by H Bhuban Singh
I passed my Matriculation (now HSLC) examination in June 1947 and joined Presidency College, Calcutta (now Kolkata). College Street where the University of Calcutta and also Presidency College were located, was drenched with blood, tears and agony, on account of “Direct Action” (killing of Hindus) called by Md. Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan known as Quaid-I-Azam, though Bengal riots were executed by H S Shurawardy, the then Chief Minister of undivided Bengal Presidency.
Major General Lakhinder Singh was General Officer Commanding Bengal, Bihar and Orissa Area, housed inside Fort Williams, Calcutta. Brigadier L P (Bogey) Sen was Commander of 181 Independent Brigade at Shillong. Gen. Lakhinder Singh was a good player of hockey and I saw Army team playing hockey with civilian teams at CFC (Calcutta Football Club) ground, which was maintained by British Army officers of Fort Williams and had almost the same quality like the modern astro-turf ones.
General Lakhinder Singh’s Army team had Major Dhyan Chand, the hockey wizard of 1936 Berlin World Olympics and the civilian team had K D Singh (Kanwar Digvijay Singh Babu) of Lucknow, Leslie Claudius, Dubey, G Singh Nandy, Leslie Pinto etc.
Presidency College hockey team took part in Beighton Cup tournament and had four Manipuri players, namely the Late Ng. Mohendra Singh ex-MP, Shri N Binoy Singh, the muscleman and ever-green senior citizen of Imphal, Shri Irungbam Gopal Singh (ex-Brahmapur, now settled in Lamsang Bazar) and myself. We normally got beaten by around half a dozen goals, when we faced renowned teams.
During the Second World War, Imphal was encircled by Lt. General Yanagida’s 33rd Japanese Division after crossing Chindwin River on night of 6/7 March 1944 and went straight for Kohima and Dimapur to cut-off Imphal Garrison. A very fierce Battle of Kohima was fought on the spur of Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Charles Pawsay (later Knighted) for the control of Tennis Court of DC on National Highway 39. Very many soldiers died at the Battle of Tennis Court that the Commonwealth War Graves Committee erected an epitaph which became world famous for the wordings, which say:-
When you go home
Tell them of us
That for your tomorrow
We gave our to-day
The Japanese fought valiantly, very valiantly indeed, but had to withdraw due to lack of logistic support.
From the south, 15th Japanese Division, commanded by Lt. Gen. Yamauchi also crossed the Chindwin (Ningthee turrel) river to Meities, on the same night of 6/7 March 1944, and attacked Kumbi, Moirang and came up to Bishenpur, where a very severe battle was fought. This Division had several fighting units of Indian National Army and Lt. Col. Saukat Ali Mallik of INA hoisted the Indian tri-colour flag on Indian soil at Moirang in the Imphal Valley at 6 pm of 14 April 1944. There is an INA War Memorial at Moirang.
During the seize of Imphal, my eldest and only brother Captain Baruni Singh was to join his unit. He got an RIAF flight-permit from the Admin Comdt of Imphal valley and I went to see him off. At the Tulihal Airfield, I saw Squadron Leader Arjan Singh from a distance. Now, Arjan Singh is Marshal of the Indian Air Force with five-star ranking. I presume, he is still alive because the death of such a renowned person will be broadcasted in the TV and also published in all daily newspapers – national as well as local. I met Air Chief Marshal (four star ranking then) Arjan Singh, when came to Imphal to bid-farewell to his beloved Imphalites.
I also saw Captain Ayub Khan at Chingmeirong, Imphal. Ayub Khan ultimately became Chief of Pakistan Army also Dictator of Pakistan. He was killed in a pre-arranged air-crash plotted by his detractors. Mr. T A Sharp ICS who was President, Manipur State Durbar of 1939 Nupilal fame got killed by the Japanese Army while he was travelling on foot from Imphal to Silchar via Bishenpur-Silchar road, known as Tongjei Maril, when the Japanese occupied the hills and encircled Imphal Valley.
HQ 114 CRE (Commander Royal Engineers) had Major Harkirat Singh, as a Garrison Engineer. Major Harkirat Singh used to bully his junior British / Anglo-Indian Asst. G E (Capt) with filthy languages.
After doing my engineering degree in May 1953 from Birla Engineering College, Pilani (now BITS – Birla Institute of Technology and Science – enjoying the status of an academic university), I joined IMA (Indian Military Academy), Dehradun in June 1953. The Commandant of the Academy was Major General Habibullah, who normally functioned from Clementown near Dehradun where the Joint Services Wing was located.
Therefore, IMA was looked after by Brigadier Naranjan Prasad, the Deputy Commandant. When JSW became NDA (National Defence Academy) and got shifted to Khadakvasla, General Habibullah went to be the first Commandant of NDA.
While we were in IMA, our drill instructor was RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) Lynch of the Scottish Guards, who was a six-footer hunk of a bully. From a distance of fifty metres, RSM Lynch would shout “You fifth GC (Gentleman Cadet) in the rear row on my left, don’t you bloody well roll you checks with your tongue to drive out flies.” Whether a fly was troubling the fifth cadet in the rear row or not, we did not know, but RSM Lynch impressed us.
After the piping ceremony of one solitary, five-pointed star each, on the shoulder flaps of our shirts, RSM Lynch congratulated each one of us, saying “Congratulations, Sir” and smiled happily. Instantaneously, our anger on RSM Lynch evaporated and we also smiled, till our lips almost touched our ears.
Commissioned on 7th June 1954, we YOs (Young Officers) were granted leave for seven days to meet our parents, brothers, sisters and other relatives. Since air-connectivity between Dehradun and Imphal was almost non-existent during those days of Dakota-passenger service, I decided to go to Kumaon hills with my friend Nirmal Kumar Punetha who joined EME (Electrical & Mechanical Engineers), just to have a ‘dekho’ of Jim Corbett’s “man-eaters of Kumaon hills”. We did plenty of ‘shikars’.
‘Chutthi’ over, I reported to Bombay Engineers Group and Centre. The previous Commandant Colonel P S Bhagat, VC (Victoria Cross) of North Africa campaign, had just left and Colonel Manmohan Singh had taken over. Captains Rajaram, Kasturi Raj etc. were our seniors and they used to oppress us for any act of our misdemeanour. Now, after almost seven decades, I do not know whether the huge cloth-screen-fan pulled by bearers during our times or by electric motors later on, had given way to modern ceiling fans.
After about one month of familiarisation training at BEG, Kirkee, we were sent to College of Military Engineering for undergoing Field Engineering Course. I suspect if CME is given a new name now, like the old Infantry School earned the sobriquet of “College of Combat Studies”. Now, I do not as yet know what CME is called and therefore I will continue to refer to CME, as CME only.
At CME, we had Royal Nepalese Army and Burmese Army subaltern doing FE Course with us. We also had a Royal Engineers Major, who taught us Field Sanitary Engineering. The RE Major, whose name I forget now, rode on a bicycle like we YOs do, to attend College, to come to Officers’ Mess and then finally to our flats / hostels.
The Commandant of CME was Brigadier Harkirat Singh (refer to para 7, please) and he had British Officer’s culture in his vein. Once every month, there would be Regimental Dinner Nights, wherein we were to wear white monkey jackets with red cummerbund during summer.
During winter, we were to wear woollen tunics and trousers, whose sims had red-pipings from waist to ankle and black ridding shoes with iron stirrups for digging into the chest-rib-bones of horses to gallop fast, because Corps of Engineers were recognised as a Mounted Regiment. BEG, Kirkee had horses and trainers who used to teach us riding. The horses were tall and big and the saddle on which we were to sit, came upto shoulder level.
