We were commissioned as Second Lieutenants from the Academies and joined our Regiments – eager to go- like an unguided and nuclear tipped missile.
While commanding our unit, our young officers often remarked that when they messed up something, however serious the matter was – I always said “That’s all – Do not worry – I will handle it now on.” They now wanted an explanation as to why I neither rebuked them nor got involved in a ‘fault finding mission.’
One day on a lighter moment I gave out the answer. “When I was a Second Lieutenant, I messed up much more than you guys have put together done till now.”
They prodded me for ‘Dil Mange More’ and I obliged.
I joined our Regiment in 1983 at Gurgaon and during a deployment exercise of our battery, traffic was stopped for the 130mm gun towed by Kraz to pass through the Delhi-Jaipur Highway. In those days the highway was narrow and followed a different alignment. Superintend of Police of Gurgaon wanted to pass through but was refused and it ended in a physical bout. Whatever it was – I ended up with a criminal case of attempt to murder using lethal weapons and a Court of Inquiry – both I got saved from – Thanks to our then Commanding Officer, Colonel Mahaveer Singh.
On 31 October 1984, Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, was assassinated, and her mortal remains lay in state at Teen Murthi Bhawan. By evening that day, our Battery was tasked to take over security of Teen Murthi Bhawan. Our Battery Commander was residing at Delhi, hence I marched the Battery and reported to General K Balaram, then Adjutant General, who was in command there. Anyone of that era would better know the qualities of General Balaram. He was the first and perhaps only AG to be granted Vice Chief status.
Our Battery Commander then – now Veteran Brigadier CM Nayyar, Sena Medal – was a student when General Balaram, Signals, was the Commandant at Wellington. He warned me by narrating many incidents about his conduct – that he even rode his scooter and never his staff car after office hours. I had some great moments with him as he and I smoked ‘Capstan‘ cigarettes then. All shops selling cigarettes had closed down due to riots in Delhi after the assassination. Naik (Corporal) Paul, my driver kept a good stock of it (Still do not know how he managed it) and supplied me regularly with it. Whenever the work pressure got on to General Balaram, he called me to the Operations Room which we had set up inside Teen Murthi Bhawan. He wanted to inhale a deep smoke and a cup of tea – that too the tea in a steel glass our soldiers made. Thus, whenever General Balaram summoned me, it was when the situation at the gate had gone awry or he wanted a break.
We were responsible for the VIP entrance gate through which all heads of states would pass. Whenever things would go wrong, General Balaram would shout at the top of his voice “Get that Second Lieutenant – only he can solve this chaos.”
In came Yasser Arafat with his four bodyguards – armed to their teeth – and I refused entry for the bodyguards saying that our boys would take care of Arafat’s security. He gave me a deep glance and ordered his bodyguards to stay put with me. Even Yasser Arafat did not want to take a chance with a Second Lieutenant!!!
Next on the receiving end was the Japanese delegation led by their Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. The delegation had over a hundred press people – journalists, reporters, photographers. I requested their liaison officer that I could only send in five persons with their PM. The liaison officer pleaded helplessness. I had to solve the issue. I assembled all their press crew outside the entrance and when the PM came in, I called out five people and send them inside. Now there was more chaos with everyone shouting, “My photographer is inside, but I am the reporter” or “My reporter is inside, but I am the photographer.” I told everyone that whosoever has gone inside will come out with the necessary material and you all can share the same.
Then came a person claiming to be the Commissioner of Police of Delhi. He too was denied entry through the VIP Gate. He shouted at me “Who are you to stop me? What are you doing here?” To this I calmly replied, “If you had done your duty, I need not have been here.”
These were few of the highlights that happened at Teen Murthi Bhawan in those three days.
After a few weeks there was another altercation with a senior police officer from Delhi and again it was the same story of a Court of Inquiry – and again our CO managed to save me.
Now that was that when we were Second Lieutenants! Luckily for me – when I was in command (2002-2004,) the species had become extinct.
On the eve of retirement of my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004. We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters in 2000.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil, pullback, pullout, retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere. Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.
Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your life. A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your blood runs Olive Green. The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.
Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations. During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being. As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.
At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of. Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.
This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on. Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about. Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.
As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining. One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada. This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.
Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.
You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait! You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife. You are now a ‘Go Getter’ – Lalitha will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.
At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed. In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire. It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying. Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service. It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.
Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’
Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!‘
Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.‘
Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:- ‘Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together in Army Headquarters.
I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.
Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way. They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’
Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:-‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’
Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- “Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.
Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.
Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’
Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.‘
Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’
Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994. Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.
He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi. His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime… Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.‘
Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’
Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime. Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.
We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.
Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!! Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too. We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them : Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’
Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1.3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else. Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor.’
‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’ : — Winston Churchill.
Late Colonel Avinash Chandra and I joined the Regiment in January 1983. He was a Captain then and was returning to the Regiment after a staff tenure and I was joining on commissioning as a Second Lieutenant. He, on promotion to the rank of Major was appointed the Battery Commander of the Jat Battery – 752 Medium Battery.
All the officers – both seniors and juniors – addressed him as Guruji. He was indeed a Guru on all matters, especially for us, the young officers of the Regiment. For us, he was the go-to man for all our problems – military, administrative, personal, promotion examination – and all the activities we young officers indulged in. He was always ready to help, but the only catch was that it came with a liberal dose of advice, anecdotes and stories.
It appeared to us from all his sermons that there was nothing under the sun which Guruji was unaware of and there was no activity Guruji had not indulged in. As expected, in all his adventurous stories, he was the pivotal character. We knew the percentage of truth in all his stories, but we all looked forward to listening to them. Whatever may it be, he had a solution in hand for all our problems and we all did enjoy his sermons.
During the Winter of 1985, the Regiment went through a training exercise conducted by the Brigade Commander. Next day, during the officers’ tea, Colonel Mahaveer Singh, our then Commanding Officer ordered that henceforth Major Avinash Chandra will not be addressed as Guruji, especially by his junior officers. It was all because our Brigade Commander during the exercise was peeved at a senior Major of the Regiment being addressed by his nickname. Guruji immediately said that he loved everyone addressing him as Guruji and if need be, he was ready to meet the Brigade Commander with this special request. That was our Guruji for all readers.
Guruji would take on any task everyone would find uncomfortable with. He would make such tasks appear simple and easy and conveyed an impression that he did enjoy executing it. His body language and mannerisms always added colour to such occasions.
One such task was engaging a target with Artillery fire using the infamous Range Finder DS1, The equipment is now obsolete and in my view should have been declared so even in those days. Everyone was literally scared of the invisible floating diamonds and no one wanted to touch it with a barge pole. Here now appears Guruji, full of confidence, to execute the arduous task. I always failed to understand as to how he would have executed the task with a failing eye-sight, corrected with glasses. Did he ever catch a glimpse of the five diamonds, mostly invisible to people with perfect eyesight?
The aim of engaging a target with artillery fire is make the shells fall on or as close to the target as possible to destroy it. The guns are placed well behind at about 10 km or more and the Observation Officer is located with the attacking or defending infantry unit. The Observation Post Officer (OP officer) is responsible to direct Artillery fire on to the targets, keeping in mind the safety of own troops. The Gun Position Officer at his Command Post near the guns would calculate the bearing, distance and other technical parameters to the target, based on the coordinates passed to him by the OP Officer and apply corrections to compensate for the prevailing metrological conditions like wind speed and direction, temperature, etc and fire a single shell called a ranging round. If the initial shell is not ‘on target’, corrections to move the fall of shot is ordered and is applied on the guns. This procedure called Ranging is continued until the shell lands within 50 meters of the target. He then calls for ‘fire for effect’ by ordering six or more guns to fire in unison until the target is destroyed.
During all the Artillery firing practices, Guruji would setup the monstrous looking Range Finder well before the commencement of the practice. When his turn to engage the target came, he would wipe his glasses clean, wear them and move to his trusted Range Finder. He would then instruct his radio operator to pass the target coordinates and other details to the guns with an order for a single gun to fire a shell. The use of the rangefinder, supposedly, was to eliminate the ranging process to the extent possible, and directly order ‘fire for effect’, to improve what in gunnery terms is called ‘First Salvo Effectiveness’. But the problem was that the range Finder DS1 was infamously unreliable and everyone other than a handful of personnel specially trained on it, kept a safe distance from the instrument.
Five seconds before the shell was about to land, his technical assistant would cry “Stand by” and Guruji would place his spectacled eyes on to the eyepiece of the Range Finder. After the shell exploded, he would look at it over the Range Finder and then through it. He would then pickup his pad and write down a few calculations and would order a correction to bring the shell to fall on the target – Right 275, Add 375- with an order for six guns to fire in unison.
Captain Desh Raj, the senior most among us Captains at that time would order us to summon all our Gods to ensure that the shells landed on the target. Believe it not, in almost all cases the shells did land on the specified target. Was it because of Guru’s gunnery skills or our prayers? Whatever it may be, the entire act did impress everyone present, especially the senior commanders.
