8 Aug 2012

Testosterone - Adventures From Another Era

My Hindustan story has got stuck at Forzpur. I offer an apology to my fans.
I am struggling between work, travel and research, all of which have now diverted me a bit from the plot of Hindustan, to a future story of late Sub Maj Kashiram, a story that I compulsively need to tell before the sands of time run out for me. But I will make all efforts to first complete the Hindustan story before I start the next one !!!. To keep your interest alive, I decided to steal a story from my dearest friend Jas, to keep you reading my blog and not give up. So here it is.
 This is an amazing Enid Blyton kind of adventure story, full of testosterone, of four incredible 18 year old  NDA cadets, who impetuously went off on their own to plant a NDA flag atop the 22,000 feet ‘Nar Parbat’ in Gharwal range, armed with ‘Dog Biscuits’ and very little else other than few things that they pilfered from here and there. A feat accomplished in ten days during a midterm break, without any one ever hearing about it. Those days, one did things just for the heck of doing it, not for publicity or acclaim. If there ever is an inspirational first hand story that can warm the cockles of the heart, young as well the old, here is it. 
What an incredible tale written by Cadet Jasbir Singh[1]. Reason why he has been my role model and best friend for 52 years. The footnotes, about my course mates, were written by me, to tell you who they are and what became of them.
 On your marks, Get set ..........here we go.
Chin up, stomachs in, square your shoulder, clench your fist, march up,........ till you reach an age where all you can do is to tell stories. Till then be soldiers, the good guys.

Adventures From Another Era

In the first half of 1969 I was a 5th termer from 37th Course in H (Hunter) Squadron of National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla. Somewhere half way through the term, on a Sunday, the cadets of H-Squadron were called upon to do an exercise, to clean their bicycles in the ‘Cycle Stand’ that was located in the quadrangle behind our squadron lines, in preparation for the approaching ‘Cycle Inspection’. I think that was where I got this grand idea, that I must do something incredibly more stupid than clean bicycles on a Sunday, in order to become a good officer of the Indian Army.
‘Why don’t I climb a mountain ?,’ I thought to myself.
It was just a passing thought.
 Among those cleaning the cycles along with me were my two good friends in H-Squadron, Cadets BP Singh[2] and BS Godara[3]. When we had finished cleaning the cycles, BP Singh (Boots Aka Boota depending on his mood) suggested that we go to the Café next door and enjoy what remained of our precious Sunday. Pushing our bicycles into the stands and applying the all-important chain & padlocks, we rushed to our cabins to retrieve some money. Money was always kept hidden in the most incredibly secretive places, sometimes inside dirty and smelly OG socks in the kit bag, or under the draw of study table. One had only a few Rupees, but that was enough to buy a stomach full of happiness at the NDA Café, mostly Hot Dogs, Chocolate Barfis and the delectable Mangola, a concoction that Mr Kapoor had patented before the advent of Coke and Pepsi.

When we reached the Café, loud music was playing. A beaming and bespectacled Mr Kapoor welcomed us inside. Mr Kapoor was the owner-cum-manager and he was known amongst NDA cadets as ‘BSL’,  ‘Bum-Slung-Low’, rather outrageous but a befitting sobriquet. We sat at a table for meant for four cadets and ordered Mangola & Chocolate Barfis- our standard fare.  A cadet who was sitting across the Cafe, sauntered over and joined us at our table. There were happy handshakes and back-slapping. The cadet who joined us was SS Thakar[4], a course-mate from ‘I’ (India) Squadron. The quorum at the table was complete, I had an audience.
 Amidst light hearted banter about Sub Maj Kanshi Ram’s ‘drill-square antics’, I suggested to my friends that we should go and climb a peak in the Himalayas to prove that we were ready to be men of substance. We had the previous week-end watched an adventure movie in which the hero had climbed a tall, rugged mountain peak, and that was the origin of my brilliant idea, not very original I guess. But it helped fire the imagination of my three friends. They readily agreed to the proposal to climb a peak, they were as crazy as I was, if not more crazy. We were dying to do healthy mischief.  After much discussion, more Mangolas, Hotdogs and Burfis, it was mutually decided that we need to do a survey of a climbable peak in the Himalayas and to find one, we would need to peruse maps and charts of the Himalayas. We didn’t know where to start looking. However, it was mutually agreed that the project had to be kept ‘Top Secret’ if it had to succeed.

‘Try Mr Basu’s Geography Department’, Suhas suggested, he was the only one who had intelligence, rest of us had muscles between our ears. ‘I will befriend Mr Basu’s daughter to get weather forecast’, Suhas volunteered. We sniggered, over the Mangola. In our opinion at that time, femme fatales were no good for forecast, we were not sure what they were good at. So we made Suhas in-charge of identifying a climbable peak and to sort out weather and other dooms day predictions from Mz Basu using his incredible charm and wit.

Within a week, we discovered to our dismay, that it was not easy to get hold of any maps. All documents connected with the Himalayan borders were considered extremely sensitive, after the ‘Chinese Aggression’ of 1962. Mz Basu refused to help, and Mr Basu’s  assistants were reluctant to let us take a look at the maps of Himalayas, of Ladakh and NEFA. We knew we could find them in the Army Training Team, but in 5th term, we did not have any access to that citadel.  After a lot of persuasion with believable lies about religious faith and cajoling with boyish enthusiasm, a god fearing fellow named ‘Panditji’, an assistant in the Geography department permitted us to study maps of peaks around the Himalayan shrine of Badrinath in the Gharwal region, far away from contentious area concerning the Chinese. However, ‘Panditji’s’ conditions were rigid,  the maps had to be studied while standing in the dark and dingy confines of the store-room of Geography Department.

Luckily, Suhas Thakar’s Uncle was serving as Second-in-Command of an Artillery unit (93 Mountain Regt), located in Joshimath area.  Thakar wrote to his Uncle about the planned expedition and received a prompt reply saying that the Artillery Regt had a battery located at Mana and they would be glad to arrange transportation from the rail-head at Raiwala to Joshimath and onwards to Mana. The Uncle added that the Regt would provide us with necessary mountaineering equipment (nylon ropes, climbing boots, crampons, heavy woollen socks, woollen caps, gloves, snow goggles, ice axes etc). The Uncle, however, wanted us to avoid undertaking a dangerous venture like attempting to climb a mountain peak. He wrote we should instead settle for a trekking holiday. However, all four of us discussed the matter and decided that we would adhere to our original plan of climbing a mountain peak.

