one to show off and the other to chew with’. Figuratively it means that what is obvious may not be the truth.

I must narrate a story which brings out the full implication of this Hindi idiom. In January 2004, our Regiment located at Devlali, Maharashtra, was allotted a ‘Steam Jacketed Cooking System’ for the soldiers’ kitchen procured from special funds under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Power.


The Cooking System consists of four kettles used to prepare food items such as lentils, vegetables and meat. Each kettle has a capacity of about 60 litres.  About the lower two-thirds of each kettle is surrounded by a jacket that is offset from the main kettle body to provide space for steam to circulate and heat the contents of the kettle.

The kettles are permanently mounted on a pedestal and have a hinged lid or cover. They also have a tube at the bottom of the kettle with a faucet at the outer end for drawing liquids (used for cleaning the kettle) and a steam inlet connection, a steam outlet connection, and a safety valve.  They also have a handle on the side facilitating tilting the kettle to pour contents into a service container.  Kettles are made of corrosion-resistant steel.  At one end is the Steam Generator which generates steam for the system by heating water using normal cooking gas.  There are steel pipes that carry steam from the steam generator to the kettles.

Great! I visited five regimental kitchens in the station who already had the system installed.  Everywhere the system appeared hardly ever used. On inquiry the chefs revealed that the system was used for cooking only when there was any visit or inspection by a senior officer.  Their reason was that it consumed too much cooking gas, much more than the authorised quantity they could draw from the Supply Depot.  The Steam Cooking System was branded a ‘Gas Guzzler.’ Obviously it was only an elephant’s teeth to show off, with little or no utility.

After a lot of research, I realised that the equipment really had a lot of utility value if correctly used. I visited our Regimental Kitchen, summoned all the Chefs and announced the impending installation of the Steam Jacketed Cooking System.  During my interaction, I explained the following results of my research: –

  • Better Food Quality in Better Hygienic Conditions. Standard cook pots used in military kitchens over an open burner heat its contents from the bottom where as this heats from all sides, providing a gentle, uniform heat that allows you to cook with minimal labour. It also reduces the risk of burning or overcooking your product.
  • Better Productivity.   This system cooks faster as two thirds of the cooking surface comes into contact with the food being cooked at a much lower temperature, compared to cook pots that use a much higher temperature only at the bottom of the pot.
  • Less Labour.   As the system does not require constant monitoring, stirring, it will save on labour.  The kettles of the system are extremely quick and easy to clean.
  • Safety.   A standard 40 Litre cook pot partially filled will weigh more than 30 kg, creating a significant risk to the chefs when moving them manually.  Transferring product inside a stock pot of any size can be potentially very dangerous, whereas tilting the kettles of the new system allow for safe, hassle free extraction of its contents.
  • Energy Efficient.  This system uses on average 35% less energy than cook pots on an open burner whilst also keeping kitchens cooler.

I tried explaining to the chefs about conserving gas using the principle of latent heat of steam, that is water as it boils at 100° C absorbs heat without changing its temperature.  The heat absorbed is called latent heat.  Hence, by turning down the gas supply to the steam generator after the water has commenced to boil, one can conserve gas.

All my scientific explanation was a little too much for the chefs to digest.  They still held on to their belief that it was a gas guzzler and hence could not be employed for regular cooking.

I now called up the manufacturer to inquire as to whether they had an Electric Steam Generator, which they confirmed, but it costs about Rs 15,000 and so I decided to foot the bill from regimental funds and accordingly  placed an order for the item.

Prior to installation of the steam cooking system, the kitchen had to be modified and work was initiated with the Military Engineering Service (MES).  The Garrison Engineer, a young Major, was surprised to find a request for a three phase electric connection in the kitchen, much different from similar work he had executed in the station.  He paid a visit to the Regiment to study the requirement projected and our Quartermaster took him around.  He was generally impressed by various equipment the kitchen had – flour kneading machine, potato peeling machine, freezers, coolers, power washer, microwave ovens and so on.  He was also shown our near paperless office functioning on an automated computer network where every soldier could update his records and also carryout day-to-day administration tasks. Probably he had an irresistible urge to chip in.

At the culmination of his round, the Garrison Engineer came to my office and said “You need to have a dedicated power supply to your Regiment with so many gadgets functioning.  I request you to take up a work for a dedicated power line from the power house located two kilometers from the Regiment.  I will ensure that it is executed immediately. I must chip in with my bit to facilitate the automation in your unit.”

By the time the Steam Cooking System was setup in the kitchen, the Garrison Engineer had laid the new power line with a caveat to his power house staff that this line should be connected to the same feeder that connects the General’s Residence and power on this line will never be switched off without his express permission.

We changed our routine cooking to the new system. Now we had both Steam generators functional in the kitchen, one working on electricity and the other on gas.  This ensured uninterrupted cooking and saving on gas. I was gratified and pleasantly surprised at the remark of our Havildar (Sergeant) Chef “With the installation of the Steam Cooking System, life spans of all our chefs have enhanced by a minimum of ten years.

Thus the elephant now began to chew with the set of teeth that were meant only to show off.

Indian Cricket Team Honours Soldiers


Settling down this morning (08 March 2019) with a cup of tea in hand, I switched on the television to watch India-Australia One Day Cricket match at Ranchi.  the Australian innings had been completed and  highlights showing many blemishes in the field by India was being shown to the discomfort of any Indian fan with Sunil Gavaskar making a snide remark that the best fielder was the wickets standing at the bowler’s end.

Wait a minute! The Indian players were wearing  disruptive pattern Indian Army caps with the BCCI logo in front and the manufacture’s Nike logo at the back.  I scurried through the internet to catch the news about the new headgear Indian players were wearing.

It was Lieutenant Colonel MS Dhoni, a legend from Ranchi, the wicket keeper, who came up with the novel idea.  He handed over the cap to Virat kohli, the Indian Captain, and also to all team members and support staff before the start of the match.  Captain Kohli at the toss said “This is a special cap, it’s a tribute to the Armed forces. We’re all donating our match fees of this game to the National Defence Fund. I urge everyone in the country to do the same, donate to the families of our armed forces.”

This must be the first time the Indian Cricket team must have shown such a gesture to the soldiers.  Obviously, it had complete support from BCCI.


English Cricket Team that played a test match at Rajkot (November 9-13, 2016) were seen wearing the Red Poppy in honour of fallen soldiers to commemorate Remembrance Day (11 November).  Will the Indian Cricket Team ever do so for the Armed Forces Flag Day (07 December)?

Few years ago, we watched a baseball game at Toronto between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rogers Centre is the home-ground of the Blue Jays. The atmosphere was as electric as that of any cricket matches of the Indian Premier League.

During the  innings interval, a sixty year old Veteran from the Canadian Army who was a Captain and had served in many UN assignments was called on to the centre and the Team Management of the Blue Jays presented him with a team shirt with his name printed at the back and with the team captain’s signature in the front. The entire stadium stood up to give the veteran a standing ovation – no one instructed anyone to do it, but was spontaneous. This is what is called patriotism.

Our son then said that during all the matches, a veteran from the armed forces or the police forces, who is a registered fan of the Blue Jays, is honoured this way.

Can we ever expect such a gesture at Mohali from the Kings XI Punjab or at Chennai from the Chennai Super Kings? Why one veteran, we can always honour a dozen at every match.

Will this ever happen in any Indian city? Will this remain a distant dream?

 

 

Remembering a Valiant Soldier


(Regimental Photograph of 1990 with Colonel Rajan Anand, Commanding Officer.  Captain KM Mistry standing in the centre and I seated extreme right.)

Major Khushru Meherji Mistry, a Parsi from Bombay (now Mumbai) was my subordinate at 75 Medium Regiment.  He saw action in the Kashmir Valley for over a decade.

When Mistry joined our Regiment in 1988 as a young subaltern, my first question to him was whether he was related to Late Colonel KM Mistry, widely regarded as the first great Indian all-rounder and acclaimed by none other than the legendary Ranjitsinhji, who called him the ‘Clem Hill of India’.  In the 1894-95 Presidency fixture at Bombay, he showed what he was capable of with the ball as he recorded figures of 5/11 in the second innings to help the Parsis beat the shell-shocked Europeans – who were bowled out for just 24 – by 120 runs.  Second Lieutenant Mistry was a bit taken aback by my question but he confirmed that he was indeed his great-uncle.  Our journey together as soldiers began that day.


Recently, I came across this photograph of Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter who was awarded the United States’ highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.  His citation read For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Automatic Rifleman with Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom on 21 November 2010. Lance Corporal Carpenter was a member of a platoon-sized coalition force. Lance Corporal Carpenter and a fellow Marine were manning a rooftop security position when the enemy initiated a daylight attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position. Without hesitation, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast. When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him, but saving the life of his fellow Marine. By his undaunted courage, bold fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of almost certain death, Lance Corporal Carpenter reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

Acts such as the one above fully illustrate the expression “raw courage” Thoughts of Mistry came before me on reading about Corporal Carpenter. It was another time and another Kyle Carpenter. Mistry was a professional soldier who loved the men who served under his command.  When we were serving in the valley in 1988, his helper, a soldier from Tamil Nadu, reported that his mother was admitted to a hospital in a medical emergency and that he wanted to rush home.  The Srinagar-Jammu highway was closed due to heavy snowfall and landslides and the only way to reach Delhi was by air. Mistry immediately bought an air ticket for the soldier from Srinagar to Chennai from his own pocket and saw him off.  Yes, he was rich in a monetary sense but far richer at heart.

Mistry was a great orator with exceptional command over the English language.  His English language skills, he owed it to Rishi Valley School.  He was tough, bold, honest and straight forward. We took a spontaneous liking for each other maybe because of our open hearted nature.

On a summer morning in 1995, I got the news that Captain Mistry had been evacuated to the Army Hospital, New Delhi due to injuries suffered by him in a grenade attack. At the time he was serving with a Rashtriya Rifles (RR) Battalion in the Kashmir Valley.   A terrorist had lobbed a grenade in front of the section of men he was leading.  Mistry dived forward and scooped the grenade with his right hand.  The grenade burst mid-air, taking the top two elements of the three fingers of his right palm.

I rushed to the Hospital to look him up and I found a cheerful Mistry sitting in the Veranda of the officers’ ward, reading a book. I enquired as to what happened and he said “let me explain to you in the very same words that I used to tell my mother about the incident, Like Mom prunes her Bonsai collection at home, God did a Bonsai on my Hand. By the way, I have already sent my motorbike for modification so that I can drive it with my Bonsai Hand.”

I was shell-shocked by his reply and we both really laughed it out.

After 30 minutes, while we were having a cup of tea at his bedside, a senior General walked in to meet Mistry to enquire about his welfare. The General commended Mistry stating that it was indeed a brave act which saved the men under his command. Mistry, as curt as he could be, replied “Sir, I did it to save myself.” The General gave a stare and walked off. Obviously, Mistry did not get any award or commendation for his brave act.

