A frank, from the heart account from an iron lady…
Labels. Labels are fraught with meaning and can be difficult for a variety of meanings. Adiba tackles the label survivor in this way … Breast Cancer Survivor. What does that actually mean? Should I that live with metastatic breast cancer ever be called a survivor? I say no! Please don’t call me that!You hear breast […]
I am asked regularly — “when will you be done with treatment” or “How are you recovering” or something similar. In my view, the fact that I’m asked these questions comes from two places: 1) people don’t know what to say/ask, so they say/ask something that comes to mind; and 2) there is a fundamental […]
What defines a human life? Is it the quantum or lifespan spent by that life in this world? Or is it the legacy left behind by that life which is later seen or heard from near and dear? Isn’t it defined by the actions of that Soul which came to occupy that human body for a short while, in this infinite world as an infitesimal entity?
If I ask an old lady, how does she define her life..she might list all the highs and lows of her life and those contributions made by her progeny and her near and dear. If I ask her what’s been the purpose of her life and did she achieve it..she might say yes, she got all the happiness that she wanted despite the few odd setbacks like a drunkard son or a quarrelling nephew or a jealous sis in law. Or, she might say, she spent her entire life searching for a purpose..an ethereal purpose beyond the obvious one of living and breeding and dying..and that she is still searching.
In one of those spiritual interactions in the College of Defence Management in 2005, someone asked our class (which me and Reena were part of), what’s our purpose in life..and of course, we all had different answers..some said about being successful, some about being helpful, some about being rich, and it went on…in the end, the person who asked the question said that the whole purpose is a pursuit for happiness. Whether it’s a sort of selfish happiness or community happiness was left unanswered, maybe because we were all in the 30-40 age group and he felt that the subject is beyond our comprehension.
Its a fact that no life is a smooth road. In a four dimensional world where time as the 4th dimension and personalities as unpredictable variables keep interacting, the journey is expected to be a roller coaster ride indeed.. exhilarations and depressions keep interchanging depending on the strata and class in which you are born in..some are born with a golden spoon while some struggle for a simple spoonful of rice for sustenance.
If we see the set of human beings as small subsets or spheres..a sort of permeable, transparent bubble which lives and breathes alongside other mini bubbles within a bigger bubble which we can call the world, can we define life better? How big will be the bubble..a family or a tribe or a clan or a race or just a big bubble of human beings?
We know that every person born in such subsets or small spheres has a role to play within that. Some grow beyond it or change spheres as they collide or interact with other spheres in the system. Emotions and attachments get overlapped with feelings and sense of belonging within a bubble and at times even beyond the bubble. At times you meet a person from another bubble and feel a sense of dejavu… is it because of some past life connections or is it a soul from your bubble which has now restarted in the other…
A soul after fulfilling its role in one bubble sets forth to another, even as the others in the bubble hang on to whatever they have in the form of memories of the interactions they had with that soul. Will they really want to call back that soul, if they had a vantage view above all the bubbles which shows them the soul in another bubble in another form, fulfilling the purpose assigned in that bubble?
So, where are we in this discourse on defining life? If we ask that soul which is now in another bubble, that Being would identify with the current bubble and not the past. If you ask the others who are missing that soul or the erstwhile live body or Being in that bubble, they would list the memories and legacies of that “Being’. If you ask others in other bubbles, some may or may not have heard of that Being…
If the “Being” itself is disinterested in its definition of the life it has lived, at a later stage (of course, many would be highly interested in the present), then why fret? Why not just enjoy the small bubbles of happiness and sorrow, glory and gloom, births and deaths, victory and loss, work and relaxation, and the umpteen paradoxes that our life is filled with.
The Hindu concepts of four Purusarthas and the Japanese Ikigai are interesting reads on life’s purpose. Also happened to read somewhere about the “six feet of earth” which a body actually needs as the soul departs. Saw this poem online, a similar version was taught in the school too, I guess. https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/six-feet-earth. As the Bible says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” and “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it“.
More on fate and destiny, in the next edition. Do feel free to comment on these thoughts or if you have some deeper insights on these lines of thought….
His nom de guerre was the Black Twin Tail, until he and his sweet lil wife decided to build a nest on a Y shaped branch of a mighty large tree near the balcony of my second floor apartment. An activity which was earlier ignored now became our favourite pastime to observe and comment, due to the umpteen hours, minutes and seconds that covid19 lockdown gave us.