While awaiting the completion of tailoring these dresses, YOs were permitted to wear olive green (OG) trousers and bush shirts. The grant of Rs.400/= as uniform allowance on commissioning was too meagre a sum and we, YOs were always in debt borrowing money from money-lenders of Main Street Bazar of Poona at exorbitant rates of interest with post dated cheques.
During Regimental Dinner nights, all of us were served with a lavish three-course-dinner. As appetiser, we would have soup and bread. Then, came the first course of fried fish, which were always a full pomfret, filling up the entire dinner plate. Bread would be replenished whenever empty. Then, we would have roasted chicken of one complete thigh and leg (for two officers) or one full chest. So, a chicken would serve the dinner plates of three officers only. Tits and bits of flesh from neck, wings etc. would be used for soup making. The third course would be fruit salad or cake with sweet cream poured lavishly on big slices of cake.
Then, the ritual of post-dinner happenings would follow. Officers’ Mess bearers would bring small wine-mugs, and the wine-mug chap would be followed by two Mess bearers, each holding a decanter. They would ask us “Port or Sherry, Sir”. Then, officers would respond, “Port, please” or “Sherry, please” as per their individual tastes.
Then, Brigadier Harkirat Singh would stand-up and announce, “Gentlemen, please rise”. We all, would stand-up. Commandant Harkirat Singh would raise his wine glass, which would be followed by everyone of us and pronounce “Gentlemen, to the health of our Rashtrapati”. We will repeat “To the health of our Rashtrapati”. We all would sip a bit of wine and the short form of “Jana Gana Mana” would be played. Then, after the end of our National song, Brigadier Harkirat Singh would sit down and all of us also would sit down. A Military Pipe Band Party, perhaps from Bombay Sappers would play light music, inside the dining hall walking gracefully.
While sipping wines, Jamaican cigars would be distributed and Brigadier Harkirat Singh with his Sikh pugree and trimmed beard would announce “Gentlemen you may please smoke” and light up his cigar. Young officers like us would also try the cigar but most of us found it obnoxious. The non-secretive and non-hiding smoker of a Sikh Brigadier Harkirat Singh became the first Indian Engineer-in-Chief at Kashmir House, New Delhi as a Major General.
During the Commandantship of CME by Brigadier Harkirat Singh, we saw Field Marshal Viscount (Bill) Slim, the retiring CIGS (Chief of Imperial General Staff) of the British Army, from close range now. Earlier, we never saw Lt. Gen. Slim, the Army Commander, because of tight security. Lt. Gen. Slim was Commander of the 14th British Indian Army, Headquartered in Arakan (now, in Myanmar) and Slim drove the invading Japanese Army out of Burma, Malay Peninsula in as much a time as the Japanese Army captured Malaya Peninsula, Singapore and Burma (now Myanmar). Bill Slim had Lt. Gen. Montagu Stopford as Commander of 33 Corps in Upper Assam, Lt. Gen. Scoones, as Commander of 4th Corps in Manipur (Imphal) and Lt. Gen. Christison, as Commander of 15th Corps in Arakan. In the Kangla Fort area of Imphal, there is still a cottage known as “Slim Cottage”, where Bill Slim used to stay whenever he came to Imphal. Some side stories concerning Field Marshal Viscount Slim may be interesting.
Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke was the CIGS (Chief of Imperial General Staff) of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Though his term had expired, he continued to be CIGS, so as to ensure continuity of war policy. After the end of the war, he was replaced by F M Viscount Mongomery who defeated German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at the Battle of Tunisia, May 1943. When Monty was to retire, Prime Minister Aneurin Bevan suggested Bill Slim’s name as successor CIGS. Sir Winston Churchill (the retired or ousted PM after defeat in elections) objected on the ground that Bill Slim commanded only British Indian Army formations and never commanded true British Army formations. Thereupon, P M Bevan suggested to Churchill that he might please convey to Bill Slim that he was being superseded for not commanding real British Army formations. Churchill responded “Why should I?.” With no one having the courage to talk to Bill Slim, he became CIGS.
(to be contd.)
Bill Slim, as Commander of 14th British Indian Army used to attend discussions of war plans with Admiral Lord Mountbatten, the Supreme Commander of Pacific and Asian Theatre of the Second World War. Always, Bill used to take his 1/3 Gorkha orderly in the military aircraft while going to Delhi. The Supreme Commander suggested innocently that Bill need not bring his Gorkha orderly, since the Supreme Commander could provide another Gorkha orderly at New Delhi. Bill Slim replied that his Gorkha orderly war part of himself, the Army Commander, because while packing his luggage, his Gorkha Johnny never forgot what to carry like his uniforms, handkerchiefs, operational orders, war maps, top-secret documents etc. and he would be a useless Army Commander without his Gorkha orderly.
The great grandson of Her Majesty Queen Victoria and her Royal Consurt, the Duke of Battenburg opened his royal blue eyes wide and muttered “Bill, do you mean that your Gorkha Johnny knows everything about op-orders, war maps and top secret documents etc?.” Bill Slim clarified “My Lord, my Gorkha Johnny is a harmless, illiterate fellow and he manages to draw his signature on pay-bills. There is nothing to make us doubt about his loyalty and faith on the British Royalty, you and me.” The Supreme Commander, Lord Mountbatten shrugged his shoulders and muttered “Bill, do as you please. But, win battles and win this war.” Indeed, Field Marshal Bill Slim won battles for his nation, and helped in winning the war. The saying goes “In war, winning is the thing”. In fact, “In war, winning is the ONLY thing”.
While in CME doing YO course, I was alone enjoying a glass of chilled beer in the Officers’ Mess in one afternoon of a hot summer day. Unfortunately, I was close to the eastern entrance door, where the Officers’ Mess telephone was kept. The bloody stupid machine rang. I ignored it, since I had never used a wretched telephone in my life. It stopped ringing. After a few seconds, it rang again. No one was nearby. I continued to ignore it as I was afraid. The machine stopped again. A few seconds later, the dreaded machine rang again. Then, I decided to have a fling at it. I picked up the receiver and said “Hello” into the mouthpiece. The caller asked for Lt. so-and-so. I told the caller “There are hundreds of Lts. in CME”. By this time, my hands trembled and my voice quivered. Curtly, I said “He is not available” and put the receiver down. I was perspiring. That was a mighty event in my life.
After YO course, I was posted to 759 Engineer Plant Platoon located at Kimin on the foothills of Himalayan Ranges of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) now Arunachal Pradesh. We were part of HQ 640 Northern Troop Engineers commanded by Lt. Col. Sundaram, located at an unused airfield at Missamari, Assam like our Koirengei Airfield, Imphal.
640 NTE together with Supplies and Transport units of Army Service Corps, supporting Field Workshop units of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, two Pioneer Companies, Field Ambulance units of Army Medical Corps, Signal Units for communication and a Garrison Engineer were at Missamari and all these were under Colonel Vijh, Deputy Chief Engineer. Major Dhondy, the GE, was a jolly Parsi of Poona (now Pune).
The Officer Commanding of 759 Engr. Plant Platoon, was Capt. V V Soman, an Emergency commissioned officer of Second World War. He was a simple graduate and knew nothing about engineering work. So, he used to send me to Missamari to discuss progress of road construction. Col. Vijh was a bridge-addict and forced me to play bridge, as his foursome of bridge players were short by one. Though he bullied me for making wrong calls, anyhow I picked up the rudiments of the card game of bridge.