On 12 December 1997, while I was posted at Sikkim, Mistry re-joined our Regiment from another one.  He straight away moved into my room and left his belongings there.  In the evening I got my wisdom tooth extracted and due to anesthesia, went to bed early.  At about 8PM, while all officers were at the Officers’ Mess for dinner, my neighbouring room caught fire and in no time my room too was engulfed in fire.  Our exchange operator was the first to react and he took me out of my room.  Everyone assembled to put off the fire.  Mistry and I lost most of our belongings other than my computer and TV which our exchange operator managed to salvage.

Next morning as everyone was rammaging through what the fire had not managed to engulf, I hit upon a few currency notes of Rs100 denomination.  They appeared to have been forming a bundle.  I never had that money on me and my brain went into overdrive trying to fathom as to from where it came.  My take-home-salary then was much less than a wad of Rs100 currency notes.   Suddenly I realised that Mistry had left his belongings in my room.  I summoned Mistry to enquire and he nonchalantly replied that it was a bundle of notes which his mother had given him as a birthday gift before he left Bombay for Sikkim.  “My mother will send me another bundle if I say I lost it.  I am not going to tell her about the fire so that I don’t have to lie to her about her gift”

He passed away a decade later due to cardiac arrest. RIP my friend.

PS:  Have you noticed that both the heroes are ‘Carpenters‘; they share a common last name – the Indian ‘Mistry‘  translates to ‘Carpenter.’

Chai –My Favourite Brew


Recently I came across a video clip about TWG’s Yellow Gold Bud Tea.  This tea is believed to have been once the favourite of Chinese emperors and as precious and costly as gold.  In fact, each tea bud is lavished in 24-karat gold, which once infused, yields a delicately metallic and floral aftertaste.

In the Sixties, during our childhood days, back home in Kottayam, the regular morning brew was coffee.  Ripened red coffee beans were plucked from the coffee trees that grew in our homestead and after being sun dried their outer covering was removed.  The beans were then fried until they turned black and ground to a powder at the nearby mill, to be stored in air tight containers. The coffee powder was put into a copper vessel with boiling water and was left for a few minutes for the coffee to be infused and the thick powder would settle at the bottom of the copper vessel.  The extract or decoction was now mixed with milk and sugar and then served to all. Just thinking about it makes one salivate.

The taste of that home-made coffee is now history.  With the advent of rubber plantations, all coffee trees were cut to make way for rubber. Thus the end of home-made coffee powder. We now source our coffee powder from various commercially available brands in the market. Sad change.

Happy change. I took to drinking tea on joining Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, at the age of nine in 1971.  Tea was served to us early in the morning prior to Physical Training, at 11 o’ Clock between classes and in the evening prior to games.  Every cadet took a liking to this tea as everyone looked forward to it.  For many it served as a clock as none of us wore a wrist watch.  The tea had some magic in it as it had the innate quality to kick start all the important events in a cadet’s life!

CadetMessAmar22
What was so special about this magical concoction?  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea. What was special about it? It could be the special blend of the tea leaves or the way in which it was cured. Or perhaps it was the sublime effect of the Amaravathi River waters, the vessel in which it was brewed, or the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It still remains a mystery to all of us, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming steaming cups of this divine tea.

Another most memorable cup of tea that I have had was the tea served by soldiers at the Sadhna Post at Nastachun Pass.  This pass is located at about 10,000 feet Above Sea Level at the entrance to the Thangdhar Valley on the Indo-Pak border.  The narrow one-way road from Chowkibal (about 100 km from Srinagar) was cut along the mountains to Nastachun Pass and then down into Thangdhar Valley.  The road being narrow could only accommodate one vehicle either way.  To ensure a smooth flow of vehicles, all traffic was regulated by a convoy system. The up and down convoys left from Thandhar and Chowkibal at about 8 in the morning and 2 in the Afternoon respectively.  The vehicles on reaching Nastachun Pass would park there, awaiting all vehicles to fetch up from either side.

During this wait, soldiers manning Sadhna Post would serve tea to all.  It was real refreshing cup of tea as one was both physically and mentally tired traversing up through the treacherous roads with many hairpin bends. It was a magic potion that invigorated tired limbs and ebbing spirits.


During winter, the road and the mountains got covered with over ten feet of snow.  The only way to cross over was by foot columns.  The foot columns operated at night, two days after a heavy snow storm to avoid avalanches.  The foot column consisted mainly of soldiers proceeding or returning from leave from their homes, porters carrying essential supplies – fresh vegetables and milk, mail, etc.

It took about four hours of strenuous climb to Sadhna Post and was a sure test of anyone’s mental and physical abilities. It was a kind of surreal experience. Talking aloud was not permitted as the vibrations caused by human voice could resonate with layers of snow on the ridge face and trigger an avalanche. On reaching Sadhna Post, everyone was welcomed by the soldiers with a hot ‘cuppa’, a cup of tea that was the most refreshing and tasty—it simply was the best ever. To my mind, it could very well be compared to Amrit – the nectar of immortality in Hindu mythology. The climb down from the Sadhna post appeared easier but was just as treacherous, if not more, due to the tendency to slip and fall.

I have never tasted the Yellow Gold Bud Tea, the specialty of the Chinese emperors. But I am pretty certain that it would pale into insignificance when compared with the Amravathi Special or the Sadhna Post Amrit!

Brigadier KN Thadani, VSM : An Accomplished Mountaineer


Brigadier KN Thadani and Mrs Sneh Thadani used to take me to the Defence Services Officer’s Institute(DSOI) at Dhaulakuan, Delhi every Sunday and we used to play cards and tambola (housie or bingo).  The evenings would invariably wind up with dinner in some classy restaurant in Delhi.

I also had some interaction with their two sons – Akash and Kailash. I remember signing the documents for Kailash for his adventure training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling.  That was the day when Brigadier Thadani taught me as to why the old rubber stamps had a drawing pin on one side – One needs to always ensure that that correct side faced the document when you stamped one, lest it would turn out upside down!

Brigadier Thadani was also a skilled mountaineer and both passionate and knowledgeable about his craft.  Many years later, while he was commanding 3 Artillery Brigade in Leh, he led the very first expedition of 16 soldiers to conquer Apsarasas I peak. The Apsaras group of mountains lies to the North of Teram Shehr Glacier and consists of a large massif with the ridge line running from West to East. The highest point is Apsarasas I, height 7245 m with Apsarasas II (7240 m) and Apsarasas III (7230 m).


The expedition left Leh on 25 July 1980 (four years before the Indian Army occupied Siachen Glacier), moved across the Khardung La, 18,360 ft (which is reputedly the highest pass in the world over which a road has now been built), and thereafter descended, to the Shyok river and on to the Nubra valley in Ladakh.  The team set up four camps with the base camp at the snout of the Siachen glacier.  The advanced base camp was sited near the confluence of three glaciers, the Siachen, Teram Shehr and Lolofond at a height of about 5180 m (12,000 ft).


A number of parties were sent out on various approaches to determine a suitable route to Apsarasas I. The Western approach along the ridge line was found unsuitable as it had a formidable overhanging glacier on the route to the ridge line. The South-Eastern approach was selected and summit Camp 1 was established on 7 September and summit Camp 2 the next day.

At this stage the expedition was struck by bad weather; heavy snowfall with occasional blizzards prevented further progress on the mountain. The fixed ropes between the two summit camps were buried in the fresh snow and the members had to remain firm in their respective camps. For almost a week, they had to endure extreme privation in the sub-zero environment. Meanwhile, the route to these camps was obliterated by avalanches.

A party of eight moved up to summit Camp 3 having used 15 fixed ropes to secure the route. The following day they reconnoitred the route to the summit and on 18 September, seven of them made an early start and reached the summit of Apsarasas I at 11.12 a.m. They hoisted the Indian tricolour and the expedition flag. They stood in prayer, expressed their gratitude to the Gods of the mountains for having given them the strength to reach the summit and offered oblation. The second summit party of nine members, seeing that the weather was clear and the route to the summit had already been secured, climbed 3000 ft at that altitude. They were fully aware that they could at best return to the security of a camp only after nightfall. They reached the summit at 3.30 p.m., took a few photographs and as the clouds were gathering fast, they hurried back and reached the camp at 9 p.m.


This added another glorious chapter to the history of mountaineering by these 16 gallant men of the Indian Army led by Brigadier KN Thadani. These peaks are now in the enemy held areas of the Glacier. When the line of control was delineated it was not clearly defined in these areas and so the Indian and Pakistani perceptions of the LOC were quite divergent. In those days the ground was not occupied by either army and both countries allowed in mountaineering in these areas. Despite all these circumstances, it was still no mean feat for him and his team to enter what was then palpably Pakistani held territory.  What happened in the years to come with the Indian Army occupying most of the Siachen Glacier is etched in golden letters in the annals of Indian military history.

Even though both his war experience and mountaineering took a toll on his body and mind, like a true soldier, he rarely spoke about it and when he did it was in bits and pieces. He was a man of few words and I used to be ever on the lookout when those pearls of wisdom came from his lips.

Brigadier Thadani loved sports and was a passionate follower of Cricket.  I fondly remember the days when we together watched the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket, a One Day International tournament held from 17 February to 10 March 1985 in Australia which India won.  The most crucial match was the semi-final with New Zealand – India had to make 207 runs in 50 overs.  In the 32nd over, India was 102 for 3 and needed 105 runs to win in the remaining 18 overs – a difficult task then.   It was Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev who took the team to victory, both scoring half centuries.  The match was nail-biting and intense, and caused Brigadier Thadani and I to smoke two full packets of Wills cigarettes. By the way, Brigadier Thadani, stylish as ever, in those days only smoked his pipe.

As Brigadier Thadani sitteth on the right hand side of God, let me reveal an incident that always remained a fascination with me. Brigadier Thadani, while commanding 3 Artillery Brigade in Leh, had been close to His Holiness Dalai Lama.  In April 1985, His Holiness came to our Officers’ Mess to meet his old friend.  I too had the opportunity to interact and dine with His Holiness and I will always cherish the meeting till my grave.  I was destined to witness this meeting of two great personalities and two best friends who ardently admired each other.

A Peerless Soldier : Remembering Late Brigadier KN Thadani, VSM


In 1985, Brigadier KN Thadani and Mrs Sneh Thadani moved into the Officers’ Mess of our Regiment, then stationed in Gurgaon. He had retired from the Army a few months earlier.  Our Mess was a hired house in DLF Colony in Sector 14, Gurgaon. Many years earlier in 1971, as the Commanding Officer (CO) of our Regiment, he had led the unit into battle.  They were getting their house constructed in Gurgaon and it was only natural they moved into our Officers’ Mess.  That was the first time I met this wonderful couple.


Mrs Sneh Thadani cutting the cake during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of our Regiment – February 2018

In the army it is extremely rare that subalterns get an opportunity to closely interact with Brigadiers, retired or serving. I, then a Lieutenant, and the only bachelor, was the sole dining-in member of the Officer’s Mess. So, as mess mates, I therefore had a lot of interaction with Brigadier and Mrs Sneh Thadani. I really cannot fathom how or why I became an object of their benign indulgence. But oh, I was relishing it so much. They were excellent human beings; erudite, lively and animated conversationalists.  I learned a lot from them about soldiering, spirituality and myriad other facets of life. I fondly recall those days and reminisce about the couple  and their times.


Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, Param Veer Chakra (Posthumous)

During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani had commanded our Unit – 75 Medium Regiment, which provided Artillery fire support to the legendary 17 HORSE, The POONA HORSE, in the famous Battle of Shakargarh.  This battle reminds everyone of the supreme sacrifice of Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal of this Regiment who was honoured by the nation with its highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra.  During the same battle, Captain Satish Chandra Sehgal of our Regiment, who was the Observation Post (OP) Officer (for direction of artillery fire) with POONA HORSE, also made the ultimate sacrifice. He was honoured with a Vir Chakra.


Mrs Sneh Thadani with Veteran Brigadier MS Brar, Sena Medal, during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations

Captain Madhu Mehububani, now a Veteran Brigadier, was the Observation Post Officer with 4 (HODSON’s) HORSE during the war.  He was Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his heroic actions and display of valour in the face of enemy.  Major MS Brar, his Battery Commander, was awarded Sena Medal for his gallant actions and his professional acumen in providing close artillery fire support for our armoured columns during their advance and the consequent battle with the enemy.


Brigadier Madhu Mehbubani remembers: “Colonel Thadani was our Commanding Officer, a thoroughbred gentleman, a saint at heart and a father to all young officers of the Regiment.  During the war I used to be an energetic young Captain with soldierly adrenaline pumping through all my veins, ready to bash on ahead, engaging enemy tanks with artillery fire.  I used to be very ‘vociferous’ on the radio net when calling for artillery fire.  Colonel Thadani would always come on the net, night or day, take over the net with his ‘cool’ demeanor and ensure that the guns fired as per my orders.”


Major Hoshiyar Singh, Param Vir Chakra
Our Regiment under then Lieutenant Colonel Thadani’s command was also involved in another famous battle, providing Artillery support for the Battle of Jarpal, where Major Hoshiyar Singh of 3 Grenadiers was awarded the Param Vir Chakra. In a gallant action, his C Company of 3 GRENADIERS captured Jarpal along the Basantar River inside Pakistan and then successfully repulsed many counterattacks.  It resulted in the enemy retreating, leaving behind 85 dead including their Commanding Officer and three other officers. Though seriously wounded, Major Hoshiyar Singh refused to be evacuated till the ceasefire.

Throughout the operation, C Company led by Major Hoshiyar Singh was provided with effective fire support by our Regiment. The artillery fire was directed  by Captain Mohan Krishnan who fought alongside Major Hoshiyar Singh as the Observation Post Officer.  Captain Mohan Krishnan was  Mentioned-in-Dispatches for displaying  conspicuous gallantry during the battle.


Veteran Colonel Mohan Krishnan  has this to say about his Commanding Officer.   “During my very first meeting with our new Commanding Officer, I realised that here is a leader who would stand by his command come hell or high water.  I soon realised that he encouraged his subordinates to take initiative and most importantly he taught us the value of morale.

His innovative thinking during the actual operations and his directions to us as – Forward Observation Officers (FOO) was instrumental in  our Regiment being conferred with the Battle Honour ‘BASANTAR RIVER.’

During the war I was attached to 47 Infantry Brigade of 54 Infantry Division as the  OP Officer.   On 4th Dec 1971, I was instructed to link up with 16 DOGRAS. While I was making preparations along with our soldiers, I decided to carry the wireless set, the heaviest equipment on my back and was trying it on and walking around to adjust to its weight.  In those days the radio sets were powered by a super-heavy Lead-Acid battery.  That was when Colonel Thadani landed up with a huge smile and handed over two newly introduced, much lighter ANPRC radio sets, batteries, ammunition and a few grenades. We heaved a great sigh of relief because carrying a heavy radio set and  moving about during the thick of battle was going to be extremely cumbersome to say the least. He then shook hands with all of us and bid us God speed and watched us go off into the night.  His timely action of handing us the lighter radio sets  and personal words of encouragement and advice really boosted our morale. It speaks volumes about this leader and his dedication and support for his subordinates.

Col Thadani initiated a novel method of counter bombardment. He instructed OP Officers who were up front, facing the enemy, to take bearings of the gun flashes whenever the enemy artillery opened up  and to record the time interval between the detection of the flash and the sound of the guns. With this data,  by triangulation, the  Gun Batteries of our Regiment were given fire orders which resulted in accurate and rapid engagement  of the enemy gun positions.  After the cease fire, during one of the flag meetings with the Pakistani officers they acknowledged that our Artillery fire was very effective. I am absolutely certain that this acknowledgement by our adversary was a result of our CO’s initiative, clear, precise instructions and outstanding  coordination of our Artillery fire.

Just before the Battle for Jarpal, I was with C Company of 3 Grenadiers as  their Forward Observation Officer.  Our CO came in person to bid farewell to me and my team as we launched into battle.  I was surprised as to how he could manage to locate us in the midst of the hectic activities and frantic troop movement that preceded the launch of such a major offensive.

He again had a wonderful and encouraging smile for all of us and said ‘Son, this battle that you are going into will be written in the annals of coordinated assaults by infantry and artillery and will also be written in our Regimental History. I wish you and your team all the best!’  He then shook our hands and watched us disappear into the night along with our Infantry comrades who were moving into the Assembly Area prior to the launch of the attack. This gesture of his made all of us very proud of him and our Regiment. It also brought a lump in my throat.

There was no need for our CO  to come personally to see us off. He could have wished us good luck over the radio net, but he chose to meet us in person negotiating  mine fields and braving enemy shelling.    HE WAS A TRUE WARRIOR.”


Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani (extreme right) with Brigadier Ujagar Singh (Commander 74 Infantry Brigade), Major General WAG Pinto (General Officer Commanding 54 Infantry Division) and Brigadier AS Vaidya (Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade) during the war.

Then Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani was the Artillery Advisor to Brigadier AS Vaidya, Maha Vir Chakra (later General and Chief of the Army Staff), Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade.  For his professional acumen in providing artillery fire support, planning of the operations, leadership and courage, Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani was awarded the Vishishta Seva Medal.


Honorary Captain Mohinder Singh, our then Subedar Major  was also Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his dedication to duty and ensuring high morale of the Regiment during the war.  Gunner Premachandran, our Despatch Rider also laid down his life fighting for the motherland.

I joined our Regiment in January 1983 just after the Regiment was conferred the Honour Title ‘BASANTAR RIVER’ for the efforts of all officers and soldiers of this great Regiment during the war. It took over a decade of persistent effort by our Regiment and due to seven years of toil of our then Commanding Officer, Lt Col A N Suryanarayanan (now Veteran Brigadier), that it fructified and our Regiment was bestowed the Honour Title it aptly deserved.

Best Wishes to all readers on the occasion of  ‘VIJAY DIVAS’ and ‘BASANTAR DAY’.

Brigadier KN Thadani, VSM : An Accomplished Mountaineer follows

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa (Lord Ayyappa is the Only Hope)


Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa
  – this is the chant every Lord Ayyappa devotee utters, especially on pilgrimage to Sabarimala, on the Western Ghats of Kerala, India, the abode of the  Lord Ayyappa.  He is revered by most Hindus of South India.  He is believed to be the son of Shiva (God of destruction) and Mohini – the female avatar of Vishnu (preserver and protector of the universe).  Any devotee undertaking pilgrimage to Sabarimala is expected wear a Rudraksha chain,  observe 40 days of fasting, penance and continence, walk barefoot, wear black dress, etc.

Another name of Lord Ayyappa is Sastha which means Buddha. Buddhism is believed to have entered in Kerala by 3rd Century BC.  The constant and repeated chants, especially the word Sharanam  is that of the Buddhists.  The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. Ahimsa is taken from the Jains.


Myth has it that the King of Pandalam, childless, got a baby from the forest and took him to his palace and called him Manikantan. Later, the Queen delivered a baby and the she wanted the adopted son to be thrown out. Conniving with the Minister, the Queen pretended to be ill with the royal doctor prescribing Tigress’ milk as cure.  Manikantan was tasked to procure Tigress’ milk from the forest.  Knowing the intent of Manikantan’s visit, the King of the Gods, Indra, transfigured into a Tigress.  Manikantan climbed on top of the tigress and led the way back to the Palace.  Manikantan pardoned everyone who plotted against him and nominated his younger brother to the throne.


He then took the King to the forest ,  blazed an arrow toward a hill and asked the King to construct a shrine for him where the arrow landed. He also requested his father to come annually to visit him at the shrine.

It is believed that the Pandalam Royal Family are descendants of the Pandya dynasty of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The Pandya King fled to Kerala after losing the battle against Malik Khafer, General of Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji and settled in Pandalam in 1202 AD.


There is an Islamic angle also to the belief in Lord Ayyappa.  Vavar, a Muslim forest brigand was shown the path of righteousness by Lord Ayyappa and he became the trusted lieutenant of the Lord.  When Lord Ayyappa took to his abode at the hilltop of Sabarimala, Vavar took up his position at the foothills in a Mosque at Erumeli.  Ayyappa devotees on pilgrimage first pay their respects to Vavar at the mosque before undertaking the trek uphill to the Temple.

What is the significance of Lord Ayyappa to me, a Syrian Orthodox Christian and an Indian Army Veteran?


In December 1982, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant to 75 Medium Regiment of Artillery.  A regiment in Artillery is divided into three gun Batteries.  A Battery operates six guns, manned by about 150 soldiers.  The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery was 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.  In those days, any Young Officer posted to the Regiment would serve with each of the batteries for one or two years in order to make them familiarise with the soldiers. I too went through this rotation beginning with the Brahmins, then with the South Indians and then with the Jats.  On promotion to the Rank of Major, I took over command of the Brahmin Battery with Major Joginder Singh, a Sikh, commanding the South Indian Battery.


The War Cry of the South Indian Battery was ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa.’  It is believed to have been introduced by Captain AN Suryanarayanan, who was the Adjutant of the Regiment in the early days of the Regiment.  He later rose to command the Regiment and is now a Veteran Brigadier.

‘Sawmiye Sharanam Ayyappa’ reverberated on the battlefield when the Regiment saw action during 1971 Indo-Pak war during the Battle of Basantar River.  Our Regiment was honoured with the Honour Title ‘Basantar River’ based on the Regiment’s performance in war.

Lord Ayyappa is a warrior deity and is revered for his ascetic devotion to Dharma – the ethical and right way of living, to deploy his military genius and daring yogic war abilities to destroy those who are powerful but unethical, abusive and arbitrary.  Hence ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa’ is an apt Regimental Battle Cry.  We said it loudly before we undertook any mission, before commencement of engaging the enemy with our guns, while on training, while on the playing fields, at any competitions, and so on; why it reverberated whenever we got together, while in service or post retirement.


Our Regiment might be the only Indian Army entity to have the War Cry ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa.’  Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Parsis – irrespective of our religious faiths, we all cried out loud  ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa.’

