We attended the Junior Command Course at Mhow, India in 1993 and after the course went to our home at Kottayam, Kerala for a month’s vacation. In those days, we travelled on vacation by train and the journey took over 48 hours and two train changes at the most awkward hours of night. You can imagine my plight with Marina and our two-year daughter Nidhi in tow, with paraphernalia of assorted baggage – in all sizes and shapes.
We reached home and my next ordeal was to get a return reservation from Kottayam to Delhi and onward to Jammu. During summers, the seats in the trains from Kerala to anywhere in the country were lapped up the moment the reservation counters opened on the exact 60th day before the date of journey. The only option for me was to contact our Member of Parliament, Mr Suresh Kurup, who always obliged with his emergency quota. Mr. Kurup is well known for his soft corner and respect for all soldiers.
Armed with the allotment of Emergency Quota and my Warrant (Military form authorising travel by Indian Railways,) I reached Kottayam railway station. At the reservation counter the booking clerk refused to book the seats – Why? Our Regimental clerk had committed a grave sin!! He spelt KoTTayam with one T.
I contacted the Station Master and the Reservation Supervisor. All expressed both sympathy and empathy a soldier deserved, but the cardinal sin of spelling KoTTayam with only one T, they could not condone.
While at Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Thamizh Nadu, our nearest railway station (NRS) was Udumalaipettai – with one P and two Ts. In Thamizh and Hindi, it has two Ps, but in English only one – Any reasonable reasons?
The town was known amongst the locals as (உடுமலை) Udumalai and all the bus boards read so. The British called it Udumalpet and that too caught on, but no one ever used Udumalipettai, other than the Indian Railways and some Military clerk sitting in the remote border, preparing a warrant for a soldier from Udumalpet – counting the Ps and Ts.
When we filled our application for the National Defence Academy (NDA,) our teachers insisted that we spelt Udumalaipettai with the correct number of Ps and Ts as the Indian Railways insisted.
To return to the Regiment on time, the only option to me was to buy two tickets and claim the cost later from the Comptroller Defence Accounts (CDA.) I requested the Reservation Supervisor to block the seats until I either got a fresh warrant or bought the tickets by paying cash. He agreed saying that he got to finalise the reservation chart two days before the date of journey.
I shot off a letter to our Adjutant, narrating my agony. Major Ranjan Deb (now a Veteran Colonel,) an Aviator with an uncanny sense of humour was in chair and he despatched a soldier to Kottayam with a fresh warrant with two Ts for KoTTayam. Unfortunately, the soldier could reach Kottayam a day prior to my journey and by that time, I had to buy the tickets by paying cash.
On reaching the Regiment stationed in Jammu & Kashmir, I sent the forms for claiming the cost of the tickets to CDA, explaining the reasons as to why I had to buy the railway tickets by paying cash. The reasons I stated appeared beyond reasonable doubt to the powers at the CDA, but how can they allow such a claim without raising any objection? It will go against the ethos of the Accounts Department anywhere in India.
My claim was approved in principle, but the CDA raised a query “How did the Officer and his wife make the onward journey from Jammu Tawi to Kottayam?”
Beyond reasonable doubt, Major Ranjan Deb promptly replied “By walking.” In a week’s time my bank account was credited with full reimbursement for the cost of tickets.
Now let us fast forward to 2016. Our family is in Canada – Marina, Nidhi, Nikhil and myself – all Canadian citizens.
Nikhil decided to travel to Kolkata to serve in Mother Teresa’s Ashram for a month. I said to him “If you find time, visit Veteran Colonel Ranjan Deb, our Regimental Officer who lives in Barrackpore.” I had narrated many incidents about Colonel Deb, especially when he was our Battery Commander with 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.)
On a Wednesday, when Nikhil had a day off from Mother Theresa’s Ashram, he took a cab to Barrackpore. Colonel Deb and Nikhil spend a day together and at the end of it Colonel Deb remarked “Reji, I spent a few hours with Nikhil. I was amazed at his all-round development at his age. No Indian student will be able to match up with Nikhil’s thought process. His education in Canada stands out distinctly. I am 63 and he is 19 years of age. I did not get bored for even a second of the six hrs we were together. Healthy engrossing discussion.
This is what is called Regimental spirit. A kid, not born – why – not even planned while we served together, comes all the way from Canada to meet us – a Veteran Colonel and his wife. What else can we ask for in life? What other recognition do we need? He made our day!!”