26 May 2020

BHAG-DOGRA-BHAG


Early or mid-1978, while Cyclic was doing this and that as an Adjutant, going about minding his own business in Chabua, 105 HU got a signal that three new recruits ‘Hud, Chim & King’ were posted in, arriving shortly. The CO immediately called Cyclic and briefed him to take special care of the ‘three monkeys’.
‘Yes Boss’, Cyclic said with great glee. ‘It will be my pleasure’. Cyclic guessed that one of the monkeys would have his mouth covered, the other his ears, but Cyclic was very curious to know who would be covering his crotch. He was the one to focus on, to teach him the dirty tricks !

105 had a strange situation those days.
In the pecking order, ‘French Leather’ (Flt Lt) Cyclic, a champ with around three thousand hours on Dak and another two thousand on Mi-4 under the seat of his pants, was 1/8th way down on the nominal roll. But in reality, the rest of the lower 7/8th , all of them ‘Fook Offs’ (Fg Offrs), were actually senior to Cyclic and each of them had more than a million hours in their log books.
It was a quirk of fate.
The 7/8ths, all of them very illustrious decorated ‘Gladiators’ of 71  war, some of whom should have been commanding HUs, had been demoted for not having passed their promotion exams and therefore, pickled in rum into 105 jar, with a clarion call, ‘bottle to throttle, morning, noon or night’. So 105 in Chabua was a very inspiring place to be. The only trouble was that Cyclic was technically the junior most and hence in reality, just an errand boy.

It was therefore with great pleasure that Cyclic read the posting signal, again and again, just to make sure that Cyclic was to be henceforth not the junior most ass, he now had three monkeys ‘Hud-Chim-King’ to lord over. He made special arrangements for their reception, including a crate of Hercules rum, courtesy the famed BM 81 Mtn Bde (Rajan Anne) in Chakabama, another Rimcolian rouge like Cyclic.
As soon as they arrived, Cyclic took charge of Hud-Chim-King. By the time they finished the crate of rum, which they gulped down at alarming rate, they were totally battle inoculated to the vagrancies of Air Force life in Chabua,

Chabua  was an appendage of IAF but had nothing in common with IAF. Because there was a larger than life presence of Anglo Indians, everyone in 105 was expected to speak in English. Sardar ‘Buster’, an incredible pilot and sportsman with a Blazer from NDA, a 71 war veteran who fought an F-86 in a Hunter,  but did his schooling from St Nanak Hoshiarpur before NDA, was our English Tutor. He would give us dictations with words like rendezvous, reconnaissance, manoeuvre, Répondez S’il Vouez Plait. If anyone misspelled, which was 100% including the English speaking Anglos, we were fined a bottle of beer for every spelling mistake. On every Saturday afternoon, Buster would invite everyone to the bar, ‘Chal Ohy, Daru  Pike Kukkad Khawange, Hor Angrezi Mien Gal Karange’. The beer we drank was called ‘Black Beer’, resources of 105 pooled from Buster’s black listing.  

While all this was going on, unknown to Cyclic, Hud-Chim-King, or any of the other ‘Daddy Cools’, Delhi was bounced by a large military delegation headed by Lt Gen Hassan Toufanian, Iranian Minister of War and Armaments.  It is possible that the awesome Mrs IG had something under her petticoat to offer to the Iranians, perhaps 303s, captured Paki tanks from Longewala, or even Gnats without the Orpheus aero engines.
It was Cyclic’s Boss who put him wise.

I say, Kartoos, Command shays Shah want mountain guns.  So Shah shay he is going to Gangtok you know, to take a look. You will fly Shah tomorrow evening from Bhag-Dogra to Gangtok.  You sleep overnight at Bhag, do the taxi service yagain in the marning you know, bring them back.  I shay, they will go back to Delhi in the TU, you know TU ? Go to Bhag I shay, take your briefing from the Oh-She Flying in Bhag’, my most venerable and awesome CO commanded. Before I could ask, ‘Who is Shah ?’, he disappeared like a dream sequence.

Cyclic went back to his office and rang the bell for Non Combatant Enrolled (NCE) Pappa Rao (Shaurya Chakra).
Ever since Pappa got a Gallantry Medal, he perceived himself a combatant and always came to attack Cyclic if he rang the bell, hoping he would get Param Vir Chakra.
Cyclic took shelter behind his desk and requested Pappa to call Hud-Chim-King.
Pappa did not like to take orders, he liked Cyclic to make requisitions. So every sentence spoken to him had to start with ‘I have the honour to request you Sir Pappa Rao……………..’. 

After a while Hud-Chim-King came running from where they were hiding, perhaps in an AOG Mi-4 parked in the jungle behind the dispersal. Air Force Chabua was Jungle Command, the entire place was covered with 16 feet high Sarkanda grass with panthers and leopards roaming freely. Married officers lived in Bashas while unmarried ones were pickled into Tent Replacement Buildings, rooms like Cellular jail.

‘Who is Shah ?’, Cyclic asked Hud, Chim & King.
One was not allowed to ask anything to any of them individually; one had to ask all of them simultaneously, because they behaved like triplets from the same mother.

‘Sudhir Shah ?, they answered in unison.
Sudhir Sir is a Foxie, way senior to Cyclic, was recently posted to 105.

‘Go to the mess library and find the encyclopaedia. It is the only book in the library. Ask Britanica what she knows about Shah and Iran and tell me when I come to the bar tonight’. Cyclic  demanded.
Hud-Chim-King vanished like Cyclic’s CO, in the dream sequence, like the movie ‘Bees Sal Bad”.

But that night, over Rum & Pani,  ‘Hud-Chim-King Pvt Ltd’ briefed Cyclic that Iran was a country, old Persia, the place of intrigue between east and west for over two and a half millennium.
‘By 1900 it was floundering. Bandits dominated the land; literacy was one percent; and women, under archaic Islamic dictates, had no rights’.
Hud told Cyclic with a serious face. His jokes had quadratic equations in them. Cyclic did not believe a word of it, neither did Hud. Hud said things like that only to impress Cyclic. 

King took up the recitation.
The Shah changed all this. Primarily by using oil-generated wealth, he modernized the nation. He built rural roads, postal services, libraries, and electrical installations. He constructed dams to irrigate Iran's arid land, making the country 90-percent self-sufficient in food production. He established colleges and universities, and at his own expense, set up an educational foundation to train students for Iran's future. He married three prettiest women in the world’, King said and looked at Cyclic to see his reaction.

Chim covered his crotch.

Cyclic was sloshed.
Cyclic was wham-oozed by the thought of escorting three of the prettiest women of the world into his Mi-4, holding them by the hand while flying them to Gangtok and back.
‘Sir Can I come with you ?’, Chim slid up to  Cyclic with a smile that said, ‘I want to share your pleasure’. All alcohol in the Rum disappeared and only the molasses were left in Cyclic’s tummy.
‘Bugger off’, Cyclic told Chim. ‘I want the pleasure of the company of the Shah’s three wives all to myself’. Cyclic revelled in his dream sequences. 
‘Sir, my brother is an Army Officer in Gangtok, I have not seen him for ages’, Chim told Cyclic with a sad face, still covering his crotch. It broke Cyclic’s heart.