After working in NEFA for about one year, our unit pulled out to Range Hills, Kirkee, as part of HQ, 624 Army Troop Engineers, commanded by Lt. Col. J S Saund, a Sikh officer, who married an American lady and then migrated to USA after retirement. Major Dhaliwal, commanding 620 Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was our officiating Comdr. Engrs.
I had become a Lieutenant as Gazette notification of antedate of two years’ seniority was published. At this time, National Defence Academy (former JSW – refer para 8) got shifted to Khadakvasla with Major Gen. Habibullah as the first Commandant of NDA. Chief Engineer Southern Command, Poona had ordered 624 ATE to construct a gliderdrome to train cadets in gliding. I was sent to NDA, Khadakvasla, to execute the job.
ADC to the Commandant was Lieutenant (Navy) Bahl and film actress, Nutan was Bahl’s fiancee. Nutan used to attend Officers’ Mess parties and I saw Nutan dancing. Ultimately, they got married. Major L S Doss, of perhaps Madras Sappers, was a Squadron Commander. Anyway, after completing the required earthwork, which was inspected by Gen. Habibullah, I was permitted to pull out my detachment of troops back to Range Hills, Kirkee.
Sometime in October 1956, Headquarters, Southern Command Poona (Pune) gave 624 ATE, the task of extending Bhuj Civil aerodrome by about 600 yards to enable IAF fighter planes to land and take off because there were border skirmishes between Indian troops and Pakistani troops at the Rann of Kutch. We had to defend. An Infantry Brigade was given the task. It was commanded by Brigadier Ajit Singh Guraiya whose Brigade Headquarters were located at Ahmedabad.
Major Dhaliwal of 620 Electrical and Mechanical Company of Corps of Engineers, was our officiating Commander Engineers. I was again selected to execute this task. Our contingent of troops consisted of a Field Platoon of Bengal Engineers commanded by 2/Lt. Gupta, another Field Platoon of Madras Engineers under 2/Lt. Malhotra and an E&M Platoon from 620 E&M Coy of Corps of Engineers and a part of my Plant Platoon, under my overall command. We were about 150 strong.
When we reached Bhuj, we reported to the Station Staff Officer and he told us to go straight away to airport and camp there and discuss technical matters with the airport staff. Thereupon, we went to the airport, discussed the details of extension job required and camp-site where we were to stay.
In two jeeps, we officers accompanied by JCOs and senior NCOs, went to reconnoitre our campsite, living areas for other ranks, Officers’ Mess, JCO Mess, engineer plant and machinery parking area, vehicle parking area etc. before we moved in. I had a blueprint map supplied by Chief Engineer Southern Command. Having decided on what we are to do and also having decided on our working time, so as not to disturb normal civilian flights, we got on to our job.
Because of the fighting, Brigadier Guraya had established a TAC HQ at Bhuj, which was a tiny Princely State ruled by a Maharaja. Brigadier Guraya had deployed a Rajput battalion for the job of defending the Rann of Kutch.
The Rann was a treeless, shrub less, white and shining patch of miles of space without any road. Its area from Oxford School Atlas (70 km long and 30 km wide) is about 2100 square kilometres, nearly about the same size as Imphal Valley of Manipur State. During the monsoon, the Arabian Sea used to flood the Rann and deposit salt. When the 6” to 9” layers of salt dried up, the Rann became a white patch and the reflected rays of the sun used to glare our eyes. We had to use dark glasses or snow goggles to protect our eyes from damage by infrared rays of the sun.
Once the salt layer got broken, vehicles used to sink in the wet and slimy sand. We drove our jeeps following old track marks or by use of compasses at night. Vehicles often got bogged down in the salty sand and we had to retrieve by pulling with another jeep and pushing by manpower if required.
We completed our work of extending the runway within about a month’s time. We worked at the break of dawn and stopped work during flight times and resumed work in the afternoon. Dozers and scrappers were the earth-moving machines used. Finally, we laid PSP (Pierced Steel Plank) on the extended runway. Field telephone cables were laid by our men and we got telephone connection with Station Headquarters, Bhuj. Colonel Bose, Deputy Chief Engineer of Southern Command, came to inspect our work. When told that jet fighters of Indian Air Force from Jamnagar had already made successful landings and take-offs, he was pleased. Brigadier Guraya left to become Major General and the first Indian IGAR at Shillong. He took over from the last British IGAR, Colonel Fryer. Now, the post of IGAR has been elevated to DGAR and a Lt. General is overall Chief of AR.
While waiting for railway wagons to be placed for loading machineries, earth moving plants and other equipments we went to company locations of the Rajput Regiment facing the Pakistanis. Since the Pakistan Army was a part of Indian Army about eight or nine years back only, their company weapon system like the old .303 rifles, light machine guns, two-inch mortar guns were the same.
We teased the Pakistanis by firing a few rounds of our weapons and their immediate response was interestingly belligerent. So the whole night, there would be a sort of Diwali. But since we were inside well-covered bunkers, we were quite safe. It was my first real battle-experience with live rounds, LMG fire and mortar explosions.
Our detachment moved back to Kirkee triumphantly in February 1957. We had our regular Commander now. He was Lt. Col. K K Marcus. About five decades later in March 2004, Brigadier E J Kochekan Commander, 9 Sector, Assam Rifles, Kangla, Imphal sent a message to me and expressed his desire to meet me and that he would send an officer to convey me to Kangla. I agreed to the proposal of Brigadier E J Kochekan and went to Kangla Fort on the appointed hour and date.
I was ushered inside a waiting room for important visitors, since the Commander was rather busy. Within one or two minutes Brigadier E J Kochekan came. We met and introduced himself as a nephew of Lt. Col. K K Marcus and told me that Lt. Col. K K Marcus was his uncle, being his father’s elder brother. I expressed surprise as to how a Marcus had a Kochekan as nephew. Brigaders E J Kochekan replied that one of the two ‘Ks’ in Col. Marcus’ name was his surname, that is Kochekan. I, later on met Major General E J Kochekan as GOC of a Mountain Division somewhere in Manipur. We used to talk for hours on everything from gardening, flowerpots, social conditions, politics (with restraint from his side), culture, sports etc. etc.
Whenever I was in Missamari (refer para 32), I used to or forced to play the card game of bridge. Colonel Marcus was a bridge addict. Since I had rudimentary knowledge of bridge, he compelled me to play. Through Colonel Marcus, I picked up Contract Bridge and after retirement from Army, I managed to represent Manipur State in All-India Bridge tournaments conducted by Bridge Federation of India.
The Adjutant of Col. Marcus was Captain Bhagwan Das, who was a local Major and Military Secretary to His Excellency Sir Chandulal Trivedi, ICS KCSI, the Governor of Bombay. The leftover ICS officers were His Excellency Sir Akbar Hydari KCSI, His Excellency L P (Lalan Prasad) Singh, ICS, who was Governor of all seven states (Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh). More about L P Singh will be told later.
Sir Chandulal Trivedi and Lady Trivedi were issueless. Since Captain Bhagwan Das was married to Sir Trivedi’s adopted daughter, he was in a round about way, a son-in-law. Capt. (local Major) Bhagwan Das was their constant dining table companion in the Raj Bhawan. Major Bhagwan Das would always bring a bunch of all the Bombay newspapers with red, blue and green markings indicating that ‘reds’ were MUST READ, the ‘blues’ MAY READ and the ‘greens’ CASUAL GLANCE.
While Sir Chandulal Trivedi was glancing through the newspapers with red, blue and green markings, Lady Trivedi would bore her husband with complaints and insinuations on the Government of Bombay Presidency for not supporting the welfare efforts done by Lady Trivedi. They would quarrel on the dining table with Sir Chandulal Trivedi murmuring and grumbling. And sometimes Lady Trivedy would walk out. But Major Bhagwan Das had to remain on the dining table till His Excellency Sir Chandulal Trivedi got up.
Capt. Bhagwan Das when posted as Adjutant of 624 ATE, used to call me ‘Bob’ perhaps shortened from Bhuban. The Governor of Bombay Presidency had a summer resort on the hill ranges of Kirkee. Captain Bhagwan Das used to take me in his old Studebaker car to Raj Bhavan, Kirkee and take Raj Bhavan tea and snacks at the bounty of H E Sir Chandulal Trivedi, ICS the Governor.
By early 1959, I was promoted to Captain and posted to Technical Development Establishment (TDE) Vehicles, Ahmednagar. TDE (Veh) was headed by Colonel Soli Jambusarwalla of the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as Chief Superintendent and very soon, I was joined by Captain Santosh Kumar Sarkar in the Testing and Proving Section.
Captain S K Sarkar is the grandson of Sir Jadunath Sarkar the famous historian of India. He married Reba Bose, daughter of Brigadier Bose, Commandant of CME. Brigadier Bose was the same Colonel Bose, who came to Bhuj to inspect my work as Deputy Chief Engineer of Southern Command. Sarkar and Bose families have become our life-long friends. On retirement, perhaps in 1961, Brigadier Bose became the first Director of Indian Institute of Technology, Powai.
Army officers, particularly the Infantry, were referred to and called colloquially as ‘pongos’ by Air Force officers, with whom we often liaise and co-ordinate our tasks, like the extension of Bhuj Airfield and trial landings by IAF jet fighters (para 40). I have not heard a Naval officer calling us Army officers as ‘pongos’, simply because Navy peoples were mostly in the high seas. Also we hardly had opportunity to meet them, on docks and harbours.
On being asked what they meant by ‘pongo’, they simply raised their eyebrows and replied that it was derivative of a kind of bird which could not fly – strange for bird which could not fly. I imagined, if or whether the word ‘pongo’ is a derivative of penguin, a biggish bird with little wings, which walked only. In fact, even if a penguin flaps its little wings very violently and fast, the lift force emerging from her wings will be too less to support her nearly ten kg weight.
Chambers Dictionary meaning of ‘pongo’ is a monkey or an ape or services slang for foot soldiers. Anyhow, the term as referred to the Army, seemed to have a derisive connotation for a tribe of peoples, which believed in tradition, culture, heritage, history, pride, custom and what not, and thus we are proud to be ‘pongoes’. Now, let me tell you some stories of the Army of early days, which may not be prevailing now.
A certain General Officer commanding an Infantry Division was inspecting a battalion of infantry. The Commanding Officer of the battalion was a hugely regimented officer. Generally, all COs were always referred to, as the ‘old man’ in the battalion. They were in fact, old and battle hardened at forty plus or nearing fifty because of frequent war. Even independent Indian Army had so far fought the following internal conflicts / wars :-
(a) Naga insurgency since 14 Aug 1947 (one day before Indian Independence) as Naga independence was declared by A Z Phizo, the Naga rebel leader at the instigation of Mr. Charles Pawsay (later Sir Charles Pawsay). Naga insurgency is still maintained at low level of conflict even now. However, it has lost its sting, because the Nagas had participated in Indian democracy for decades now.
(b) Junagadh, a tiny state in Kathiawar (Gujarat) though surrounded by States which had already joined India, did accede to Pakistan by its ruler, Nawab Sir Mahabat Khan Rasul Khanji. Subsequently, because of the noise made by the majority public of Junagadh and by the rulers of neighbouring states, particularly the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, and the Indian Army’s show of strength on the border of Junagadh in September 1947, the Nawab fled with his family in a tiny private aircraft belonging to the Nawab to Karachi and the State was ultimately merged into India in November 1947.
(c) Imitating India’s action in Junagadh, Pakistan carried out a full-scale invasion of Jammu and Kashmir on 22 Oct 1947 in the guise of tribal raiders. Maharaja Hari Singh forsook his wavering stand and promptly sought for India’s help. There was, then a Ministry known as Ministry of State (now extinct), which was also under Sardar Bhallabhai Patel, the then Home Minister. Sardar Patel sent Shri V P Menon, Advisor to the Government of India, Ministry of States to meet Maharaja Hari Singh in J & K.
(i) V P Menon hurriedly flew in and got the consent of Maharaja Singh to sign both the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement and reported the matter to Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General and Viceroy, who refused to send Indian Army without signed and written documents of Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement.
(ii) Immediately, V P Menon flew again with all the documents and got the Maharaja’s signatures. In this manner, one day was lost.
(iii) On the next day, IAF transport planes started landing troops with Indian Army. Major General Kulwant Singh’s Division landed at Srinagar Airfield and fanned-out to drive the intruders out who were firing small arms to IAF transport planes but without damage. It was a close shave for India.
(iv) Pandit Nehru then consulted Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General about the illegal invasion by disguised Pakistani soldiers. The Governor General advised him to refer the J&K issue to the United Nations Organisation. A few days passed, before the complaint by India to UN Security Council could be lodged and admitted.
(v) In the quick counter attacks by Indian Army, the areas of Gulmarg, Baramullah, Akhnoor, Chhamb etc. were recovered.
(vi) Naturally, cease-fire was clamped by UN Security Council and in the bargain India lost about one-third the original areas of J&K to POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) and to the Chinese.
(d) Hyderabad continued to be a thorn in the neck of India, with the Nizam wanting to be independent. So ‘police action’ on Hyderabad was undertaken by the Indian Army led by Major General (later General and Chief of Army Staff) Jayanto Nath Choudhuri in 13 Sept 1949. Military administration of the State was set up on 18 Sept. after the surrender of Hyderabad State Forces. Capt. Hartnet of NCC, Imphal and later Commanding Officer of 1st Bn. of Manipur Rifles belonged to Hyderabad State Forces.
(e) Realising that India will not tolerate European colonial enclaves, the French willingly gave up Chandarnagar and got it merged into West Bengal and Pondicherry (now, Poducherry) became an Union Territory with a Council of Ministers under a Lieut. Governor, sometime in early 1950s.
(f) The October 1960 Chinese invasion on Tawang, Bomdila, Bhalukpong and Lohit areas and quick withdrawal after one month, just to teach India a lesson took place. The Chinese Red Army had to withdraw since the onset of winter would cut-off their supply line from Tibet and thus invite a counter-attack by Indian Army, or suffer loss of logistic support from mainland China due to snow. The Chinese Army would have starved to their deaths like the Japanese Army suffered in Naga Hills District and Manipur. (Refer para 5, where it was stated that the invading Japanese had to withdraw due to lack of logistic support.)
(g) Despite all these happenings, the Portuguese stuck on to their Goa, Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli enclaves. Sometime in 1961, Indian Army rolled into these enclaves and chucked out the Portuguese forcibly.
(h) The Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, in which Indian troops crossed the Ichogil Canal and made incursions inside Pakistani territory.
(i) The 1971 war for liberation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Here again, Indira Gandhi foolishly handed over some 93,000 Pakistani troops including Lt. Gen. Niazi. India could have used these POWs as our bargaining point.
(j) The Kargil War with Pakistan (June-July 1997) (I hope the months and year are correct). Here again Prime Minister A B Vajpayeeji’s train and bus link with Pakistan was a wrong policy. India should not have any diplomatic and other links with Pakistan, who are exporting Talibans to India. Indeed, all nations of the world should cut-off trade, commerce and diplomatic links with Pakistan. They are creating problems to Europe, America, Australia, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. Pakistan should be completely isolated and boycotted.
