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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.


Anonymous said...

Nice reading "col" sir...enjoyed every bit of it.


Rajeshwari Kumar said...

Dont you think you should be proud to be called as a colonel.colonel. Thats a great identity specially when you are in a civil world.

Murali Iyer said...

@rajeshwari kumar It is good to have been that and done that but there is always a time to move on.

Murali Iyer said...

prabhu, I am glad you like it ..thanks

Tajinder Singh Hothi said...

Well written article sir. Regards

Manu Singh said...

Excellent write up

Jimmy Thomas said...

Murli, the longer you are in service, the harder it is to adapt to civilian life. In that respect the Generals have it the worst.

Murali Iyer said...

Jimmy, It's true, though I have seen some officers who have been longer in service accepting the civilian life more gracefully. But mostly the generals find it difficult to live in a non-hierarchical set up.