So it was that Chim was hiding in the dickey while Cyclic took off ‘yearly marning’ with ‘Father’ Thomas as the ‘Co-Jo’. Father was a pious man because of Nancy and his holy ghost Pushpa. Pushpa would have Father’s balls for breakfast if Father ever even imagined putting a finger on the wives of the Shah of Iran, even in his dream sequence, like ‘Bees Sal Bad”.

On landing at Bhag-Dogra, Cyclic was summoned to the ops room at the base of ATC by venerable Wg Cdr Virdi, the Oh-She Flying. When Cyclic reached Base Ops, Oh-She Flying had already finished briefing eighteen Alouette crew in the presence of a smart looking Bde Cdr from the Arty, who was in-charge of the whole ‘Op Iranian’.

‘Seven Alouettes with one standby will carry the passengers to Gangtok’. Virdi Saheb told me quickly. ‘You will carry the baggage. You will be the last man into Gangtok before sunset, and the first man in there at sunrise, to collect the baggage. You will land at Gangtok, not switch off, load the luggage within five minutes and clear out immediately.  The Alouttes will bring the passengers back after the ‘Mules Display’. I don’t want any fock-ups, is that clear ?’, Oh-She quizzed Cyclic.

‘Sir, I was sent from Chabua to escort the wives of the Shah of Iran’, Cyclic moaned. ‘Sir, I am over qualified to carry baggage’, Cyclic lamented.
Virdi Saheb became angry and told Cyclic, ‘What Shah ? Just Gen Toufanian and his entourage, ladies or lady-boys. You will do what I tell you to do’.

So Cyclic went back to the Mi-4 and conferred with Chim. ‘I will drop you at Gangtok, this evening. Tomorrow morning at sun rise, I want you standing on the centre of the helipad when I come into land to pick up the baggage’.

TU turned out to be a lovely aircraft. Out came a large number of Burkha clad ‘entourage’, each with a mountain of suit cases. Cyclic had to remove the internal fuel tank from the Mi-4 to make space. Even then many suitcases were abandoned because the Mi-4 was over loaded. The Iranians and ladies in Burkha travelled by Alouettes.  Cyclic and his Mi-4 did not have such good fortune to go near them, or smell French perfume.

Cyclic did a running take off from the dispersal, chased the seven Alouettes, which landed one after the others at Gangtok and immediately cleared the helipad after offloading their passengers, even those in Burkha.  Cyclic could not make out whether they were ladies or lady boys. On landing at Gangtok, Chim took off downhill like a bat out of Bhag-Dogra-Bhag to go and find his long lost brother.

’Be here on the helipad when I come back tomorrow morning’, Cyclic called after Chim.     

Next morning, at sun rise, Cyclic took off from Bhag-Dogra-Bhag, and was soon overhead Gangtok, exact Time On Target (TOT). Just to let Chim know that he had arrived, Cyclic decided to beat up the place. He roared over the helipad at ten feet and did two steep turns. Father started praying, a very irritating thing for a Co-Jo to do when one is trying to do a beat up. Not finding Chim on the helipad, Cyclic repeated the manoeuvres over Gangtok, landed and switched off to give Chim time to come back from where ever he had disappeared.

The Ary Bde Cdr with Oh-She Flying in tow arrived in a shining jeep and screeched to a halt about three inches from Cyclic. Cyclic stamped his flying boots the way Sub Limbu had taught him in Fook Squadron in NDA, to shake the earth, and threw a smart salute even though he was not wearing a cap. Sub Maj Kanshi Ram would have been happy to award Cyclic two lanyards right then and there.

Oh-She’s  ‘Pagri’ was askew, his Khaki uniform was muddy. Even worse was the Cdr Arty Bde. He was frothing in the mouth, had his medals askew and it seemed that he had fell into a muddy puddle.
‘What the fook where you trying to do, try and kill me ?’, the Cdr shouted at Cyclic. ‘The rotor missed me by couple of inches, Virdhi and I had to dive into a ditch’, he lamented. ‘My mules with the guns have run off downhill, what am I going to show Gen Toufanian ?’, he was nearly sobbing.
‘Sir I was trying to do a victory roll, a tradition of the Air Force to welcome VIPs’, I informed the Bde Cdr.
It made him madder.
‘Luggage loaded’, Father interjected loudly at the most inopportune moment. There was no sign of Chim.
‘I will deal with you in Bhag-Dogra’, Oh-She Saheb told Cyclic. ‘Wait for me, now get the hell out of here’.
There was no sign of Chim.
Cyclic started to walk around the Mi-4, as slowly as he could, fingering each rivet on the Mi-4.
‘What are you doing ?’, the Bde Cdr asked with incredulity. 
‘Sir, I am doing external checks before take-off’, Cyclic spoke with a stiff upper lip.

‘Sir, let us go and wait in the reception Shamina’, Oh-She ‘sa-poke’ in Jabi soothingly, putting his hand around the Bde Cdr’s shoulder.
‘What Shamiana ? It was blown off when this foocker did his victory rolls’, the Bde Cdr lamented.

There was still no sign of Chim.
Cyclic began to have moral qualms. In the best traditions of NDA, one was not expected to abandon his comrade in war or peace. One was supposed to sacrifice one’s life for camaraderie.
‘Father, open the panels and check for oil leaks’, Cyclic ordered Father with a wink and Dev Anand style nod. Father climbed up on the mast and started opening the panels.
There was no sign of Chim.

‘What are you doing ?’, Oh-She Saheb asked Cyclic.
‘Checking for oil leak Sir’.
‘Yes, if the ruddy Mi-4 has no oil leaks then there is no oil in the tank’, the wise Oh-She remarked unwittingly.
‘Father check oil levels’, Cyclic commanded immediately, while looking repeatedly downhill to check for signs of Chim.
Father pulled out the dip stick and started peering at it as if it had Syphilis.

The VIPs started arriving on the helipad in new shining army Jongas. There was a commotion downhill, whistles, waving coloured flags and shouting, where the Arty Bde was trying to collect the Mules with broken-down howitzers and ammo on their backs. Jawans were in line once again and doing double mark time with their hands on their chest. The Arty Bde Cdr rushed to escort the VIPs to the Demo area. Still no sign of Chim. Cyclic began to get worried.

‘Start up and push off’, Oh-She pleaded.

‘Father close the panels and start the helicopter’, Cyclic ordered, still peering down hill.
‘Are you expecting someone ?, Oh-She asked perplexed by Cyclic’s repeated scanning downhill.
‘No Sir, just looking to see if there are birds on take-off path’, Cyclic said in a most placating manner.

Then Cyclic saw the strangest sight he hoped to see.
There was Chim sprinting up hill, in his brother’s white pyjama suit, bare foot, flying boots hung around his neck, one hand holding his turban and the other his flying overalls. He seemed to have over slept and forgot TOT.

Father started the Mi-4.
The Mules ran off once again due to the clamour of the Mi-4 when the mighty piston engine started.
The Bde Cdr ran up the hill panting.
‘You are under close arrest’, he told Cyclic.
Chim was still a thousand meters away.

Cyclic walked calmly to the front of the Mi-4 and pantomimed ‘Hara Kiri’, slitting the throat. Father switched off the engine.
Chim was still 800 mtrs, running uphill panting like a railway engine.

‘What are you doing ?’, Oh-She enquired, totally confused.
The Alouttes started arriving overhead. The Mi-4 was parked in the centre of the helipad, there was no place for them to land.
‘Sir’, Cyclic said calmly.  ‘If am under close arrest, I cannot fly’.
‘OK, then you are not under arrest’, the Bde Cdr told Cyclic.
Chim was struggling, panting and crawling uphill, still 300 mtrs away. ‘Bhag Sardar, Bhag’, Cyclic impeached Chim silently.