Newlyweds Do Fight


Almost all married people fight, although many are ashamed to admit it. Actually a marriage in which no quarreling at all takes place may well be one that is dead or dying from emotional undernourishment. If you care, you probably fight” said noted American author Flora Davis.

Captain Deepak Malik (name changed), a young officer, newlywed, once sought my interview as he had some pressing private issues.  I ordered him to meet me next morning at 11 AM.  All the while I tried to fathom as to what could be the problem he might be facing.  Is it that his young wife has not been able to adjust to the Indian Army’s way of life?  Is it that she is scared of me as the Commanding Officer?  Is it that she felt that some officers or soldiers misbehaved with her?  My mind went into an overdrive, searching for all possible problems a young couple could face.  Surely, I was preparing myself as to how to deal with it.

Next morning at 11 AM, Captain Malik showed up at my office.  I asked him “What is the pressing issue?“.  Taking a long deep breath, he answered “Sir, everyday there is a fight between my wife and me.  It is becoming too much for me to handle.

How many times do you fight?”  I questioned.  “Once a day” was his prompt reply.

Oh! that is not an issue at all.  When we got married, we fought twice on a working day and four times on a holiday.  Young man, you are doing pretty well.  Remember, your wife is an individual, she comes from a different family and background.  It is natural to have differences of opinion and at this age and it got to end up in a fight.  If you do not fight, then there is a problem – either of you are faking it.  Now get off from my office and attend to your work”  I said to him, feeling relieved.

After a month, I met the couple at the Officers’ Mess function and I enquired about their well being.  Captain Malik said “I asked for the Commanding Officer’s interview thinking that after hearing my sob story, he might excuse me the morning Physical Training, instead he gave me kick and threw me out.   Now I realise what married life is all about.”

Marriage is all about communication – honest, frank, open, accepting and respecting.  It must be full of love for each other.  It should neither be sarcastic nor hurtful.

It is an art as to how newlyweds deal with arguments, big and small.  They end up causing heartburn and a lot of tension in marriage. Both partners need to find a communication style that works for both and respect the boundaries mutually set.

It is mostly small and pretty issues which end up in arguments, at times running out of hand.  It could be about the ‘mess’ in the bedroom, clutter in the washroom,  what to watch on TV, what to eat for dinner, which movie to go, visiting family members, how often you spend time with each other’s friends – the list is endless, even though very small.

Life of a newlywed is challenging – it is all about adjustments and at times compromises – many were least expecting these. Reality dawns on the couple  when they live together, away from their parents.  It is all the more challenging for an Army wife who hails from a non-Military background.  It is going to be a roller coaster ride for the bride and she is bound to be scared at each step.  The husband got to explain everything in detail to her and provide more than needed support for her to adjust to the military environs.

Taking a holiday and travelling to a place of interest to both will do a lot good.  Sometimes this may also lead to a fight, but the thrill of the first holiday together will much outweigh the fight.   This time can be utilised to review your progress together and also plan for future.

His money – Her money – Our money‘ – especially when both spouses are earning – is another point for a fight.  Now you got to row the boat together, hence the need for proper budgeting after mutual discussions.

When you marry someone, you marry into a family. Learning how to live with each other’s family needs ‘diplomatic’ skills many a time. Always keep the interest of your spouse ahead of everyone else.

Each of you are individuals and hence need ‘my time’.  Allow your spouse this benefit too- to pursue hobbies or interests or even lazing around doing nothing.  You both will have many interests common and many divergent.  You got to accommodate each other.

Sex is an important part of married life.  Both got to be expressive and enjoy the pleasure.  It is not all about the ‘physical sex’ on which you spend no more than five minutes.  It is all about foreplay, caressing, speaking those lovely lines and so on.  Go as far as your imagination can take you, but be equally careful not to make it a nightmare for your partner.  When one partner feels there isn’t enough sex, it will cause issues. Both need to be open and respectful about how you are feeling and your needs.

Everyone has different plans in life. The husband may want a child whereas the wife may not. It could be the in-laws who are more in a hurry to see a grandchild. Either way, having children is a huge decision and can cause tensions if both are not on the same page.

I’ve learned that just because two people argue,
it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
And just because they don’t argue,
it doesn’t mean they do.     
Omer Washington

 

Ship On Fire


During the term break at the Indian Military Academy, I paid a visit to the Indian Naval Ship anchored at Kochi Naval Base, which housed the Midshipmen from our course. I boarded the ship at about 9 AM and was received by our course mates and was taken to the bunks where they stayed.

As the Midshipmen were to attend to their daily training, I was ‘ordered’ to sleep on Saurav’s bunk and stay put until they returned for lunch break. I was also ordered not to come out of the bunk as an ‘alien’ in the ship would attract the wrath of the senior officers of the ship. What a great place to sleep – for a Gentleman Cadet on a term break from the Academy, even a hard rock becomes a soft bed the very moment he gets an opportunity to sleep.

Suddenly the fire alarm in the ship went off. I first thought I was dreaming, but the commotion with many boots striking the metal decks of the ship made me realise that it was indeed a fire alarm. I looked out through the port holes and I could see three fire-tenders parked alongside the ship.

As an Army Cadet, I took the orders seriously – that too to stay put at the post and not to abandon it until last man and last bullet. So I decided to roll over and continue sleeping. Midshipmen came down for lunch and that is when it dawned on them that I was still asleep – like a good Army Cadet.

It seems someone reported some smoke somewhere on board and Pixie was the Officer on Duty and he immediately raised the fire alarm, called the Fire Station and they promptly dispatched the fire tenders. As I did not know the procedure to be adopted and also not to disclose my alien-on-board status, I thought it wise to continue sleeping, even if the entire ship caught fire.

Colonel KPR Hari, Vir Chakra

‘The battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton’ is a famous British Army quote after they trounced a much stronger French army.  After the battle of Kargil, especially with Major KPR Hari’s action, leading his company of 1 Bihar Regiment to capture Jubar Top, and also gallantry actions of many young officers of Indian Army during the battle of Kargil, I was tempted to rewrite the quote as “The battle of Kargil was won on the fields of Khadakwasla.”

When we moved in to the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, in our second semester, Hari was there to welcome us to the E Squadron (61st Course) in June 1979.  In those days, E Squadron believed more in moulding youngsters into ‘men of steel.’  That obviously meant rigorous Physical Training (PT) by day and by night, and practising heavily for cross-country, boxing and sports competions – football, hockey and basketball.  Our Squadron earned the nickname of ‘PT Squadron.’

In all the events that E Squadron excelled in, Cadet Hari was the champion.  His agility and skill was proven beyond doubt and we ended winning the Commandant’s Banner as Champion Squadron in 1979.

Hari always sported his bright smile – characterised by a broken incisor – a loss he suffered during a boxing bout.  We used to undertake cycling tours around Khadakwasla (obviously the unofficial ones) to Sinhagarh Fort, Munshi Dam and Panshet Dam.

Nothing could deter Hari during our NDA days, whatever difficulty he faced, he always took it with a smile.  It appeared that neither success nor failure had any impact on him – he kept going ahead, without ever looking behind.  The very same quality he carried with him during his service as an officer.

Hari was commissioned in to Bihar Regiment – Infantry – and I to the Regiment of Artillery.  We never served together during our Army days, but did meet many times, especially while travelling to our hometowns in Kerala from Delhi.

While I was posted at the Military Intelligence Directorate during the Kargil war of 1999, situation (sitrep) of 06 July caught my eye.  It described action of Major KPR Hari and 1 Bihar in capturing Jubar Top.  I was not surprised – Hari had it in him and he would have done it that way only.

The sitrep said that Hari, disregarding his own personal safety crawled through the boulders over a stiff cliff and destroyed the enemy Heavy Machine Gun bunker and killed two enemy personnel.  I knew his gallant act would be recognised and glorified.

Major KPR Hari was awarded Vir Chakra – a well deserved honour – for his gallant action.  His citation read:-

“On 06 July 1999, Major KPR Hari attacked Jubar Top, an enemy stronghold at a height of 16,800 feet Batalik Sector of Jammu and Kashmir.

Major KPR Hari launched a two pronged attack under heavy enemy artillery and small arm fire.  He crawled through the boulders over a teep cliff leading towards Jubar Top avoiding enemy fire.  He reached 50 meters short of the enemy bunker and in a swift and bold manoeuvre closed in with the enemy bunker along with six soldiers continously firing and lobbing grenades.

Major KPR Hari with utter disregard for personal safety destroyed the enemy Heavy Machine Gun bunker and killed two enemy personnel who were engaging the advancing troops.  The enemy sensing immediate capture withdrew leaving huge quantity of arms, ammunition and equipment.  The post was captured at 0500 hours without any casualty.  Major KPR Hari then along with another officer kept the momentum of attack and captured Jubar Top by 1800 hours.

Major KPR Hari displayed initiative, bold action, indomitable courage, strong determination and exceptional leadership in the face of extreme danger from the enemy.”

After I bid goodbye to Indian Army and moved to Canada, I met Hari only once.  That was during our course-mate Commander Vinod Kumar’s (Indian Navy) daughter’s wedding in December 2015.  He was as cheerful and smiling as he always was.

Last year I heard the sad news that Hari was battling pancreatic cancer.  I thought that he will beat this ordeal too.  He fought like a good boxer of E Squadron, but breathed his last on 17 August 2018.  I am sure he will now be smiling and thanking his Creator for a great meaningful life that the God had bestowed on him.

“Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking;
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.”    Sir Walter Scott, Scottish author and playwright

 

The Gorkha Brave-Heart Who Killed Death

A heart rendering article on Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, Param Vir Chakra, (25 June 1975 – 3 July 1999) of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles (GR), beautifully penned by Major General Raj Mehta, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal, my Guru and mentor from my early military days at the National Defence Academy.


Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (Posthumous), 1/11 GR, challenged death at alpine heights during the Kargil War – and won

When brave-hearts are martyred in India, we invariably compensate for the loss by naming residential colonies, roads, airports, auditoriums, tournaments after them. We rarely reflect over the intent that drove them to martyrdom. We do not understand why, when living was an option, they chose to die, fiercely upholding the timeless  ethic of Naam, Namak, Nishan  (नाम, नमक, निशान) [Honour, Integrity, Flag]  that has been in the Indian soldiers DNA since the ancient killing battlefields of Kurukshetra (कुरुक्षेत्र).

Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (P), 1/11 GR was one such driven officer who died at Bunkers Area en route to Khalubar Top at 5287m (17346ft)  sacrificing his life for sustaining the Idea of India. This story is about his selfless sacrifice on night 2/3 July 1999, his bloodied Khukri (खुकुरी) [inwardly curved traditional knife of a Gorkha soldier] flashing as he exhorted his charged Gorkhas with Naa Chhodnu!” (I will not spare you) as he fell. They did, several of them dying with him but neutralizing the entrenched Pakistanis with bullets, khukris, grenades – and grit.

The story of Manoj’s heroism is available on the internet in narrative and video formats. A mainstream Hindi film covers his martyrdom. Nothing could, however, be better than hearing about him first hand from his then Commanding Officer, Colonel Lalit Rai, Vir Chakra. I was privileged to do just that because Lalit is a colleague of old; a bold, brave and courageous third generation 11 Gorkha Regiment officer of pedigree and conviction. A Bishops Cotton, Bangalore product, his grandfather and father preceded him in the Regiment. Commissioned in 7/11 GR, he was commanding newly raised 17 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) (Maratha) in Doda, J&K, in 1997 when I came across him as the Deputy Commander of the RR Sector Headquarters which operationally controlled his Unit. He led from the front in an intense Counter-Insurgency deployment grid where I was as much in operations as our Units; the Deputy’s being a command not staff assignment when deployed on the Counter Insurgency grid. This is where I saw Lalit repeatedly leading his command in encounter situations.

In June 1999, when the Kargil War had commenced, he was offered a chance to command 1/11 GR by his Colonel of the Regiment. This Battalion had decades earlier been commanded by his Father and urgently needed a replacement Commanding Officer (CO). Lalit accepted the challenge despite not having served in 1/11 GR. He was landed by helicopter 48 hours later, when the Unit, looking forward to some respite after a tough Siachen tenure, was pitch-forked instead into alpine war.

A crisis was unfolding in the strategic but primitively developed Yaldor Sub-Sector. Ordered to retake Khalubar Top from infiltrating Pakistani Pathan troops and with non-existent road communications, his immediate task was to lead a 14 hour forced march into war with all equipment/ammunition carried back-pack  with whatever troops he could muster even as his Second-in-Command (2IC) marshaled the balance men.    This was on 2 July 1999 and this is where young Manoj enters the narrative. A word about him is necessary before the daunting terrain where his bravery – and Lalit’s – manifested, becomes our point of focus.

IC-56959-W Capt Manoj Pandey was born on 25 June 1975 in Rudha, Sitapur District, Uttar Pradesh, to Gopichand and Mohini Pandey. Gopichand was a man of very modest means, but Manoj, the family elder, never put a financial burden on his parents as he blazed through Sainik School and Laxmi Bai Secondary School, both in Lucknow with a brilliant all-round performance in academics, National Cadet Corps and sports.  Asked during his Services Selection Board interview on why he wanted to become an officer, his convincing “To win the PVC” response saw him selected for the National Defence Academy (NDA). Commissioned into 1/11 GR, a famous Battalion raised in 1918 in Mesopotamia, Manoj served in the Kashmir valley and Siachen before Kargil happened.

In the remote, near inaccessible Batalik sector, the infiltrators had occupied a number of ridges whose recapture was a must as these dominated the Batalik-Leh route. It took some time before the ingress routes to the four roughly parallel ridges were blocked by India. General VP Malik, then Army Chief in his book, From Surprise to Victory, recalls that a direct note to him by then 2IC Lieutenant Colonel Asthana brought out to him the importance of retaking Khalubar Ridge on priority. It had a Pakistani helicopter- supplied dump behind and clearly had to be recaptured and it was the Gorkhas led by Colonel Rai and, on his vulnerable flank, Manoj, who did it.


Lalit recalls that it was night 2 July that he chose to head for Khalubar Top with 40 odd men. Directly under observation of the entrenched Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Pakistani troops (Pathans among them), very effective fire was being brought on his column from Khalubar Top and flanks, causing severe casualties. To prevent getting day-lighted before he reached his objective and getting decimated, he ordered Capt Manoj Pandey to take his 5 Platoon, Bravo Company to neutralize “Pehalwan Chowki”, later named as “Bunkers Area”.  The CO had by now sustained a bullet wound in his leg and splinter wounds in his calf but slogged on.


Capt Manoj Pandey, with experience of the successful, gut-wrenching attack on Jubar Top behind him, rushed to carry out his CO’s directive. Ordering Havaldar Bhim Bahadur Diwan to encircle the Bunkers Area with his section from the right, Manoj took on the main bunkers from the left with  the battle-cry “Jai Mahakali, Aayo Gorkhali”  on his lips. He cleared the first two enemy bunkers with dispatch. While clearing the third, he was hit on his shoulders and legs but continued to lead the assault on the fourth bunker, neutralizing it with a grenade. “Naa Chhodnu” he commanded his men, but, at that instant, got hit in the forehead by an MG bullet. His furious Gorkhas captured all six bunkers, killing 11 Pakistanis but sustaining serious losses in the brutal close-quarter combat.  Several Gorkhas were found dead with frozen fingers on rifle triggers, all weapons pointed towards the enemy bunkers with bloodied Khukris nearby and several decapitated Pakistani soldiers heads lying around. The brave young officer had led his men from the front. A compulsive diarist, he had lived up to his own hand-written prophecy that he would “kill death” before death overtook him. He was just 24 and had fully lived up to the timeless ethic of Naam, Namak, Nishan.


Doodle of Capt Pandey’s PVC act created after interaction with Col Lalit Rai, VrC. Made by Chief Designer, Ravi Ranjan. The doodle can be seen in Gallery 8 of the Punjab State War Heroes Memorial and Museum, Amritsar, curated by the author and his 10 researchers, then working under Department of Soldier Welfare, Government of Punjab.

The narrative does not of course, end here. Colonel Rai, with his right flank secured by Manoj, went up the 80 degree gradient, still under withering enemy fire. He was wounded but soldiered on despite losing men all around him, besides the grievous loss of young Manoj and many of his men. Nearing the top, he knew that his ammunition was about to finish and after that it would just be Gorkha grit and Khukris…nothing more. He personally knew he had two rounds left…One for the enemy who confronted him and one for himself. He was able to contact his Forward Observation Officer (FOO) who was on Kukarthang Ridge and asked him if he was indeed headed on Khalubar Top. On confirmation of the same, he asked the FOO to bring own Artillery fire on his position as only a few yards now separated him and the enemy. The stratagem of Defensive Fire Save Our Souls (DFSOS) literally means just that…The last recourse of a courageous soldier to break enemy cohesion. It was a desperate gamble that paid off. The marauding Pakistani Pathans suddenly received a barrage of deathly accurate Bofors 155mm High Explosive shells on them and were decapitated. When the Gorkhas took out their khukris in the brutal hand-to-hand combat that followed, Pakistani heads rolled and there were many…After capturing what was indeed a near impossible objective to capture, the CO did a head count…He had just 8 of his 40 men left and had lost his bravest-of-brave officer, Capt Manoj Pandey along with over half of No. 5 Platoon…1/11 GR had won yet again but at cost…Col Lalit Rai was awarded a Vir Chakra for his outstanding ‘follow me’ leadership and Capt Manoj Pandey a very richly deserved posthumous PVC.


His PVC citation read:  Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey took part in a series of boldly led attacks during Operation Vijay, forcing back the intruders with heavy losses in Batalik including the capture of Jubar Top. On the night of 2/3 July 1999 during the advance to Khalubar as his platoon approached its final objective; it came under heavy and intense enemy fire from the surrounding heights. Lieutenant Pandey was tasked to clear the interfering enemy positions to prevent his battalion from getting day lighted, being in a vulnerable position. He quickly moved his platoon to an advantageous position under intense enemy fire, sent one section to clear the enemy positions from the right and himself proceeded to clear the enemy positions from the left. Fearlessly assaulting the first enemy position, he killed two enemy personnel and destroyed the second position by killing two more. He was injured on the shoulder and legs while clearing the third position. Undaunted and without caring for his grievous injuries, he continued to lead the assault on the fourth position urging his men and destroyed the same with a grenade, even as he got a fatal burst on his forehead. This singular daredevil act of Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey provided the critical firm base for the companies, which finally led to capture of Khalubar. The officer, however, succumbed to his injuries.

Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, thus, displayed most conspicuous bravery, indomitable courage, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.


The award was received by his Father on the Republic’s 52nd anniversary on 26 Jan, 2000.

As mentioned earlier, Manoj was a compulsive diarist and wrote eloquently about things dear to him. A poem on his Mother states: “She is the star which shines brightly in the darkness, someone who will always give and bless.”  Poignantly, just under this poem, he had written his own epitaph: “If death strikes before I prove my blood, I promise (swear), I will kill death.”

Elsewhere in the diary, he had again reflected:  “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail”.  Such thoughtful statements from a young man deployed in a war zone with death always lurking around go a long way to show that Manoj was a young man of great substance and courage both mental and physical…A young man who had adapted to whatever hand destiny would deal out to him. His writings stated that this officer would contest whatever God had in store for him and put infinite value on his life before fate took over. He was a true, proud Indian and someone who in death has become deathless…


Younger brother Manmohan says on visiting the Dras Kargil Memorial: “I had come here to pray at the place where my brother sacrificed his life in the line of duty. This place is a temple for me”. My father and mother have visited the memorial several times and it was my dream to visit the place,” he said. I am so glad I have been able to visit it and remember my hero, my brother…”

In 2004, Col Lalit Rai had arranged a visit by the parents and siblings of Capt Manoj Kumar to the NDA. It was a dedication ceremony during which a portrait of the brave-heart was presented to Mike Squadron, the squadron where he spent three learning years. Lalit spoke with pride and deep respect for his officer. His father made a brief, poignant address, asking the seated cadets to follow the path of Manoj and, if needed, sacrifice their lives for the Idea of India. The program left the family in tears of pride – and the cadets with an irresistible urge to “do a Manoj” when and if destiny called.


Dedication Ceremony at NDA. Col Lalit Rai, VrC, is on the right of Mr Gopichand Pandey.

The sacrifice of Manoj has impacted on aam aadmi (आम आदमी) [common man] in different but positive ways. One example worth narration concerns a re-employed fellow officer and the father of Manoj.  Col AK Jayachandran, 12 ASSAM, who became a senior Bank Executive post his retirement writes that “In life there are some days when one feels terrible and some days, when one feels really good from within. One such thing happened on a Friday evening at around 7 PM last year in Sep. I was set to go home from the Bank. One clerk and an officer were all who remained. The phone rang. An old man was on the other side. He was irate & quite fed up. To cut a long story short, he’d approached his bank’s branch to settle his dues from his son’s pension, which had not been correctly calculated. They’d kept fobbing him off.

He could rarely get through and couldn’t explain his problem properly either. Finally he got my number from someone and called. I took his details – told my guys to take a look at it and tell me if he was really due. They did that and yes – there were arrears due to him. Looking at the printout, I saw the name, Capt Manoj Pandey …no wife… …pension to parents …date of death- Kargil war days. Speaking to the old man at 7:30 PM, I asked him if he was the father of PVC Capt Manoj Pandey. He confirmed.

I said I would call again. Meanwhile, my staff had closed their systems…both youngsters…ready for a weekend. I sat them down and told them that we had a “PVC”, who hadn’t been paid his dues by the bank. I gave them a short brief on what Kargil was all about; told them that we had to credit the dues tonight.

