All the readers received the series of posts on one’s ‘raison détre‘ very well and I got comments from most of the readers – fortunately, all were very appreciative of the issue and how it was tackled. This week I was to write about the concept of ‘Ikigai’ as that is closely related to raison détre, but decided to write a light-hearted post instead.
What follows is a real account of my reception in the Unit as a Young Officer – way back in 1989. All defence officers will instantly relate to the anecdote as the initial reception of a YO is an affair which is well planned and is part of the beautiful camaraderie that is the hallmark of the defence forces. Enjoy the account as it happened with me.
The evening of 06 January 1989, at Narian (J&K) was cold. Darkness had set in by the time the convoy from Jammu reached Narian. I stepped down from the officers’ bus, reassured myself by feeling for my Identity-Card (I-Card), “only an armed assault can take it away from me” I told myself. All the ‘fauji background’ Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) had already briefed us that fake I-Card snatching was an expected thing in the Unit, as part of the reception drills. I looked around for the grand reception party & promptly spotted a 2nd Lieutenant (a commodity now extinct in the army – a GC passes out directly as a Lieutenant, referred henceforth in the article as Lt) and two jawans walking towards me. “Good Evening, I am Lt Sudhanshu Ranjan Mishra, 116 Heavy Mortar Regiment”, the dashing young officer introduced himself. Before I could reply, I heard two loud ‘Jai Hind Sahib’. “Operator Thoru Ram Sahib”, “DMT (Driver Mechanical Transport) Vajru Vallu Sahib” followed their introduction. I smartly returned their salutes, after all, a Young Officer (YO) is observed very keenly by the troops of the Unit in the initial stages – I knew it all and hoped I made a good first impression.
We proceeded towards the jeep (good old Willies), “I have some other commitment, you carry on, I will follow” Lt Mishra told me, “Be careful, a lot of terrorist activities have started in this area, do carry this”, and a carbine was thrust in my face.
“So, soldiering from the word go,” I told myself “not bad at all”. In fact, I launched into a two-minute discourse on the happenings in J&K; after all, my Senior Subaltern also needed to be impressed by my general knowledge. Vajru Vallu started the vehicle, and Thoru Ram hopped in the rear and off we went. “Which place are you from Vajru Vallu”, I asked the driver, ‘get to know the men you command’, IMA had taught us all, so ‘let’s make a beginning’.
Strangely, Vajru Vallu suddenly sped the vehicle, “Sahib yeh dangerous area hai, do din pahle firing hui thi” (this is a dangerous area sir, where firing had taken place just two days ago), he told me. I readied my carbine in my lap, expecting some action. However, the vehicle spluttered, jerked & came to a standstill.
“Kya hua?” I asked. “Current gum ho gaya sahib” (no electric current) came the reply. “OK, fix it,” I said and got down from the vehicle, holding the weapon. Both the Jawans opened the bonnet of the jeep & put their heads in while I looked around suspiciously.
“Start nahi hogi self se sahib, dhakka lagana padega,” (self-start not successful, we will have to push-start). I put the carbine on the co-driver’s seat and started pushing the vehicle along with Thoru Ram, with Vajru Vallu at the wheel. It took some time before the vehicle started. Vajru Vallu stopped the jeep about 50 meters ahead and shouted, “Jaldi baitho Sahib, andhera ho raha hai, is area se jaldi nikalna hai” (let’s get out of this dangerous area quickly). We hurriedly sat in the vehicle & sped off, but I realised immediately that my weapon was missing.
“Mera hathiyar kahan hai, Vajru Vallu?” (where is my weapon) I asked the driver. “Apke pass hoga, Sahib” (you must have it), “Mere pass to nahi hai!” (I don’t have it). “Sahib lagta hai terrorist ne pick up kar liya, pahle bhi ek hathiyar utha chuke hai” (sir, I think the terrorists have picked up the weapon, such incidents have happened in the past too). I was in a panic and searched the entire vehicle, but the weapon was nowhere to be seen. “Sahib jaldi chalo, Adjutant Sahib ko turant report karna padega!” (Let’s hurry up sir, we must inform the Adjutant at the earliest.) My mind went numb. Fake I-card theft was briefed to us at IMA, but losing a weapon? Well, it seemed unreal.