‘Sir’, Cyclic told the Bde Cdr loudly, ‘As per Air Force Act 1950, if a Brigadier puts me under arrest, only a Maj Gen can rescind that order’.
‘Please, go away. Get lost’, Oh-She pleaded. ‘I will sort you out in Bhag –Dogra.
‘Bhag Sardar Bhag’, Cyclic whimpered.
Chim was now 200 mtrs away.
‘Start the engine’, Cyclic commanded Father.
The Bde Cdr ran away downhill in the opposite direction. He couldn’t stand it anymore.
Oh-She turned around and saw Chim running up hill.
‘Who is he ?’, Oh-She  barked at Cyclic.
‘Don’t know Sir, perhaps a mad Sardar’.
The MPs blew their whistle. Chim broke into the final 100 mtr sprint.
Oh-She tried to block the way, doing a football type tack.
Chim was just 21, absolutely fit, he side stepped Oh-She and ran into the Mi-4 and locked himself in.
Cyclic scaled the ladder from the side of the Mi-4 as if there was a ‘Bhoot’ on his tail. Oh-She looked like a Bhoot with his Pagri half undone.
Father did the right thing, he raised full collective before Cyclic could strap himself in. The Mi-4 reared itself into a hover.
The severe downdraft lifted the Burkhas and Cyclic saw pretty hairless legs. It was the wrong time to notice that Toufanian did not hide boys under the Burkha, they were all genuine women, more than one man could handle.  Cyclic wondered what one could do with so many legs under the Burkha.
Father took off, with Chim in the dickey, still in his brother’s pyjamas.

At Bhag-Dogra, Cyclic did not switch off, threw out the baggage right in the dispersal, and instructed Father to take off right from the dispersal itself, leaving his dickey tank behind. ‘Bhag Bhosidike Bhag’, he told Father. Bhag-Dogra was not a place to linger, even for a brave Dogra, Malyalees or Sardar. The tactic that was apt at Bhag-Dogra was ‘Andhi Avam, Bhagam Bhagam’.

The ATC kept asking Cyclic to return on orders of Oh-She. Father switched off the radio, right thing to do when one is trying to do Bhagam Bhagam, Bhag-Dogra Bhag. Father flew for range and went back to Chabua without the dickey tank, a long haul trip.

Two days later, Cyclic’s CO got a call from Command to arrest Cyclic for treason. Cyclic was instead sent to Chakabama with Father on punishment, like sending them to Kalapani.

Nancy, the holy-ghost and Pushpa came by train to Dhimapur and  BM 81 Bde sent the Cdr’s armed escort with my cm GSO 3 Capt Ravi Nair (Sikh Li) to bring them to Chakabama. They were the first ladies in Nagaland, then a prohibited area for service officer’s wives, or two year old Nancy.

Cyclic, Father, Nancy and the holy ghost Pushpa lived ever happily afterwards. Chim went into hiding in the AOG MI-4 behind elephant grass.

The Shah of Iran abdicated and went off to Paris a month later.  In the revolution led by Ayotolla Khomeni, Gen Toufanian was hung with telephone wire in the centre square of Tehran and left there for long. Ayotolla asked everyone to wear a Burkha, even boys, so don’t know what happened to the beautiful  legs that Cyclic saw in Gangtok.

Hud-Chim-King flew with Cyclic in Nagaland afterwards and never let him touch the controls. Hud went on to become a famed Mi-35 pilot and CO of 104, a successor of Cyclic. Chim was last seen in Air HQ as Director Helicopter Operations as an Air Commodore.
King ?
Well, King is King, he owns helicopters now. He was kind to take Cyclic to lunch at AF Club thirty years later.
We did cheers.
Bhagam Bhagam, from Andhi Avam as well as Bahag-Dogra, Bhag on behalf of Chim !! 
Those were the day my friends …………….. like the song !!

Cyclic


30 Dec 2019

KOLLIGAL STORY


When IPKF war started, I was floating around in ASTE, doing this and that, nothing of any serious consequence.

At the height of the IPKF war, out of the blue, Maj Gen Atma Singh came to call on me unannounced, just like that. He was then DG Army Aviation.
I fell down. I never had such senior officers call on me before. Usually I was marched up to them and the bugle was blown.

'Our convoys and road opening parties get ambushed if they don't have air cover', he told me without preamble. 'If the Mi-25s are overhead, no convoy is ever ambushed', he paused for a deep breath. 'There are only few Mi-25s, just two or three of them left, and so they refuse to do convoy escort'. He looked at me, one of those looks that penetrates the heart and soul. I shook my head like a Japanese doll and kept shaking it. It was neither the time nor occasion to  discuss potential or  limitations of air power with him.  And in any case, I didn't have anything new to tell him, he knew it all, more than I.

'We approached HAL (Hel Div, B'lore). They have built two swivelling trusses on our Cheetah, to take on two of our MMGs, but the ruddy thing doesn't fire and we are we are in a fix'. He told me. 'I want you fix them immediately and send them into combat'. All this was said in half Punjabi, with profusion of the nuances of that colourful language.

General Atma Singh Sir said 'immediate'.

So I  immediately took him to see my boss Philip Sir, then CTP, who had few days earlier marched me into his office to reminded me that the E in ASTE stood for Establishment and not Experimental.  He had blown the bugle and stopped me from my daily endeavour to do stupid experimental things.  That was to appease the then STE who had complained against me for fooling around on my own experimenting with thermal  imaging systems. The kill joy STE was not around and Atma Singh was at his convincing best. And if you mentioned war, Philip Sir was the kind who would jump up from his ejection seat like chair, to stamp the sky with glory. In short, he gave a tacit nod to me to go solve Atma Singh's problem, even if the E in ASTE wasn't anything Experimental. At that time I had neither herd of my predecessor venerable KL Narayanan in 65 war, nor exploits of Kilo Flight in 71 war, who armed helicopters. I was just a clue less idiot with a silly undeserved ETP tag, trying to be socially useful and productive.

I put Gen Atma Singh behind my Bajaj scooter, cut across the runway like a bat out of hell, and we went to take a look at what was bothering the Indian Army. Immediately I was pounced on by venerable Col PVK Choudhary, my venerable 'Dorm Com' from 'Ranjit' Section in Rimc, two and half decades earlier. Atma Singh vanished like a bad dream. PVKC in Rimc had punched me in the tummy to inculcate soldierly behaviour. Now he was the mighty CO of 31 Air Op Flt, itching to go to war, like all Rimcolians / ex NDAs. I was quite sure that if I didn't measure up to him, he would punch me again.

'Bugger, I want you to sort out the problem immediately', he told me in the same Dorm Com fashion even before I could cock an eye at what ailed them.
Everyone in the army said 'immediate', and that was not an order to be disobeyed. There was a war going on, though not in Bangalore.

There were about 40  odd personnel from HAL (HC Div) milling about an armed Cheetah without its side doors. It had sideward firing MMGs, one on either side, on swivelling truss (standard MMG tripod swivelling truss modified a bit) and mounted on the floor board of the Cheetah. The HAL crowd were scratching several body parts including their heads, with no idea what to do. It didn't need experimental design engineers to have done what they did;  and in any case HAL too didn't have an E in their charter which said experimental.