After about two or three such experiences, I confronted Guruji to explain as to how he managed the show. He explained that he neither saw the floating diamonds nor the target through the Range Finder. He was mostly successful as he knew the firing ranges like the back of his palm. He knew the lie of the ground and could predict accurately how the shell would move with each correction. The most critical moment for him was when he looked over the Range Finder to catch the glimpse where the shell exploded. He would then assess the deviation from the target and order the necessary corrections to the guns.
My question now was that even though the entire procedure was based on shear guess work, how come it succeeded every time. Guruji with his characteristic smile on his lips replied “All because of your prayers.”
In 1997 after the Technical Staff Course of 18 months, I was posted back to my parent unit 75 Medium Regiment. In those days the unit had three batteries, each with different class composition of soldiers. Now it has men from all over India, comprising of all classes. A battery is a sub-unit of an Artillery Regiment consisting of six Guns and about 125 soldiers to operate them along with vehicles, radio sets and other technical equipment.
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. Management of soldiers in all the batteries differed as their reactions to various situations, their needs, their languages etc were different.
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 until I moved out for the Long Gunnery Course for 13 months. On my return from the course in 1990, I was appointed the Battery Commander (BC) of the Brahmin Battery. After two years I moved on posting to a staff appointment and returned after two years, again I was handed over the reins of the Brahmin Battery until I moved out for the Technical Staff Course.
On my return to the Regiment in 1997 after the Technical Staff Course, the unit was located in the high-altitude area (10,000 feet above Sea Level) of Sikkim, where families were not permitted to live with the soldiers or officers. After the customary ‘Dining-in’ in the evening at the Officers’ Mess, our Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel PK Ramachandran spoke welcoming me back into the fold and ordered me to be the BC of the Brahmin Battery. “Oh! Not again” was my instant reply and the CO was a bit puzzled. He later spoke to me in person and I requested that I need a change and I wanted to have the experience of commanding another battery. The CO had his own logical reasoning for his decision and I did accept the same without any remorse as I too got convinced. Col Ramachandran had earlier served throughout his army career with a Regiment which had only Brahmin soldiers and I realised the he exactly knew the ‘horse for the course.’
The first week I spent at the Regimental Headquarters, carrying out the acclimatisation drills laid down for any soldier on arrival in high-altitude area. Our Battery was located about three km from the Regimental Headquarters. I luckily had two energetic and hardworking officers – Captain Samya Saurav, the Second-in-Command and Lieutenant Manish Wahi, the Gun Position Officer – both are presently Colonels, who effectively commanded their units. I delegated all my duties to the two and they did an excellent job that I hardly ever visited the battery. Our CO wanted me to stay with the Regimental Headquarters to assist him, hence I had to delegate most duties to my junior officers.
After the week long acclimatisation, I decided to pay a visit to the Battery in the morning. When I reached the kitchen area, I found five goats there. In high-altitude area live goats are supplied as rations in place of dressed meat. These goats are called ‘Meat on Hoof (MOH)’ but are mostly ‘Meat on Knees’ as the goats are nearly dead after traversing through the difficult mountain roads from the plains. The soldiers usually feed them well for a week to bring them back to life before they are slaughtered.
On inquiry I realised the problem of the goats – the Brahmins did not want to slaughter the animals, but like good soldiers, wanted to partake the meat. I ordered the Havildar Major (Sergeant Major) Kanti Prasad to assemble the entire battery at 12 Noon in front of the kitchen and the BC would slaughter the animal in their presence. After that I went back to my room in the Regimental Headquarters.
In my youth, our household had fowls and animals and whenever I went on vacation, my brothers would entrust me the task of slaughtering. I think I did a good job of it as Amma, a stickler regarding the way the meat is cut, was pretty happy about my job. That was why I was sure that I would do a smart job of slaughtering the animal – if my mother could not find anything wrong – I was damn sure no one on earth could.
By 11 AM, our Havildar Major knocked at my door and reported that the goat was stewing in the pressure cooker and I need not return to the battery at 12 Noon.
One day our teenaged son came up to me and asked me if he could borrow my ‘Wife Beater.’ I lost all my balance and composure and I told him that I neither ever had beaten their mother nor ever intend to do so. I stopped short of telling him that the idea did sprout in my mind a few times, but good senses always prevailed over my impulse. Our son understood my predicament and explained that he wanted the sleeveless white vest I used to wear while in India. Hardly seen anyone wearing it in Canada; could be something to do with the weather and reduced perspiration level.
Our son explained that in the TV show ‘COPS‘ had a lot do with the creation of this word. Every time they showed a guy getting arrested for beating his wife, he was shown wearing one of those sleeveless vests.
Some say that in 1947 in Detroit, Michigan, when police arrested a local man (James Hartford, Jr.) for beating his wife to death, the local news stations aired the arrest and elements of the case for months after, constantly showing a picture of Hartford, Jr, when he was arrested, wearing a vest and constantly referring to him as ‘the wife beater.‘
I always marveled the simple in design white sleeveless vest for all the services it rendered. It never even cared where it ended up after its owner threw it out after clinging to his skin and exploiting it to the hilt. They mostly ended up as a shoe-shining cloth, a mop, a duster, etc. Why should someone discard such good quality pure white cotton cloth?
I never understood why any more layers than absolutely necessary are worn in a hot climate, but I always felt that it absorbed the sweat. It absorbed the sweat, got wet, making me feel a bit uncomfortable at times, but it always stopped the passage of the sweat to the outer layer of the Olive Green (OG) Uniform. The white salt left on the shirt after the sweat dried up was rather un-soldierly. My skin never felt comfortable touching the thick clothed OG shirt. The poor banian maintained an impregnable gap between my skin and the thick shirt.
Some of my friends in the Army wore a banian with sleeves. I always preferred the sleeveless version to avoid ‘Sunday is longer than Monday‘ syndrome. This happens when you wear a short sleeved shirt or T shirt, under which you have worn a sleeved banian and the sleeve of the banian creeps out of the shirt sleeve.
On joining Sainik School Amaravathinagar (TN) at the age of nine, my box had a dozen banians. We had to wear the banian for the morning Physical Training (PT). The aim was to observe the physical development of the body and to ensure that there were no skin infections. This practice of wearing the banian for PT continued on to the National Defence Academy (NDA) and the Indian Military Academy (IMA), till I was commissioned as an officer, after which I started wearing the white T-shirt as was the practice for all officers. The men still wore the faithful banian for PT. I still enjoyed the banian clinging to my skin and ensured that I had it on at all times.
My sahayak (helper) in the regiment was Sepoy Hukum Chand, who served me with at most dedication, love and care. He was my accountant, my personnel assistant, my bodyguard, my radio operator, my buddy in all aspects. He ensured everything for me – from when I got up, my morning tea, my cigarettes, my uniform, my room, my wardrobe, my outfit for the evening party etc. This continued for long seven years until seven year itch erupted – I got married and Hukum Chand refused to be dictated to as to what dress I wore for the evening party. My wife did not approve the suit Hukum Chand had chosen for me to wear that evening as it did not match her saree. My wife won and Hukum Chand lost.
Sepoy Hukum Chand had observed my keenness to wear the banian at all times and every six months he bought a dozen of them from the regimental canteen (he paid for it with my money as he was my accountant and I had no clue about the expenses). On enquiring as to why he bought new banians every six months, he told me that they become yellow on washing repeatedly in brackish water used by the waherman. He used to snip off the shoulder straps and cut open the trunk and it became a shining cloth for him to polish the leather boots and the belt and also the brass badges of rank. He said that the yellow shining-cloth available at the regimental canteen left yellow lint on the OG uniform and the black boots and looked awesome and he had to put in extra effort to clean-up after polishing. Used and many-time washed white banian was best suited for it and one did not have to pay to buy the shining-cloth – What a costly saving? He had the thin cloth for the leather boots and belt and the thicker ones for the brass.
After five years of postings on staff and various long courses, I returned to the regiment at Sikkim as a Battery Commander. Sepoy Sri Chand was this time assigned as my Sahayak and Hukum Chand was by then promoted to the rank of a Havildar. A few days after I rejoined the unit, Havildar Hukum Chand came to my bunker while I was having my afternoon siesta and started admonishing Sepoy Sri Chand as he had not maintained the Saheb’s bunker as per standard. Hukum Chand started advising Sri Chand about my likes and dislikes, my preference of tea, food, clothes, cigarette, etc. At the end he said “Saheb likes wearing a banian at all times, even while he is sleeping.” That was the time I observed that I was sleeping in my favourite lungi-banian. He added that I preferred wearing the thick banian under the uniform and the thin ones under the civil dress. A preference I never had and may have been cultivated by Hukum Chand to ensure that he had a constant supply of thin and thick cloth for polishing the leather and the brass.
Many a times your preferences and habits are not self-developed, but thrust upon you by the environment.