So, even Indian Army of independent India had fought ten wars during the last fifty years (1947-1997) in addition to sending troops to UN contingents all over the world. Therefore, reference to battalion or regimental commanders, as old men were or are still appropriate.
Goiing back to para 57, when the Infantry battalion was being inspected by the GOC, the first thing to do was introduction of all officers and JCOs of the unit by the overused and misused Commanding Officer to the General. At this crucial moment he forgot the name of 2/Lt. Gopal Singh and introduced the officer as 2/Lt. Gulab Singh, in order to give the impression that he knew all the names of his officers and JCOs. Anyway, Gopal sounded like Gulab. The young subaltern shook hands with the VIP without a word of protest.
At the end of the inspection, the General and his entourage settled down at Officers’ Mess with pre-lunch mugs of beer and gin with lime cordial. Young 2/Lt. Gopal Singh could not resist the temptation to tell his Commanding Officer that his name was really Gopal, not Gulab. The old man called Gopal to a quiet corner at the end of the bar and with eyes popping out in anger, he admonished the young subaltern. “You bloody young man, when did you acquire the guts to contradict me? Remember, so long as the General is here you are damn well Gulab NOT Gopal. Is that clear?.” Gopal quickly got himself lost.
If you don’t trust the above Ripley-like “Believe it or not” story, I will tell you the real story of 3rd Battalion of Kumaon Regiment. In that Battalion, officers carry their drill sticks in their armpits in the reverse fashion. The normal method is to put the handle end with the metal-knob or ball in the front and tapered metallic-tube end in the rear.
Decades back around 1932, this Battalion of Kumaonese was visited by the then Governor General and Viceroy of India. The absent minded Commanding Officer, in a hurry put his officers’ cane in the reverse manner with the knob-end in the rear while receiving the VIP. This was spotted by the loyal Second-in-Command, the Major Saheb, who put his own drill stick like that of the CO and signalled this officers and JCOs to do the same. The CO noticed the wrong method of carriage of canes at the Parade Ground by his officers and JCOs. Then, he looked at this own cane and saw his own mistake. The inspection went on, as if nothing had happened. Henceforth, 3rd Battalion of Kumaon had adopted their wrong doing as their unique tradition.
Incidentally, Kumaon Regiment was earlier known as Hyderabad Regiment. The Regiment got split into Muslim and non-Muslim regiments after the Partition of 1947. The non-Muslim regiments came to be known as Kumaon Regiment and the Muslim regiments went to Pakistan.
General K S Thimayya, General T N Raina, both distinguished Army Chiefs of India and Major Bob Khathing MC, MBE, recipient of Padma Shri award, belonging to Manipur were Kumaonese. Now it seems, the Indian Army has reached the tipping point of such traditions and similar buffoonery does not take place now.
In August 1960, I got selected to undergo Technical Staff Officers’ Course at Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, the United Kingdom. I took my wife and daughter and sailed from Bombay Harbour in one late afternoon. We reached Karachi early morning and Indians were not allowed to set our feet on Pakistani soil. After about six hours of halt at Karachi, we sailed for Aden by early afternoon.
Food served on the deck of the ocean liner was plenty, from the points of view of types and kinds and quantity like Continental (English), Indian / Pakistani (rice, chappati, dal etc.) and even with Chinese green tea or coffee, cheese and biscuits, pudding etc. Wines were served at the bar on payment at the Main Deck
Post Office, kiosk (shop where toothpaste, tooth brush, bath soap etc were sold, were available on board the ship. Say for example, my letter to home dropped after leaving Karachi, would be dropped at Aden, the next port of call and it would then be sent to Manipur.
At Aden, while the ship was unloading and loading cargoes and passengers were allowed to see the city. The Arab peoples were using perhaps old Mercedez Benz cars as taxis. Food served in hotels and restaurants were like Indian tandoori big size roti and dal and potato curry. Men folk dress up like Arabs. Women wore ‘burkha’.
Then our ship entered Red Sea, which was very calm. We could see the shorelines. The water of Red Sea was not blue like the open sea; it was brownish blue. While passing through Red Sea, we could see landmass on either side or on one side at least.
On the sixth day we reached Suez, which was about one hundred miles from Cairo. Since the levels of sea water on the Red Sea and on the Black Sea were the same, our ship passed through the Suez Canal as per arrangements made by the harbour authorities and we joined our ship at Cairo in the evening or late afternoon. Through conducted tours by bus, we saw the Pyramid, the Sphinx, a well-known mosque, Egyptian Museum, the Mummies, Cairo bazar, the Nile River and took Egyptian food in a riverside restaurant and joined our ship in the evening.
On the other hand, in the Panama Canal since the level of the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean are different, Canal Officers are to make use of sluice gates to impound water and make ships to pass in phases.
Our ship then touched the British Naval base of Malta and Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea but no one except British officials were allowed to disembark. So, no one did sightseeing. Gibraltar is a treeless, shrub less and rocky small port. The sea was absolutely calm and climate nice as the Mediterranean Sea was clam and also since we were in Europe. We then sailed through Bay of Biscay of the Atlantic Ocean and the sea was very rough. Many passengers were left cabin-bound and most passengers were seasick. But my daughter did not seem to feel anything. Perhaps, children are less affected by se-sickness.
When we entered Irish Sea, our ship got blocked by the landmass of Ireland and we all heaved a sigh of relief. We landed at the seaport of Liverpool. We were received by one Captain Baruah of the Military Attaché to Indian High Commissioner in London. He took us to a hotel where we were to spend one night. On the next day we were taken to London and listened to the pep-talks delivered by the Military Attaché (Brigadier at that time) at London till we were escorted by Captain Baruah and deposited at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham.
Residential quarters were already allotted and we just moved in. Our quarters had twenty four hours a day cooking gas pipe connection with a gas cooker with automatic flint burner, twenty four hours a day electric connection and free water connection which never failed, with all the requirements of a house like beds, mattresses, towels, window screens, utensils, crockery, knives and fork and everything required in a house were provided.
During our two-year stay at RMCS, electricity never failed, except for a few seconds, not even minutes. During our stay, I paid my electric and gas bills through cheques of Grindlay’s Bank and never knew the exact location of the electric or Gas Company. Receipts for my electric and gas bill always came by post.
At that time, the UK had just introduced black and white TV. There was no satellite transmission. When Colonel Yuri Gagarin of USSR went into orbit and landed safely on Earth, the TV interview of Col. Gagarin was done through cables laid from Moscow to Warsaw then to Berlin, Paris and onto London.
The Commandant of RMCS was Major General Eubank of the Royal Engineers. It was a big military college like CME, Kirkee and conducted TSO course and engineering degree courses for officers of the Royal Engineers, of Signals and of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. The college did basic research work and many professors were members or consultants to R&D projects of the British Government.
In the afternoon of our arrival, we were welcomed by one Scottish Professor and he told us that we all must be brilliant officers from different Commonwealth countries but howsoever brilliant each one of us might be, one student officer would stand first and another last. That was unavoidable. Therefore, the crux of the matter should be that the knowledge gap between the first ranker and tail ender must be VERY NARROW, indeed. He extolled us to work hard and advised us to acquire knowledge to the maximum of what the college could offer. This reminds of para 4, last sentence wherein, I related that Presidency College Hockey team was beaten by nearly half a dozen goals. Indeed, we are to play any game in true sportsman-spirit regardless of margin of defeat or win.