PVKC explained their moral dilemma in clipped military parlance.  Firstly the ammo belt had to be fed manually into the MMG in the air, by the same man who was also supposed to aim, trigger and control the fire, a task usually done by an assistant when this gun is fired by infantry on ground. Secondly, when butt tested (fired into sand bags) on ground,  the super-heated spent shells and links were being ejected and falling all over the place due to slip stream;  some on the pilot, some on the man who was firing, and the rest headed straight for the tail rotor, all of which was giving PVKC and his team heebies and the jeebies.

'Start up the a/c, let us take it to ASTE' I suggested. HAL didn't march up or measure up ;  reason why the Army came to  me.  'Daud Ke Chal', I comanded myself, like the Roman 'Centurian Pontius Phokusall' in Asterix comic.  It was obvious to  me that some modifications were required, which I was sure that the very energetic CRPO in ASTE would approve faster than design engineers of HAL, even if HAL or ASTE didn't have an E that said Experimental !!

So PVKC and I hover taxied across the runway and brought the Cheetah, minus side doors, but with two burley infantry soldiers manning the MMGs from both sides, sitting on the rear seats. After we  landed in the safe sanctuary of my domain in ASTE, I went and tried to swing the guns to and fro, and upwards/downwards. There was excessive and dangerous freedom of swivel that would permit inadvertent firing through the rotors if the helicopter was in a turn and more silly freedom backwards than firing forwards. So I got the guns and trusses dismantled, sketched three basic modifications. One to the truss to limit its freedom to fire upwards in turns but fire down wards (- 120  / + 90 deg along longitudinal axis), give more freedom  to fire forward and restrict freedom too much backwards (+ 15 /- 45 deg along lateral axis) by simple mechanically welded butting on the swivel.

The second was to modify truss with two  simple slides to take a standard ammo belt metal box, that would be mounted on the gun truss itself, which would then feed the gun belt automatically. A slip on, slip off, arrangement which could be done by the gunner in the air, if he carried spare belted ammo boxes.

The third was a canvass (actually thick double layered car seat) chute like a windsock, attached to the guns, that would collect the spent shells and links, send them down wards instead of all over the place. The CRPO approved my design modifications 'immediately' because the mods were on the army MMG and not on the helicopter. I told you that he was a zestful maverick, unlike the STE with non-combatant DNA, who didn't like an extra  E in ASTE.

The simple mods on the truss and railing for ammo boxes were done overnight at the local EME workshop, the canvass chutes were made by a 'Mochi' in Dumlur, the one who usually repaired my wife's shoes in war and peace. Next day we tried it out, with PVKC flying and I pretending to be the infantry operating the MMG. It seemed fine, the CRPO too said it was fine. I went back to Philip Sir to get his permission  lest he blew the bugle and asked what that E in ASTE meant. As everyone knows, he is a through professional, not a 'jugad' man like me.

Air OP was asked to deploy to Kolligal jungles south of B'lore, for simulated jungle warfare,  for airborne assault on simulated LTTE . 31 Air OP was a nuisance, the entire lot with their CO turned up at my home in Dumlur on two successive nights to show their Rimcolian camaraderie and closed my bar book and ate up all my grub. We watched Vietnam war on my VCR and that helped formulate tact and tactics.

Early next morning PVKC Sir and I we flew to Kolligal. Air OP was already practising  jungle warfare adjacent to a river,  by grilling a wild boar in an open pit  with a tomato in its mouth and a rod up you know where. We landed with the tail sticking out into the river, ate barbeque, loaded the guns and took off again. We chose two side by side black rocks, in the middle of the jungle, that looked like LTTE supremo Prabhakaran's  gonads. I didn't notice that there was a pair of  elephants mating in the jungle behind the rock. I devised air to ground firing doctrines, 'Teri Pen Di' for opening fire, and 'Todde Ma Di' to stop firing, language easily understood by Sikh Li infantry, Arty and Air OP. I think Armoured Kaurs likes similar operational orders, but in English.

To cut a long story short, when the guns were fired at the rocks for the first time,  at max rounds per minute (about 1000 rpm), there was resonance, the engine governor malfunctioned, and I had to autorotate and force land on a small patch of jungle next to the black rock behind which the elephants were mating. The bull elephant charged at the helicopter with his manhood pointing like the Pitot tube on the Mig 21 and tail held very high indicating his anger at coitus interruptus. I had to take out the red coloured engine exhaust blanking and do a 'Dhawa,  Halla Bol' bayonet charge NDA style, back at the elephant. Luckily it decided that discretion is better part of valour and ran away. There was nothing I could do with the engine governor, without any tools and E of ASTE. So I attacked the guns and reduced the rate of fire to about 650 - 700 rounds per minute, by twirling the fire control knob. After that there wasn't any glitch, except that the Cheetah shook like Bond's martini when the guns were fired. Shaken but not stirred, though the sex life of elephants in Kolligal was ruined. They stopped mating, while all the shaking and rattling improved our zest and night fighting skill !!!

31 Air OP 'shooted and scooted' next day to Vavunia without saying good bye.
Rest of their Cheetas I think they armed them in Vavunia themselves, based on a certificate which they made me sign, after they made me drink a few extra from my own bottle. As per Bharat Sir in his IPKF book  I am told that they did a fantastic job, shooting at the black rocks of Prabhakaran and his mates, even females wielding RPGs. The animal rights NGOs didn't complain either in India or Sri Lanka and Philip Sir didn't blow the bugle.  All is well that begins and ends well. 


The irony of the this story is why the armed Cheetah was named 'Ranjit'. 

Both Col PVKC Sir and I are from Ranjit Section in Rimc. As PVKC says, the zestful arming, operational clearance of the Cheetah, and its deployment in war in less than 72 hrs was a complete Ranjit Section in-house affair, a show of Rimcoliian camaraderie. So it was befitting to name the armed Chetak 'Ranjit' !!  This is my personal belief.

I meet illustrious PVKC often now a days at Hyd,  very retired old friends.
He doesn't talk about war, I think he got  a bellyful in S' Lanka. He pours the drink, but refuses to even write a 'good show' autograph for me on toilet paper. His NGO like grouse is that I ruined the sex life of elephants in Kolligal !!!.

Cheers

cycclic

PS:

On page 175 of Bharat Sir's book on IPKF, there is photograph of a Cheetah with a massive gondola leading a formation of Ranjits.  That is another modification done by me at Palam on the quiet, Rimcolian influence by Lt Gen Chatterjee (who was my bench mate as a Capt when I was a cadet at Bidar).

The gondola housed a gimbal mounted gyro stabilized long rage telescoping TV camera that could be pointed to look deep inside enemy territory,  live digital recordings, that could also be telecast live real time to command and  control  centres. Applying rudder is a major issue with all h/c pilots, except when flying with the gondola. The cheetah flew better with the gondola, no matter what I did with it, I didn't have to apply rudder !!

Since I am at it, let me also narrate another untold story of a/c modification, about my ops / technical SoC with engineering details, to arm the Mi-25/35 with SA-9 Igla for self-protection. The file went to then ACAS Ops  in which he wrote that I had a 'cavalier attitude' to shoot at fighter a/c in TBA, and so I should be interred permanently in the islands of Elba or St Helena. I still can't figure out what objection he had, if I wanted to  shoot at Paki a/c  - I thought that was the raison d'etre of IAF !!!!