Stuck in a two room apartment in the Officers’ Mess during Covid lockdown, me and Reena had established a routine of spending our morning coffee hour in the balcony. Our balcony was a small space cluttered with a cloth stand, my unused golf set, old shoes, few cartons, a water cooler (or its backside) and two garden chairs. But in that one hour of coffee time, it was the place where everything under the Sun was discussed.
Black Twin Tail became the main character of our “balcony hour” around the same time as PM’s request to clap hands and light torches, in support of the Corona warriors. As we were looking for an ideal location in our balcony to place the diyas, there swooped the Twin Tail with another one in close pursuit. Normally, you would see a twin tail chasing a big bird, but this form of acrobatics or aerial manoeuvres between Twin Tails happen during courtship (no, it’s not my gyaan, it’s the Wikipedia speaking). That’s the time, when internet revealed that this smart guy is called a Black Drongo or Dicrurus Macrocercus.
The ongoing aerial combat seemed suicidal with the pair crashing into surfaces and attempting multi dimensional interplanar movements. Soon realising that they had a larger audience watching this public display of affection, the Drongos retired to one tall spindly tree, which so far had an inconsequential existence in the daily balcony panorama. The tree was rechristened the Drongo tree, once me and Reena realised that the black pair had a nest tucked away in a Y shaped branch far far up, close to the top.
Watching them flit around during morning coffee became an unmissable activity for both of us. Our son Parin started calling it our National Geographic channel in the Balcony! Our first observation was the Drongo’s offensive response towards bigger birds. The Drongo duo had declared the whole area ‘no fly zone’ and chased away those poor birds whose flight paths overflew the spindly Drongo tree. This included a crow who used to follow the same flight path despite such persistent nuisance. Many online articles call the Drongo as King Crow, because of this aggressive nature towards bigger birds.
Closer bird watching over the next week revealed that the Crow himself was building a nest on another tree to our extreme right. So, we had a left wing Drongo and a right wing Crow. Even as the Drongo duo battled all, the Crow continued building his nest. It was a laborious task for the crow as he/ she was seen struggling with even tiny twigs, though we assume that for a bird his size he should be able to lift heavy twigs. On and on he went, collecting broken twigs and threads from all places even as he was doggedly targeted by the D on his route in and route out. King Crow, indeed.
The crow was soon done and it seemed that the Drongos too had lost interest in airspace violations, as both the nests fell silent in terms of aerial activity. The D duo were seen to be keeping shifts, to sit on the eggs, whereas in the Crow’s case, it seemed to be a one sided affair. Within a week, there was frenzied activity in the D household. Both the parents were seen flying in with filled mouths to feed the newborn. A smooth arrangement of shared responsibility seemed to be in place – as one D fed the kids, the other one guarded the skies.
The kids were soon big enough to be seen above their nests. Even as India and the World battled Corona, these kids continued with their chirpy demands for more food from their condescending parents. The right wing Crow kept her watch as her mate was seen supplying necessities to the nest. To add to the melee, a new activity was spotted in the centre tree which had a stump to one side. From the sides of the stump popped up a cute greenish bird with a prominent red plume. Online inputs and reference to some bird watcher friends like Mongia, revealed his name as a Coppersmith Barbet. So, for our coffee hour, the activities were evenly spread; we had a left wing Drongo family, a centre aligned Coppersmith and a right wing Crow couple. The add-ons were few squirrels and chirpy parrots who followed no set pattern other than exploring flower pods all around.
The day India breached the one lakh mark of Corona case, was a momentous day for the D parivar. As both the parents got busy food collecting, there came another bird…a shiny sliver of malefic intentions…google revealed his name as Shikra (Accipiter Badius) is known for his preying instincts, with some videos showing trained Shikras catching birds for their masters.
Well, the Shikra swooped in on to the Y cut nest with the clear aim of finishing off the tiny Drongo babies. His attempts to peck at them were fought back ferociously by the tiny ones, even as we tried helplessly to shout from the balcony. The tables soon turned against the Shikra, as a group of smaller birds including the Coppersmith launched a combined attack against this wily invader. As he made a hasty withdrawal, the male crow joined in to increase his speed of exit. It was a great example of community living and mutual coexistence wherein all of them got together to fight a common enemy.