Faringdon Road in Shrivenham was where we used to stay. The village had a small market, a post office and above all a barber’s shop. I needed some overseas mail letters, postage stamps and above all, a haircut. My last haircut was in the ship while passing through Red Sea.
The Post Office was a shop-cum-post-office type. It was a one-man show. The Post Master did all post-office works in addition to looking after his shop. Perhaps the workload on the post office did not entitle it to employ one person as Post Master permanently. It was like a one-man band-party, where a single individual blew the clarinet with his mouth, the elbows beat side-drums, the toes of the legs, through metallic linkages stomp on Tom-Tom percussion instruments, the knees do something else. After completing my work at the post office, I went to the barbershop.
The barber asked my name. I told him. Then, he pulled out his diary of appointments and announced that my name was not found in his engagements. I told him that I did not make any appointment with him, but requested to cut my hair after he finished all his pre-engaged clients. He flatly refused saying that he had some other work to do and could not spare even a single minute. I realized that any more pleadings and arguments would be simply a waster of time. So I put down my name for haircut on one particular date and time convenient to both of us. This was how the British behaved in matters concerning time.
Later on, the barber and I became friends. While cutting my hair, we used to chat and he would tell me his wartime stories in the Royal Navy. Whenever he finished his work on one client, he would collect all the hair clippings by a rubber dust pusher and put these inside a dustbin. The shop was immaculately clean. The barbershop had one single rotating and height-adjustable chair, also the barber worked according to timings put-up in the notice board of his shop.
During our stay at the UK, my second child, a son named Pritam Singh was born. I went to register the birth of my son, to the Birth and Death registration office. The County official asked for the name of my son. I told the lady official that we had not named our son. But, the lady insisted on a name. I was accompanied by one 2/Lt. Pritam Singh of Malaysia and I just told the lady official that let my son’s name be called Pritam Singh. That was done.
While we were studying at RMCS, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom invited all officers of all Commonwealth Countries for a garden party at Buckingham Palace in one afternoon. The invitation is worded exactly as under:
British Royal Emblem (Roaring Lion)
The Lord Chamberlain
has been commanded
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN AND HRH THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH
Captain & Mrs. H Bhuban Singh of the Indian Army
to tea a 4 pm on ………………. September 1961
on the lawns of Buckhimgham Palace
RSVP: The Lord Chamberlain
Now, I do not know how invitation cards for the wedding of Miss Kate Middleton to Prince William, second in line to the British throne will be worded. Anyway, Prince William has categorically denied the rumour of bypassing his father, the Duke of Wales, who is first in line to the British throne.
We were advised by the officials of the Indian High Commission on do’s and don’ts. We were advised not to grin or laugh, but smile with respect while meeting Her Majesty or His Royal Highness, we were told to bow down a bit, in Japanese style and say ‘Good afternoon or good evening, Your Majesty or Your Royal Highness’ as appropriate. We were warned not to stick out our hands in anticipation of a handshake. We were permitted to shake hands only if the Royals desired to do so.
We were also informed that if the Royals initiated a conversation with us like asking questions, such as ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘How do you like England?’ we might reply in short sentences. We were warned not to attempt a long conversation and bore the Royals. The Queen came out in silver coloured frock and matching coat, hands gloved and legs stockinged. She was graceful. The Duke of Edinburgh was in a wheel chair pushed by a servant, since he was injured in a recent fall from his horse while playing polo.
That was about half a century ago (2011-1961). With the recent incident (Dec 2010) when Prince Charles, the Duke of Wales with his royal consort being attacked by hooligans, I do think the British Royalty has lost its shine to some extent. Or, it may be that the British public wanted to take revenge on Prince Charles for the manner in which he treated Princess Diana the Duchess of Wales, his first wife, who got killed in a car accident. But King Faruq of Egypt, when ousted from his throne in Cairo by Lt. Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser predicted that there would be five kings only in this world and the Kings were, the King of the United Kingdom, King of spades, King of hearts, King of diamonds and King of clubs of a pack of playing cards. All said and forecasted, the Mikado of Japan, the King of Thailand, the King of Spain restored after the dictatorial rule of Gen. Franco ended due to the General’s death etc. exist even now.
During our summer holidays in June 1961-Aug 1961, my wife and I toured the continent. We went to Belgium, Holland, France (Paris) and saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Seine river, Germany (West Germany only because unification of East & West Germanies had not taken place) and we had seen the infamous ‘Berlin Wall’ built by USSR, and above all, the beautiful Switzerland with its train service in hill areas like our own midget train service to Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
We never saw a beggar in the UK. Unemployed British youths used to come to our house for chimney cleaning or windowpane cleaning on payment. When I was attending classes or playing hockey, representing RMCS, an old lady came to our house and rang our house bell. When my wife opened the door, an old English lady told my wife to buy her home-made small bouquet of paper flowers for five farthings. At that time, England had pound, shilling, farthing and pence. My wife told the old English lady that she could have the five farthing coin she had paid and told her to take away the bouquet to sell to someone else. The old English lady refused to take the money and wanted her paper flowers back. In other words, the old English lady conveyed that she was not a beggar and simply wanted the price of her wares.
On the other hand, when we crossed the Seine River on foot we saw French beggars sitting on pavements of the big bridge with inverted hats begging for money. French bread is long and hard like our Indian Railways’ Rajdhani stick breads of four inches, which are to be taken with soup. French stick-breads are at least one foot long.
As our two-year course was coming to an end, we were lectured upon by eminent military personalities. Field Marshal Lord Montgomery (see para 24 please) came to speak to us at the RMCS auditorium in one afternoon. We all officer students assembled in the indoor auditorium. He arrived on the dot of time with our Commandant, Major Gen. Eubank in uniform, but Monty was in civvies.
We all stood up. Both climbed the stage. General Eubank requested the Field Marshal to sit down on a special cushioned chair laid out for him. Notwithstanding the request, the FM grumpily refused saying “A soldier never sits down”. He remained standing as erect as his age would permit. But our Commandant sat down on a less significant chair.
Our Commandant gave a brief introductory speech of less than two minutes and then appealed to the great ‘Monty’ to speak. FM Montgomery gave an egocentric speech of what he did at the crucial Battle of El Alamein and a pen-picture of the Second World War. Monty was a Major General commanding a Division at the commencement of the war.
96 He also told us how the other day, he taught manners and politics in the House of Lords. He considered that most of the British Lords were very rich, dull and brainless. Of course, he must have excluded himself from the dull and brainless Lords.
To the credit of Monty, it must be admitted that he made a lively and thought provoking speech. He was applauded well. Question time came. After several interactions with British officers, a Canadian Captain got up and asked Monty a question on NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) strategy in his heavily accented American English. Instead of replying to the question asked, Monty remarked jokingly “It is nice to know that you speak English”. The Canadian officer replied immediately “No Sir, I speak American”. The whole lot of us burst into laughter. That was the famous Field Marshal Montgomery, flamboyant and advertising.
During the North African campaign, while inspecting British troops, he remarked that the cap-badge of that Regiment was nice and he desired to have that particular cap-badge worn by one particular BOR. When that was promptly complied, he put that cap-badge on his beret cap. So, Monty was famous for wearing twin-cap badges, which was accepted by the British Army and the British Government.
After the successful campaign in North Africa and surrender of Germany on 7th May 1945, FM Montgomery, the war hero in Sam Brown and sword was to be presented to His Majesty King George VI. Monty wore a sweater as undergarment, which was visible below his tunic coat. The topsy-turvy Monty refused to hide the protruding sweater, perhaps grumbling that it was the General who won the war, rather than the undergarment of a damned sweater. Perhaps, His Majesty the King ignored the wrongdoing by F M Montgomery and chose to ignore an insignificant sweater.