They quietly went and switched on their system. They worked out his dues and arrears, which was around Rs 8 Lakh. This amount was credited into his father’s account at about 9 PM. I called up the father and told him that his account had been credited…he was very surprised, said it could’ve waited till Monday. I apologized for the banks delay and told him that having come to know, waiting till Monday would have been the biggest disrespect/dishonour to the PVC, so we had to do it tonight. I then asked the father to speak to both my subordinates. They paid their respects to him. The old man thanked us and broke down…he said that this one act had accorded more respect to the memory of his son, than any other civilian award. It was an emotional moment. One of these days, you look in the mirror and like the mug that looks back at you…!

Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (P), 1/11 GR deserved that kind of rare respect – in life and in death.


Major General Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM.   The officer is Chief Mentor, Sarthi Museum Consultants, Mohali, Punjab.

Brigadier GM Shankar – A Friend in Deed


I have had the fortune of associating with Shankar from our NDA days from 1979 onward.  Being course-mates  at the NDA and IMA and commissioned to the Regiment of Artillery in 1982, our Army careers ran nearly parallel.  But unlike parallel lines, we met often, especially undergoing army training courses at the Mecca of Gunners  – School of Artillery, Devlali, Maharashtra.

We also enjoyed our Army Headquarters, Delhi, tenure  at the turn of the millennia  – Shankar with the Military Operations (MO) Directorate and I with the Military Intelligence (MI) Directorate.

We did the Young Officers’ course at the beginning of our officer life, Introductory Surveillance and Target Acquisition Course, Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC)  and Automated Data Processing [ADP] (Computer) Course at Devlali.  It was a great association through all these courses as we shared one table – obviously the one at the last row – reserved by God especially for the intellectuals who were least interested in the grades we got, but only interested in real learning.

Our main pass time during the courses  was smoking (in those days smoking was permitted during lectures), but we listened attentively to the lectures.  We both were very much liked by some of our instructors – only those who smoked – as our last bench seats facilitated them to pinch a cigarette off us.  We did oblige our smoker course officers too, even though some took advantage of our magnanimity.

When we came to Devlali for LGSC in August 1989, Shankar was a bachelor and I was married.  My wife Marina was doing her final year of Pharmacy graduation at Gulburga.  She used to come to Devlali during weekends when she could manage off for a day or two.  It was a monthly ritual and I did not attend classes whenever Marina joined me.  It was my dutiful friend Shankar who ‘managed’ my absence in those days.

After Marina graduated in April 1990, she conceived our daughter Nidhi.  Her monthly appointment with the gynaecologist was on Saturdays and whenever I could not spare myself due to training commitments, it was Shankar who took Marina on his scooter to the Military Hospital.  He was always a bit scared to carry pregnant Marina on the pillion of his scooter and that must have been the only time he would have observed speed-limits in Devlali.

Towards the end of LGSC, there was a group innovation project to be executed.  The core idea for the innovation was mooted by Shankar and I (remember -Innovations always germinate from the last-benches).  Shankar worked very hard for the fructification of the project and at the end of it we never got any mention in the credits.   Obviously, the instructor officers never took us ‘seriously.’

As LGSC was coming to a close, Shankar got engaged to Rohini.  Brave and thoughtful of Rohini, she accompanied by her little younger brother Rajesh to  visit Shankar at Devlali on a weekend, to familiarise with the military environment and culture.  For sure, Saturday’s dinner was scheduled at our home.

Rohini , Rajesh and Shankar reached our home by dot 7 PM.  After customary introductions, I asked Rohini to take a tour of our home and make a note of all the appliances and other accessories, which she dutifully did.  Now I said to her that when she gets married to Shankar, she got to get these from her home as it is the minimum standard to be maintained by an army officer.  Rajesh exclaimed that it would not be possible for his poor Appa to procure all these before the wedding.

Marina ‘briefed’  Rohini about the ‘training’ she had to undergo on becoming an army officer’s wife.  To make the ‘story’ palatable. Marina showed some photographs of her when we were at  the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir prior to LGSC.  By midnight after dinner we broke off.

On Sunday morning they were invited to another friend’s home for breakfast.  Our friend on seeing the gloomy faces of Rohini and Rajesh asked Rohini as to where they went last evening.  On hearing her reply he knew what would have happened.  He came running to our home and took Marina and I to his home.  Now we told Rohini that it was a ‘prank’ being played on her.  All this while, Shankar, my true friend remained silent (he must have enjoyed the fun at Rohini’s expense).

A week before the end of LGSC, we had to travel to Pune to write the computer aptitude test.  We had no clue as to  what it was all about and so travelled merrily to Pune – all to enjoy three days of absence from the course.  Many other officers were also there and all of them barring two of us were all serious about the test.

The test was for three hours and it was all about logic, analysis and intelligence tests.  Who can beat the last-bench intellectuals in such a  test – we were the only two who qualified in the test.  This resulted in us rejoining at Devlali for the ADP Course  in January 1990.

That was when the wedding of Rohini and Shankar was  – before the commencement of ADP Course.  I took two weeks leave prior to the course to attend their wedding at Vashi, Mumbai.  After that it was a journey together as a family, especially at Delhi.

Marina migrated to Canada in February 2002 and I was posted out forthwith to command  125 SATA Regiment as the Indian Army was mobilised to the Western Sector in the aftermath of militant attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001.  Our son Nikhil was despatched to my parents in Kerala and Nidhi had to write her final examination of Grade 5 in April.  For sure, without winking an eyelid, we left her in the loving care of Rohini and Shankar.  We are all very indebted to the family for this great gesture.

When I released my book ‘Suit, Boot & Tie’ in March  2017, I had invited Rohini and Shankar to grace the occasion.  As Shankar had some important military commitment, he could not attend.  Rohini travelled all the way from Mumbai to Bangalore to grace the occasion.  We reminisced a lot about our life together throughout the two days.  Thank you Rohini for this great gesture.

God has been magnanimous with Rohini and Shankar as they have been blessed with Roshan and Nisha – two extremely intelligent, smart and humane kids – who will surely carry on ahead – much ahead of what Rohini and Shankar have achieved.

Today, Shankar is hanging up his boots – after 36 years of dedicated service to the Indian Army.  I wish him all the best in his second innings.  I also need to acknowledge just how much I have been shaped by Shankar. I have a myriad of experiences, too many to mention, that have impacted me in a memorable and meaningful way.   What I have written is  barely scratches on the surface of all that I have learned from Shankar over the years.

We, the Koduvath family, are extremely grateful for the role that Shankar and his family have played throughout our happy years and these years that we will always cherish fondly.

Lieutenant General Rajendra Ramrao Nimbhorkar, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM**, VSM- A Soldier Par Excellence

As I received a letter from General Nimbhorkar about his impending adieu to the profession of arms on 30 April 2018, after over five decades in uniform, I was struck by the thought that I was indeed fortunate to have been associated with one of the finest soldiers and an excellent human being. Our first meeting was in 2002, when I took over command of the Regiment in Rajasthan.  Our Regiment had mobilised as part of the general mobilisation ordered in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament (Op PARAKRAM). We were deployed as part of the newly raised 41 Arty Division, and I met then Col Nimbhorkar as the Colonel Administration of the formation during its raising.

There he was, an Infantry Officer, heading the administrative and operational logistics organisation of an Artillery Division.  He introduced himself in his soft and calm voice with a pleasant smile.  I was pretty sure that behind the smile was a smart, intelligent, tough and a chivalrous officer, who knew his beans pretty well, else he would not have been handpicked for the prestigious and difficult appointment.

General Nimbhorkar is a product of Sainik School, Satara (Maharashtra), National Defence Academy (NDA), Indian Military Academy (IMA).  Like most Sainik School graduates, he too came from a humble family background.  He was commissioned to 15 Punjab Regiment in 1979, which he commanded in Kashmir.  He graduated in courses at Defence Service Staff College,  and Higher command courses in India and the National Defence College, Dhaka.

As I look back over my two decades with the Indian Army, I observe that few military leaders are equally well admired by their superiors, subordinates, and peers and the admiration continues far beyond the years of association. The spoken reputation simply cuts across the hierarchical rank and file. I can say without hesitation that Gen RR Nimbhorkar belonged to this select few. There are a number of remarkable military facets about Gen Nimbhorkar. Some of them are worth mentioning.  During his long years with the Army, he was destined to be part of almost every major operation that was launched by the Indian Army. In his younger years up to command of his unit, he has walked on foot almost every inch of the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir. His command assignments at the Unit, Brigade, Division and Corps levels were all in operational areas. To say the least, he was someone who rose to the top through sheer hard core soldiering.

So we knew him as a hard core Infantry soldier. But during his tenure with the Artillery Division, he became a Gunner in letter and spirit and the Gunners accepted him as one of their own. When he spoke about artillery ammunition planning (a nightmare for most Gunners), one wondered whether he was wearing the wrong lanyard and beret! As he rose through the military hierarchy, many of the Gunners continued their association with him and to them he always remained a sort of a benevolent Colonel Commandant.

The most prominent part of his uniform were the rows of ribbons of the medals he had been awarded and they were plenty and they speak a lot about his military career.


Today, he stands tall as the most decorated officer of the Indian Army.  The above ribbons adorn his uniform, over his left chest and he surely holds them close to heart as he deserves much more for all his actions during his military service.  For the benefit of non-military readers, let me explain these ribbons.
1.     United Nations Angola Verification Mission Medal for his service as a Military Observer.
2.     Nine Years Long Service Medal
3.    20 Years Long Service Medal
4.    30 Years Long Service Medal
5.    50th Anniversary of Indian Independence Medal
6.    Videsh Seva Medal for service in a foreign land.
7.    High Altitude Service Medal for serving in areas above 9000 feet altitude.
8.    Samanya Seva Medal awarded for active service
9.    Operation Vijay Medal awarded to all participants of Operation Vijay – better known as Kargil War
10.  Special Services Medal.
11.   Samanya Seva Medal awarded for active service in Eastern Theatre.
12.   Wound Medal or Parakram Padak is awarded to those who sustain wounds as a result of direct enemy action in any type of operations or counter-insurgency actions.  The General was critically wounded while commanding his Battalion during Operation Vijay.
13.   Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) awarded for distinguished service of an exceptional order.
14.  Sena Medal (SM).  The General was awarded Sena Medal twice(SM**) – once for gallantry as Captain commanding an Infantry  Company in Dras sector and for distinguished service as a Brigadier commanding an Infantry Brigade.
15.    Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) awarded in recognition for distinguished service of an exceptional order.
16.    Uttam Yudh Seva Medal (UYSM) awarded for a high degree of distinguished services in an operational context of war, conflict, or hostilities.
17.    Param Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) awarded in recognition for peace-time service of the most exceptional order.

General Nimbhorkar is a great leader, a true and gallant soldier, an outstanding administrator, a voracious reader, and above all a great human being.

My salutes to him from Canada – thousands of miles away -on the eve of his retirement.  I am sure he will remember David Frost’s lines: –
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Written in collaboration with Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer)

Golden Jubilee – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River)


Veteran Colonel Joginder Singh, Mrs Kiranjit, Marina and I – we all travelled from Toronto, Canada to Faridkot, Punjab, India – to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basntar River).  A reunion, is a gathering of people who have shared a past, and the joy of reuniting is to see the individuals with whom the past was shared. Here we were reuniting to  share our past, the good old regimental days, with those brave officers and soldiers, who now carry the mantle, history and traditions.