The news Thakar gave us about location of 93 Mountain Regiment, was indeed heartening and it spurred us on to look for a suitable peak in Garhwal Himalayas. All four of us studied the maps of Badrinath area and even painstakingly made pencil sketches of all the roads & tracks in the area. Whenever we could find the time, we met in the silent confines of ‘H’ Sqn ante room and discussed our plans for the so called ‘expedition’. The meetings also allowed us to play some billiards in the adjoining Billiards Room.  We excitedly considered various factors and finally decided to climb a peak named ‘Nar Parbat’, which was about 22,000 feet above mean sea level, in Garhwal Himalayas. Once the peak had been identified, Thakar agreed to inform his Uncle that we were determined to climb Nar Parbat with assistance of 93 Mountain Regt and would not like to waste our precious summer break doing a Himalayan Trek. We felt that treks were meant for ‘sissies’, while we had to perform a ‘gung ho’ feat and climb a difficult Himalayan peak. Although a number of serious problems stared us in the face, we were determined to climb Nar Parbat. We sat quietly in NDA library for hours on end to research and went over our plans with a ‘fine-toothed comb’. Since, it was difficult for Thakar to come all the way to ‘H’ Sqn at odd hours, we often left him out when we would meet regularly and try to find ways to overcome our problems of finances, food-stuffs, NDA flag to plant on the peak and most importantly, permission from our parents - it had been agreed that the expedition would be launched during the forthcoming summer term break and we would get only a couple of days at home, after the climb. Transportation from Kirkee to New Delhi was to be done by the NDA Special Train. Then, from New Delhi to Raiwala we were to travel by train ‘without tickets’. If we were caught by Railway Staff, we planned to tell them a ‘sob story’ and promptly buy ‘third class’ tickets. It had been arranged by Thakar that vehicles of 93 Mountain Regt would transport us from Raiwala to Joshimath, Mana and back. 
As we were determined to climb Nar Parbat, we decided to tell only a few close friends of our plans. We required their cooperation and assistance with the logistics of our mission. They tried their best to dissuade us from venturing on the expedition. They warned us of the serious pitfalls in our plans. They told us to behave like ‘normal’ cadets and go home for a well deserved summer-break, after the gruelling rigours of NDA.   It was decided that at any cost, NDA authorities were not to get even a whiff of our plans. We found out that the Adventure Club in Science block had some camping  type rucksacks but we had to find an excuse to get at them. We told our Sqn Cdr a compelling yarn that we were going on a short trek during the term break and requested his help to draw the rucksacks. ‘Crazy Buggers’, he commented, but gave us a chit to go and get the rucksacks issued from the Adventure Club in his name.   Cadet Umang Kapoor, smartly dressed in white patrols, was returning from a rehearsal of ‘Stick Orderly duties’ for the forthcoming Passing Out Parade (POP). Boota requisitioned his help to help us carry the heavy rucksacks back to ‘H’ Squadron. We had to be wary not to be seen by the ‘old fox’, Sub Maj Kanshi Ram, who was said to be lurking near the ‘Quarter Deck’. Besides his baritone and gravelly voice, Sub Maj Kanshi Ram was said to have a pair of eyes ‘at the back of his head’. If we were caught, Sub Maj Kanshi Ram would surely tell Maj Canteenwala, Adjutant, and our game would be as good as over, even before the adventure had begun!

Cadets Umang Kapoor, BP Singh and Jasbir Singh (L-R), carry rucksacks and climbing gear – posing in front of the Ashoka pillar

The four of us wrote to our parents, giving some bullshit about going trekking, the same story that we had given to our Sqn Cdr, explaining that we would only be able to spend just a few days at home, before proceeding back to NDA. It was necessary to keep them distracted so that they did not complain to NDA that we did not come home and that we were missing. Despite all my fears, my parents did not object.  I guess they were glad to have the ‘bounder’ out of their hair, for some more time.

Our major problem was the logistic nightmare, arranging food and water for duration of the actual climb to the peak. After finding no other viable solution, it was decided that ‘dog biscuits’ received with morning and afternoon tea would have to suffice. We requested the Company Quater-Master Seargent (CQMS) to ask all cadets of ‘H’ Sqn to forgo two biscuits from the four biscuits each cadet received daily, all for a good cause, our expedition. We packed these biscuits in foot-long cylindrical rolls made of news paper and secured with bits of sticking tape,  stolen from the Sqn Cdr’s office. We had our NDA issue water bottles, and where we had to go there would be snow. So water was not considered a problem. On assessing our total requirement of foodstuffs, we realized the biscuits would not suffice for the entire expedition. As we had only limited money and could not purchase the items, the option we all agreed was to raid the Café. That night we quietly entered the Café and returned to ‘H’ Sqn with bulging pillow cases filed with biscuits, cakes, packets of ‘namkeen’, tins of mango pulp (from which BSL Kapoor made ‘Mangola’ drinks) and long strings of sausages. We laughed heartily when we imagined the shocked expression on the face of ‘BSL’ Kapoor, when he opened the Café next morning. 
We felt it was absolutely necessary to plant a NDA flag on ‘Nar Parbhat’. The problem of obtaining a flag was resolved in a rather ingenious manner. While returning from Inter Squadron Athletics Competition in progress at NDA Stadium, I quietly removed a blue coloured flag, fluttering at the start point of 110 m High Hurdles race. A paper stencil was prepared in ‘Hitler’s Workshop’ with letters of NDA. Then, the blue flag was laid flat on the ground at ‘H’ Squadron parade ground and large amounts of ‘liberated’ white paint was evenly spread over the stencil. Now, our expedition had a flag that proudly proclaimed ‘NDA’ in bold white letters, and we hoped it would soon adorn ‘Nar Parbhat’.
After POP, all four of us moved to Kirkee and boarded the NDA Special Train that was going to New Delhi. The journey was uneventful and we spent our time studying the hand-drawn maps and packing and re-packing our precious food supplies. This was done when we were not participating in unruly activities that were an integral part of travelling on the NDA Special Train. At New Delhi we stayed a day in BP Singh’s home and excitedly went out to the nearby market and bought some essential items, mostly dehydrated foodstuff that was just beginning to come into the market those days.

Thakar, Godara, Bhuta & Jasbir at Bhuta’s home in Delhi

Deciding that ‘discretion was better than valour’, on the next day, we bought ‘third class’ train tickets and boarded a crowded compartment on the night train from Old Delhi to Dehra Dun. After a rather uncomfortable night spent sitting on hard, wooden seats, early in the morning we were happy to get off the train at Raiwala Railway Station. At RTO Office (now called MCO Office), we were met by a smartly uniformed Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) of 93 Mountain Regt. We walked across to an Army convoy, where the JCO asked us to get into a Nissan One Ton truck. We quickly hoisted ourselves over the tail-board of the vehicle and settled down in its rear portion. The truck was loaded with sacks of potatoes and had some bags of red chillies, as well. The condiments made us sneeze and our noses began to run freely. Soon, the convoy started up the mountain and we were tossed around uncontrollably, as the truck swerved sharply and bounced along the pitted road. When we were not busy retching over the tailboard, we saw a number of villages and small towns whiz past us. The road snaked along the turbulent Alaknanda River and clouds of dark, diesel smoke wafted into the rear portion of the truck. The diesel fumes caused us to be horribly sick and we vomited uncontrollably over the tail-board of the bouncing truck. The convoy sped past Srinagar, Chamoli, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and in the evening, the vehicles finally entered Joshimath.

At Joshimath we met Thakar’s Uncle, who was a senior Maj in the Regt. He allotted us a room that had both walls and roof made of tin sheets. We were fascinated by the ‘tin room’, as we had never seen such a structure. After recovering from our journey, on the next day, we organized our kit and discussed our future plans with Thakar’s Uncle. We were advised to make a trip to Hemkund, to get acclimatized, before we attempted the main climb to Nar Parbat. Next morning, we were taken from Joshimath to Govindghat in a One Ton truck. At Govindghat we dismounted from the vehicle and trekked along the river, for a distance of 15 km and arrived at the small settlement of Ghagaria. After a night in the Gurudwara at Ghagaria, we began the climb to Hemkund at 14, 500 feet above sea level. There were now steep slopes on the way and we found Hemkund to be devoid of any kind of habitation. At Hemkund there was a small Gurudwara, which was locked.  A sheet of ice covered the large pond, located at the base of high snow clad mountains. We broke a hole in the ice sheet over the pond and entered the freezing water, for a holy dip.  In no time at all, we were out on the snow and glad to be back in our warm clothes. After the dip and obeisance from outside the closed Gurudwara, we descended to Ghagaria, for another night in the lower Gurudwara.                            
 Next morning the four of us hefted our heavy haversacks and trekked back to Govindghat and the road. Once at the road, we did not have to wait for long as a One Ton Truck of  93 Mountain Regt was awaiting our arrival. After a short drive, we passed the famed temple at Badrinath and drove on to the Battery Camp at Mana. Here, we were met by the Battery Commander named Capt Duggal[5] and a young 2 Lt, who seemed to smile all the time. We were put up in a large snow tent that was surrounded by towering rock faces and snow covered peaks.

Capt Duggal was hospitable and very pleased to know we were from NDA, and had volunteered for the climb during our summer term break. He entertained us with humorous annecdotes of life in ‘Foxtrot’ Squadron, NDA, during his time as a cadet. He told us about how they would tip-toe behind a ‘nosey-parker’ Div O, who had a habit of lurking around the Sqn lines at night, to see what cadets were up to. Once they had scared him by making ghostly sounds from the darkened bathrooms on first floor. The poor Div O had run down, kick-started his scooter and zoomed off to D-3 Area. He was never seen again in ‘F’ Sqn lines at night after this episode. That is what Duggal told us. We in turn regaled him with similar stories, to assure him that NDA was more or less the same and nothing had changed.
We were shown the general route to Nar Parbat area and given a small snow-tent, nylon ropes and ice axes. Having acclimatized earlier, we did not have to wait for long before we began our long awaited climb. Carrying the cumbersome mountaineering equipment and heavy tent for the first time in our lives, we said our goodbyes and began climbing towards Vasudhara Falls (famous for exploits of Pandavas, during the legendary epic of ‘Mahabharata’). As we plodded on, we were dwarfed by the sheer rock faces and mountain peaks, all around us. We could scarcely believe we were actually climbing in Garhwal Himalayas. We passed Vasudhara Falls, which was quite a disappointment as we had expected a much larger waterfall, with a greater volume of water.
We moved one behind the other, puffing heavily due to the rarefied, high altitude air, the steep climb and our heavy loads. We climbed silently and generally looked down as we proceeded higher. The foot-track soon disappeared and we were confronted with a sheer rock face. Cautiously, we negotiated the difficult climb and stopped at the top of the rock to catch our breath and admire the massive mountain peaks around us. We stopped frequently to catch their breath and to admire the beautiful mountain peaks, all around us.

Soon, heavy black clouds began to fill the sky and we prayed silently, hoping the weather would not turn foul. Soon, there was the first rumble of thunder as we reached a small snow covered flat piece of ground.  Looking at our watches we realized that we had been climbing continuously for more than eight hours after we had left Mana. The area had some pieces of shale lying on the snow and appeared a good place to spend the night. With the weather worsening rapidly, we halted for the night at the flat ground and removed our heavy rucksacks. A cold wind began to lash the area and the temperature plummeted rapidly. We speedily pitched the snow-tent, and sat within our sleeping bags. Most of our climbing gear had to be left outside the tent, as there was not enough room within the pup tent for four of us and our stuffed rucksacks. With the map given to us by Capt Duggal, and crude preliminary navigation using our hand held compass, we estimated that we were at an altitude of about 18,000 ft above sea level and had covered considerable distance from Mana.     

Thakar and Godara went off to sleep. So I prodded Boota and we went out of the cozy tent to  light a primus stove in a small hollow. Protected from the cold and howling wind, we opened some cans and made hot corn soup on the hissing primus stove. Faraway, deep down in the valley, we could see the twinkling lights of Mana and Badrinath. Once the soup was cooked, we poured it into porcelain mugs and carried the mugs inside the tent. Shivering with biting cold we drank the hot soup and ate some of ‘BSL’ Kapoor’s sausages. The meal tasted delicious and we topped it off with about ten ‘dog biscuits’ each. Contented with the dinner, we climbed into our sleeping bags. Meanwhile, angry gusts of cold wind buffeted the tent and we were glad we had used heavy rocks to weigh down the tentflaps. We had lit a solitary candle in the tent and it provided us with enough light and warmth. We remembered Duggal’s solemn warning not to keep the candle lit for more than 10 minutes. He had told us the naked candle flame would use up the oxygen in our enclosed tent, and lead to  our suffocation and a disastrous end for us. He had added that the naked candle was a great fire hazard as well. So we promptly blew out the candle and shivered in our sleeping bags. A torch-light was kept handy in the middle of the tent, and it had to be switched ‘on’ in case of a emergency.
Next morning we were up before dawn. On emerging from the tent we looked up at the sky and were pleased to see the clouds had cleared, leaving us a beautiful morning. A number of jet black Ravens were hopping about around our tent. They opened their grey coloured beaks and squawked loudly when they saw emerge from the tent. As the day dawned, a warm Sun showed itself over the tall mountain to the east and bathed the four of us in its warm glow. Dark clouds were beginning to gather in the sky and we realized that an immediate attempt had to be made to reach the summit of Nar Parbat, before the weather worsened. We knew that bad weather could last for days at a stretch and by the coming afternoon clouds would cover the sky and bring menacingly cold winds and fresh snow. Not wanting to delay our move, we put our rucksacks within the tent, had some hot tea and ‘dog biscuits’ and began the final climb. It was a steep climb to the summit, through deep snow drifts and over sharp rock faces. The ice axes were useful for cutting steps in the ice as we climbed higher. The climb was easier than the previous day as our heavy rucksacks had been left in the tent. We desperately speeded up the climb as violent gusts of icy wind buffeted us and the visibility began to drop rapidly.
  After a four to five hours steep limb, at about 10 AM, we found there was no more uphill climb and the snow slope began to descend gradually. With great joy we halted and realized we were at the summit of Nar Parbat. We quickly unfurled the NDA flag, took some photographs and made a silent wish. We quickly descended to a lower altitude as the blowing sleet had begun to sting our faces and clog our goggles. The visibility progressively got worse as the strong wind turned to a raging blizzard. With great difficulty we descended to the ledge, where our lone tent stood like a ghostly sentinel. Quickly we got into the tent and snuggled into our sleeping bags. We were thrilled as we had defied all odds and climbed Nar Parbat. It all seemed well worth the effort and even our missed summer vacation was forgotten. The great stories we had for the other cadets of our squadron, was all that mattered.  We never used any oxygen. That is why I presume I had a horrible bout of mountain sickness. In the tent, I hallucinated that I was an oversized Raven. I felt I was sitting on a rock and squawking like mad. By next morning all of us were in pretty bad shape. We buried most of our useless things, our personal stuff, clothes, toiletry, foodstuffs and everything that we could jettison to make our packs lighter for the return trip. It was down hill and the weather was brilliant and sunny. So we made it back to Mana safely. We stayed with Capt Duggal for two days to get our breath back and to have enough energy to travel back to Joshimath, more or less in the same manner that we had gone up. We were given a rousing welcome back by Thakar’s uncle in 93 Mtn Rgt mess, including a hot water bath and sumptuous food. Thereafter we were put on a convoy that was heading back to Raiwala.  