The jeep screeched to a halt in front of the Adjutant’s office. The atmosphere was sombre, if not eerie, with few petromaxes and lanterns illuminating the offices from inside and the rest of the buildings in darkness (in early 1989, most of that part of J&K had no electric supply. The units had generators which used to be switched on for a couple of hours in the early morning and at night). “Sahib chalo Adjutant Sahib ke pas” (sir let’s go to the Adjutant), I was roughly reminded by Thoru Ram.
The Adjutant’s face was lit by a petromax lamp. As he looked up, his stern face seemed positively scary to me in my confused mindset. “Hello, I am Captain Tiwari, welcome to Double One Six” he introduced himself. “Sir, I have lost my carbine”, I blurted out as introduction.
“What? That’s a catastrophe, let me speak to the Commanding Officer (CO)”, the Adjutant appeared in a bigger panic than I was. “Sir, yes, the youngster has reported, but he has lost his carbine, in the Quarter Guard sir, arrested, OK sir”. Captain Tiwari put the phone down and looked at me with pity, “well, we had planned a Dining-In party for you tonight, but now you have to be put under arrest in the unit Quarter Guard till your Court Martial is over. Losing your weapon is the gravest offence”.
‘This can’t be happening to me’, I thought in disbelief, ‘instead of being received in a graceful and respectful manner in the unit, I had to suffer the ignominy of being arrested.’
Events after that became a blur. I remember being put in the prisoner’s cell of the Quarter Guard, after changing to a dangari from my formal uniform, and someone or the other flashing a torch on my face through the iron grills every hour and whispering, “Pakistani spy lagta hai” (he appears to be a Pakistani agent). In the morning, I was informed that my medical check-up was to be done before the Court Martial, which in turn needed the conduct of the Battlefield Proficiency Tests (BPET), to check my physical fitness. The BPET and medical examination were, of course, the least of my problems as compared to the impending Court Martial.
After BPET, I was taken to the Medical Inspection (MI) room where a young, charming and sympathetic looking lady doctor was awaiting me. “What happened?” she asked me. I poured my heart out to her, while she tried to take a blood sample from my fingers, which were numb due to the cold and fear. I felt that she was in as much distress as I was. But she finally managed to extract a drop of blood after pressing with the needle a hundred times. “All the best for your Court Martial, you are medically fit”, she informed me, dashing any hope of my getting away from the Court Martial on medical grounds.
The makeshift ‘Court Martial Room’, including the Court Martial officer Colonel NC Nath looked sombre and ready to crucify me. The proceedings went fast including my feeble attempts at cross-examination of the witnesses (there were only three – Lt Mishra, Thoru Ram and Vajru Vallu.) Before long, the verdict “Dismissed from service and six months imprisonment in civil jail” was given out. I was literally in tears, I couldn’t even contact my parents to give them this shocking news – mobile phones were still many years away, and there was no civil telephone connectivity in the Unit or nearby. Soon, my luggage was loaded on the vehicle, and the Adjutant gave me a tearful send-off to ‘Jammu Central Jail”.
The journey from Narian to Naushera Traffic Check Post (TCP, around a thirty-minute drive), en route to Jammu, was like a nightmare. My mind was a whirlpool of emotions. The vehicle was stopped by a Corps of Military Police (CMP) person at the TCP. “Saab, aapse kuch log milne ke liye baithe hai, ek letter bhi diya hai” (sir, some people are waiting to meet you, they have also given this letter for you). That letter was probably the best piece of literature I had ever read, for, it talked of the grant of pardon of my sentence by the President of India, my release from Jammu Central Jail and reinstatement in service. Thrilled, I walked to the parked vehicle, in which I could see two officers.