27 Dec 2018

WHAT IS UP, WHAT IS UP ?



(Art Of Writing Letters in Rimc)


My father was a compulsive letter writer and seeker of news, ‘What is Up, What is Up ?’, like the present day fingering decease of ‘What’s App’ on mobile phone. Dad couldn’t, and wouldn’t, leave anyone alone for more than a week, without imperious gazetted court of inquiries, ‘What is Up, What is Up ?’. If I didn’t write home for more than ten days, he would berate venerable SP, the Principal, with gazette notifications, ‘What is Up, What is Up ?’ SP didn’t like show cause notices and writing explanations, especially tell anyone what was daily happening in Rajwada camp, called ‘Are You MC ?’ by Punjabi Doscos like Amrinder Singh.  SP the Princy loved whacking our bottoms with a four feet long Malacca Cain. During one of those whacking, I accidentally lost my one ‘L’, and hence became a wounded Rimcolian, while everyone else are proud Rimcollians, with two ‘Ls’. 

Dad was past his prime at 52, a suave Asst Commissioner of Travancore Devaswam Board when I joined Rimc in 1962. He was MA (Hon) in mathematics too, from Oxford, mind you. Therefore, Dad was more English than the British. He had the same bad habits. He always wrote letters in ‘Inland Letter’, which by Govt decree got rid of the necessity for self-attested writing paper / letter pads, as well as envelopes and the tedium of ‘licky-lick’ postage stamps.  He always wrote in Bradley Hand (ITC) script, size 8 font, which required a magnifying  glass to read. In Rimc and NDA, we were taught precis writing and the religiosity of brevity. But before Rimc, my father had taught me the art of writing the entire 1000 page Ramayana in an inland letter using ‘Bradley Hand ITC script, size 8 font’ assuming that  everyone had a microscope at home. Reason why I failed in Staff College in later life because the DS didn’t have a microscope at home and was myopic about my suggestion to apply air power like SP’s Malacca Cane.

Dad’s letters always gave a comprehensive coverage of news from home, to make sure that I didn’t get ‘home sick’ and run away from Rimc. His letters were like a newspaper, starting with headlines and ending in sports. It gave me a complete picture of what is happening at home. ‘EMS Namboothiri-pad was behaving like Rasputin’, Dad’s headline read, then went on to discuss local politics. Then came routine stuff, laments that Mom fed him good food daily despite PL 480 and severe rationing. ‘Economics’ of supply vs demand, creating fluctuation of price of go-go nuts, which paid my tuition fee in Rimc. Which tree went nutty or fruity, gossip about how many ltrs of milk ‘Sita’, our cow, produced daily,…..things like that. He asked for advise too, whether he should plant ‘Palmolive Tree’ instead of going nutty. Then came ‘what is up’, with family news. About two nephews, one a future Rimcolian (Balaji), and the other a stalwart of SS Kazhakootam (Gopi). That they had jumped out of their cribs and had begun to totter about, run away;  qualities that would stand them in good stead 8 or 9 years later, when they grew to be 12 yrs old and followed the footsteps of their wayward ‘Ankle’.

Dad believed that his share of parenting responsibility was only 51%. So he used only 51% of the Inland to write letters, which also covered the flap, and external reverse space meant to write address of sender. He didn’t want the postal department to return any of his laboriously written letters, and hence secretively wrote 15% of news and views in this space too, to convey the last part, how to mathematically prove ‘zero is not equal to zero’, and how to avoid venerable RCS adjudging me as Zero instead of Hero. He would then hand over the inland to Mom, to do her share of 49% parenting and letter writing. I suspected that Dad cheated and copied; the letters to my brother (Balaji’s father), sister (Gopi’s mother) and an elder unmarried sister then in college hostel, were identical, because my mother sometimes mixed up the letters and wrote complaints about Peter to Peter and Pan to Pan, instead of Peter to Pan !!

In her 49% of the Inland, Mom didn’t know what to write, and usually didn’t have time to write because of her routine of running a small farm single handed and feeding dozens of people who came to meet Dad. So she cleverly invented a Malayalam ‘Font 72’, like headlines of the local ‘Mathru Bhoomi’ newspaper that was so large that even a blind man could read it from 100 feet. It was unusually gibberish, waffling without conveying anything, a trick I learnt to make excuses to dorm coms who ‘shoe racked’ us for some misdemeanor.

Like everyone else, I loved the letters from home, a solitary Inland that came every week to ten days during my days at Rimc and NDA. No one else, in all my life, including my wife and son, or friends, ever wrote any letter to me. Once in a while my Commanding Officer would write show cause notice to me and I became adept at writing fictional stories.  But back in 62 in Rimc, precis writing and brevity was the order of the day.

Just to irritate him, I always ignored Dad when I sat down to write the compulsory weekly reply, in the same ‘Inland’ device which made P&T bankrupt. Because of the  compulsion for brevity, I only wrote, ‘Hi Mom, your loving son, Unni’, that was it. Made my father crazy, but as a force of habit, he never changed his style of reportage, about go-go nut trees that went nutty or fruity, and when the cow stopped lactating and butted Mom when she went to pull Sita’s titties.  Fed up  with my weekly one line sit-reps, Mom instructed, ‘tell  me everything that is happening to you’.   

Letter writing, usually in the evening self-study period, was a bane of my life. We had to submit a letter addressed to someone on Fridays (I think). If we didn’t submit a letter, we would be punished, shoe racked, ‘legs up hands down’, a military manoeuvre taught and practiced in Rimc to biologically migrate the brain to the butt and fill the occiput with previous days dinner. It was the general belief after 62 war that the Chinese cannot torture or interrogate anyone who sits on his brain.

The famous letter writers in my class were Tota, Soli, Suhas and Jasbir. Tota and Soli did simultaneous equations, wrote letters to their anytime money (ATM) dad, mom, siblings, ankles, aunts, knees, …….. individually, the same thing. I suspect that the main theme of the letters would have been ‘send money order c/o Paltu, the waiter’. Hence, they had thick wads of inlands inside their desk. Rascal Jabir never had any inlands, he stole them from Tota or Soli to write same message to his dad ‘send money order c/o Thople, the butler’. That was the beginning, we invented 'Hawala'.

I soon learnt the trick of stealing inlands from Tota’s desk, like Jasbir.  Soli used to hide the inlands in Maths text book to keep an account;  now who would ever do a thing like that, except 'Bawaji' ? Suhas the 'Tant' only bought one inland at a time, clever chap. Since I didn’t have any ideas of my own to write, I used to lean over to take a look, cheat, copy what others were writing. 'Tinda' Arvind was the worst letter writer. He broke nibs of dip dip pen, scratched the inlands and used Egyptian hieroglyphic script to convey ‘send money order c/o Paltu, the waiter’. Once I got a brilliant idea, to write letters with nothing in it, addressed to myself.  My father issued ‘What’s App’ to SP and I got caned again. So I had to find other ways to write letters and for the life of me, didn’t know what to write. Dad was a 'Kanjoos'. He gave me only Rs 5 as traveling allowance for five days journey from Kerala to Dun. It was no use trying the 'Hawala' route. So I invented ways to sign for OP shoes in Mochi Shop, but eat Samosa and drink Vimto in the canteen, a barter system, since the same fellow owned the Mochi shop and Canteen.  As I grew older,  I still  had to write letters, a little more expressive with superior education in Rimc.

