20 Nov 2011


Sometimes history has unsung heroes whose valour and sacrifice go unnoticed because there was none to record it or publicise it.  Sometimes, rarely, such valour and sacrifice are well known and documented, but it is embarrassing to sing praise, acknowledge or put the spot light of publicity on them. The story of Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing MC, OBE, of the Indian army, is one such aberration. He was the man who surreptitiously went and annexed Arunachal Pradesh to India back in 1951 J  Like the Henderson Report, the real story of 62 war with China, the story of Maj Khathing remains buried in the Def Sec’s cupboard in spite of parliamentary intervention and RTI.  It remains hidden from public view even after 50 yrs, though Indian Official Secrets act has a lifespan of only 30 yrs. It is politically expedient for the Govt Of India to erase Maj Khathing from all records that show that such a man ever existed. The right person who can corroborate this story is probably the venerable ‘Dalai Lama’, but even he has too much at stake to say anything that embarrasses GOI.

I did not invent this story and I do not know it’s veracity personally because I was only 2 yrs old when it happened. I have simply, and rather shamelessly, reinvented and plagiarised it from a story filed by Yambem Laba , a news paper man from the northeast, because I believe it is true.  It has some relevance to another story that I am writing for you, about a fictional futuristic Sino Indian war, rather long story compared to my other stories on this blog. My ever increasing brood of fans are demanding stories faster than I can write them. Hence this story is being putout to buy myself time to finish my other fictional war story, about the same kind of ‘Dogs Of War’ J

To tell the story of Maj Khathing, and highlight his relevance in Indian history in the immediate aftermath of independence, it is necessary for me to first highlight the circumstances that led to the military defeat of Indian army in the Sino Indian war of 1962. Let me start this story from the British colonial India at the turn of the 20th C.  Here we go.

In 1903, alarmed by the Chinese and Russian influence in Tibet, Col Francis Younghusband of the British army led a military expedition to subdue Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama (predecessor of the current one Tenzin Gyatso ). Thubten ran off to China and took asylum there. It took quite a while, and a lot of manoeuvring, for the British to tame Thubten. In 1914 Henry McMahon, the then British foreign secretary, finally managed to get Thubten’s envoy into Shimla to sign a free trade agreement between Tibet and British India. As part of the agreement, they also signed a treaty demarcating the southern boundary of Tibet. Since the Himalayas were unchartered, unmapped and rather unhappy territory, McMahon did the only thing that was practical and pragmatic. He took a pencil and drew simple line on a map, connecting all the highest peaks, the water shed, the northern slopes of which were to be in Tibet and the southern ones in British India. Even at that time, this line, the watershed, was neither acceptable to man, Yaks, Yeti, 13th Dalai Lama, nor Col Younghusband as a practical, defensible, geopolitical border. However, at that time, this was not considered strategically or militarily important, or an issue, considering the greater cause and benefits to one sided, parochial, British interest in trade and commerce.

The border between British India and Tibet at that time (Shimla agreement in 1914) had three buffer Kingdoms, all of them simple monarchies propped up by treaties with British India. Nepal was ruled by the Ranas, Sikkim by the Chogyals and Bhutan by the Wangchuks. Eastwards from Bhutan lay the large 61,000 sq km stretch of sparsely populated and utterly inhospitable never never land, the barren mountains and jungles beyond any man’s ambition and aspiration. In those days it did not even have a name, at best it was referred to by the British as the ‘Dirang Dzong of Twang’ (it became North East Frontier Agency or NEFA, only in 1954 and Arunachal Pradesh recently in 1986).  

I am told that ‘Dzong’ in Tibetan means a fort. I am also told that in those days such forts had a small military or police contingent of sorts to up keep law and order as also collect taxes in kind, and favours from local women.  The master of such a Dzong was a ‘Dzongpen’, or a magistrate, with selected Lamas who helped administer the territory under the Dzong, called ‘Dirang Dzong’. The Dzongpen of Tawang  owed allegiance to the quasi political and religious leader, the Dalai Lama at Lhasa. Prior to 1951, Aksai Chin, Leh, NEFA (Arunachal) were all Dirang Dzong that were administered by their respective Dzongpen as Tibetan territory with absolutely no allegiance or recognition of Delhi, either British or Indian.  So the relevance of the McMahon line was mostly to do with the border along the northern Aksai Chin and Leh area, and the north eastern NEFA, all of which, tactically speaking, was a non contentious no man’s land during the colonial past. It was the land of the Lamas, Yaks and Yetis, all of them of little interest to the men of the early 20th C.

It became contentious half a century later, around 1950-51, when China occupied Tibet and the 14th (Current) Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso ran off from Lhasa and took political asylum in a newly independent India. A pro Chinese interim govt was installed in Lhasa.  It became necessary for the politically naive, rather new Govt Of India to have a militarily defensible border with the Chinese occupied Tibet, especially keeping in mind India’s then foreign policy of abetment of Tibetan aspirations. The border became a bone of contention around 1958 – 60 period as a result of several clashes between Chinese and Indian army patrols to jockey and occupy mountain passes in the Himlayas that controlled thriving trade route between Tibet and India at several places. To give the Chinese due credit, the then Chinese Premier, Chow En Lai, wrote many letters to Nehru to try and resolve the problems amicably. However, Nehru, though wise and sagacious in so many ways, was besotted by his own rising unpopularity in parliament as well as the political  brinkmanship strategies of the  inflexible and highly autocratic Def Min, VK  Krishna Menon,  who was probably perceived by Nehru as his mentor and saviour. India refused to give any importance to the Chow En Lai letters. Chow En Lai then came to India in 1962 with an unusually large 135 member trade and military delegation, armed with trade concessions, historical  maps  as well as records to prove rightful borders of Tibet (specially Aksai Chin and NEFA). The trade concessions were olive branches sticking out of the barrel of a gun. The GOI  did not notice this. The delegation returned to China empty handed. Krishna Menon ordered the Indian army to do forward posturing. The 1962 war was triggered by Indian army incursion at Namka Chu, an east-west stream which separates the Thag La and the Hathung La ridge, and at Se La pass, north of Tawang. But I am jumping the gun, this is a success story, not one of defeat and humiliation. It is the story of Maj Khathing who captured Tawang in 1951, around the time that the Chinese were occupying Tibet. 