At close range, they looked strangely familiar, “Vajru Vallu, Thoru Ram?” I exclaimed. Both the officers gave a hearty laugh, “Call us Capt Shankaran and Capt Ajay Pal, and here is your Dining-In invitation card for tonight”. I was speechless and happy. Off we went to the Unit, “We have also invited that lady doctor to the party, and she appeared quite taken by you, lucky boy”, Capt Ajay Pal nudged me. My heart skipped a beat; indeed, my pathetically bewildered looks must have had their charm on the good doctor. Suddenly I was reminded of all the vintage Bollywood movies with blooming romance in the valley of Kashmir.
During the Dining-In, I met Colonel (actually Major) Nath, the presiding officer and the ‘actual’ CO, Col RS Bhutani, who had a good laugh at my expense. Soon, the lady doctor was introduced to me as Neena, and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me. As the drinks flowed, I also relaxed and started sharing intimate details of my ordeal of last two days with the lady doctor who sympathised with platitudes like “Poor thing, very inhuman to treat a youngster like this” etc. till she was interrupted by a Mess staff, who was holding a small child, “Mem Sahab, Anni bahut ro raha hai” (madam, Anni is crying a lot). The lady doctor took the child in her lap who seemed eminently comfortable there. I was foxed, “Meet my son Anni, and I am Mrs Ajay Pal”, she smilingly told me.
My embarrassment knew no bounds. It was double jeopardy, for which I had to drown drinks very quickly. In any case, we had eleven officers in the mess that day, and as per our regimental traditions, all had to offer me a drink. This was followed by a punch (cocktail) in the Silver Bowl, in which all the officers poured a drink of their choice. The YO being dined in had to gulp that punch straight from the bowl in one shot (bottoms-up). The ceremony had its expected effect – I blacked out, while still drinking from the bowl. Before passing out, I remembered the Adjutant telling me, “Your initial interview with the CO is scheduled at 9 am tomorrow, don’t be late.”
I woke up with a throbbing headache with my mouth feeling like sandpaper and looked at the watch – it was 9 am. I panicked but got ready as soon as I could, “Surely the CO will not appreciate me being late for his initial interview”, I muttered to myself. Still, by the time I got ready and left for the CO’s office, it was 9:30 am. It was a bright and sunny day, and the CO had his makeshift office out in the sun. I smartly marched up to the CO and saluted. “Please settle down son”, the CO pointed to the visitor’s chair.
I had to set the record straight, for being late for the CO’s interview and hence apologised, “Sir, I am sorry for being thirty minutes late for your interview”. “You are slightly wrong with your figures son, you are one day and thirty minutes late for the interview”, the CO gently corrected me. I had managed to sleep through the night of the Dining-In, the next day and night, and reached twenty-four hours and thirty minutes late for the CO’s interview. Well begun was indeed the half-done.
You must be wondering about the story of the missing carbine? Well, this is what happened. A particular spot was fixed en route from the transit camp to the Unit, where the vehicle was to be made to splutter and stop. I was to be requested to help with pushing the jeep since only Thoru Ram would not be able to do that. For this, I would have to leave the weapon in the jeep, which would be removed and placed on the road by Vajru Vallu. The weapon was picked up by Lt Mishra travelling in another vehicle, surreptitiously following us.
Now an update with the cast of characters, in the order in which they appeared in my story: Lt SR Mishra retired in 2008 as a Lt Col; Captain Ajay Pal is a serving Major General; Major S Sankaran, a brilliant professional, was martyred in a helicopter crash while flying for the Army Aviation; Vajru Vallu and Thoru Ram (the real ones) are long retired with Thoru Ram retiring as an Honorary Captain; Captain Tiwari retired as a Major General; Major NC Nath took premature retirement and is a respected attorney; the CO, Col RS Bhutani retired as a Brigadier, the lady doctor, Neena (Mrs Ajay Pal), as charming as ever, still pulls my leg whenever we meet. Anni is a strapping young man, happily married and doing well in his career.
Me – well, I have learnt all the lessons from the story of my reception, and am now very careful about my belongings and charming lady doctors.
Read more from Anand here: