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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Regimental Reunion

It is about a Regimental Reunion or a Paltan reunion and I shall restrict myself to my thoughts rather than people and events.

I had left the unit in Mar 1997, and it was after a long gap of 16 years, that I found myself back with the family.

Unlike a School  or College, there are no buildings or landscape to identify the Paltan with. It is just an idea that gives people a sense of belonging. Of course, it was easier to mingle among familiar faces, but one could feel the deep sense of familiarity even  with members of the family who were not yet born, at the time I left the unit. The turn out was so good, that, we were counting the people who couldn't make it , rather than the number who made it.

Just as you get a better perspective of ground from a vantage point, seeing the course of events from a distance of long years adds to the clarity. You look back on your own journey in life which is inexplicably linked with the Paltan's journey through the highs and lows. People make the paltan and paltan makes the people. A Reunion affirms that it is indeed a worthwhile journey. 

There was a lot of  “do you remember when…..”  The Freudian filter was definitely on, leaving only such memory that was good for the system, leaving out the unpleasant and harmful pieces.

While in service, a senior is always a senior and a junior is a 'bloody junior'. The kind of advice , guidance and  words of wisdom freely dished out to the captive audience, “bloody juniors” is also off the memory map.

Reunion is the place where the 'then juniors' remind you of these words.  “Oh yeah, did I really say that ?" Well it certainly feels good to have said that.

There are others who get to receive a realistic feedback after long long years , on some debatable  actions taken at the spur of the moment, in organizational interest or just as the result of an  emotional outburst. One officer got to hear from an NCO, some kind words on how much he was impressed by the riot control action of the young adjutant. The act involved beating up own jawans with a tent pole to break up the warring factions after a “not so friendly' football match with another unit.

Yes, we did talk about the bad times, when things didn't go well for the paltan. A battalion is like a human being , complete with memory, mood swings, and ups and downs in performance and  potential. Perhaps, that is why  'Morale' , is an important  principle of War. The morale presently is definitely sky-high.

At home I am outnumbered 1:3 as the only one who is not an army brat. I keep wondering why army brats love to return to the services fold even after spending considerable time in the corporate world or even a stint abroad. May be there is something the kids raised in  cantonments pick up even as a children.

From reception to seeing off there was an overwhelming sense of being wanted (but not dead or alive :)). As my train pulled away from the Station , the foremost thought in my mind was " Oh God !, what have I done to receive such warmth, love and affection ?"

(Photos: Courtesy Rohit Chandra)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Fauji and his Rank

In a strictly hierarchical  system, comfort is, knowing where exactly one fits in. A man in uniform is quite uncomfortable in a flattish organisation, where people don't give or take orders unquestioningly. That is why, when the stars and stripes on the shoulders look similar, people discretely look for the service number or date of commission to ascertain the correct pecking order.(chapati seniority as they say in army) . Literally you can't even move a step forward , as you wouldn't know whether to walk to the left or right of a person if you don't know the inter se seniority.! A senior always walks to the right of his junior. (may be that is why a south indian bride stands on the right, while in the West, the  bride stands on the left !)

As a sixteen year old, when I entered my squadron in the NDA (National Defence Academy) I got a welcome bark from a senior, “what's your name ?” “muralidharan", I replied. “what muralidharan ? Bloody Bhangi muralidharan ? Get rolling. So I got rolling, and kept rolling till another boy, who had joined a day earlier was called up to demonstrate the correct response “Cadet Rakesh Marwaha , Sir”. Oh , so I see . That is how it started and till today, I have always had a tag of cadet, GC (gentleman cadet) capt, major, whatever. Finally it will be col (retd), as for a military man 'stars and stripes are forever . No one is so attached to his rank as an army man.

Back home, there are people who generally refer to me by the rank I held when I first met them. I remember being asked as to how I got this 'pattam' (pattam in Tamil roughly means a title) . It is understandable as , for many tamilians, the only major is major sunderrajan and the only capt is capt vijaykanth; both actors got their titles playing the roles of army men on screen / stage.

Once a hostess from non army background, in a party,  repeatedly called a major general as major. She had to be taken aside by the husband to explain the huge difference between a major and a general. She quickly apologized, but had the presence of mind to coo “ Oh.. General, but you look soooo.. young”

That reminds me of a briefing at the academy for an important tactical exercise. Commandant, who was a Major General, addressed the cadets, stressing on the importance of training and tactical exercises. Once he left, a tall, big mustached Major stepped up and bellowed “ok... now that the General has given the general points, note down the bloody MAJOR points if you want to save your ****”

Having settled in a retired officers colony, I hardly hear anyone being referred to, without the rank tag; and sometimes it comes in handy to differentiate, as between Gen Jetley and Col Jetley. I personally feel , the earlier one can shrug off this tag better it is, at least after retirement. In uniform , one is used to getting saluted, not ignored or challenged . In the civvies street even a lowly security guard may behave rudely, unless of course you are Amitabh Bachan or Sachin Tendulkar. As a civilian one is in a better position to handle it than as a  retired “General Officer”. After all we are all civilians except for the brief period of 20-30 years when in uniform.