‘Dear Mom, it rained here, hope it rained there too’, I once wrote. ‘I have a hole in my socks, I hope you have a hole in your socks too’. Dad loved my superior English education and chutzpah. But it drove Mom crazy. Frustrated after ‘Kakkad Qen’ (Mr Malhotra) gave me a Zero in Maths class test, I wrote to Mom that I love Scotch Eggs and was awarded an ‘Anda’, in Maths. It fooled Mom. Dad immediately scribbled the entire formula of proving zero not equal to zero, theory of Ramanujam. I appealed to ‘Kakkad Qen’, attaching letter from Dad, to treat me a decimal man 0.007. But ‘Kakkad Qen’ was not impressed and re-valuated my test result to minus 0.001. Neither Ramanujam nor Dad ever said that zero can be minus too.

Then one day, I was elevated from cricket score keeper to fielding in the boundary, while Manu bowled and Swapan scored a century. I just stood there on the boundary, did nothing and so helped Swapan to score the century. I became Swapan’s favourite and was further promoted to fielding in the slip, ‘silly midon’, a position designed for morons like me. Soon I became 11th man to bat. We had leg pads, but no guards for the gonads. Manu was a super bowler, an expert; he could bowl at a target and hit it with 100% spherical accuracy, and break gonads.

So that is how I landed up in sick quarter c/o the Matron with a mustache. She would come around 3 times daily to ask ‘how are you ?’, and to inspect my tiny gonads, that had swollen like go-go nuts. 

A standard cyclostyled message was sent by Rimc to Dad; ‘your son / ward, ………………………. (enter name), hospitalized, / wounded / killed  (delete what is not applicable).   …………….(name and signature)………………(date).

For inexplicable reason, someone had forgotten to fill in the blanks, or scratch out the options. When the blank form arrived at Ambala-Puzha at the southern tip of India fifteen days later, Mom went ballistic. Dad ran to the post office to send a telegram to SP.  I didn’t get caned, but was told to write a detailed letter home, describing nature of injury. How does one explain nature of such injury to one’s Mom.  So I emulated Tinda sketching the incident in Egyptian hieroglyphic and wrote to Dad, ‘personal & confidential’ and left it to him to explain to Mom as best as he could without hieroglyphics.  Go go nuts had by then become oranges and matron had stopped inspecting them.

One day when I crossed 16, I found a curly hair between my legs.  It was a proud moment of my life, great achievement. That week I wrote to Mom, ‘I  have grown a mustache’.  She promptly wrote back, ‘shave it off, you are too young to grow a mustache’.  Tragedy of my life.

In all my stay in Rimc 62-66, I never wrote to anyone except Mom and the hieroglyphics to Dad.  But I confess that once, before leaving Rimc, Jas dictated and I wrote, a stupid, mushy, maudlin love letter to Sita Ramaswami of Welhams. Though she did not reciprocate, I dubiously claim my fame ‘# me too’ !!. 

In retrospect I wish I had written to Sita in explicit hieroglyphics !!!



31 Oct 2018

A Strange Travelogue




STROLL THROUGH THE KILLING FIELDS IN SRI LANKA

Since time immemorial, the island of erstwhile Ceylon, because of its diverse flora, fauna, rainforest landscapes, scenic highlands and sandy beaches, and above all the overtly friendly peoples, used to be called the ‘island of serendipity’. It was the place that Europeans flocked for rest, recuperate and suntan, and to find their ‘kama or karma’. Then came their independence from the British in 1948 with ethnic ratio of 75% Sinhalese, 20.5% Tamils (plantation labour imported by the British 300 yrs earlier), and rest minority groups. In 1972, the politically shrewd Bandaranayke changed Ceylon to Sri Lanka (SL) and made a new constitution for ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of the Sinhalese’, which turned 25% of the nation into stateless, hope-less refugee class with no citizenship or civil rights.   This was to eventually lead to three and half decades of the bloodiest civil war fought anywhere on earth, displacing over one and half million people, killing more than two   hundred thousand, and maiming more than a million Tamils as well as Sinhalese, ruining the tiny island’s economy to penury and creating indelible racial  hatred within is diaspora.



We (see box), Dec 1969 batch mates from the National Defence Academy, middle ranking officers in our late thirties n 1987 commissioned in 1970-71, all except me are part of the scarred and mauled veterans of the misadventure of GoI which sent a ‘peace keeping force’ to SL during 1987-90, which soon turned to ‘peace enforcement force’ and finally wound up taking the Tamil guerrillas head on, in the bloodiest war ever fought by Indian Army, Navy and AF. We buried or cremated many of our dear dead friends and comrades in the battle fields in SL, about 1500 of them, and brought back around 12,000 maimed and wounded, in a war which had nothing to do with us At that time we did not know, or reason why, we were ordered to go and die in SL. We believed that someone in GoI in Delhi would know why, or care.

Three decades later, on 10 Feb 18, now approaching our 70s, we once again went to SL, not to imbibe suntan, kama or karma as tourists, but as aged veterans, to uphold our dharma and bounden duty, to take a walk through the old killing fields in Northern SL,  to pay respect to  those whom we left behind.


 We flew SL Air and entered through Colombo like all tourists. A 15 seater, very comfortable mini bus with driver, attendant and an English speaking guide (very resourceful and dynamic Mr Lal), collected us at the airport and stayed with us till we returned to India on 19 Feb.

On 10th Feb we stayed overnight in the excellent Carolina Beach Resort at Chilaw, one hour drive north of Colombo, and drank JWBL on the beach to reminisce our military career, with our wives yodelling like sopranos, because we were behaving like teens !!

Next morning on 11 Feb, the mini bus took us North to Jaffna, a long 7 hrs drive (with lunch stop at Anuradhapura), on the excellent Chinese built double lane Route 28, through Vavunia, Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass to Jaffna, all Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eleam (LTTE)’s strongholds of the past, every inch reminding us of old times in a formidable war that we too fought with LTTE with all out might, and did not win.




The photo alongside is that of a water tank used by LTTE in their stronghold at Kilinochchi, as a strategic observation post and sand bagged machine gun nest at its top. It was toppled by SL army commandos using plastic explosives placed at the base in their last round battle, LTTE vs SL Army after IPKF was kicked out unceremoniously by newly elected SL President Premadasa. 

Next door, besides the highway, is another strange war memorial, a larger than life armour piercing artillery shell embedded in a concrete block. They are symbolic and remain as sentinel of the violence of the bitter, long and hard fought war between LTTE and SL army after IPKF left.



In Jaffna, we stayed three nights at the reasonable ‘Tilco’ hotel situated next to the fort and lagoon within sight of the twinkling lights on the modern Allaippidi and Karaitivu causeways built by the Chinese. Seeing the string of lights across the lagoon, I was reminded of Atanu Guru of 125 Sqn, in a Mi-25 on 27 Oct 87, interdicting five LTTE heavy transports carrying massive quantities of ammunition and explosives on old Karaitivu causeway, creating explosions that killed more than 150 LTTE and could be heard 30 km away.

On 12th at sunrise, we went for a walk like good old soldiers around Jaffna fort and incredibly bumped into a most friendly, well informed cheerful and energetic Lankan on a cycle, the SL Income Tax Commissioner of Jaffna!!  