Our Regiment was raised in 1966 at Delhi and was equipped with 130 mm Russian Guns.  It had three batteries – one battery was 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.  By the turn of the century, the Regiment was reorganised with soldiers from all over India, from all castes and religions.

The Regiment was awarded Honour Title “BASANTAR RIVER” in recognition of  outstanding contribution by all Officers and soldiers during the 1971 Indo-Par War.  The Regiment provided fire support for the most  famous battle of Zafarwal  in that the two Param Vir Chkra (Highest Gallantry Ward) winners – Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal of 17 Poona Horse and Major Hoshiar Singh of 3 Grenadiers – both were supported by the Regiment’s Observation Post (OP) Officers – Captain SC Sehgal and Captain Mohan Krishnan.  Captain Sehgal was awarded Vir Chakra posthumously for his gallant actions and Capt Mohan Krishnan was awarded Mention-in-Despatches.


As we landed at New Delhi Railway Station – there was an impromptu get-together.  We were met by Veteran Major General PK Ramachandran, Brigadier Madan Sheel Sharma,  Veteran Colonel Ashok Arora  and Veteran Colonel Ranjan Deb.  We were received at Faridkot Railway Station with all the fanfare and were escorted to the Officers’ Mess


With the present team of officers of the Great Regiment – ably commanded by Colonel DR Jadhav – They made the event come alive and memorable.  They surely left no stone unturned to make the event a grand success.


During lunch at the Officers’ Mess, we met Mrs Sneh Thadan, wife of Late Brigadier KN Thadani.  Lieutenant Colonel Thadani commanded our Regiment during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and was awarded Vishisht Seva Medal for his exemplary leadership and planning.  There was Veteran Brigadier MS Brar VSM, SM. He was the Battery Commander with Hudson Horse during Battle of Basantar River of the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971.


Veteran Brigadier AN Suryanarayanan – our Commanding Officer when I joined the Regiment in December 1982 – was there in his smart and erect posture with his signature mustache..


Veteran Colonel Mahaveer Singh – the Commanding Officer under whom I served the longest – 1983 to 1988 was at his cheerful best as expected.


The Stalwarts here – From Left – Veteran Brigadier JPS Ahluvalia (Commanding Officer 1990 -93), – Veteran Brigadier AK Sikka (first Battery Commander under whom I served), – Veteran Brigadier AN Suryanarayanan – Veteran Colonel Mahaveer Sing and – Veteran Brigadier Rajesh Kumar – Adjutant of our Regiment during Indo-Pak War of 1971


There was a Wreath Laying a wreath at the War Memorial of the Regiment, where all veterans and serving soldiers paid their respect to all those who laid down their lives, serving the motherland.  The bust of Captain SC Sehgal, Vir Chakra  and Captain Pratap Singh, Maha Vir Chakra aptly adorned the memorial.

Captain Pratap Singh and I served with the Regiment from 1984 to 1988.   During his deployment in Siachin Glacier in 1988, Capt  Pratap Singh was performing the duties of OP officer at Bana Post, the highest post in the glacier.  On 26 May 1988 he volunteered to cut the ropes tied by the enemy to launch assault on Bana Post and hence prevented its capture.  While he went on to accomplish this task, a booby trap laid by enemy exploded causing severe injuries, yet this brave officer, with cold courage and determination, completed his task before succumbing to injuries. For his outstanding, exemplary and gallant act in the best traditions of Indian Army he was awarded Maha Vir Chakra posthumously.


We presented a Silver Trophy to the Regiment on the occasion – replica of a Bofors Gun the Regiment is currently equipped with.


There were many occasions for us to interact with Veteran Soldiers who served under our command and it I had many a goose bumps as they recounted and reminisced various events, sports competitions, operations, etc.


I was lucky to  meet and interact with Colonel PR Ravikumar and Colonel UV Rao – the smart Young Officers who served with me.  Colonel Ravi commanded our Regiment  and Colonel Rao is commanding a newly raised Medium Regiment.


During the Golden Jubilee party at the Officers’ Mess, Mrs Sneh Thadani cut the cake.


It was indeed a moment of pride for me as I sat down to sign the Visitors’ Book at the Officers Mess as the  table on which I was signing had the photograph  of Major General BK Guha, Colonel of Regiment.  He was the Senior Subaltern when I joined the Regiment in December 1982.


As I bid goodbye to the Regiment, I spoke to Colonel Jadhav “The Regiment was good –  that is why so many Veterans turned up; the Regiment is good – that is why you could put up such a great show; and the Regiment will surely remain good for the times to come.”  , We all enjoyed every bit of the moments we shared and will ever be etched in our memory.

Morning Shave

Delivering the Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Admiral William H McRaven, a retired United States Navy Admiral who last served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command from August 8, 2011, to August 28, 2014 said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day.”

‘Making the bed’ ritual was all important first task of the day one accomplished as a Cadet at Sainik (Military) School, from the age of nine to sixteen.  On joining the National Defence Academy (NDA), morning shave became the first important task of the day.  During early school days, one did not have any facial hair and in senior classes, shaving was a ritual only during weekly haircut, executed by the barber.  On joining NDA, morning shave became  mandatory  for all cadets and it continued through my over two decades of service with the Indian Army.


One winter morning in the eighties, I, a young Lieutenant and Senior Subaltern of the Regiment, received a message that an important political leader had passed away and the day was declared a holiday.  I had by then shaved and was changing.  I came out of my room, dressed in whites for physical training (PT) and I found all other Lieutenants also ready for PT.  “We have shaved and put on our PT dress.  Let us all go for a run.  Once you have shaved early morning, holiday or not, it makes no difference ” I said.

In the Army, being a uniformed service,  discipline is judged partly by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform or a dress, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance.  Thus a well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building pride and esprit-de-corps.  There is a need for every soldier to be self-disciplined and also be proud of being part of a noble profession.   It is the prime responsibility of all commanders to ensure that soldiers under their command present a smart and soldierly appearance. All  commanders have to ensure that soldiers take pride in their appearance at all times, in or out of uniform, on and off duty.  A properly shaved soldier, sporting a mustache if preferred, will surely give a soldierly appearance.

Soldiers sporting a clean shaven face can be attributed to  Alexander the Great.  It is believed  that he ordered his soldiers to be clean shaven so that the enemy might not grab them by their beard and throw them to ground.


In Indian Army, soldiers are expected to be clean shaven other than the Sikhs, who are allowed to grow their beard.  Mustache if worn must remain above the upper lip.  British Army, from where most traditions and regulations came for the Indian Army, orders regarding shaving can be traced back to the Eighteenth Century.  Until then, British soldiers were all clean shaven and did not wear a mustache.  Soldiers of Hussar Cavalry Regiments wore mustaches to intimidate their enemies. This mustache trend spread across British Army.   At this time, a mustache differentiated a soldier from a civilian.  Influence of Indian Royalty and Indian belief that mustache indicated manliness could have also played a role.  By late Eighteenth century, mustache became popular among British civilians, so also sideburns.


Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff – World War I – (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

During World War I, Commonwealth soldiers found it cumbersome to maintain their mustache, while fighting trench warfare.  Many soldiers and officers preferred to shave off their mustaches and it even led to some sort of a revolt.  A few soldiers were even court-martialed for not complying with the order of a mustache.  In 1913, General Nevil Macready investigated the matter and submitted a report that orders regarding mustaches be withdrawn.  No action was taken on this report and in 1915 King George reinforced the necessity of a mustache for a soldier. General Macready resubmitted his ‘mustache’ recommendations in 1916 and on 8 October, order was passed, doing away with a mandatory mustache for a soldier.


Iconic poster of World War I with Lord Kitchener, sporting a handlebar mustache, persuading everyone to join the army still stands out (Image Courtesy Wikimedia).

It is a myth that hair tend to grow thicker and darker than before due to shaving.  Mildred Trotter, a forensic anthropologist debunked this myth back in 1928, when she asked three college students to shave their legs, ankle to knee, twice weekly for eight months. Using a microscope, she compared each student’s hair growth rate, color and thickness. She concluded that shaving had no impact on hair’s texture or growth.

Wrestlers are mostly clean shaven as Olympic rules require them to have either a full beard or none at all, as stubble can irritate an opponent’s skin.  Swimmers are mostly clean shaven – they remove all possible body hair – as body hair can slow them down a bit.

Married Amish men sport a beard with a trimmed mustache in place of wearing a wedding ring.

For reasons still unclear, Parliament fired the personal barber of Charles I of England. Famously slow to trust others, King Charles never shaved again, for fear that a new barber would try to kill him.

Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala


During our visit to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – we watched the Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala Border Post.  Unlike most international borders, where no such daily ceremonies are held, retreat ceremonies are held on Indo-Pak border at dusk.

Canada and USA share the longest International Boundary in the world, which is mostly unmanned, except at crossing points.  The border came into existence at the end of bitterly fought American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States with the Treaty of Paris of 1783.  In 1925, the International Boundary Commission came into being with the task of surveying and mapping the boundary, maintaining boundary pillars and buoys and keeping the boundary clear of bush and vegetation for six meters.

Ontario province has 14 road border crossings, one truck ferry, and four passenger ferries with the United States.  The most popular crossing is the Rainbow Bridge (above) near Niagara Falls.  This is a popular border crossing for pedestrians, however, trucks are not permitted to use this bridge.  The boundary runs through the centre of this bridge.  Surely, the two countries hardly ever hold any border ceremonies.

There are only three trading posts, Wagah (Punjab), Chakan da Bagh (Rajouri, Kashmir) and Kaman (Uri, Kashmir) on the Indo-Pak border through which people and goods move.  Chakan da Bagh Post and Kaman Post is manned by Indian Army soldiers and they do not hold any ‘retreat’ ceremonies.  However, they exchange sweets on important national and religious days.

A ‘retreat ceremony’ in military parlance signals the end of duty day and when the national flag is brought down.  The band if present or the bugler will sound ‘retreat’.  The lowering of the flag is coordinated with the playing of the music so the two are completed at the same time.  It is a ritual in every military unit and often coincides with the change of guard for the night.

Retreat ceremonies are held on the Indo-Pak border in Punjab at Wagah (Amritsar), Hussainiwala (Firozepur and Sadiqi (Fazilka) by the Border Security Force (BSF) of India and Rangers of Pakistan.  Neither the Indian Army nor the Pakistan Army is involved in this heavily choreographed flag-lowering ceremony.  The drill movements are over exaggerated and at times is near ridiculous and mostly absurd.  One would even wonder as to whether such ceremonies hold any value in modern civilised world.  Whatever it may be, the ritual has endured through half a century despite many diplomatic upheavals, border skirmishes, economic warfare and mutual misunderstandings.

Hussainiwala Border served as the major road crossing between Indian and Pakistan till 1970. At that time, it acted as a trade route for truckers, mainly to import Kandahari Angoor (dehydrated grapes) as well as other fruits and food products from Pakistan and Afghanistan.   The post was closed for trade in 1970 as tensions rose between India and Pakistan.  The retreat ceremony commenced in 1972 after the Indo-Pak War.

