I was perhaps a strange AF officer, because I spent almost 60% of my 24 yrs undressing uniform in front of the Army. In the end, after uninterrupted coitus, the army was left with no choice but to marry me, place me under command, and write good fiction in my Confidential Reports !!! In due course, like all ‘Kothe Walis’, I grew too old and ugly after 24 yrs nonstop ‘sewa’ without functional upgradation, and hence took PMR to emulate ‘Umrao Jaan’, to go do ‘dirty dancing’ in the streets for a living !!! To be perfectly honest, if I could get a few Botox injections and Silicon implants in ECHS, I would love to go back and do it all over again. It was great fun while it lasted !!.
This is a ‘Surdie’ tale, about the mighty 5 Sikh in Chakabama around 1977. I was then a 28 yr old bachelor. The famed Army Cdr used to call me a ‘French Leather’, because the AF had promoted me to the rank of F/L (Flight Lieutenant), while the army felt that ‘Do Phiti’ Khal-Naik would be more appropriate.
Nagaland was then on the boil with NSCN and ‘Muivah’ on a recruiting drive, forcing the prettiest girls and LGBTs in the Jessami/Tuensang valley to go and do it in the jungles, mostly underground. That part of the world for the army was ‘non family station’; life without pretty girls and LGBTs, not doing it above ground, was totally unacceptable, not only to the venerable bachelor Army Cdr, but also the lonely heart L/Nk bachelor freaks like me. There was a general feeling of unhappiness due to ‘love failure’. GOC 8 Mtn Div and Cdr 81 Mtn Bde became as jealous of Muivah, angry and upset like me.
While I went around the bend, in mountain paths, the army went on the warpath. Train loads of freshly minted troops began to arrive, all of them with their bayonets unsheathed. As was customary, two weeks’ insurgency training was required for all newly inducted bayonets, basically on how to ‘Patao’ the girls and LGBTs, and give Muivah the middle finger and erectile dysfunction. MoD had conferred NFU status to NSCN and given the army AFSPA pills that act like Viagra. Chakabama was the pit stop before the troops were deployed further up on the hills, mostly on pickets where no sensible yak, yeti, Naga or Sardar would go voluntarily, there were no girls or LGBTs there. Rest of Nagaland was as exciting as it could get.
One fine rainy day, Bravo Company of 5 Sikh came marching down the road from Kohima, with the Coy Cdr leading. I think they were told to dismount from trucks and march to Chakabama because of poor discipline (or perhaps Diesel shortage). I am not too sure who was more undisciplined, whether the Coy Cdr or his B Coy !! One could hear them coming from as far afield as Theprazumi, about 20 km as the Mi-4 flies, which is about twice as much as what a crow needs to fly to get there.
There was no marching band. So the Sardars cracked a continuous stream of bawdy jokes and their laughter was music to their ears, but caused humming and tingling in the ear drums of others. The entire company was out of step, which was not their fault. The Coy Cdr was my illustrious Gorkha course mate AK (E/37), about 5’ fuck all, while there wasn’t a soldier in B Coy of 5 Sikh who was an inch shorter than 6’2”. So how could B Coy march in step with their illustrious Coy Cdr, whose normal step was only 18” despite venerable SM Kanshi Ram’s efforts in NDA to give AK the bum-boo, with a 30” pace stick ?
‘5 Sikh were like that only’; they usually said, ‘I am loving it, like Subway Sand-bitch’, in pure Punjabi !!
In due course, B Coy of the famed 5 Sikh settled own to their routine, whatever it is that Inf Units do ‘best-test-tesht’. Perhaps walk from here to there and back, in battle order, ‘jusht’ for the heck of it. They also dig trenches where ever they go, I presume to protect themselves from snake in the grass Mallus like me. The famed Coy Cdr of B Coy immediately captured my OP hill accommodation in Raj Rif Mess, and took over my inventory, especially the crate of XXX Hercules under my bed. He ordered me to piss off, but did show camaraderie by asking me not to go too far without him and an armed escort of Sardars from B Coy. AK insisted that I lead tac reconnaissance missions to Theprazumi, to check whether my GF ‘Angu’ and her friends were doing it over or underground. I didn’t complain, I promise. Except when subjected to creeping line arty shelling, bawdy Nepali jokes, narrated incessantly in Punjabi.
One rainy morning when I was unemployed and trying to burrow myself underground dreaming about wonderful bayonet charges in Balaclava with Angu as the target, AK woke me up, with a kick on my butt. ‘Come on, I will give you a chance to command B Coy of 5 Sikh’, he told me in ‘Neplish’ (English spoken in Nepali), with a few MC/BC thrown in like Tadka. ‘We are going on mission cross country route march’, he ordered imperiously like GoI. I joined the AF because I never quite liked route marches in NDA, even with Nimbu Pani and Tipsy Pudding as bribe. I preferred flying cross country like a crow. But AK would have none of that and was hell bent on inducting me into Infantry. I went along meekly, for the heck of it, just to show subway sand-bitch type camaraderie.
It was raining cats and dogs when AK lined up the Sardars of B Coy of 5 Sikh and told them that a famed Ullu Mallu AF officer (Sadda Munda Kirtara) will lead them that day and teach them how to do cross country route march like a crow. The sum total of Punjabi that I understand are a few words; MC, BC, Todde Ma Ki Daal and Teri Pen & Pencil Di. Since AK used all those words in his mission briefing, I presume what he said to his troops in ‘Punjali’ (Punjabi when spoken by a Nepali) was perhaps not complimentary and unprintable. The Sardars shrieked like a bunch of hyenas, many of them rubbing their stomach from mirth. The jokes were on me. I had to grin and bear it for the pleasure of joining Infantry (referred to as ‘Fantry’ by 5 Sikh).
Soon we were trudging up and down the wet and slushy hills, incessant chatter of the troops louder than the thunder and rain. My flying overalls, which I insisted on wearing, was so soaked that my W front underwear shrank three sizes and started squeezing my gonads. The flying boot was obviously meant for flying and not for walking. Soon the uppers and soul of my F-Boots departed company and I had to use shoe lace to tie them together. For every four steps that I took up hill, I came sliding down five, mostly on my bums. The Sikh troops found the AF manoeuvre, sliding down hill on the bums, most hilarious. Soon we were only going downhill, sliding on our bums, the entire B Coy howling with laughter.
After every ten minutes, AK would order a halt. The troops would utter things under their breath, ‘Teri Pen Di’, shrug off their packs and sit on their haunches. One doesn’t sit on the ground in Nagaland, there are leeches that go up the ass.
‘Sabji Chai’, AK’s Batman cum Spiderman, cum Superman, would proffer hot tea in enamel mugs to AK and I, as soon as the halt was ordered. This was repeated at every halt and I got quite intrigued. Everyone in B Coy was drinking hot tea every time we halted and I didn’t see any thermos flasks. ‘How do they do it ?’. I asked AK with unsuppressed curiosity. ‘Wait and watch’, AK said in ‘Neplish’ interspersed with MC, BC, Todde Ma Ki Daal and Teri Pen & Pencil Di.
When B Coy was ordered to start marching again, AK grabbed my arm and pulled me aside, allowing the marching column to go by in platoon groups. And there amongst each platoon I saw apparitions that I can never erase from my memory.
In thick rain, one 6’2” Sardar in each platoon, besides his Chindit pack, ammo pouches, rolled up rain coat, ferocious looking wet Pagri, SLR in one hand and 2” Howitzer base in the other, was carrying on his head a perfectly balanced GI Bucket with burning coal and a boiling kettle. No matter what the Sardar did, whether slipping and sliding on his bum, or charging up hill, the bucket and kettle were perfectly balanced on his head, ready for ‘Sabji Chai’, every time we halted. An incredible feat of arms.
‘Oh that is nothing, wait till we get back’, AK said when I expressed astonishment. My imagination went ballistic on what else the Sardars could do.
We went up and down all over the mountains, sometimes through sleepy villages, not breaking stride. I tried declaring myself a causality, asked AK for casevac by helicopter. But the Mi-4 was back in Chakabama pining for me. Everyone in Chakabama could declare himself a causality and ask for casevac by helicopter, all except me. That was my job. So 5 Sikh made a stretcher with Bum-Boo, and carried me like pallbearers, singing ‘Ardas’ all the way to keep me alive.
When we arrived back, AK ordered B Coy to line up and surrender ‘Booty’. Meekly B Coy pulled out two live goats and nine chicken from their rolled up rain coats. They had swiped all that when we went through villages without breaking stride, not a step sideways, though they were not marching in step. That night, at the langar, we celebrated with Rum, Tangdi Kebab and Mutton Ghosht.
Kirtara was formally declared a ‘friendly’, I think because they could then stop digging snake trenches.
After Rum, Tangdi Kebab and Mutton Ghosht, the CHM slid up to me.
‘Kirtara Sabji, can B Coy join Hair Force ?’ he asked with a sly smile, full of guile.
‘Why ?’ I asked, interspersed with MC, BC, Todde Ma Ki Daal and Teri Pen & Pencil Di in Punjlu (Mallu’s Punjabi).
‘Hawai Seopy gets better pay, higher ration scale, travel free in aircraft, and besides I quite like the AF style of cross country route march, that you taught us today, sliding on our bums’.
B Coy hooted, it could be heard in Theprazumi.
Shortly B Coy of 5 Sikh moved out to ‘Phek’ or someplace like that. I was tempted to go with them and enrol in 5 Sikh. They are jolly good chaps, especially my course mate AK, the Nepali rascal !!!! He is the type to whom you can hand over Davy Jones’ heart and soul, and 5 Sikh would then guard it with their life.