For next one and half hours, on our persistent urging over 'decoction' coffee in a Tamil tea shop, blaring Tamil devotional songs, he gave us the current socio-economic-polico-demographic brief of Jaffna and SL, and efforts to change the demography, encourage farming and fishing, creation of import substitutions. We couldn’t have asked for a more educated insightful briefing on the past, present and future of SL, especially because Rajapaksa (ex-President) had given a drubbing to Sirisena and Wickremesinghe (current President & PM of SL) in the election on previous day, in which the 21% SL Tamil population, still denied citizenship, had abstained from voting.

We started our adventure from the Jaffna fort (built by the Portuguese in 1618) , where Jose was the BM and Mohan the DAAG & DQ of 41 Brigade under Bde Cdr Manjit Singh during 1987-89. Other than the moat and 25 feet thick indestructible outer walls of the fort made of coral and lime, everything inside has been reduced to rubble by repeated shelling and aerial bombing by SL forces after IPKF left.


 Jose took us around and explained how it used to be in 1987, buzzing with hyperactivity as his headquarters, and even managed to locate the old operations room amongst the rubble!! Jaffna fort is now open to public, a well maintained archaeological edifice, with no sign of the terrible war that was fought by SL armed forces to dislodge LTTE from within its strategic confines after IPKF left.





Our next stop was the burnt out ‘Jaffna Library’, the saddest edifice and sentinel of the civil war. This charred and burnt out complex once housed some of the most ancient written history, art, culture, philosophy, theosophy, perceptions of intellectuals of the entire south Asian region.  Now lost for ever during the military jostling between LTTE and SL army for control of Jaffna. 


Afterwards we went looking for the Jaffna University stadium, where the biggest tragedy of Indian special heli-borne clandestine operations in war had taken place.

On the night of 11/12th Oct 87, 120 troop of 10 Para Commando (Special Forces) and 360 from 13 Sikh Li Delta Company (who had just arrived by air at Palali from Gwalior), were tasked to storm Jaffna University, then a strong hold of LTTE, where all the leaders of LTTE including Prabhakaran and his deputy Mahattaya were expected to be present for a meeting. The purpose of the operation was to snatch the top leadership and incapacitate LTTE.

Like all audacious quickly made war plans, nothing went right in this one too, because the LTTE had received prior warning of the attack and were well prepared, creating complete blackout of the area surrounding the university, machine gun nests on top of all surrounding buildings and well sited, well-armed, reception parties around the stadium.

  The Jaffna University operation was launched at 0100 hrs on 12th Oct 87, with half-moon condition, but low clouds that drifted in obscuring the moon.  For one reason or the other, mainly severe battle damage to the four Mi-8s, instead of 120 Commandos from 10 Para and 360 troopers from 13 Sikh Li (total 480), the heli-lift managed to insert only a total of about 148-150 men. Many of them from Sikh Li were butchered by LTTE. There was a huge extrication exercise using tanks and BMPs which followed the un-mined railway line. 10 Para (SF), adept at such clandestine warfare on man-pack basis, went to ground and managed to survive with fewer causalities. Only one or two out of the 60 odd simpler Sikh Li infantry troopers lived to tell his tale. The mission was an ill-conceived disaster by all counts.

After the prolonged battles between the LTTE and SL army after IPKF left, there is now very little left of the old Jaffna University. It is all destroyed and new complex is being rebuilt in fits and starts with foreign aid. The stadium looked the same. An informal cricket match amongst boys was in progress. Life goes on despite cataclysmic predations of man, in his quest for a home land.


We then drove to Palali airfield to checkout; after all, that is where the IPKF story began in 1987. Palali then was simply an 1800 mtrs runway with rudiments of a habitat. It is now a full-fledged highly developed fortified cantonment with an impressive barricaded gate, most modern buildings and manicured lawns. Strangely we didn’t see any Air Force, or airplanes in Palali. It is now the headquarters of the SL Army, Northern Command, with three Divisions of Special Operations Commandos, and the naval base SLNS Uttara at Kankasanturai next door.


Within 20 minutes, we were invited to the officer’s mess for high tea, and even a wooden elephant as a parting memento by the General commanding the Northern Command. 


An escort was provided for us to pay our respect at the impressive memorial for the martyrs of 10 Para (SF), built by 10 Para ten years later using their regimental funds, but immaculately maintained by SL army within Palali airbase complex. Strangely intriguing, we also found six unmarked graves of Indian soldiers adjacent to the 10 Para memorial. Perhaps these were graves made by Indian Army during Op Pawan, without names or head stones. The SL General told us that they were not graves of SL personnel and were made by IPKF. We paid obedience at the memorial as well as the unknown graves. 






We also went to take a look at Jaffna hospital, which had seen some fierce fighting between LTTE and Indian Army in 1987, that unfortunately earned us much negative publicity from 'human rights activists’ world-wide. The hospital too has a new look, the depredations of war has been effaced physically, but remains as scars in the minds of the Tamil populace of Jaffna.



The only thing standing untouched in Jaffna by the civil war in Northern SL, is the famous Nallur Kandaswami Temple for the Tamil deity Murugan. We visited the temple, with all sincerity, to pay our humble obeisance, to the Lord and to pray for our dead brothers, adhering to the local customs and traditions.   


 On 13 Feb, early morning, we set out to visit Point Pedro, Valvedditturai and Kankasanturai, the northernmost parts of SL, where the naval wing of LTTE had  once held fort and which IPKF had to wrestle from them, effectively using tanks, APCs, artillery, Mi-25s and the armed ‘Ranjit’ helicopters of 31 Air OP.  Once IPKF left,  LTTE once again occupied these positions and were their main supply bases for war material and other logistics smuggled from abroad.  The SL army had to do a repeat, a series of prolonged bloody battles to drive the LTTE out. 

At Point Pedro, which once was a busy fishing port, there was nothing left standing except a pole installed by LTTE on which there were markers pointing the direction and distance of every littoral nation in the Indian ocean, all except India just 50 km away, in the direction that I am pointing at in the photo !!! 


At Kankasanturai, there was a war memorial proclaiming ‘Unity in diversity, is the strength of SL’, at the site where Tamil ‘Sea Tigers’ were finally decimated by SL army around 2008, much after IPKF was withdrawn. The beaches were empty of all activity, except a few soldiers dismantling a ‘large pandal’, lights, PA system, and stacking plastic chairs used for some VIP visit during the political electioneering few days earlier.



We then travelled East, to the infamous ‘Elephant Pass’, a narrow flat flood plain, a choke point surrounded by the vast Jaffna lagoon, connecting the road and railway line between Jaffna peninsula and rest of SL, which had repeatedly seen some of the bloodiest battles between LTTE vs SL army (1st round), with IPKF (2nd round) and finally back with SL army (3rd and last round).  During the three and half decades of continuous civil war, military control of this narrow stretch of land was of utmost strategic importance for the survival of the populous Jaffna peninsula inhabited by Tamils.

In a fierce push between LTTE and  SL army on 13 Jul 91, LTTE  used four ingeniously modified bulldozers, with one inch armour plating, fitted with heavy machine guns and filled with explosives to overrun the SL army garrison and road blocks. The last of these monstrous contraptions reached Jaffna garrison around the railway station. Had it been detonated, it may have wiped out half the SL army. There arose an extraordinary 26 years old soldier of SL army, Cpl Gamini Kularatna, from 6th Bn of Sinha Rgt, who managed to climb up the monstrous contraption from the back and lob a grenade, killing all the four man LTTE crew inside, as well as Gamini.  In recognition of his extraordinary bravery, and supreme sacrifice, Gamini was awarded ‘Param Weera Vibhushana’ (posthumous) like Indian Param Vir Chakra, the highest military award.  A memorial next to Jaffna railway station stands testimony.  In a hut nearby, on the press of a button, a large video screen comes alive to show live footages of the war and the action involving the monstrous armour plated bulldozer and how it was neutralised.