The D parents soon returned and I am sure the tiny ones were rewarded with extra worms and butterflies that day, for their valour. The smaller birds continued with their pecking around barks for insects and the Drongos didn’t seem to mind..further reading on the subject revealed that the smaller birds prefer staying near a Drongo primarily for their own protection.
Another month and the Drongo babies were hopping outside their nests onto nearby branches. A reluctant and scared baby was being persistently trained by the parent to let the fear go and hop around. After two weeks of some unavoidable travel, when we returned to our Natgeo balcony, we could see the babies attempting aerial manoeuvres like their parents as the proud patient parents led the way on unsuspecting butterflies and insects. What was more impressive was their night manoeuvres as darkness never seemed to limit their operational capabilities.
We had to move into a bigger ground floor house soon and it was bye bye time for all the Drongos, Crows and Coppersmiths. The crow nest seemed full with new babies and the Coppersmiths seemed busy in their deep deep furrow within the branch, as we packed up our nest to shift it to a bigger location.
Three months of hourly birdwatching was indeed a revelation that you don’t have to travel far to see Nature. It’s around you and only thing that we have to do is to slow down and absorb the happenings around us…. beautiful bountiful Nature and the harmonious coexistence of its inhabitants will be revealed in all its glory. A few odd Shikras, selfish human beings and the like are minor irritants when we see the enormosity of the natural canvas.
24 May 99 was an even mix of happiness and gloom, as we bid farewell to our first aboriginal (*an officer who was commissioned into and commanded the same unit) Tiger Col (later Brigadier) Hareesh Pankan and welcomed Col (later Lieutenant General) Vinod Gulabrao Khandare as the 8th Commanding Officer. The new Tiger, another aboriginal, had been around as the GSO1 of the same Division where the Battalion was and all of us were in an upbeat mood.
The Adjutant soon announced Tiger’s familiarization program and the onus of conducting him in Bravo Company became mine as the traditional 2 Tiger was away sharpening his pencils for DSSC preparations. The incident of Lt Kalia’s patrol being ambushed in Kargil had already happened, and OP VIJAY was on.
The familiarization visit to all posts went on as per schedule, with the movements in open areas restricted to hours of darkness. Only those who have actually slid down the vertical slope or Rasta to Chattan Post under enemy fire can describe it, or should I say that some slopes are beyond description. It’s an 8 point contact, in which you are hanging on to dear life with all your body parts and hoping against hope that the moon doesn’t come out and make your life miserable by giving the enemy a highlighted target.
The visit to Serial 2 or Bravo company started from a Post called Dogra which was a sort of rest and recoup one, as it was echeloned behind and away from most of enemy’s direct fire. Only challenge to Dogra’s Class A status was Maid Post of Charlie company with it’s maize fields, piggery and hen coop. Dhaniram Sahab was Tiger of Maid due to his recurring medical problems.
Tiger breezed through Dogra on to Don Post, where his ex Signal buddy Pratap awaited as a fresh Subedar. Tea, pakoras, dinner and endless stories interspersed with briefing saw us crossing the midnight mark.
It was early hours of 03 June 99. Now was the trek to company headquarters at Camel, an imposing landmark with an equally imposing and flat Tabletop in between. The patch between Tabletop and Camel was open to enemy observation, but the obscured moon reduced chances of enemy detection. A downslope of 45 degrees led into an area called the India Gate, which further had a bifurcation. Left took you within metres of the enemy to two more of our posts (opposite one enemy post aptly named Kabristan) while the right track led to Camel.
The pace of advance was slow, as the Tiger was familiarizing with the landscape including umpteen minefields of varying vintage. Very soon, we were across Tabletop and onto the track, which had minefield fences to either side.
As the saying goes, you never get to hear the bullet meant for you. However what you get to experience is a series of actions in no particular order, with all of them happening within the next few seconds or microseconds. First feeling of foreboding came when the moon decided to shower his benevolence onto us, both for good and bad. It helped me in indicating the landmarks around to the new Tiger because Tabletop had the best panoramic view. But, it also aided the enemy in spotting us on a well lit shiny path. The next event was a flash on the enemy side, to which our reaction was to immediately duck down while alerting the Tiger’s party of a likely threat by pushing them down. Few seconds passed, nothing happened and we all heaved a sigh of relief to continue our movement hastily. However, an odd sensation in my calf made me feel that I had snicked it against the minefield which was conveyed to the Tiger who was immediately behind.