Outside Raiwala railway station we ate a frugal meal in a Dhaba. We bought 3rd class return tickets to Delhi. What little money that remained, we split it equally between all four of us. Boota and Godara went back to Delhi. Suhas went back to Bombay and I went to Moradabad to see my parents at our farm. The four of us spent around four days with our parents and then it was time to go back to NDA to begin our 6th and last term in NDA.  The rucksacks were returned to the adventure club and the four of us went back to Panditjii to thank him for his help. However, we told Mz Basu that her dooms day prediction of weather did not come true and that there was bright sun all the way from NDA to Mt Everest which we had climbed. She really believed us, that we had climbed Mt Everest and hence forgave our snub. We told her that we had specially packed some snow and brought it all the way to Poona, but it melted. She was a nice girl. She smiled and said, ‘Ja,Ja Bekoof’. We thought she was asking us to climb another mountain to win her affections, we were pretty foolish boys when it came to girls. But a 22,000 feet mountain we did climb, the four of us, all by ourselves.  It was easier than winning the affections of Ms Basu and girls of those times. It made us feel soldierly, whatever that meant. It was simply an impetuous act of youth due to an over doze of adrenalin and testosterone.

[1]  Jasbir Singh is a 5th generation military officer from the illustrious Sekhon clan who once helped Ranjit Singh rule an undivided Punjab, every one of them illustrious and highly decorated. Jasbir was commissioned into 4 Kumaon, fought the 71 war in Bangladesh, was decorated in Nagaland for acts of valour, did yeoman military service in India and abroad. Commanded a Brigade in Chamb during Kargil conflict and if he had his way, he may have gone and captured Pak singlehanded.  Instead, he was sent to Lesotho to stop two warring factions. He did all that and more, almost single handed, armed with just a stick. As the National Security Advisor under UN auspices in Lesotho, he conducted free and fair elections and helped form a new Democratic Republic. He is basically a man who thought he was a T-90 tank, unstoppable, till God decided he has done enough and more, gave him Double  Scoliosis and put him in a wheel chair in Ranikhet where he now lives happy and content with his extraordinary and charming wife Saby and writes wonderful tales of honour and valour, like this incredible story.

[2]  BP Singh, aka Boots, as well as Boota, was generally known as ‘MGM Lion’ for his life like enactment of the ‘MGM Lion’s Roar’, he often performed this in ‘H’ Sqn anteroom whenever he was called upon to entertain. Bhuta went on to  join IAF and was an inspirational  fighter pilot. He took a premature retirement as a Wg Cdr and is now doing yeoman service teaching young people to fly in Sagar (MP).

[3]  BS Godara joined the army, Corps of Engineers and did brilliant things in peace and war. Finally he changed to Army’s ‘Legal’ branch. He retired a Colonel and now lives in Gurgaon, fighting different kind of battles, the ones in a court. He continues to be an illustrious and inspiring soldier.

[4]  Suhas Thakar is a brilliant immensely helpful and likable person, a Rimcolian like Jasbir, he had stood first in the order of merit for joining NDA with 37th course. Afterwards, he joined the Corps of Engineers and served in the elite 411 Parachute Field Company and did very inspirational things in peace and war. He took premature retirement as a Colonel and is currently managing a large infrastructural firm in Mumbai, running it with clockwork efficiency and doing socially inspiring work.

[5]   Jasbir met Capt Duggal again when they were operating in East Pakistan during the India-Pakistan War, 1971. Duggal was an OP officer with Jasbir’s neighbouring battalion. He was sadly killed while directing 75/24 mm artillery fire onto enemy defences, during an attack on Munshibazaar,  Sylhet Sector, East. Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

20 Mar 2012


There is a poem that I read every night before I slept for three years while I was in NDA Khadakvasla (1966-69). It was framed and kept besides each bed of all cadets in NDA. With such frequent reading before I slept, the poem was bound to have an immense affect on my subconscious mind and my psyche. Though it was written a 140 years ago, it still has a profound significance to a youthful mind, ‘What is it that I want to be when I am grown up ?’ The poem helps to irrigate the mind so that it is fertile and productive.

This poem may come handy to you, I would like you to please read it as often as you can.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!
...................Rudyard Kipling

16 Mar 2012

Draupadi In Uniform

I had a partial brain stroke in 98-99 and a portion of my hard disc got wiped out. I have no recollection of large parts of my life. Strangely, what little I can remember is microscopically clear. Sometimes, when someone mentions something, or when I see or hear something,  all of a sudden the flood gates open and I get inundated with bits and pieces of old memory, a trip down the memory lane at Mach-3.

Recently, in a mail from one of my friends whom I have not met for long, he mentioned about how well he liked my performance (my presentation) to the Strike Corps at Ambala. All of a sudden the mention of Ambala Corps opened the flood gates, bits and pieces of memory, about my experiences as the Commanding Officer (CO) of an Attack Helicopter Squadron came at me like a Tsunami, after almost 22 years.

This is a Mahabharata like story between Pandavas and Kauravas and of poor Draupadi.

In order to bring peace and amity between Army and Air HQ on long standing grievances pertaining to close air support and army’s need to have their own air assets, the Vice Chiefs of Army and Air Force got together in 1987 and signed a very silly document called ‘Joint Implementation Plan Of 19887(JIP-87)’. I think it had something to do with their Rimcolian association, haunching together in NDA  when they were young, or it may have been due to the beer they drank after hitting birdies on the golf course. Nothing momentous happened after the document was signed except that control of the Air Op Sqns went to the Army. However, the operational control of three other AF helicopter Sqns were also handed over to the Army as bonus. I was given command one of these bonus Sqns around 1988, armed with a new incredible weapon system called the MI-35.

One of the first things that my predecessor JKK told me was to read and comprehend the JIP-87. It was a long document like Mahabharata and took me all night to comprehend it’s portent. Basically the JIP-87 put me in a ‘Draupadi’ like situation. It said that while I will remain married to AF, and the AF will feed, clothe, house and pay me, it will be the Army who will write my annual confidential report (ACR) and also sleep with me when it suited them – I was not to have any sexual liaison, with the IAF (frankly the JIP-88 couldn’t write ‘Sex’ word, so they simply said ‘Operations’, which to my mind at that time meant the same thing).