 Further down the road, is a massive, strange looking war memorial, encapsulating the final victory of SL army over LTTE at Elephant Pass, a bronze tear drop bubble representing SL, encased and protected within two military hands, symbolises territorial integrity of SL. a rather morbid symbol of Tamil oppression. 



We then went further east to Mullaittivu, where Special Forces of the SL army cornered and decimated LTTE. In the middle of a pond, with white lotus and strange water lilies, stood a huge grotesque memorial that leaves an ever lasting impression on all. The memorial emboldens all, with a huge bronze stature of a SL soldier with an AK-57 in one hand and the SL flag in the other, promising that ethnic strife and civil war will not ever happen in SL, as long as SL Army is in charge. The army plays a significant role in SL politics now.


 There were no sign of policemen in Northern SL, just the army. Silent, unarmed, but watchful, at every memorial, every street corner, even on the highways. The discipline amongst the Tamil populace in Northern SL is visibly discernable. No honking of horns, very orderly traffic that stops automatically if there are pedestrians crossing, no jay walking, no cattle on the roads, no argumentative people now. We saw a silent Tamil funeral procession, on the sidewalk and not in the middle of the road. Once in a while, they let off fire crackers, perhaps to help liberate the soul and accelerate its progress to eternity. Perhaps the fire crackers were to simulate the gun fire of three decades of civil war, to imply martyrdom in war. It was symbolic of a demoralised society, reeling from the aftermath of prolonged civil war, which failed to improve their stateless destitution.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the revolutionary LTTE, his wife and three children, were hunted down and killed on 18 May 2009, at or around Nandikadal lagoon, near Vellamullivaikkal in Puthumatalan (near Mullaittivu), by a select group led by Sgt Wijesinghe from Commando (Special Forces) unit 4VIR, then under the command of Lt Col Aluvihare. That ended the civil war in SL. There was nothing on ground to indicate the end of that terrible saga. 

However, we got to meet ‘Anbu’ and his wife ‘Laxmi’, two LTTE cadre who surrendered to SLA, few of the survivors of that war. LTTE were so motivated for Eelam that they fought till the last man was killed.  Anbu was an exception. He was a weapon instructor and expert in making improvised explosives. His wife was from the infamous suicide bomb squad when they met and fell in love. Fearing retribution from LTTE supremo, they ran away and lived under the protection of SL army till the end of the war. 

Anbu and his wife now eke a living  fishing, living in part of a building, a Tamil resettlement project by Govt of  SL. He offered us a glass of ‘Toddy’, a peace offering, which we gladly accepted. Like all soldiers, we had no personal quarrel with Anbu, his wife or toddler who were enemies of IPKF and had killed or maimed Indian soldiers.




A surprising find, mainly because of our resourceful guide Pal, was a secluded spot off the highway, covered from all sides by impregnable thickly grown palm forest, about a km from the beachfront at Mullaittivu. It was the deserted naval R&D centre of LTTE where an incredible array of ingenious engineering of military hardware was crudely exhibited. 









To begin with, was a dry dock / water tank which could be flooded through a sluice leading to backwaters of the Nanthi Kadal lagoon. A huge wave generator (inclined circular plates on a huge shaft)  was lying aside. This tank was used to test the stability and control of extremely agile, highly hydrodynamic low silhouette fibre glass high speed motor torpedo boats and midget submarines (photos above). Also on display were torpedo tubes, rocket launcher on articulated hinge, powerful marine engines, rockets, bombs, aircraft engines and props etc indicators of LTTE’s incredible indigenous engineering ability to do research and development to produce their own home grown weapon systems and continue the war indefinitely.

 On 14th, we relocated to Rajarata Hotel in Anuradhapura. We stopped at Vanunia air base, Since the base commander was not available, we could not gain entry into the airfield complex to relive incredible memories of our experiences during IPKF days when Vavunia was a most active base for air and ground operations.


During the closing phase of IPKF in SL, when a newly elected President Premadasa found it expedient to make truce with LTTE, and to provide it arms to fight IPKF, then Lt Col Ramkumar, a missile man, was suddenly mobilised from India to go and set up a training camp in Paranthan to arm and train Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a similar bunch as LTTE, to fight LTTE when IPKF withdrew.  Ram does not know whose idea it was. Ram armed and trained 3 batches, with 250-275 EROS cadre in each batch, at a large hastily put together camp at Paranthan, constantly sniped at and harassed by LTTE. He lost his 2nd in command and many trainees in fire fights with LTTE, but did what he was asked to do, till he withdrew from SL with IPKF in 1990. We went looking for his training camp in Paranthan, a few km east of the highway. All makeshift buildings were destroyed in war and the jungles had obliterated all traces of his large old training camp. Ram believes that many EROS trainees of his, who were not killed by LTTE, joined up with them after he left, to fight the SL Army!



Puliyankulam, north of Vavunia astride the road and railway line, was a strategic defensive point, a line of control between North and South; controlled by LTTE, IPKF and SL army, turn by turn. Baljit as a Lt Col was in command of 12 Jat of Indian Army at Puliyankulam in 89-90. He was under constant attack by LTTE, since his job was to keep the strategic south to north road / rail lines open. Ambushes of road opening parties by LTTE had claimed many lives of his men, including his favourite subordinate, Maj Michael Lewis.

Baljit couldn’t rest content till we went to   Puliyankulam. Like a man possessed, he got off the bus and ran into the jungles, in what once used to be his camp, surrounded by barbed wire and anti-personnel mines. We followed him. Baljit took us unerringly through shrub and jungles, old barbed wire fencings, barking dogs, mine field, to a spot where he had buried Michael and cremated large number of his men. I could feel their presence, lined up in a squad with Michael leading. And when Baljit saluted them, I could hear the silent whispers of the dead Jats, ‘CO Sahib did not abandon us, he has come to bid us farewell’. It was indeed the most emotional and poignant moment of our life as old soldiers, raison d’etre of our visit.



Afterwards we went to central Colombo, to visit the well maintained IPKF war memorial alongside a similar memorial for Lankans, to lay wreaths for 1500 odd old colleagues from Army & Navy in whose memory this monument was built by GoI, and pay for its upkeep. Despite the herculean air support for IPKF, the IAF fortunately had no causalities in SL (perhaps it was because LTTE had not yet acquired shoulder fired missiles). Many of the helicopters were shot at, suffered mechanical damages and forced landings, but all air crew survived)
.


 We then travelled, like all tourists  southwards,  to Hikkaduwa, to the Lavanga resort near Galle, to imbibe a bit of the sun, sand and limitless eternity of the Indian Ocean, to forget war and be like all ordinary senior citizens seeking global peace and prosperity for mankind.  Perhaps the trip helped exorcise the ghosts of comrades and enemy from our minds. In the end, we were, and still are, pawns of political ambitions of individuals everywhere. Ours is not to reason why, but to do and die.

To our slain comrades in SL, we raised a toast, ‘Cheers, we may not come back, but will meet you soon in Valhalla’.

CYCLIC