Tiger lent his cane, which so far was being used as a prodder for stones in the track, and I hobbled on to safety, promptly assisted by the Tiger himself. A quick swipe of the calf revealed some wetness, which led to the assumption that a bullet had grazed my calf. Stream of expletives kept tumbling out as it was anger at oneself for letting the enemy gain an upper hand. The pain came in later, when I was carried piggy back by my buddy to the nearest jeephead, which was 45 minutes away. Not wanting to give the enemy a moral victory, I remember pleading with Tiger not to declare it until the doctor felt it’s a serious wound! How wrong was I to assume that it was just a nick, from a lucky enemy sniper.
What’s that feeling of being shot at or what did you feel, many have asked me over the years. At that point of time, there was zero feeling, not even pain, just a realisation that I might miss the action which was planned soon. Then followed anger, bubbling anger, the way you feel when you lose a race with a traditional rival or when you are beaten in a videogame by a known kaddu (nincompoop).
Did I save the Tiger, many asked? Did I, I too wondered. Maybe, if we had not abruptly stopped and pushed down others, the bullet would have found it’s way on to a more prized target – a CO who had just taken over command on active LC. What would have been the first and second order effects of such an action- only hindsight can help us wonder of such grave probabilities. So, under those circumstances, the field Captain was more affordable vis-a -vis a new Colonel and CO of 850 men, and I guess fate timed it well.
From the road head, a jeep took me on a bouncy trip to the nearest hospital which was another 45 minutes. Our unit Doctor, a Bengali Moshoi met our party at the halfway mark; asked me to move my toes, confirmed that it was a gun shot wound, and told me that I was lucky. You can imagine the scene : 0200 hours in the morning, lying on a stretcher fixed to the side seat of a Jonga, with a pulsating leg, and being told by a jovial Bong that you are lucky..who would believe him. Later (after 2/3 months) I realized that he was referring to the bullet missing the nerve, which would have left me with a lifelong limp or trailing foot. Lucky indeed!
That night saw me moving from Field Hospital to the General Hospital and finally entering the Operation Theatre at 0500 hours or so in the morning. Somewhere in between was a Malayali driver, to whom I presumably told not to convey this news home, as I was worried about the effect on my widowed mom and young sister. Frankly, I don’t remember any of that, what I remember is the bumpy ride to those hospitals and the soothing surroundings of the hospital room as my eye lids got heavy.
The morning of 04 June was seconds and minutes of excruciating pain as the pain of open wound and a cracked shin bone hit me with full force. Only a smiling Major in the next bed with an amputated leg from a drifted mine could give me an insight into the quantum of pain, and made my wound seem miniscule. His cleaning sessions used to be howling matches as the raw nerve ends could not be suppressed with any pain killer. Again, I was lucky!
Well, life just moved on. Even as OP VIJAY went on and many of my coursemates like Capt Vikram Batra went on recapturing peaks with ‘Dil Maange More’, I was on a rearward loop shunting from Jammu to Chandigarh to Kerala. Toughest part was informing my mom about my injury, which was managed over a landline to my young sister who was mature beyond her age. Love of unit personnel, near family, Sainik School types and many newfound hardcore nationalists aided me in that trip. Many autographs, TV interviews, telephonic interactions, and such acts followed and my mom and sister took some time to adjust to this new popularity. I even flagged off a Solidarity rally at my sister’s Kendriya Vidyalaya at Pangode. Often I was reminded of the adage, Gods and soldiers we adore, in times of danger and never before (and after, too!).
The recuperation path was a steep one as the plaster had to come off first which was followed by painful physiotherapy sessions. The sense of missing out all the action, is something which is indescribable, especially when you have spent your life training for it. A shock came in after one month at the Bangalore Command Hospital when they refused to send me back with my crutches as the Battalion was in active field. I had to use the influences of the same Tiger who gave his willingness to keep me in his team, even as a cripple.
So, back to the LC I landed back, in a few months, with a slight limp and unwieldy leg. Tiger placed me as the Assistant Lion or Assistant Adjutant and even started a series of basketball games to get me back on track. Very soon, those games at Base became major stress busters for all team members of Fab14 and a strength builder for me, the erstwhile cripple.
They say, the Battalion is your family and it stays your family till the last breath. Good or bad, it carries you and it’s finally the Officers that make or break such an outfit. Within few months of that gun shot and a compound comminuted fracture, I was declared Shape One and fit for action. 03 June 1999 was just another date as many other important dates were etched by the gallant actions of Team 14. The second COAS Citation which came later, was an endorsement of our achievements.