So the first thing I did was to go and meet my first sexual partner, the Brigadier General Staff (BGS) of the Corps in Bhatinda. Fortunately he was a venerable immensely likable Rimcolian, sagacious and wise like Yudhishtir  and our intercourse consisted of paternal petting with no sex. It was a very pleasant and joyful experience. Yudhishtir was too kind to keep me to himself. So he advised me that I must now onwards stay exclusive property of Arjun, an Independent Armoured Brigade Commander in Suratgarh and that Arjun will husband me on regular basis. Yudhishtir also advised me that because the experience was new to the Army, I must prepare myself to service the entire Pandava clan and help prepare a doctrine.

So I went to report to Arjun who in-turn visited me several times and gave me a ‘very fit for sex’ certificate. Because of this, I was invited to visit and explain doctrinal aspects of my employment and special skills in bed, in every possible formation under the command of the Corps HQ in Bhatinda (the Pandavas). I was invited to perform on sand models, tactical exercises with and without troops, and made to go do it in Ditch Cum Bundh, sometimes in double ditch, mostly in doggie style nodal positions and also in the frenzy of frontal assault and breaking out with W- Front armoured underwear.

One of my most exhilarating experience was an encounter with then Brig Ray in Sirsa, a Dronacharya of Psy War,  where he taught me the concept of ‘Think Two Up’. Learning to think '2 up' made me a very supercilious man. 'I know it Sir', I began to say habitually, even before my bosses could explain 'It'. I knew what he was going to say, because of Brig Ray's '7 up' cold drink formula. Subordinates those days was not supposed to offer cold drinks to superiors, and say 'I know it Sir'. They were supposed to say 'I don't know it Sir, please tell me', and show explicit sycophancy !  

The only one who was most unhappy with me in the entire Pandava clan those days was the venerable and most illustrious CO of 44 Armd Rgt, who felt that I should leave Arjun and marry him. A preposterous thought since I was considered and treated like the Caesar’s wife, though temporarily married to Arjun.

Very soon the Kauravas heard of me in Amabala Corps HQ and asked that I be married to them exclusively for breaking out with W- Front armoured underwear, one of my own doctrinal special sexual preferences. By then I had had quite of bit of sex with Pandavas in double ditch and Nullahs and like the historical ‘Begum of Sardana’ who used to live on GB Road (Bhagirath Palace, now an electrical market) I decided that a change of allegiance may do me good. It really excited me that on page 14 of the JIP-87 it said that I could choose to become either the Army or the Air Chief if I wanted to. At that time I really did not know about Army or AF lists and well hatched ‘Succession Plans’. Being a helicopter pilot I felt that I stood no chance of being the King of the AF but I quite liked the swashbuckling idea of giving it a shot at being the Emperor of the Indian Army.

With that kind of mindset,  I completely refused to have sex with AF and my Station Commander, Air-I and even the C-in-C became completely alienated. Though each counselled me individually to have loyalty and be sexually liberal ,  I superciliously reminded them of my aversion to wearing multiple caps (condoms), one with an AF logo and the other with an Army Logo, which was forbidden in Mahabharata (JIP-87). I obviously then ruined my chances of becoming even a courtesan in the AF Kingdom. I had hoped that the Army will honour my destiny on page 14 of Mahabharata (the bloody JIP).

My visit to Ambala and presentation of my performing skills that my friend referred to, first on stage and then above sand dunes, was in this context. Unfortunately, like Draupadi, I fell in love with Karna in Ambala Corps and hence alienated both  Pandavas as well as Kauravas. Everyone started to quarrel including the Prince of Subroto Park, on nuptial rights to Draupadi. I was sent into quarantine and encouraged to retire prematurely, deemed disloyal, the only beneficiary as well as victim of Mahabharatha (JIP-87). The Station Master Bhatinda was given an AVSM for my sexual and doctrinal expertise and endeavour. I have no quarrel with that, he deserved it even if it was for ceaseless pursuit after my modesty and charm.

I discovered to my horror recently in Suratgarh that despite the passage of 22 yrs, Mahabharata still continues. But the COs have learnt their lessons well. They now either avoid multiple sex or voluntarily use caps (condoms) with both the Army as well as AF logos printed on either side. I recently asked the Additional Director General Army Aviation (ADG AA), my old student, about what he sees as future of Mahabharata. He assured me that polygamy will soon be out and that the Army will have its own concubines and will not have to borrow from the AF.  The AF still is harping on old sexual doctrines of ‘Indivisibility Of Air Power’, coined by an archaic exponent of air power. They also still have a tactical nuclear Bhramastra called ‘Air Space Management’ to kill Army aspirations. I am confident that the ADG AA will get adequate help from the Centre For Land Warfare, strategically located next door, to find Biblical passages to counter Mahabharata like arguments.

‘Cheers to all those who wish us well, let the rest go to hell’ (this I believe is the battle cry of the Kumaon Rgt). These days I am quite confused whether I should take JIP-87 seriously to write Wg Cdr (Rtd) or Col (RIP) after my name . So I write nothing, just Mr, which is what I have finally become, Draupadi is now a prostitute like the ‘Begum of Sardana’ on GB Road.

Not a laughing matter, though I want you to kindly laugh at this story. It is just a silly story, of the follies of youth.

11 Feb 2012

Clash Of The Titans

I heard there is a saying in Pakistan, that their clock ticks because of Allah, Army, and America. I wonder what makes India’s clock tick?

I have an old grandfather ‘Cuckoo clock’ which I inherited along with an old hand wound gramophone with just one 33 rpm record that has a song sung by Lata Mageshkar to help fund collection, on a national scale, sometime after 62 war. When I feel dejected or depressed, like the silly thoughts on what makes India tick, or when my wife calls me a ‘useless bugger,’ I go fix myself a rum and cola. Then I wind up both the Cuckoo and the gramophone and listen to Lata’s rendition of Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’ After I have had couple of Rum and Cola and listened to the Watansong couple of more times, and see the old Cuckoo pop it’s head out like the President of India, I am convinced that God and America have little to do with what makes India tick, it just needs frequent winding up like my Cuckoo clock’. I also get convinced that it is the military that has the responsibility to go and wind up the Republic’s stupid clock. I get the unreasonable feeling that the Indian Military is the pillar on which the Indian Republic stands. I get the feeling that the Sarnath Lions are the face of the military. Sometimes, if I have had too many rum and cola, I roar like the MGM Lion. My wife usually locks the bedroom door and makes me sleep in the drawing room after that. I think someone may read this and lock me up in Tihar Jail.

What the heck, I may even get intellectual company if I am sent to Tihar and may learn about what makes politicals tick from criminals lodged there.