The English language is profound in many ways. When a British monarch dies, the public will sing “The King is dead, God save the King”. The meaning is that King Edward is dead, but God be prayed to save the institution of Kingship. While tailoring a three-piece suit at Mark and Spencer, I was asked by the tailor ‘If I dress right or left’. I was dumb-founded. Then, the tailor told me if I keep my male organ on the right or the left of the trouser legs. The Brits were so particular.
In addition to FM Montgomery, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma addressed us, now at the College Cinema hall. He also showed traits of British peculiarity. He firstly announced that he would speak sitting and secondly, he would not use microphone as the damn thing sometimes make unwanted humming noise. He added that his voice was loud enough to be heard without a mike. When the tall Admiral in uniform sat down in a reclining chair, his knees protruded upwards almost level with his shoulders. It was a ghastly sight. Unlike Monty whose voice was shrill, Dick Mountbatten spoke with deep voice and everyone could hear him. He treated us like school children and answered our questions still sitting.
While we were in RMCS, Shrivenham, I heard a televised official discussion between Harold MacMillan, the British Prime Minister and President DeGaulle of France. Both of them spoke in their mother tongues through interpreters. Harold MacMillan did his schooling in Paris and knew French very well. General DeGaulle spent around six years in London as Head of Republic of Free France while he was sheltered in the UK. Obviously, DeGaulle could speak English well, very well indeed.
My guess is that both MacMillan and DeGaulle were honour bound to speak in their mother tongues as matters of national prestige and more importantly, if there were any wrong interpretations, they could lay the blame to their interpreters and possibly deny any of the commitments made by them. Anyway it was my wild guess.
I received my posting to Research and Development Establishment, Dighee, Kirkee on promotion to Major in Aug 1962. While I was at Dighee, my last son, H Khogen Singh was born in April 1963 at Military Hospital, Poona. That completed my family. After about three years in Dighee, I was sent as Officer Commanding of 19 Field Company at Zakhama. We were doing construction work for KLP (Key Location Plan) of HQ of a Mountain Division. Major General K P Candeth, a KCIO (King’s Commissioned India Officer) of 1937 seniority was the first GOC (General Officer Commanding) of that Mountain Division. General Candeth came to Zakhama to see his pet project. Since Lt. Col. O. Laloo, Comdr. Engrs. was on short leave to his home town of Shilling, I officiated as Comdr. Engrs. General Candeth became my life-long friend.
In the next TSO Course, one Captain T S Anand belonging to Corps of Signals came with his family, then consisting of his wife and a daughter. When that baby daughter played in the snow, Capt. Tejinder Singh Anand used to shout “Maneka come inside. Don’t play with snow, you will get chill blain”. Ultimately, when Maneka Anand grew up, she got married to Sanjay Gandhi, the second son of Indira Gandhi.
Lt. Col. Tej Anand died young. Somehow, Indira Gandhi’s strict discipline and requirement of having lunch together did not suit the likes of Maneka Gandhi. She used to skip lunch. That annoyed Indira Gandhi.
The strict dictate of Indira was that all her family members must have lunch together at the appointed time. As for dinner was concerned, all were free to dine at home or go to Casinos. In fact, dinner could not be a family affair because Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dined alone whether she was in Delhi or elsewhere. Her maidservant would bring her a hot case dinner to her bedroom and it would be locked from inside with strict instructions not to disturb her, unless absolutely essential.
What Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did inside her bedroom, no one knows. Next day morning, as the sun rose, the same maidservant would knock at the door of Indira Gandhi’s bedroom and Smt. Gandhi ask “Who is there?.” When the maidservant answered, “I am Sushila, Madam Gandhi”, then only the door would be opened.
Maneka Gandhi, the quarrelsome widow, being the daughter of an Army officer became supporters-less in the PM residence when Sanjay Gandhi died in an air crash piloted by him. She just walked out taking her infant son, Varun Gandhi. Perhaps out of spite for Indira Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi joined Bharatiya Janata Party and became a Member of Parliament from Pilibhit in Himachal Pradesh. Now her son Varun Gandhi is also an MP.
When Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee became Prime Minister of India, I was President of BJP unit of Manipur Pradesh and I went to congratulate Smt. Maneka Gandhi, a Minister of Government of India. Unwittingly while introducing myself, I blurted out that I saw her in England as a small baby of about three years in England in 1961. She blushed and I realized my mistake of the manner of my self-introduction.
Years later, in Dec 1971, when the war for liberation of Bangladesh (at that time East Pakistan) was won by India, Indira Gandhi came to Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir. My regiment’s troops were ordered to provide helipad security. After Prime Minister’s helicopter landed safely, we provided a Guard of Honour. She was (if I remember correctly), put-up in the Udhampur Golf Course Guest House and she behaved in the same manner as she was doing at PM residence, New Delhi.
After two years or so in Kashmir House, I was sent for Regimental duties to command my old unit, 106 Engr Regt at Chandigarh in March 1970. The Regiment consisted of 18 Field Company, my own 19 Field Company, 29 Field Company and 304 Field Park Company. We were under XI Corps with Headquarters at Jullundur. The regiment did lots of exercises with troops. Lt. Gen. P S Bhagat VC was the Corps Commander. The normal drill (for kind information of the civilian public) is to cross the water obstacle (a river or big canals in the Punjab) by boats or dingies operated by Sappers and deposit Infantry on the enemy bank of the water obstacle and thus establish a bridgehead. Engineers will come back to home bank and carry on with ferrying work. They will also clear minefields, if required. That is the reason why Engineers are designated as a fighting/mounted Corps (please refer to para 17).
Around 1966, Indian Army was undergoing organizational changes. 624 Army Troop Engineers became 106 Engr Regt. While organizational changes on regimental lines were taking place, my commander Lt. Col. O Laloo sent my Field Company for about a year to build a KLP for a Brigade at the outskirts of Imphal Valley. Now, this cantonment is a big Army Cantonment for HQ of a Mountain Division. I believe the Zakhama Cantonment is now HQs of IGAR (North) because when one Merchant (Parsi) was IGAR (North). I met Mr. Merchant, the IGAR (North) at some Army camp in Imphal Valley, though his HQs were at Zakhama.
19 Field Company moved from place to place like Phek, Zuneboto, Zakhama, Leimakhong, Dimapur etc. After all these merry-go-round, I became a Lt. Colonel in June 1968 and was posted to Directorate of Research and Development (Engineers), Kashmir House, New Delhi.
While I was at Kashmir House, I stayed with my family at Dhola Kuan Part II. My residence became kind of a guesthouse for all Manipuris coming to Delhi. Sheel Bhadra Yajee, Salam Tombi Singh, Maharaja Okendra Singh, Shri Dwija Shekhar Sharma and his wife Brajweshwari Devi, R K Birendra Singh etc. and many boys and girls students of Manipur came to stay or have Manipuri-type lunch with us. We have entertained everyone to best of our ability, except the non-adult Maharaja.
Young Maharaja Okendra Singh who became Maharaja later, was sent by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Manipur Shri Baleswar Prasad IAS (23rd Nov 1963 to Jan 1970) to undergo education in an English medium school of Delhi so that when he assumes the office of Maharaja of Manipur, he should be an educated Maharaja able to speak English and Hindi. He was accompanied by a Manipuri Private Secretary and lodged in a flat with his PS, who responded to the requirements of the non-adult Maharaja. Smt. Brajweshwari Devi, who was my wife’s friend, suggest to invite the young Maharaja for lunch and we agreed.