What have remained with me, of that day and the days that followed are the memories of love and brotherhood of my extended family. And yes, an ugly tattoo etched by that sniper bullet remains on my right shin, to remind me of the lessons learnt from that experience.
The year was 1998 and our hero Sher was on the Line of Control (LC), Jammu and Kashmir. Littered with so called close proximity Posts (manned by 20 to 40 soldiers) and dominated inch by inch of physical and psychological dimensions, the LC is a very intimate, and close quarter battle space.
Within a Post, the troops stay in bunkers that are bullet and shell proof. The additional beings or characters in the ecosystem are dogs, pigs, hens, crows, goats and any living creature which find solace in such islands of life. Sher was one such character, a Murga or a Cockerel who was bought by his foster dad, a young lieutenant, from a nearby village.
As a young chick, Sher was an inquisitive one, pecking around cook houses, store rooms and even amidst minefields. Luckily, being a lightweight fellow, he failed to trigger the antipersonnel mines, which was a matter of jealousy for other heavyweights including the piggies, who ended up activating one of those, very frequently.
The piggies 🐖, kept multiplying by the dozen. The male pig or boar (aptly titled Raspy, short for Rasputin, and modified to Ravi by some bhullas) had many gilts to give company to. He even went to other Posts to find new mates and make them Sows, and add on to the piggie population. The two goats, which again were local purchase, gave each other company. Sher, in comparison was more lonely, as the hens which came in Ration supply, did not interest him much.
From a diminutive and inquisitive chick, he soon grew into a regal, off white Cock, with a royal red comb or a cockscomb. His whittles were red too, and the overall combination of white and red, made him a sensation. His routine started with an early morning wake up call, the persistence of which was hated by many, including the young lieutenant. After a night of sleeplessness, the last thing you wanted was a rooster trying to impress you.
Once Sher got everyone up and about, he used to take a perimeter walk, a sort of ‘securing the perimeter’ during which any being which was out of place got a friendly nudge or a cluck. The perimeter once secured, was followed by a visit to the cookhouse to get his morning breakfast in a designated bowl. As the morning sun got more intense, his location shifted to the highest sentry post from where he kept the Post updated about the activities around, with his vocal responses.
Raspy continued expanding his area of influence, at times even crossing company and battalion boundaries to leave behind a legacy. One such foray resulted in the adjacent company post Sow having ten piglets, of which five were demanded by Raspy’s Post. After much negotiations, a deal of 70:30 was arrived at between the Post commanders. You can see how all beings are taken seriously and accounted for in such a closed environment.
Sher was oblivious of Raspy’s outreach activities, as he continued at his exalted perch and stepped down only for lunch and dinner as per timings laid down by the cookhouse commander. An odd peck or exploration into your backpack was inevitable if you were at the same sentry post. Over a period of time, his clucks and various intonations were rightly interpreted by the post personnel and he was suitably rewarded with bread crumbs or cereals.
He moved out of the Post only when his master, the young Lieutenant made a trip to adjacent Posts. His order of March in such a patrol was fixed and the column was expected to add his pace of advance to the time plan. At such places, he recieved equal attention as his master. Even the dogs, which are a normal presence in such Posts, respected his right to inspect and it was a sight to see Sher majestically inspecting the trenches and the bunkers.
His response to incoming bullets and bombs was another battle worthy act. A mortar bomb remains airborne for few seconds, before it lands on your head, ie.if you are still in the open. Like other personnel of the Post, Sher had mastered the art of ducking into the nearest shelter in those few seconds, combining the act with warning clucks for the rest of the gang. Scorpion and snake bites became a thing of the past, due to his alertness.
With his growing fame, there were demands from other Posts for matching him with a few local hens. That had to be firmly turned down as he was the mascot of the Post and he could not be forced into any activity. But seeing his loneliness, or lack of hen company, special patrols were undertaken to the neighbouring village to get him company.
Two such attempts, saw two colorful hens joining the Post, but their presence was short-lived. Unlike Sher, who had taken on cat’s nine lives amidst all firefights and mine-fields, the hens were less adaptive. One got hit by mortar splinters and the other went missing overnight, presumably taken away by a jackal which used to frequent the Northern perimeter, closer to cook house.
Marriage of Sher became a hot topic over cups of tea and friendly carrom matches. Discussions also went into post marriage arrangements for the couple- whether they would stay at the same Post or shift to the hen’s post. Since Sher and his choice was prime priority, his liking for one particular hen in another Post was given due consideration.
Next day’s patrol went to that Post, under command of the young Lieutenant, and of course the patrol party included Sher. Since, Sher normally walked back with the patrol, they took an overnight halt at the Post to help Sher settle down.
Movement back next day was a silent one. Though Sher was up and about, he let the Patrol party walk back, and watched his ‘to be’ digging around in the kitchen garden. It was a case of happily ever after, as Sher returned to the Post after seven days, having done his duty. Over the next year, this became a regular practice, as Sher too established himself or his legacy in various Posts.
He became part of Company stories and even some jokes. Sleeping sentries claimed to have recieved a peck from him while some claimed that he remained a vegetarian on Tuesdays and Fridays (a local Peer Baba day). It is to his credit, and of course even the other beings, that none of them got hit by splinters or bullets which were quite commonplace on the LC at that point of time. He surely knew the dictum that ‘respect had to be earned’ and his actions within the Post got him both love and respect.
One soldier even went to the extent of fabricating a few crates, to make him a cosy little shed, near the Ration store, where he could comfortably tuck in after a day’s toil. Another used up a tin of boot polish to embellish ‘Sher‘ on that bird house. People returning from leave were seen getting some specialities for the animals of the Post including ‘apna murga‘ which he used to demolish immediately.
His two years plus of incident free patrols and perimeter checks came to an abrupt halt, when he injured his neck in a barbed wire fence. Some say it happened as he tried to battle away an eagle 🦅, but those reports remained unconfirmed. The battlefield nursing assistants tried their best to get the royal neck up again, but were not successful.
Sher soon breathed his last having spent most of his life amidst those soldiers. It might sound odd, but it’s a fact that his absence had a direct impact on the appetite of the Post personnel that day. He was given a worthy cremation and a huge boulder placed over the burial site, to prevent the animals from digging out his mortal remains. Over the next one year, even as other humans and animals came and went, Sher remained irreplaceable for Bravo company.
As the Company packed and moved out after the mandatory deployment, the boulder was left behind like a grave stone to commemorate that cocky soldier who walked those trenches guarding the Nation’s frontiers. Sher he was and a Sher he will remain.
Just a teeny-weeny name but Itsy is as significant in our family history and life as our son, Parin. She was so Itsy bitsy when she came in but for the next decade as we moved from Dehradun to Kolkata to Katihar to Delhi, she ensured that her memories remain monumental. How did this Roadesian or Indie arrive or bounce into our lives.. read on…
It was one of those cold evenings in Dehradun with winds from the Tons valley adding on to the chill. Me and Reena, the expectant mother, were out on our evening stroll. Parin was due to arrive in two months or so. A month after that we both were due for our posting, so our house was a mix of cartons, boxes and little baby stuff.
The slow pace of walk was aiding us in observing nature and absorbing the beauty of Doon. That is when Reena heard the whines of a puppy(s) from the drain. On moving closer we saw two black fur balls huddled against each other, eyes yet to open and sniffing around for the comfort of their mom’s warmth and milk. Alas, the mom was missing.
As it was getting dark and cold, Reena’s first response was to pick them up but I had to firmly prevent her from doing that. It was heart wrenching to dump them but the impending move from Doon made me say no to her plans. My pleas highlighting the logistic challenges of managing the puppies and a little baby did not find much traction with an extra emotional better half. You know how charged up the hormones are during pregnancy….!
After some negotiation, the mutual agreement arrived at was to complete the walk and then look up the puppies before we slept. Balance of the walk was “external calm internal turbulence” as the thoughts of those puppies’ future kept my wifey busy and the looming crisis that such a decision could cause, kept me worried. Back home, after a cup of coffee ☕ the topic returned and this time with great reluctance I agreed to make that trip with Reena, just to feed them.
Reena surely knew how to get me on board and the ‘feeding on site’ idea soon changed to ‘let us take them home and feed‘ amendment. Since they were used to suckling so we had to use one of the cotton wicks of the diya (lamp) to feed them. The Blackie was smarter as she could sense all our actions even without seeing and didn’t waste a drop of milk. The Gray brownie (don’t ask me how can that colour combo work) was sluggish. Both of them soon rolled over into deep slumber with their tummies bursting sideways like footballs. It was an adorable sight to see the cardboard box filled with those furry snoring cutie balls. Reena, the mom to be, had a long sleepless night with her motherly instincts at play, while I slept soundly😉.