Earlier this afternoon, I went through my home library and took a look at the history of the world from it’s inception. I found that men in uniform have had a profound role to play in governance. The man in a uniform was always at the apex, whether it was monarchy, anarchy, dictatorship, communism, Marxism, feudalism, or democracy. Democracy came about in Rome around or before 3000 BC, with a senate and a Cesar. The Cesar was always a General. In later English history the feudal lords were military, King of England was military type, even Queen Victoria was somewhat a military person. In Indian context from Porus to Nadir Shah, including Ashoka and Gautam Budha, they were all Generals. The entire leadership of the world during WW-II was military types (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, you name it, even Emperor Hirohito of Japan). Democracy was built on the bull work that the chief executive of a state or an empire would be a General, or at least one who has had some military background. I agree that some Generals were bad, the Idi Amin types. But I can also line up a whole lot of them who are very fine gentlemen, erudite, wise, very patriotic, exceptionally brilliant administrators and above all those who believe that the country comes first, and thier selfish interests last. About 162 of them were in NDA with me, some senior, some my peer group and some of them junior and still serving.

After the second world war, I think after they got rid of John F Kenney, the world at large and America in particular redefined democratic leadership profile, they did not want clean, honest, strong, intelligent leaders who could govern with a strong heart and a mind of their own. They wanted puppets, and idiots. The democratic world is now led by pliable, spineless people who can easily be manipulated by other internal mechanisms of their own country, the secret coterie including corporations like East India Company, media barons, arms merchants or the self seeking sycophant bureaucrats. The military has been downgraded, degraded to a foot mat, or at best a well heeled Alsatian dog on a leash held by bureaucrats. One hopes that in India the military continues to enjoy some level of popular respect. In most other countries, the military is looked down upon by the people.

In Colonial India, till Dalhousie came to rule, the Governor General was a person with military background (all of them). India was ruled by a secret conclave within the board of directors, all of them ex or serving military. See my blog ‘Namak Haram’ http://cyclicstories.blogspot.com/2011/07/namak-haram.html. The C-in-C (army chief) was part of the inner group. Dalhousie was the first exception (he was a lawyer) and he started to down grade military by getting rid of Charles Napier (C-in-C) and making Lord Gough (next C-in-C) redundant during second Punjab war (1848-49). He cut to size Col Henry Lawrence (father of Sanawar school) who may have been his successor. The C-in-C’s were expelled from the inner council. GGs from civil service (predecessor of ICS) were made Viceroys (or Vice – Kings, reporting to the King/Queen of England). John Lawrence (Henry’s younger brother) was the mastermind of the first bureaucratic coup d’état. John was a dipped in wool Indian bureaucrat.

From 1864 the military languished in the outhouse till Field Marshal Wavell came to rule India in 1943. It was a war time government, military was supreme. He relegated the civilians to Secretary status, like personal assistants to take dictations or do the paperwork so that the military could govern. Venerable Field Marshal Cariappa (the first Indian Army Chief) was from that generation of Wavell. Cariappa lived in the largest house, Tin Murthi Bhawan, only smaller than the Viceroy’s house on Raisiana hill where Mountbatten an Admiral lived. The second largest house, next to Vigyan Bhawan, where the Vice Prez now lives, it was the house of C-in-C IAF (Gerald Gibbs). He lived there till 1954. The size of their house and it's proximity to the Viceroy's house will give you an idea of the power base, who the Titans were in those days.

Nehru as you know was a man who had been arrested and jailed innumerable number of times the British Military Police, many of them Indians in British uniform. It was inevitable that he hated the military with as much zest as the military hated him. At the turn of independence the reluctance of the Indian Army to get themselves involved in stopping the genocide did not go well with Nehru (the Indian Army was confined to the barracks by the British commanders who feared that British officers would be called upon to fight other British offices who were part of the Pak army). The initial reluctance of the Army in 1947 to immediately mobilize and go into Kashmir, simply on his orders as the PM, also did not endear the Army to Nehru. As Karan Thapar said in a recent article in HT, the man in uniform including his father called the politicals as ‘Dhotiwalas’. This hatred was inflamed further by venerable Mr Malick who was then the boss of IB who carried horrific tales pertaining to the Army to the PMO. I think the only Lion amongst the poetical wolves those years was Sardar Patel, he had a good rapport with the military and in turn he was held in high esteem by them. It was inevitable that a tussle took place between the political and military – there were two sets of people in uniform, the Gen Kaul types (62 war infamy) personally loyal and subservient to Nehru and the Cariappa type King’s Commissioned Officers (KCIOs) who were absolutely non-subservient to Nehru but whose loyalty to the country was unquestionable (my late father-in-law was one of these KCIO oddballs). There were others who played snake and ladder like Karan Thapar’s father (Army Chief in 62) who got their heads bitten off by the political (he was removed after 62 war). There were also very senior ICS officers (KPS Menon for example – an old colleague of my father) who saw the opportunity to create a second bureaucratic coup d’état. They inserted themselves in between the military and the political – the military opened their arms and welcomed them, so that the service HQ did not have to deal with the highly confused and unfocussed politicals directly. Thus the Ministry of Defence (MoD) came about in earnest, staffed not by military, but by Secretaries of several hues and shades, all of them with typewriters.

Venerable Cariappa was asked to vacate Tin Murti Bhawan in 1953 because it galled the political establishment that Nehru used to live in an outhouse somewhere behind present day National Defence College (30 Jan lane). Before he remitted office, in protest, Cariappa moved to a tent in an open field that is now the Signals enclave. He took the whole Army HQ there with him into tents (the Sena Bhawan was built later, I think those days part of Army HQ was in Red fort and the rest in South Block now occupied by the foreign office). At that time the Army Chief was supreme, enough guts even to tell the PM to piss off. Maharaj Rajendrsighji Jadeja (the man who gave us the ubiquitous RSIs) was a very moderate man who kept the army as well as the politicals happy. Rajendrasinghji and Srinageesh had more or less an easy time with mild mannered Baldev Singh and Katju as Defence Ministers, every one forgot about the army. All the administrative actions, including promotions, awards, rewards, expenses, deployments, defence procurements, all these issues were all sorted out internally in the service HQ, they did not have to ask a Babu whether to promote a Lance Naikk to a Naik, or whether they could go outside the HQ to the pavement shop and buy themselves a rubber stamp. You will not believe this, but the service records of the officers in the Pak army were still kept and maintained up-to-date by Indian Army HQ I think till around 1953-54 and they used to come to Delhi to sort out their discrepancies !!!! I think the relationship soured between Pak and Indian Army only around 1953-54 over approx Rs 52 lks that was to be paid to Pak by GOI as compensation to them for some military stores that were not partitioned or left behind in 1947. GOI did not pay, for whatever reasons.