Ranenglao Khathing was born on 28 Feb 1912 in Manipur’s Ukhrul district. He was a Tangkhul Naga. The Christian missionaries had a profound influence on his psyche and one of them adopted him as their son. He studied at Sir Johnstone High School in Imphal, did his matriculation (10th)  from Shillong and joined Cotton College in Guwahati. When he failed to clear his BA examinations in 1936, he was determined not to return home until he had obtained a degree. So he went to Harasingha in Assam’s Darrang district and founded a school where he also taught.  A year later, after he had managed to graduate, a family friend SJ Duncan, who was then the British sub divisional magistrate of Ukhrul, convinced him to leave the Harasingha school and return to Ukhrul High School as it’s Head Master. In 1939 when WW-II precipitated worldwide mobilisation, 27 yr old Khathing immediately enrolled in the British army and was sent to the Officer’s Training School in Dehra Dun.

Commissioned into the 9/11 Hyderabad Regiment (now Kumaon Rgt), he had Thimaya (later General) as his company commander and TN Raina (later COAS) as fellow subaltern. In 1942 Khathing was transferred to the Assam Regiment in Shillong and became a captain. He was soon attached to the USAAF contingent at Jorhat for the ‘Hump Lift’ as a logistic liaison officer. ‘I am Capt Ranenglao Khathing’, he would introduce himself. It was too much for the Americans to mouth. ‘Yes Bob’, they would respond. Soon Capt Ranenglao Khathing morphed into ‘Capt Simply Bob’.

After the Japanese blocked the Burma road, the British army formed a  guerrilla outfit called Victor Force (an earlier version and subsequent role model for Col Wingate’s Chindits) using the missionary educated tribals of Nagaland.  Their task was to use topography and the jungles as their cover, live off the land and operate 100 to 150 miles deep inside the enemy territory to interdict the Japanese supply and communication lines, to inflict heavy causalities on the enemy and to act as a screen for then retreating British army from Burma. Capt ‘Simply Bob’ was sent to command this V-Force group in the Ukhrul area. He shed his army tunic, shaved his head like a typical Tangkhul tribesman with a thick mane running down the middle of his scalp, Mohawk style. On his back he carried a basket with dried salted meat and concealed his gun in his Tangkhul shawl. It is believed that while in command of Victor Force in 1942-44 period, he personally killed some 120 Japanese soldiers and played shindig with the Japanese, hit and run kind of war, living off the land and never surfacing anywhere, totally cut off from friend and foe. After the war was over, for his exemplary sacrifice and valour, he was awarded the Military Cross and made a Member of the British Empire.

After the World War, around 1945-46, Maj Bob was demobilised along with a large number of short-service emergency commissioned officers.  Immediately afterwards, on request of then Maharaja ‘Kumar Priyabrata Singh’, he went to Manipur and joined the then interim government as minister in charge of the hill areas. In 1949, when Manipur merged with India, the interim government was dissolved and Bob found himself at loose ends. Soon Sir Akbar Hydari, then Assam governor, asked him to rejoin the Assam Rifles as a stopgap measure. He then served with the 2nd Assam Rifles Battalion for two years in Sadiya. In 1951 he was inducted into the IF AS (Indian Frontier Administrative Service) as an assistant political officer.

One day he was summoned by the new Assam Governor, Jairamdas Daulatram.

‘Bob, do you know where is Tawang ?, Jairamdas asked him.

‘No Sir’, Bob answered truthfully.

The Governor took him to a ‘Globe’ on his desk and pointed out Tawang. ‘This is the kingdom of the Dzongpen of Tawang’, he traced his finger over the incredible 61,000 sq km waste land that lay north of Tezpur stretching eastwards from Bhutan, all the way to Mon tribal area of Nagaland that Bob was familiar with. ‘He who controls Tawang shall control the far east’, Jairamdas predicted. ‘Do you think the Chinese should control it ?’.    

‘No Sir’, Bob repeated.

‘What would take you to mount an expedition to Tawang and bring the Dzongpen under Indian political control, and to annex the region to the Union of India ?, the governor came straight to the point.

‘Sir, I am no longer in the army, I am now simply an assistant political officer, an Iff Ass’, he said with visible sadness. ‘I do not have the authority to do this’.

‘I am all the authority that you need, though neither the centre nor I have the ability to get the C-in-C Roy Boucher to agree to a military expedition for this task. At least not quickly enough to do it before the Chinese react’, Jairamdas mulled, running his hands over his bald head. ‘We need someone to do it quietly. Keeping in mind your war record, I cannot think of a better man to do it than you’.

‘I will do it’, Bob answered simply. ‘But I need an expeditionary force, about 200 hundred fully armed troops, mountaineering equipment as well as mules and porters to carry the equipment, a doctor and medical stores.

‘Sure’, answered Jairamdas. ‘Go, think it over. Send me the list of what you need and when you can start, the sooner the better’.

Bob did not think or procrastinate. He simply walked out of the Governer’s office, went to his PA’s office next door and dictated two simple letters to be typed on the letter head of the Govt Of India with the prominent Sarnath Lions in the top left corner. The letters were addressed ‘To Whomsoever It May Concern’.  The first letter, with a heading ‘SECRET’, said that the Governor of Assam, on behalf of the newly formed ‘Republic Of India’,  has ordered Maj Ranenglao Khathing (Rtd) to rejoin the Indian army, raise an armed expeditionary force, make war if necessary, and annex the Kingdom of the Dzongpen of Tawang with the Union Of India, as soon as possible. In the second letter, with the heading ‘UN CLASSIFIED’, the Governor authorised  Maj Ranenglao Khathing, a serving officer of 2nd Assam Rifles, to collect Rs 25,000 from the treasury and requisition any stores or personnel he felt necessary for a mountaineering expedition in eastern India. He concluded the second letter making himself accountable, that he was subject to expenditure accounting at the end of the expedition. He took both the letters to the Governor for his signature and the then ubiquitous red wax seal of authority.

 He asked the Governor for two months to conclude the operation. The Governor gave him 45 days to do it. Once again Bob walked into the PA’s office and dictated several telegrams, using Jairamdas’s name.

 The  first telegram was to his old unit, the 2nd Battalion of the Assam Rifles Regiment, still at Sadiya, near Barrackpore, near Calcutta. The message simply said, ‘Mobilise forthwith two companies with light weapons, ammo and stores to Tezpur. Requisition train resource and complete move with urgency. Capt Hem Bahadur Limbu from 5 AR to be in-charge of the move. Capt Modiero (doctor) and five physically fit medical orderlies to accompany troops with adequate medical and surgical stores. The troops to report to, and be under command of, Maj Khathing, reinstated forthwith to AR as Major’.

The second telegram was to Bata Company in Calcutta, requesting a special order for 1000 pair of fleece lined leather mountaineering shoes, to be shipped to Tezpur by chartered aircraft  urgently, payment to be made in advance from treasury against an invoice’.

The third telegram was to the cartographers at the ‘Geographical Society Of India’ also at Calcutta, to urgently forward to the Governor’s office, ten sets of large scale relief maps of area north of Tezpur, whatever was available.

The fourth telegram was to Benny & Sons, Canned Food Suppliers, once again at Calcutta to immediately accept an urgent delivery order for canned Luncheon Meat, Sausages and Mackerel, each ten thousand tins, to be handed over to Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu at Sadiya.  Payment to be made in advance from treasury against an invoice’.  Bob chuckled when the PA looked up from the type writer with a perplexed look. ‘Look my good man’, he said amicably. ‘If we have to march up the mountains  all day, we may as well sleep on a full stomach. Moreover, I have had more than enough of living off the land in Victor Force’.

His last telegram was to the Army Supply Park at Dhimapur. ‘Requisition thousand sets of Parkha or Irwing jackets, socks and other articles of warm clothing. Await instructions from Maj Khathing of 2 AR, scheduled to arrive your location in two days’. 

When he finally arrived there at Dhimapur, all he could find was brown US Army issue Angola shirts, which he accepted though they were all of awkward sizes.  On a spur of the moment brainwave, he travelled to Chabua and Dinjan where the USAAF had left behind large metal containers of stores when they withdrew their operations of the ‘Hump Lift’ from Chabua and Ledo six years earlier. There were hundreds of containers kept in safe custody of the Army and Air Force. When he broke open these containers, he found camping gear, tents, Irwing Jackets, woollen gloves and socks, inners, just about everything that he wanted for equipping his expeditionary force into the cold wasteland of the Himalayas. He got them repacked into four of the same containers and had them transported to Tinsukhia railway station, from where he sent them to Tezpur via Guwahati since that was the only road and rail crossing across the wide Brahmaputra river. Afterwards he caught a routine ferry from Dibrugarh to  Majauli island and crossed over to the north bank of the river on elephant back. Once across the river, he requisitioned an old war surplus jeep from a British tea planter and drove down tea plantation tracks and back roads to Tezpur, arriving several days before the men and material arrived there from all quarters. At Tezpur he made arrangements for around two hundred mules and donkeys, 400 odd porters from the plains, and another two hundred from the hills. He also requisitioned ten odd tailors and cobblers to go with them on the expedition with their tools of the trade. A mountain of food supplies, mostly rice, flour and condiments, kerosene jerry cans, he procured locally.  As the men and material arrived, he moved his base camp to a large clearing at Lokra, about twenty km north of Tezpur town.

For three weeks he drilled his men and took them on long endurance runs, carried out rifle shooting practice and formed them into a tough bunch with high morale and camaraderie. He formed small teams of porters, each hundred men, in change of a Naik of the AR, and sent them with the men and animal ported packed stores in relays to establish forward camps. He also sent scouts towards Tawang to not only reconnoitre easy mountain trails to Tawang, but also gather intelligence.

Due to the sudden nature of Bob’s activities and flashing of the unusual authorisation letter, the expedition came to the notice of Major TC Allen, the last British political and intelligence officer of the east, based in Dibrugarh. He followed Bob to Tezpur to enquire into whatever that was happening and met up with him at Lokra. Though Bob received him cordially, he gave Allen a Hobsons’s choice. Either come with him to Tawang or be quarantined at close arrest under guard at Lokra till the expedition was over. Allen, a keen mountaineer, chose the former and applied himself with zest as Bob’s second in command, thereby making it a strange indirect ‘Anglo Indian’ expedition J

The expedition started out from Lokra on 17 Jan 1951, with 200 soldiers under full pack with arms and ammunition. There were no regular roads or bridges over the rivers and streams, one had to just walk cross country. Because of physical toughening of troops and staging of camps twenty to twenty five km apart over inhospitable terrain with just goat tracks,  Bob was able to move his expeditionary force at great speed. However, he allowed the men from the plains to acclimatise to altitude by stopping a day every three days of march. Within nine days they were able to reach the Dzong at Bomdila, the first frontier post of Tibet then commanded by Katuk Lama, an assistant political agent. Bob camped right at the closed gates of the Dzong. The next day, on 26th Jan he hoisted the Indian flag in front of the Dzong and invited all the inhabitants to a feast. The Governor sent a Dakota from Guwahati to reconnoitre Bob’s progress. The aeroplane flew low over the monastery and while the soldiers waved, it did several rounds of the monastery. The show of force was enough to convince Katuk Lama that an invasion was in progress. He urgently despatched runners to warn all Dzongs towards Tawang.

After three days rest and recuperation, as also time for the hill porters of his retinue to catch up, Bob moved out once again on 1st Feb 51 to Chakpurpu and Senge Dzong at the base of the Sela Pass. The five mile climb to Sela Pass sapped their energy and wits. Undaunted, they moved further up the mountain to Nauranang. On 4 February, they camped at Jang village. Two locals and some troopers were sent out by Bob to collect information and to gauge the feelings of the local people towards their expedition and to invite them for another feast. The next day, the headmen and elders of Rho Changda and the surrounding villages of Jang visited Bob. Through an interpreter Bob explained the purpose of his visit and advised them not to pay obeisance to the Tsona Dzongpens, that they were now free citizens of the Union Of India.  To the exceptionally primitive tribals in such isolated and far flung land, the concept of freedom and democracy were as alien as the back side of the moon.   However they understood that a new conqueror ‘Bob’ had come to rule them.  Bob then detached Capt Limbu, Sub Bir Bahadur and Jam Udaibir Gurung, tasking them to scout around the Sela Tract to find a militarily defensible site  and to construct a permanent check post and barracks to establish an Indian frontier post. He left behind some of his troops as well as porters and advised Limbu to take the help of the local  tribals to carry out his task.

Bob moved his task force further forward. On 6 February they camped at Gyankar and Tibetan representatives of the Dzongpen of Lhau came down hill to meet them. They brought presents and offered Bob incentives in gold and women if he would go back. Bob simply smiled and welcomed them as fellow citizens of a new country to enjoy a new found freedom. Next day was the Tibetan New Year or Lhosar, the first day of the Year of the Iron Horse. In the evening it snowed heavily and the weather turned extremely cold. However, the entire expeditionary force including the porters were snug and warm in American war surplus clothing due to Bob’s foresight and good sense .

Bob and the expeditionary force reached Tawang on 7 Feb 51. They spent two days scouting the area for a permanent site where both civil and military lines could be laid out with sufficient area for a playground. A place was chosen north-east of Tawang Monastery and he camped his force at this location. He put his soldiers and porters to work building a semi permanent military camp with wooden logs and stones. He then sent emissaries to the Dzongpen for cordial meetings and to arrange an instrument of accession to the Union Of India.  For two days there was no reciprocity or goodwill. The small population remained indoors.

After three days, Bob got impatient. That night he ordered his men to fire 20 rounds of two inch mortar at the hill sides and fire off 1000 rounds of 303 ammo in the air. In the closed confines of the mountain, on a dark and silent night, the fireworks sounded like frightening thunder claps, echoing and reverberating, one placating message after another. The voice of God. In the morning he lined up his troops, fixed bayonets and marched his troops up and down Twang for four hours. He also planted the Indian Flag in front of the Monastery. This had the desired effect and the next morning the Dzongpen sent emissaries. Bob put Maj Allen of the British army on the job to negotiate armistice and to draw up a parchment for the formal accession.

There were endless long winded negotiations.  The emissaries were told that the Tsona Dzongpens or any representatives of the Tibetan government could no longer exercise any power over the people living south of the Bumla range. Obviously the emissaries had many objections to such a preposterous proposition.

On 11 Feb Bob made a courtesy call on the Abbot of the Tawang monastery. He gifted the Abbot with a hand wound gramophone and two Beethoven 33 rpm records. The Abbot had never seen such an invention and after the initial fear he instantly took a shine to ‘Music of Budha’. Bob then presented other monks with knickknacks from his camp, American warm clothing, several Tiffin carriers, back pack, tinned food, a bugle. He requested them for their assistance to advise and to influence the local people to acknowledge and accept the accession to the Union Of India. No taxes were to be imposed, women were to be treated with respect.  He told them of the withdrawal of the British from India. He sold them the concept of freedom and the new found aspirations of the people of India.  The rural rustic monks found Bob a more pleasant and sagacious King to have than the autocratic Dzongpens.

After two days, on 13th Feb, because Allen was making no headway, he sent out patrols to round up the Chhgergans (officials) of the 11 Tsos or Tibetan Administrative Units and to bring them into the camp. If they did not come voluntarily, he ordered that they were to be brought by force. For several days afterwards they were wined and dined with great hospitality and respect, Bob issued a general order that they were henceforth not to accept the suzerainty of the Dzongpens or Drekhong, or pay tax or tribute to them.

Finally around the 19th or 20th of Feb, Bob ran out of patience. He was also running out of the time that the Governor had given to him. Along with Allen, the Chhgergans and a hundred troops,  he marched directly to the palace of Nyertsang, the Dzongpen of Tawang. He did not meet with any resistance and there was no violence of any kind. All proceedings were done with traditional cordiality and respect.

Nyertsang laboured and stalled for time, to seek advice and guidance from Tibetan government in Lhasa.

‘What Govt ?’, Bob interjected. ‘The Chinese army has invaded Tibet’.

‘You ever heard of Col Younghusband ?’, Allen asked Nyertsang. ‘There is a treaty with the Govt of Tibet, and as per that treaty the area south of the watershed, south of the McMahon line,  it is in India, not Tibet.  Tawang is part of India. You really have no business here’, he said.

Because of his awkwardness in sitting on the cushions placed on the ground, and because his pistol butt was poking his hip, Allen suddenly took out his Smith & Wesson pistol and placed it on the ground in front of him. 

Nyertsang’s visage fell, he deflated like an air pillow.

Allen took out the parchment from his map case and the treaty of accession to the Union Of India was signed by Nyertsang without much ado. Under the powers vested on him by the Governor of Assam, Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing  MC, OBE, signed the treaty on behalf of the Republic Of India. As a token of appreciation, a ‘Nazrana’, of 1000 Rupees was paid to Nyertsang.  Allen named the Kingdom of the Dzongpen of Tawang, as the ‘North East Frontier Agency’ (NEFA). Bob appointed Allen as a Lieutenant Governor, accountable to the Governor of Assam,  to administer the kingdom till GOI could send their representatives. A quarter-guard was established at the Dzongpen’s treasury using AR troops and Allen set out to document all cash and treasure, besides other administrative tasks of governance. Allen was the first ‘Nawab of Nefa’, albeit white.

After the accession ceremony, Bob had a final task to do, to go back to the Governor and inform him that he had carried out his duty, to every one’s satisfaction, without firing a shot (except for the fire works for entertainment). So he set out downhill to Tezpur with a small retinue leaving the expeditionary force in charge of Allen. The Governor sent a Dakota to pick him up from Tezpur and they flew to Delhi and went to see the Prime Minister, Nehru.

Nehru was livid, ‘Who asked you to do this ?’, he vented his anger at the Governor. ‘I wish you had the good sense to consult me before you commissioned this colossal stupidity. Do you have any idea how much trouble I am having with Chow En Lai over Tibet ?’, he mourned. ‘I want a complete black out on this incident’, he ordered the PMO. ‘I want the PTI to put the lid over this, and not blabber about it’.  

‘And you’, he pointed an accusing finger at Bob. ‘Please get lost, don’t ever talk about it’.