We were all seated in the Amphitheatre to witness the ceremony.  On the Indian side there was no segregation of. men and women.  The only concern was the glare of the setting sun as we faced Westwards.

On the Pakistan side, there were separate enclosures for men and women.   The only commonality was most women and men including the Rangers – all wore Salwar Kameez.

As the seats were getting filled up, the audio systems from both sides begun belching out ‘patriotic’ songs with as much volume they could muster.  At the auspicious time of 5 PM, the soldiers from both sides ‘enacted’ their choreographed drills.

They marched ‘Goose Stepping’, throwing their legs as high as they could.  This was a form of extreme marching held by German, Prussian, and Russian military to be an ultimate display of the unbreakable will and discipline of its soldiers.  Most modern armies have done away with this ‘fascist’ approach to marching as being extreme.  Only a few countries use it as a powerful display of military discipline.

Foot drill is a fundamental activity of the military and is practised regularly during initial military training.   Foot drill involves marching with an exaggerated heel strike, and regimented manoeuvres performed while marching and standing characterised by an exaggerated stamping of one foot into the ground.

The soldiers were wearing leather soled boots with heavy metal attached to them.  It made ‘metallic’ sound when they came in contact with the concrete floor every time the a soldier stamped his foot, that too much higher than needed.

The soldiers from both the sides pose showing their aggression and fearlessness.  They widen their chests, twirl their mustaches, thrust open their  eyeballs, and what not – all to invite applause and cheers from the audience on either side.

After enacting all these choreographed caricature of a drill, soldiers  cross the white line to come to the other country and form a beautiful cross X with the flag threads. Both the flags are held together at the junction and then are brought down at speed and folded neatly.  Throughout the ceremony sloganeering and clapping many a times reached frenzied levels.  The only saving grace during the entire routine was the exchanges of sly smiles between the soldiers of both nations.

The question here is as whether we need such exaggerated drills to incite national passion and fervour among the citizens?  How long can a country sustain such a fervour?  What about the soldiers who are enacting this routine?  Have you considered the unwanted  physical and mental stress they undergo?

High levels of bone strain caused by such exaggerated drills will surely result in stress fracture.  It may also cause micro-damage to bones.  Digging down of heels, especially with the foot raised over the head may cause severe strain to the neck and spine and also brain damage.  These soldiers may also end up with joint pains, migraine and headaches

Ultimately who cares?  The show must go on.

 

Hussainiwala – A Village on Indo-Pak Border


During our visit to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of raising of our regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – we watched the Retreat Ceremony at Hussainiwala Border Post.


Railway line connecting Peshawar to Mumbai was built in 1885, passing through Hussianiwala.  During the Pre-Partition days, Punjab Mail connected the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Ferozepur, Lahore and Peshawar. In those days, most British troops and businessmen arrived at Mumbai and made their way to their destinations in the North-West Frontier Province by train. The train track from Ferozepur to Hussainiwala was an engineering fete, with Qaiser-e-Hind bridge, which stood over several round pillars (all of them intact even today, as depicted in the image above).


When Pakistan was carved out of British India, the border was drawn along the Sutlej River in Punjab and it passed through Hussainiwala Village.  Now, Sutlej River has changed its course over the years, running further East in Indian territory.  This made Hussainiwala an enclave into Pakistan, with the Sutlej River behind it.


Hussainiwala is named after a Muslim Peer (Saint), Hussaini Baba, whose shrine is located at the entrance to the Border Post.  This small hamlet came into prominence on the evening of 23 March 1931 when British soldiers tried to cremate the bodies of three young Indian freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Raj Guru – who were hanged at the Lahore Central Jail.  The hanging, scheduled for 24 March was rescheduled a day earlier as the British feared a revolt in Lahore as the situation had become very tense.  They  secretly transported their bodies to Hussainiwala and while cremating them on the banks of the Sutlej, the locals got wind of it.  They assembled near the cremation site.  Fearing repercussions, British soldiers fled the scene, leaving behind the dead bodies which were cremated by the villagers.  This site today is a memorial – aptly called ‘Prerana Sthal‘ (Motivation Site).


Later Bhagat Singh’s mother, Vidyawati, and freedom fighter BK Dutt were cremated at this site as per their wishes. The cremation site is called ‘Shaheedi Sthal’ (Martyrs’ Place).   This is where Indians from all over the country make an annual pilgrimage to honour the martyrs on March 23 as they observe ‘Shaheedi Diwas’ (Martyrs’ Day).


(Defences on the Indian side on Bund (wall) with a bunker as inset)

This enclave has witnessed three bloody battles between India and Pakistan,  with the very first one fought on 18 March 1956.  At that time, heavy floods had damaged Bela Bund and Sulaimanki Headworks at Hussainiwala and as the Indian engineers were repairing the damage, Pakistan Army launched an unprovoked attack at 9 PM.  4 JAK RIF was guarding the bund, and they fought  gallantly causing heavy causalities on the enemy.  This resulted in a hasty withdrawal by the attackers.


During partition of British India in 1947,  Hussainiwala, an enclave of 12 villages went to Pakistan. The railway line no more had trains running through Hussainiwala.  The railway station at Hussainiwala as it exists today is depicted in the image above.  Now Punjab Mail connects Mumbai to Ferozepur via Delhi.  Pakistan destroyed  Qaisere- Hind Bridge leaving behind the round pillars across the river. The Shaheedi Sthal was in a dilapidated state without any maintenance. In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister, brokered an exchange deal and Hussainiwala came to India while Sulaimanki Headworks –  from where three major canals which supply irrigation water to a large area in Pakistan  Punjab originate –  went to Pakistan. India immediately restored Shaheedi Sthal to its due dignity and reverence.

During Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, 2 Maratha Light Infantry (Kali Panchwin) was deployed to defend Hussainiwala. The battalion fought valiantly to thwart a  frontal attack resulting in two enemy tanks destroyed and two captured, with several enemy killed. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Nolan was killed in enemy artillery shelling. The unit ensured that the Samadhi of Bhagat Singh was not desecrated by Pakistan Army. The battalion was visited by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Defence Minister YB Chavan, Congress Party President  K Kamraj, the Chief of Army Staff and other senior officers. Kali Panchwin was awarded the battle honour ‘Hussainiwala’ for its role in the 1965 War. The citizens of Firozpur, in honour of the Battalion’s contribution in defending the bridge and Firozpur town, presented a silver replica of the Hussaniwala Bridge.

During the 1971 War, it was 15 PUNJAB defending Hussainiwala enclave and the Memorial.  On 03 December, Pakistan Army launched a heavy attack.  The valiant Punjabis withstood the attack gallantly despite suffering heavy casualties until withdrawing on 04 December night.


Did the three freedom fighters, who laid down their lives for Indian independence in their wildest dreams ever visualise that post independence, there would be a partition on religious lines and it would all end up in three bloody wars at the very same site their ‘Samadhi’ stood?

Wind Can Blow Either Way


(With Santosh the evening I  hung my boots in July 2004)

Great experiences make military life marvelous – even for the family members of soldiers. It lasts a long time, much after we hang our boots and even after we migrate to another continent.

Marina migrated to Canada in March 2002 and I took over command of the Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment in June 2002. For someone who served his entire regimental life  in a Medium Regiment operating Bofors guns to suddenly land in a Surveillance Regiment equipped with radars, drones and survey gadgets – it was an altogether different experience. I had to learn everything from scratch and had to familiarise with the officers and soldiers.

The regiment was an excellent outfit.  I set off with training on various surveillance equipment, starting with radars.  I had to convert from a Medium Gunner to a Surveillance Gunner. The officers and soldiers helped me to imbibe both the art and the science of surveillance, many a times explaining the procedures and drills repeatedly.  I read all the operator and training manuals of all  equipment and in two weeks time, I was proficient enough to handle them.

In the meantime, I spent extra hours with the soldiers to familiarise with them, their backgrounds, their families, their training needs, administration and documentation.  On realising that there were gaps in soldiers’ documentation, I set out to automate the same with the assistance from a few soldiers.  We captured basic data on computers and developed an easy to handle software.  This resulted in all  officers having all data of soldiers on their computers and also we could effectively plan their training, promotion, pay & allowances, leave, etc.

My Radio Operator Santosh Kodag a Maratha, took charge of the household, but was surprised that my family had not come along.  Commanding Officer living alone in a fabulous peace station like Devlali – Santosh realised something was wrong.

Devlali is one of the most relaxed military stations located near Nasik city – about 150 km from Mumbai.  It has a colonial charm and is clean with fresh air and lots of greenery and open spaces.  The climate is fabulous all through the year.  The schools in the area are well known for their educational standard.  The Cantonment offers all recreational facilities like horse riding, swimming, squash, tennis, golf, club, etc – all that goes with a good military station.  The School of Artillery is located here where all Gunner officers are trained.  Hence, it is always abuzz with Young Officers and also newly married young couples.

A week after landing in Devlali and when Santosh felt that I was well settled, one evening, handing over a glass of whisky to me said “I know your wife is away in Canada and your children are in Kerala. Why don’t you get the children here?

Our daughter is in Grade 4 and our son in LKG. I will not get adequate time to take care of them. My mother is taking care of them well in Kerala,” I replied.

To this Santhosh said “Why don’t you get your mother and your kids here. I will take care of everything. I know your mother is pretty old. You do not have to worry.”

I thought for a while and then called up my mother about my plans to shift her and children to Devlali. She said “I was also thinking about it. My duty is to take care of the children and it would always be better that you are around.

I booked the tickets for my mother and children to travel to Devlali and Santosh went to Kottayam, Kerala to accompany them.

Santosh now took over everything – handing over the medications to my mother and also taking her for her regular medical  appointments with the Military Hospital – getting our son Nikhil ready for school (Nidhi was independent by then)- serving breakfast for all, packing up lunch boxes, etc.

After two years, I relinquished command and also hung up my boots and migrated to Canada.

Now Santosh is married with two kids, serving in the regiment as a Havildar (Sergeant). Every year when we visit India, we send a parcel of gifts for him, his wife and children.

February 2018, we travelled to India to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations of my parent unit – 75 Medium Regiment. The SATA Regiment  deputed Havildar Santosh to receive us and accompany us to the Medium Regiment.

Marina was busy shopping for gifts for Santosh and his family. Marina had met Santosh only twice – when we traveled to India – and she has been ever thankful to him for taking care of the children in her absence.

I recently asked Nikhil as to whether he remembered anything of Devlali days and he said “The only person I remember is Santosh Bhaiyya – the poor guy, I gave him a difficult time – especially when he tried to feed me and get me ready for school.

On 01 November 2018, our SATA Regiment celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. We could not travel to India for the occasion as our daughter Nidhi was expecting our grandson’s birth. I got a silver trophy made for the occasion and it was presented to our Regiment on my behalf by Havildar Santosh.

Wind can blow either way in the Indian Army. A soldier can soothe the pains of his Commanding Officer too.