And then in 1957 the vitriolic, intolerant, impatient, exigent and incredibly dictatorial VK Krishna Menon came to rule as the Def Min. Krishnan Menon was being groomed as Nehru’s successor. As late Bomb Mama (the father of Indian N bomb, venerable K. Subrahmanyam) once told me, under Krishnan Menon both the bureaucracy as well as the service chiefs ran for cover. Thimayya and then Thapar (the TV jock’s father) bore the brunt of it. COAS was practically made redundant, Krishna Menon took over as the ex-officio army chief after Ayub Khan took control of Pakistan in 1958. The political establishment was mortally scared that Thimaya may emulate Ayub. In those years most of the senior military officers in India as well as Pakistan were friends and on talking terms, they served in the same regiments before partition and were therefore good friends. So the political and bureaucratic lobby completely distrusted them, though the military were the very guardians of the Indian Republic. It is sad but true that, in private, most of the military establishment had a very poor opinion of the ability of Indians to govern themselves. This was partly because of old British disdain that they had inculcated in the British army and of-course the disarray and disunity amongst the Indian political establishment was as bad as it is now. Governance was not on the political mind, they simply wanted accommodations, to be democratic ‘Kings’ after getting rid of Princes, Kings and Emperors of all hues, white as well as brown.

Around 1958, as a result of political asylum being granted to the Dalai Lama and assistance to establish a Tibetan Govt In exile at Dharamsala, political decisions taken by Nehru and Krishna Menon without consulting anyone, probably based on the advice and manoeuvring of of Mr Mallick, the boss of IB quite under the thumb of CIA, there was more friction between Army HQ and the political establishments. The Babudom fanned the flames further by questioning the very rationale of Army HQ interference in decisions related to foreign policy. In those years, Thimaya, like his predecessors, perceived that the Army HQ must have a say in foreign policy issues since military is ultimately the tool of foreign policy. Army HQ evaluation of the scenario perceived that China’s territorial ambitions would extend beyond Tibet to Aksai Chin, Sikkim and NEFA, indefensibility of the border, and hence they sought augmentation of defence budget, force level and defence equipment to deal with threats that emanated from India’s abetment of Tibetan aspirations. Unfortunately Nehru and Krishna Menon had their heads stuck in socialistic ideals and scoffed at Thimmaya’s views, suggestions and requests. Thimaya offered to resign. There was some wheeling dealing because Nehru felt that his Govt will fall if Thimaya resigned. Finally Thimaya gave in to the perceptions of Krishna Menon that China was no threat to India (a perception that was enforced by the MoD even as later as 1994).

Thereafter Army HQ was permanently delinked from a newly formed Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). I think it was around this time that the Chiefs were pushed to 16th on the protocol list. Four years later, the 62 war vindicated Thimaya’s foresight. To quote an old conversation with Mani Dixit (before he became the NSA), so many near catastrophes that faced India down the ages (65 war, 71 war, Sri Lanka, Maldives fiasco, Agra Talks, Kargil to name a few) may have had less disastrous consequences had the political establishments or the MoFA and later version Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had ever consulted any of the Service Chiefs before they took any decision. But by 1958, as far as the political and bureaucratic establishment were concerned, the service HQ, a few hundred meters away from their own offices, had been turned into a dog house. It is another story how the creation of R&AW (Kao Boys) over took the MEA and converted the MEA to Jeeves for VVIPs when they went on frequent foreign jaunts. About the R&AW, lesser said the better. Foreign policy now became an intangible subject for GOI, whose blunderbuss consequences had to be borne by the poor military with their blood sweat and tears. I think JN (Mani) Dixit has written many volumes on this.

The inter services problems started with Gen JN Chaudhury (I think-that is what ACM PC Lal said) mainly because of JNC’s overbearing nature and also as a result of the humiliating defeat in 62 Sino Indian war. By then the ICS were all gone and the IAS took control with a vengeance to not only undo the military but also undo the memory of ICS. The IAS was a product of Indian political mind and they competed with each other to better the sycophancy expected by the political. Chavan, a very non obstreperous and pliable man who took over as Def Min after 62 was completely in awe of the IAS lobby, who dictated policy for Chavan. The military was pushed back further down the line. After Chavan came Jagjivan Ram who surprisingly was a strong man and well placed with Indira Gandhi. So the bureaucrats got less elbow room. Indira was politically week so she required support from the three chiefs and hence she gave them adequate importance. J’Ram used to have direct interaction with service chiefs on weekly basis in south block. A large part of the success of the 71 war probably resulted from this strong bond, freedom and direct interaction with the PM as also the personal friendships between the 3 chiefs.

After the 71 war the inter-services rivalry heated up once again, defence spending was downsized, armed forces were once again sent to the dressing room in every respect. For some strange reason the IB reported to the PM that Manekshaw was planning a coup d’état. Quite possible that it may have been due to a news paper article which said that if Sam stood for elections, with a service officer in each constituency, the Army would win a democratic election in every constituency and the right to rule India without any coup d’état. I have heard that Indira called Sam and asked him on his face, ’Sam are you planning a coup?’. His answer I believe was, ‘Sweetie, you can have my resignation on grounds of insanity’. I think Indira had balls and Sam was an incredible man. In later years I can think of quite a few other venerable Generals (Bhagat, Sinha, CNS Pereira, CNS Bhagwat etc) all of them incredible people with impeccable credentials and integrity who scared the political, the bureaucrats and the arms merchants. Hence they were sidelined or got rid of though they never once questioned the democratic system, only the lack of wisdom of the ruling class. For them their loyalty was to the country and not to their political master. Their only crime was that they refused to do stupid things that the political asked them to do for their own parochial reasons. Their integrity could not be bought with post retirement perquisites. I have heard of a Naval Chief who formally wrote to the GOI that no service chief should be tempted or  offered a post retirement gubernatorial post so that his loyalty would be to the nation and not to the ruling party. I am told that an ‘Under Secretary’ in MOD informed him that his request has been accepted and that he would not be considered for any such post after his retirement, but others would be entitled to such posts !!!!

Bansi Lal (75-77), Indira, and R Vankatraman (82-84) came to rule MOD as Defence Ministers. This was a terrible time for the service headquarters. The worst was to come later when India was ruled by a series of inept PMs starting with Desai to Gowda. There was not a single meeting between the chiefs and the Def Min or the PM, or consultations on matters related to security of the country or on foreign policy. The chiefs mostly sat in their HQ and whiled away their time while the services rotted and the bureaucrats ruled the roost. Frankly no point in castigating the bureaucrats, it is the service HQ that needs to be blamed. The Chiefs felt ignored and slighted, they did not wish to ruin their gubernatorial aspirations and hence there was no attempt by the service HQ to make any decisions, they began pathetic whining, everything including the most mundane things began to be referred to the MOD for their approval. The service HQ became a decorative organisation, with no authority. There could have been nothing more despicable than to seek free rations, that broke the camel’s back, the man in uniform was now expected to eat the bloody ration and wag his tail at the bureaucrat.

Things changed for the better once again when Rajiv Gandhi took over as Def Min in 85 with the brilliant apolitical Arun Singh and the incredibly soldierly KP Singh Deo in MOD. The three chiefs La Fontane, Tahilani and the awesome Sunderji got along fine with the politicals promoting the inter services camaraderie. The bureaucrats simply fell in line. For the first time after 1971 the services began to brush up their uniforms as well as professionalism. In many ways I personally think Sundarjee devised Siachin, Chequerboard (Tawang) and finally Brass Tacks to down size the MOD and get the services back into lime light with some dignity. ( I agree, it is a wonky interpretation).