Bob and Jairamdas walked out of the PMO dejected. 

It took Nehru another four years of tough negotiations with Chow En Lai to come to terms and sign an eight year agreement over Tibet and form the first ‘Sino Indian Pact’. Only in Apr 1954, after the pact, did GOI publically announced it’s suzerainty over NEFA and appoint an Indian overseer team in NEFA to replace Allen and his merry men from 2 AR. The new Indian team was from the Special Intelligence Bureau, none from the prestigious newly formed IAS ever wanted to go and live in this god forsaken land . NEFA finally became an Indian state, renamed ‘Arunachal’, the land of the rising sun,  only in 1986. It was to have a brand new capital, to be built out of the blue at Itanagar, a pasture in the foot hills. Tawang was too much of a bother for both the new found politicals, as well as IAS in NEFA.

Afterwards Bob simply disappeared amongst the vast multitude of India, faceless and without an identity. He was to go back to Tawang only in 1986, for the statehood celebrations. His visit was private and unrecognised. A 74 yr old man’s personal trip down memory lane. None recognised or remembered Bob.  Like all old and bold soldiers, he did not die, he simply passed away, having done his duty well.

In 1966, when I joined NDA, my Divisional Officer in Foxtrot Sqn was a nephew of Bob, the same kind of man, with the same genes, simply an incredible, resilient, unstoppable, hard core soldier. The first ten years of my own soldiering was in that area, the god forsaken country in the far-east. One soldier to another, three cheers,  ‘Long live Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing MC, OBE, hip hip ................’.


13 Oct 2011


One Sunday morning in 1968, I think in our 4th term in NDA, we reported to the swimming pool in PT Rig with a costume and towel, to jump off the 7 mtr board and swim a length to pass the minimum swimming ability test, failing of which usually led to relegation. Jumping off the 7 mtr board was a monkey trick which many of my course mates dreaded to do, at least the ones like me who were not born to be a fish.  The swimming tests were scheduled between 0600 to 0800, after which the pool was reserved for use by the officers and their families. The tests were conducted by the venerable Maj Darshan Singh who was the PTO. On that particular day Maj DS had a plaster cast on his right leg, an accident that took place from a misplaced kick at the backside of one of my die hard course mates two weeks earlier. The cadet was quick and agile and shielded his backside with a medicine ball and hence DS kicked the wrong ball. A dislocated ankle was not something that deterred the highly conscientious Maj DS from his work, basically to mentally, morally and physically cast our mind in RCC and Portland Cement. The tests commenced on time, one Sqn at a time, with Alpha Sqn leading.

 Maj DS would blow the whistle and the cadets would troop up the ladder to the 7 mtr board, and form a line. On his next whistle, they would jump off the board one by one like para troopers after shouting their name and number on top of their voice. That was the plan. But like all battle plans, there were glitches. Some cadets would not jump and it took lots of persuasion and threats to make them jump. Often Maj DS would laboriously climb up the ladder and kick the cadets down from the board. It went on like this and it was almost eight O’clock by the time Echo Sqn’s turn came. Those of us from Fox were still sitting on the side of the pool, awaiting our turn.

 Very soon a crowd began to gather, officers, their wives, and several of them with their grown up daughters, all of them in their swimming trunks or gowns. There was also Sunita Bakshi, the very buxom daughter of the Cmdt’s predecessor. I think she was at that time staying with one of the officers to complete her college education from Poona.  She was a very good looking girl, very dynamic and good natured, more or less our age.

In due course everyone from Echo Sqn also jumped, after some form of persuasion or the other, and the kicks, all except Cdt AK from Echo Sqn.  AK refused to jump.

When Maj DS Climbed up the stairs, AK would find a shortcut to come down usually by monkey crawling along the supporting structure. When DS came down, AK would climb back  to the 7 mtr board.

‘Cdt, I will Punish you’,  roared DS, blowing his whistle, long bursts, for emphasis.

‘Sir, Sir, please Sir, give me a chance, I will jump, .......I will jump on my own’, AK would say.

The drama would be repeated all over again. It was really very hilarious to see DS and AK doing monkey tricks on the diving ladder. We could not stop giggling.

 First the Div Ohs stepped in and when that did not get AK to jump, the Sqn Cdrs took Over. Nothing made AK jump, his antics became more and more hilarious, monkey like, crawling all over the place with DS chasing him up and down. After a while, DS managed to corner AK on the 7 mtr board.

‘Sir, I will jump, .......I promise I will jump, .......can you come up to the edge with me, just to give me confidence ?’  AK shouted and poor DS took him on his word. When they reached the edge, AK pretended to stumble and gave DS a push.

DS fell from 7 mtr board like a sack of potatoes and some of the PT ‘Ustads’ had to jump into the pool to fish him out.

 The Cmdt had arrived quietly and was watching the ‘tamasha’ from a corner.

‘Let me try and make him jump’,  said Sunita Bakshi.

‘Can I come up there ?’, she called to AK with a very sweet smile.

‘Yes Mam, but don’t push me OK ?’ AK called down to her.

‘No no, I just want to talk to you’, she said to him loudly, as she climbed up the stairs.

For next ten minutes Sunita cooed and hushed, put her arms around and cajoled AK, right there on the 7 mtr board, right there in public view. Fox Sqn died with jealousy.

 Finally, inch by inch, Sunita managed to bring AK to the edge of the diving board. And when they reached there,  AK put his hands on her back side and gave her a push.  Sunita too fell from 7 mtr board like a sack of potatoes. Many of us wanted to jump into the pool to save her, but the young bachelor Div Ohs beat us to it.

 ‘Call the Bugler’,   the Cmdt roared. ‘I am going to relegate this bugger right here’. Come down here’, he commanded AK.

AK came down hesitating at each step.

The Cmdt gave him a long bullshit, we couldn’t hear much of it.

‘Are you going to jump ?’, he asked loudly, once again.

‘Yeeeeeees Sssssssssssir’, AK answered in a loud parade ground voice.

He made a big show of going up the diving board, came down half way and went up all over again. He stood for a while contemplating on the 7 mtr board.

‘Sir .......can I jump from 10 mtr instead ?’, he called to the Cmdt.