The Maharaja came to our Dhola Kuan residence at about 11:00 hrs in a taxi. He told the taxi driver to keep waiting and came up, to the first floor of our Dhola Kuan flat. We all, that is my family and Brajeshwari’s family welcomed him. Then, we offered pre-lunch soft drinks – orange / lemon squash. The young Maharaja wanted a bottle or two of beer. Upon this, I rebuked him pointing out he was still a minor and I could not offer him beer. I told the young Maharaja that I would offer him beer, gin, whiskey or any other drink he liked when he reached adulthood and coroneted as Maharaja. Then, young Maharaja Okendra Singh remained silent. He left our residence in the late afternoon.
Another interesting incident was the visit of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, popularly known as the Frontier (North West Frontier) Gandhi for his spartan living like Mahatma Gandhiji. He was invited by Smt. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi sent a special plane to bring the Frontier Gandhi. At New Delhi airport, all the prominent Congress leaders including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi awaited for the arrival of the special plane. From the exit door of the staircase, out came the Frontier Gandhi with a very long Bihari type of lathi on his shoulders in a slanting position at the end of which was a cloth bundle, hung in simple Gandhi fashion. Introduction over, he was whisked away in a Government car.
On the desire of Frontier Gandhi, all were set for the Khan to go to Taj Mahal by train to Agra in a Gandhi class berth (third class then). Prime Minister got a third class compartment freshly painted, light fittings and ceiling fans properly checked, lavatories properly cleaned and above all told the railway officials to treat the VVIP with respect and awe.
Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan came to Delhi Railway Station being escorted by senior railway officials. Ignoring their instructions, the Great Khan climbed into a normal third class compartment sat down among the Very Ordinary Peoples (VOP). On being requested to move to his reserved seat, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan politely refused saying that he was happy with his VOP companions. He reached Agra, laughing and chatting, in true Gandhian way.
War clouds were gathering. My regiment moved to Udhampur in J&K under XV Corps. We were Corps troops engineers, though operationally, we were at the battle location of Chhamb under 191 Infantry Brigade of 10 Infantry Division. We were deployed as infantry on a hillock overlooking a vital bridge over Manawar Tawi river at Chhamb and were guarding bridge over River Manawar Tawi. We visited the front line which was about two kilometres away and saw Pakistan Rangers through binoculars. We presume that the distance separating the two Armies must be about 400 yards.
Somehow, the Div Comdr decided to pull us out and thus leave the vital bridge over Manawar Tawi River unguarded. The war started on 3 Dec 1971. Major General Tikka Khan, commanding the Pakistani Division almost wiped out 191 Infantry Brigade and attacked our Regiment of Medium Artillery by crossing the waist or chest high waters Manawar Tawi river. If 106 Engr. Regt. was not pulled out, we could have detected the presence of the Pakistan Infantry Battalion marching and thus alerted and saved the Medium Regiment, as well as the bridge for any counter-attack by Indian Army.
In this battle of Chhamb Bridge, our detachment of Sappers led by Captain S P Dhingra and Subedar Bakhshish Singh got embroiled. Dhingra who was leading the column in a jeep was killed in the wee hours of the morning of 5 Dec near the bridge. We recaptured the bridge in the afternoon and got Dhingra’s dead body at night only. He was given a funeral with full military honours on 6 Dec on the bank of River Chenab at Akhnoor.
The Manawar Bridge was demolished after 191 Infantry Brigade was pulled out from the west bank of river Manawar. But the Pakistanis continued their attack relentlessly. 18 Field Company of 106 Engr Regt provided Engineer support to Infantry Battalions.
Our mine laying party at night got bumped into the FDL and killed one enemy soldier. The captured weapon is now kept as war trophy in Bombay Engineer Group and Centre, Kirkee.
As the war continued, our Regiment constructed an Advance Landing Ground (ALG) at Jaurian and we were examining the trial landings, when we heard the booms of Pakistani Artillery. From the sounds, we would assess where those shells would land. So, we continued standing and did not bother much. But some jawans who were not battle-hardened used to run for cover.
In the rear at Akhnoor, 19 Field Company was busy ferrying across at night 9 Horse, 72 Armoured Regiment and one squadron of 38 Cavalry. The entire operation was done during one night. It maybe mentioned that the Akhnoor bridge was not wide enough and strong enough for tanks. Enemy tanks which came upto Palanwala on 10 Dec were destroyed and pushed back and Manawar Tawi became the Line of Control when Cease Fire came after fourteen days of fighting.
Lt. Gen. Niazi of Pakistan Army surrendered to Lt. Gen. Arora of India, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. India had about 93,000 prisoners of war. In Simla, there was a meeting between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the President and also holding the post of Prime Minister of Pakistan in dual charge and Smt. Indira Gandhi. As a gesture of goodwill, Indira Gandhi agreed to handover all those Pakistani prisoners of war. On the other hand, we could have used the release of these prisoners to Indian nation’s advantage. We missed a golden opportunity.
Gradually, I lost interest in Army service and wanted to lead a civilian life. I belonged to the proud family of Bombay Sappers, whose 2/Lt. (later Lt. Gen. and Army Comdr.) P.S. Bhagat won the coveted Victoria Cross during the Second World War. Another Bombay Sapper, Rama Raghava Rane, PVC (Param Veer Chakra) was together with me as Capt. at Range Hills, Kirkee, under Lt. Col. K.K. Marcus. So, when I was posted out as Staff Officer Grade 1 in Border Roads, Project Vartak, Tezpur, I decided to quit.
Since I am a graduate of Mechanical Engineering, I thought that a civilian job might or could be managed. I really went for a selection interview by a Board of Directors of a private firm located at Chandigarh and got selected, as Chief Executive Officer. I was planning to go to Chandigarh.
My release/pension order came, granting me about a fortnight’s time to pack up and go. But my luck took me in a different direction. A chance encounter during an Army dinner party with Governor Lalan Prasad Singh ICS, who was a kind of super-duper Governor of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal and Manipur made me stay in Manipur. Somehow, he wanted me to serve Manipur. In civil life, I was General Manager of the erstwhile Manipur State Road Transport Corporation, Chief Engineer, Electricity Department, holding dual charge. I think I did my duties to the best of my ability.
Later, I became Member and Chairman of Manipur Public Service Commission. Whenever Governor L P Singh came to Manipur, he used to call me and advised me to be fair, honest and incorruptible. When the Governor was NOT in station in Manipur, Raj Bhawan was looked by one retired Army Officer, named Major K B (Kul Bhushan) Gurung, as Military Secretary to HE, the Governor of Manipur. Major K B Gurung belonged to 4th regular course of IMA, Dehradun.
Governor L P Singh ICS used to tour all the seven states by aero plane even in foul weather conditions. He always landed safely. His retirement came and he was given a farewell dinner party. Suddenly, his extension of service came and he resumed work. His tenure lasted from 21 Sep 1973 to 11 Aug 1981, almost about 8 years.
During his long tenure, he used to call me, as Chairman of Manipur Public Service Commission and stressed that I should be fair and just to all candidates. In fact, whenever he came to Imphal, he used to meet Chief Ministers of Manipur, senior ministers and senior bureaucrats and imbibe a sense of service to the peoples of Manipur.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I was lucky to have been a Lieutenant Colonel of the prestigious Indian Army. True to the spirit of Indian Army, I am always treated well by all officers of Indian Army, who out-rank by several steps probably because of my age. Lastly, I pray that the patriotic Indian Army should continue to defend India, our Motherland.