After Rajeev Gandhi, the services went back to the boondocks especially due to all the scams (Bofors, HD Submarine, so many of them those days) – the MOD came back with a back swing. Vohra the Def Sec stepped out of line at India Gate line up on Republic Day and started to introduce the 3 chiefs to the PM. Can you imagine his contempt for protocol, like introducing the PM to the President ? The Service chiefs went further down on the protocol list. The Sri Lanka war was thrust on the services without even consulting with the 3 chiefs. The RAW and the IB overtook the services. I am given to understand that the IB keeps a file on every senior service officer and that only those are promoted on whom they have a handle. Why else would a man who went and gave a fully armed Gnat to the Pakis become the chief of IAF intelligence and an Air Mshl ? The para military was taken away and put under Home Ministry so that they can now wage war against the political dissidents and opposition party rallies in the socialist democratic republic of India where freedom is guaranteed by constitution. The Police are alright with Danadas and silly fellows like Ram Dev, but you need para military with rifles to handle some stronger ones like the Maoists or the insurgent Nagas.

The rest is recent history. I took a premature retirement in 93 out of disgust against the system. Afterwards I have not been privy to what happened in the corridors of power except gossip and conjecture. My personal, less than successful interaction with Babudom while I served in Air HQ is there on my blog 

The Kargil Committee under Bomb Mama and Arun Singh tried to bring sanity and parity in MoD, creation of a CDS and a sandwiched MoD with both civilians and the military. But do you think the Babus will ever let go ? Just the way Anna thinks that the political will become honest if he goes on a fast. I think it is us the ordinary people and the soldiers who have to change and rewind the Cuckoo clock of the Republic. How, I don’t know. But we have to stop dreaming about utopia, that political and bureaucratic establishments will reform itself. The hell it will.

About two yrs ago when some of my course mates got AVSM and PVSM, I was invited as a personal guest to Akash Mess where the Def Min Anthony was giving an official reception and dinner. The brass from all 3 service were there in their finery, medals, collar tabs, auguets, gold burnishing, gold buttons, sam brownies, what have you – some even had their swords. In spite of a smart business suit even I felt undressed in front of such an august and very impressive uniformed crowd. Anthony arrived late after we had already drowned 2 Ls down the hatch. He was wearing a simple white bush shirt with a traditional Malayali dhotie, luckily not at half mast. He was taken around the august collage of military brass and introduced to them by the Def Sec. Afterwards I saw Anthony standing in a corner with the Def Sec. His knees were shaking. I went to say hello.
‘An-Thony Sare,’ I said with due diligence. ‘Why are you standing as if you have swallowed a spear, your knees are shaking ?’ (Literally translated from Malayalam), I asked without tact.
‘Ayyo Kartavu Sare’, he replied equally frank. ‘I am frightened of all the costumes here, it looks like Satan is having a party’ (Malayalam translation). At that moment I think I understood the crux of the polico-military problem. If only the services dress up like very ordinary people, say like the Chinese Army in the 60s, with drab uniforms and less frightening pomp, I think the political may even get to like the military. I have noted on TV that when Gen Kayani goes to meet the Paki PM, or the Paki Prez, he goes in a simple jersey without a frightening visage. He doesn’t even seem to carry a cane / baton. I think we must learn to emulate the Paki man, though Kayani is frightening even when undressed. Why do we insist on wearing the frightening ceremonials when we go to meet uncouth politicals ??

About bureaucrats, they are the boss, they are in control for now and forever, we need to make an effort to get to like them. It is a universal problem, all over the world. It is a new world order in which the military is a simple service provider. That is the unpalatable truth whether we like it or not. Having said that, I continue to dream about a proud and exemplary military, and about a bureaucracy who will become kind enough to revert my quota of rum from the canteen to 12 units and not keep reducing it and making it more expensive with unnecessary tax. With 8 units I can barely say cheers to MM Singh –don’t much care about OROP, it is bloody peanuts and a waste of time.

I believe there is talk of shifting Sena Bhawan to Manesar or elsewhere. If that happens, I presume the Army Chief as well as other chiefs will probably get to live in a 2 bed room flat on Sohana Road, quite a distance from Raisiana Hill where Cariappa once lived. I am sure this will never happen. But that is the way the world may go.

When Gen VK Singh took over as the COAS, I had great hopes in him. Ever since NDA days I have credited him as a man with steel balls, integrity and courage. I thought that he would bring back some dignity to the armed forces. When he stood up to Omar Abdullah and refused to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) I cheered. I believe that AFSPA is necessary even if simply to ensure that an Army Chief or any of the Army Commanders are not tried and convicted like a common criminal for war crimes that they did or did not commit like the Serbian Slobodan Milosevic because of some self seeking political who uses the Army (AF or Navy) for political expediency. When VK told the Home minister to bugger off and refused to send tanks and attack helicopters to massacre Maoists in Dhantewada, because they were simple rural misguided countrymen and not secessionists, I cheered for him. When he court-martialed several generals (those who objected to his DOB), ketch-up artists and rum thieves, very senior officers, some of them my close friends which brought adverse publicity to the forces, I told myself that it may be good for the system. When he took up the cause of the date of birth after he became the COAS, I was quite pissed off because he had cheated the system by joining NDA underage, probably fudging his own dad’s signature. Yet it did not reduce his image in my eyes, after all he had turned out to be a good general with long meritorious service. In my overdeveloped sense of propriety I hoped that he would resign before he went to court. Yet I liked his style, he had more clout to fight in court when he was in uniform, he would have loked silly wearing a tweed coat on TV. Like all of his peer group, I too followed his escapades, but this afternoon I was most disappointed that he withdrew his case in the Supreme Court. If he had continued, even if he had lost, I would still have cheered him. I would have maintained my belief that he does indeed have balls of steel. Now I am not too sure whether they are steel or made of chrome plated brass bought from Vohra Brothers in CP. It is not the Chief who lost, it is the Armed Forces who lost. It is not the politicals who won, but it is the bureaucracy which got more entrenched and gained control over Haji Pir Pass. The Armed forces would now have to fight battles not against an external threat but the line of control (LOC) with bureaucracy. The international date line between MoD and Service HQ.  Beware, be prepared, a Desk Officer in MOD can now issue warning letters to the Chiefs, even if he were to couch it by saying, ‘I have been directed by the faceless GOI to tell you to bugger off.’ I lament that there is none left to wind up the Cuckoo clock ’ of the Republic. The President, the Supreme Commander, will look silly to pop her head out of the GOI clockwork to say ‘Cuckoo, Cuckoo’, or whatever.

The ‘Clash Of The Titans’ simply petered out without a whimper. I have had couple of rum and cola. I have woefully listened to Lata’s rendition of Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’ several times. I tried to roar like an MGM Lion. But tonight, it is sounding like the mewing of a cat, a disgusting noise.