‘Well done AK, that is it, show me that you can do it’, answered the Cmdt, equally loud.

 AK slowly climbed to the 10 mtr board. He went to the middle of the board and stood at attention for almost two minutes, taking deep breaths. He was short, very muscular, perfectly built, with prominent biceps and pectoral muscles, 6 toffee abs. He was like Adonis, waiting for the inevitable. Sunita huddled on the side like a wet Otter, looking at AK with doleful eyes. The Cmdt was probably hyper ventilating.  We sat there holding back our giggle. 

 There was pin drop silence, all eyes turned upwards to look at AK. 

Slowly AK took three steps and went to the very edge. He took another few deep breaths, shook his shoulders to relax, his eyes focussed on distant horizons.  Very slowly, in perfect slow motion, he did a hand stand at the edge of the 10 mtr board.  He stood on his hands for another minute, perfectly still, head craned backwards, his toes pointing at the sky.

 All of a sudden he pushed with his hands upward and forward like ejecting a Polaris missile from a submarine. For a second or two, he stretched his hands out, in crucifix position, body stiff and straight. As the gravity took hold, he rolled himself into a ball, somersaulting backwards once, ...........twice, ..........three times. As he approached the water, his body uncoiled, hands above his head, ram rod, and entered water in a perfect dive, with hardly a splash. In terms of diving it was an inverted triple summersault, with a pike value of 4.9, a most difficult one, executed by AK like an Olympian diver.

 There was loud and reverberating silence. I couldn’t hear anyone breathing. Every one held their breath waiting for AK to surface from the deep diving end. We waited, and waited, for almost three minutes. There was no sign of AK.

 Suddenly there was a splash at the opposite end of the pool, the shallow end.

 AK ejected himself out of water like a Dolphin.

There were shouts, ‘Cadet, come here’.  The Cmdt shouting louder than the others. Everyone was laughing and cheering, Sunita Bakshi loudest.

But AK ran for his life in his swimming trunks, he ran past the Gym, behind the QM fort. He kept running as if the devil was after him. He went back to Echo Sqn in his swimming trunks and hid in the tea room behind the parapet for next two hours.

AK was marched up to the Cmdt next morning. I believe the Cmdt got up from his chair to shake AK’s hand. But AK was awarded 28 days restriction for ‘Shirking’. Do you have any idea what ‘Shirking’ means ?  I don’t. The swimming tests were cancelled that eventful Sunday and Foxies had to go again the following Sunday, with the lot from G to L Sqns. We were told, ‘Cadet No Shirking, Relegate Hoga’. And Sunita was not there to watch, so there was no fun to take ‘Panga’J 

 Afterwards, AK was the runaway diving champ in NDA and there was none to beat him. He had been a diving champ even before he joined NDA, but had not told anyone about it.  I think he received a blue in swimming and PT, probably some other game too, I don’t remember. AK served in Sikh Regt with distinction. Many years later, he grew old like the rest of us, and hence retired. Col AK continues to be a very lively man and enjoys orchestrating elaborate pranks on daily basis, especially if there are ladies watching J


8 Oct 2011


In 1979, ten years after leaving NDA as a cadet, I was posted back there as a Divisional Officer (Div Oh). Despite an appeal to put me in Fox Sqn, where I spent time as a cadet, I was given the ‘Warder’ type job in ‘Bravo’, much like a convict denied ‘A’ class privilege in Tihar jail. Once I overcame the initial reluctance, more of a mindset and dislike of Bravo Sqn formed as a cadet, I found that the convicts from 57 – 62nd in my charge in No 5 Div were not so bad, they were almost likable J The other Warders and the Chief Warden (Sqn Cdr) were my old friends and peer group, I was newly married, and hence I settled into a peaceful and enjoyable tenure, except when the convicts acted wonky and cranky once in a while. I then simply set the clock 10 yrs backwards and behaved like a 5th term Sgt Cdt and gave it back to them front roll by front roll, and sometimes hunching up the central staircase, things that I had mastered as a cadet.  To be honest with you, the only qualification that I had for the job was that I was a juvenile delinquent and a master criminal in my days in Fox Sqn ten years earlier. And ten years had changed nothing,  I perceived life as though I had not left the academy even for a day.
 The most boring part of my job was to fill the ‘Dossier’, to write daily reports about what the cadets in 5 Div did or did not do. They actually did or did not do much, just the usual stuff. So I had to invent things that they did or did not do so that No 5 Div dossiers read like Frederick Forsythe novels, where you cannot make out where the facts end and fiction begins.  The best part of my job was to march up guys and kick ass.
‘March him up’,  I would order the CSM.
‘Get rolling’, I would say to the cadets before I took their statement or read the charge. I never took statements, because it reminded me of a stupid Punjabi joke about a lady complaining to a ‘Thanedar’ that her ‘Statement’ was swollen and bleeding from repeated statements taken by the Constables. The charge sheets were frivolous and not worth reading. Front rolling was more fun any way.  Life went on like that for a while, till  my ward Cdt HKM got marched in for a very serious charge that was likely to get him withdrawn.
 ‘I say, this bugger is going to give Bravo a bad name’, my Sqn Cdr, the Chief Warden, told me before lunch break. ‘How can he do a thing like that ?’, he moaned and passed me the charge sheet to deal with. It was a complaint from a young lady instructor in the Geography Dept, hired by NDA on temporary basis. The charge was forwarded by the Department Head, to the Dep Com via the Principal, who in turn had sent it to the Bat Com and then to the Chief Warder in Bravo Sqn. All of them had scribbled in Technicolor ink, all of them baying for HKM’s blood. HKM was as good as dead even before the bugle was blown.
The original complaint from the lady instructor said, ‘Cdt gives bad looks and strange knowing loaded smiles’. The Dept Head had added, ‘Bad behaviour with sexual connotation’. The Dep Com had scribbled, ‘Lack of OLQ ?’, and I had no idea what all of that meant, except that HKM could as well start walking backwards towards Khondwa gate.
 I never felt so sad and unhappy as of that moment. HKM was one of the best behaved of my convicts, one of the best sportsmen in my team, a very handsome muscular kind, a younger sibling whom I had learnt to love and be proud of, someone in whom I had great confidence that he will make a very fine officer.
‘March him in’, I said sadly to the Sqn Subedar Major that afternoon, a special sessions court in my office at 3 O’Clock. I did not go home for lunch.
‘Sit down’, I told HKM. ‘Have a glass of water’, I offered.
‘Now tell me what did you go and do to that lady geography teacher ?’, I asked with a forced smile.
‘What teacher, which lady............I did not do anything Sir’, he said in utter consternation.
‘HKM, you are in shit, you better tell me the whole story. 
He told me his story, I believed him. We sat for a long time talking, this and that, life and times of a cadet in geography class of a lady teacher.

‘Sir, give me a couple of days to investigate this matter’, I told the Sqn Cdr later that afternoon.
‘You got yourself one day, after that we march him up to the Bat Com’, he said with finality.
I sat brooding and thinking gloomy thoughts in my office till around ‘Study Period’. I went down to the CSM’s cabin and asked him to find me a PT Kit (OG socks, Jersy and Shorts) that fit me. I also borrowed a cycle, a satchel and some books. I then checked on the time table for a course that had Drill followed by PT and Geography class before breakfast.
That night, I got drunk and shaved off my moustache that I had painstakingly irrigated and cultivated to look different from a cadet, a more grown up sort.
‘Ayyyeeeee, you look such a Bacha’, my wife complained that night and refused to kiss me. Either it was the Rum smell on my breath or lack of moustache, I forgot to ask her.
Next morning, after drill, when the course came for PT at the gym grounds, I joined them and did everything that they did, sweating copiously like them. I asked them with a wink and a smile not to identify me as a Div Oh, just to treat me as one of them. I then cycled with them to the Geography class. By then the cadets knew that there was a conspiracy at work and that I was up to mischief. They ignored me completely.
 I sat myself in the front row, just in front of the ‘Instructor’s Desk’ with my Khaki satchel and books.
‘Class Savdhan’, the senior cadet announced very loudly when the lady teacher walked in. She got so scared that she almost stumbled. I saw that she was very good looking, fashionably dressed, and very young, about 23 or 24, only a few years older than the cadets. As the class went on, I noticed that she was an excellent teacher, very knowledgeable and intelligent. However, she looked miserable, very intimidated. She would often preen her hair, bat her eye lids, her lips quivered. When she turned her back to write on the board, she would suddenly turn around to look, as if she was afraid that someone was going to attack her. I found the cadets most attentive and very well behaved, though the atmosphere in the room was stinking. Unwashed OG socks, sweat and body odour, all powerful male smells, testosterone  stuff from thirty odd horny, healthy, over energetic, sporty gentlemen who had just worked off 4000 calories during high energy drill and PT.
 In one of those moments when she looked at me, I opened my eyes wide, and raised my eyebrows, as if staring, just as HKM may have done.
‘Why are you looking at me ?’, she suddenly turned on me.
‘I am not looking at you Mam, just feeling sleepy’, I told her opening my eyes wider and raising my eyebrows once again.
‘Stand up’, she demanded taking a step backwards. She had her back to the wall now. ‘What is your name and number and Sqn ?’, she asked.
‘ 7271 Cadet Cyclic from Bravo Sqn, Mam’, I said.  I heard the cadets behind me giggle. In my consternation I had given my own old NDA number and real name. I think in her agitation she did not notice that the number that I had given her was several thousand numbers less than those of the cadets behind me.
‘Sit down, don’t look at me’, she commanded rather shakily.
I sat down and kept my head down, doodling in my notebook. After a while she noticed that all cadets were looking down and smiling surreptitiously. She got more intimidated and unreasonably agitated.
‘Stop smiling, all of you look up, don’t look down, .........what is so funny ?’. She asked, stamping her foot.
I smiled.
That really got her goat.
‘I will put you on charge’, she said.
The siren sounded.
She ran off from the class.
 I went to see the Bat Com later that morning with my Chief Warder in tow.
I told them the story.
‘Sir, wait till this afternoon, if a charge sheet comes against 7271, Cdt Cyclic, you will know what is the problem’.
‘What is the problem ?’ asked my very jovial, affable and highly energetic Bat Com.
‘Sir the problem is very simple, it is to do with nature’, I offered an explanation. ‘It is to do with Testosterone. It is very intimidating for a very young women, in close proximity, in the midst of thirty odd very healthy sweaty males, especially if she is closeted in confined space along with them. The woman begins to perceive that she is getting unwanted attention, even if the males are all behaving themselves. HKM was simply feeling sleepy and he was desperately trying to keep his eyes open and the lady perceived that he was making eyes at her, just as she thought I was doing’.
 There was nail biting suspense till 3 O Clock that afternoon.
The charge sheet finally came, ‘Cdt 7271 Cyclic B Sqn gives bad looks and strange knowing loaded smiles’.

The Bat Com called at 4 O’clock.
‘It seems Bravo Sqn has bad discipline and OLQ, on epidemic proportions, at least that is what the Dep Com thinks. I am going to relegate this cadet 7271, do you know where to find him ?’, he asked.
‘Don’t know Sir’, I said with all sincerity. ‘Bravo does not have any such cadet. If you say so,  I will check out the Div Ohs Sir’, I offered.
‘No, it is alright, I will go and see the Principal and see what can be done about Testosterone’, he said.
 I think the Commandant pulled strings with the ‘Dean’ of the university to get the young lady a permanent professorial post in a girl’s college in Poona and she left NDA soon afterwards. She deserved no less and I am sure she would have gone on to be an asset to the teaching profession and an excellent role model for the young ladies in Pune. NDA cadets did not deserve her talents. NDA cadets deserved bull shitters as instructors, the one’s with equal level of testosterone as the cadets.  
 I went back to what I was good at, ‘Get rolling’, I would demand. Once in a while I changed the tune, ‘Get Haunching’, I would say.  HKM front rolled his way through NDA and followed me to the flying school. In the air I continued to say ‘get rolling’ and the bugger would do ‘Barrel Rolls’.  The last I heard of him, HKM is an honourable citizen, a very illustrious one. I have a strong suspicion that he still makes eyes at all the pretty girls, just as I do.  I blame it on Testerone level, bloody heady stuff found mostly in ex NDA types, the ‘Rascals’.

6 Oct 2011


There were many things that I had no clue about, could not do, or did not know that I did not know, when I joined the NDA, sometime late Dec 1966. Therefore, NDA was a great learning experience.
About eight and a half seconds after I stepped into Fox Sqn, with a steel trunk on my head, I was called a joker.
‘Joker, come here’, called Cdt AK Passi, who was a term senior, basically to show off his new found status as a non joker, and to try out his new found powers of punishment.
‘Do you know the difference between a Rifle and a Gun ?’, he asked.
‘No Sir, I am an Air Force cadet’, I said with utmost subservience. As a Rimcolian, I had been fully briefed to act as a moron in my first term. Frankly I didn’t know how to act like a moron. I did not have to, I just had to be my normal self to be a moron.
‘This is a Rifle’ said AKP handing me a broom.
‘What is it ?’, he asked.
‘It is a Rifle, Sirrrrr’, I said in clipped military parlance, puffing out my chest, squaring my shoulders, jutting out my chin. I think I forgot to suck in my tummy.
I was learning to do things like a soldier.
‘What is it for ?’, he asked.
‘Don’t know Sirrrrrr’, I repeated my ‘Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Band’ act, I was learning fast, very fast, only fifty five seconds had elapsed.
‘This is for fighting’, AKP pronounced. ‘And what have you got between your legs ?’.
‘Don’t know Sir, I mean I don’t know whether I have anything there or not Sir’, I was rather curious where all this was leading up to.
‘Ah, he says he doesn’t know whether he has a gun between his legs’, AKP turned to Pushy,  his course mate for inspiration. Pushy was joined by several of the other second termers.
‘Come on, feel it, and tell me what do you have between your legs’, suggested Pushy, fingering his incipient moustache.
‘I have a gun between my legs Sirrrrrr’, I agreed readily.
‘What is it for ?’, asked AKP.
I scratched my head.
‘That is for fun my friend’, AKP laughed. Pushy did not laugh. In all the later years that I have known Pushy, he never laughed, even at his own jokes. I learnt that one must not laugh at one’s own jokes.
‘Bloody man, start jumping, bunny hops, you know how to do bunny hops ? Jump up and down like a Kangaro’, Pushy commanded.

So there I was, two minutes ten seconds after entering F Sqn, learning the art of soldiering, jumping up and down the corridor, shouting on top of my voice.
‘Here is my Rifle’, I shouted, shaking the broom in my right hand. ‘And here is my Gun’, I grabbed my crotch. ‘This is for fighting and that is for fun’. I went up and down the corridor saying the same thing over and over, hopping about like a Kangaroo. I learnt that whatever one does, one must do it with great zest. I made so much noise that soon there were many second termers egging and cheering me on. So within three minutes and twenty seconds I also learnt that when one is going about doing things with great zest, one must not write one’s own citations, make noise or call attention to one self.

‘What is happening ?’, suddenly a very gruff voice asked, very loudly, from the first floor central staircase. All second termers suddenly disappeared like rats scurrying away into their lair. I learnt the dictum that ‘he who fights and runs away, shall live to fight another day’.
‘Who is there ? Come here’,  the gruff voice demanded, oozing with authority. I climbed up the central stairs, still repeating the litany, ’This is my Rifle, and this is my Gun, this one is for Fighting, and that one for Fun’.

‘Who did this to you’, demanded Cdt Sgt Naik.
‘Second termers Sirrrrrrr’, I said with absolute, purposeful, guile. I learnt that as a soldier, one must make use of all opportunity to strike.
‘Passi come here’, demanded Cdt Sgt Naik. ‘Why aren’t you wearing a dressing gown ?’, he asked lashing his red sash like a whip on his own muscular and very hairy legs. ‘On your hands down, 100 push ups’, he ordered AKP with the finality of a magistrate. I learnt that every dog has his bad day, especially if Cdt Sgts are around. Within four minutes of joining NDA, I also learnt that soldiering was great fun, especially being a joker.
So, all told, I felt very smug. I smiled. That was a big mistake, I learnt.
‘What are you smiling at ?, asked Cdt Sgt Koshy, coming up the staircase. ‘You also get on your hands down’. I learnt in the sixth minute that ‘sneaking’ was a sin and smiling a sacrilege.

‘Send him to get tea’, suggested Cdt Sgt Batra after a while. All of them for some strange reason were in ‘Drill Order’, shining boots and black anklets, their starched KD shorts standing out like the out riggers on a sailing ship.
I was handed over three enamel mugs.
When I reported to the tea room, Phunzru the mess waiter gave me six 'dog' biscuits and filled the three mugs. I took four sips of tea from each mug, pocketed three biscuits, and handed over the rest to the three Cdt Sgts. I learnt survival tactics within eight minutes of joining NDA, that ‘when the going gets tough, it is only the tough who gets going’, with spare dog biscuits in one’s pocket.

‘Haawve you hawd you Yuggs ?’, Cdt Sgt Koshi asked Cdt Sgt Batra in a thick Malayali accent that you could cut with a hacksaw. ‘Send this shit bag to boil the Yuggs’, he suggested to Cdt Sgt Naik. Soon I was boiling six eggs in a mess tin with an electric heater made of two old shaving blades with a button in between for insulation. Within ten minutes of joining NDA, I had leant about improvisation and multiple tasking. I also learnt to cook, even if it was my own goose.

I stayed in NDA till Dec 1969, that is fifteen lakh seventy six thousand and eight hundred minutes. So I think I must have done ‘hell of a lot’ of push ups, front rolls, and learnt quite a few other things too. But I confess that there are ‘one hell of a lot’ of things I still don’t have a clue about, cannot do, and don’t know that I don’t know. I think I will have to go back to NDA once again to learn all that.

I am now 62. So I cannot run cross country anymore, around any lone tree hill. I doubt if they will take me back into NDA. So I simply go for a walk with my neighbour Col AK Passi, looking for Air Cmde Pushy Singh.  They still make me get on my ‘hands down’ once in a while. ‘Joker, we will make you smart’, they often say.  But I think they look around before making me get on my hands down, especially to see that ACM Naik, Lt Gen Koshi and Maj Gen Batra are not anywhere around. Just like old days !!!!!!!!!!!!