The dawn saw only one of them alive and no marks for guessing that it was the Blackie who lived on to make this story a reality. Since she could fit into a palm, Reena felt it logical to call her ITSY. For us she was God sent as our first child. Chewing at socks, gnawing through cartons, slurping dollops of ice cream were some of her favourite baby activities. Later on in life, she used to take a special interest in Parin’s socks!
Parin arrived soon after and the increased activities in the house kept Itsy bemused. From a black fur ball she started changing colours into a brownish black puppy hinting at a mixed parentage, maybe an Alsatian dad. My theories about her parents were wilder as I found the design similar to that of a fox or a jackal but these were immediately shot down by her protective mom.
Sunbathing sessions of Parin were moments of happiness for Itsy as she got to see her new sibling out of the heavy winter clothing. December in Dehradun was cold but our small lawn was adequate to accommodate the additional guests plus Parin and Itsy as they warmed themselves in the diffused light of an obscured sun.
Very soon it was time to move out of Dehradun. Our indica car/ black Indie Baby was packed to the brim and Itsy was assigned a special seat on top of the suitcases in the last row as Parin and Reena had to be in the front. That’s the time we realized that even dogs can get motion sickness. A few kilometers into our 10 hour journey and our assumption that she would get used to the new experience of road travel was proven wrong as she protested with all her energy. And you know how persistent children can be.
The seating plan was then reworked and we got her to the front seat. Her preferences to trade places with Parin was evident, but that was not possible. The next best option was at the feet of Reena and that assuaged her feelings of being left out in the rear seat. The balance 9 hours were a smooth ride. ……
Part 2 : Katihar
I moved to Katihar, as a MOSS (Married Officer Staying Single) as Reena and Parin shifted base to Barrackpore, Kolkata. These were the closest stations that both of us could manage under spouse posting. It was an overnight train journey or a full day road trip of around 600 km, but still far away. As Reena had to balance between work and Parin, Itsy joined me. She travelled from Delhi by train and it was a big exercise to book her with a friend. My mom in law had to use all her persuasive powers to convince her to travel but there was no alternative option as they already had Benzie at home. It was indeed a painful moment for all of us and for Itsy it would have been an ordeal to endure her first train journey without any of the known faces around.
She was all happiness at Katihar Railway Station, to see me. My two room set was approved by her though the ducks, rabbits and swans of the neighborhood caused her some annoyance. Coincidentally, her response matched that of Amit, another youngster in my unit, who used to chase the poor swans as their ‘quacks’ were too shrill for his mental peace. Very soon, she settled down into the so called unit routine.. morning runs with my company, breakfast, snooze, afternoon run, watching troop games, dinner and sleep. Delta company and its blue colour became her own. Personnel of Delta could approach me without fear, but the rest used to get a growl. Some say dogs are colour blind, but she could recognize blue Flag area of my company in any gathering. Morning runs were immensely interesting for her, but any attempts to get into my personal space was met with a nip, which everyone soon accepted. As Delta company went on to win championships, I could sense a feeling of pride in her..or was I just mirroring my own feelings on to her….
Another year and Reena had to leave her Army Educationist job to give more time to Parin. Once they relocated to Katihar, it was full family time for Itsy. I had permitted her to roll up at a corner of my bed when the nights were cold. With Parin around, Itsy now had to be content with her own mattress. We soon shifted to a bigger house, and Itsy established her supremacy in that area. Nipping at the calf of a mail delivery boy, chasing the Boss’s son as he cycled in front of our house (thankfully Boss also had a Dog!), bossing over the local cats, etc were some of her famous pass times.
Part 3 : Nabha and Delhi
In 2007, I was selected for a one year course in United Kingdom. A year of random moves and logistic challenges, which was compounded by the discovery that Itsy was pregnant. Mom in law at Delhi came to the rescue even as we got busy trying to prepare for a one year stay in 20 Kg suitcases. After we flew out, Itsy delivered 5 beautiful pups in the first floor room of In law’s house at Delhi. She used Reena’s clothes and my files to make her pups comfortable which were to create a set of documentary challenges for all of us later on. Since Itsy was a known personality in the neighbourhood, three of her pups were soon adopted (fourth one went missing, probably picked up by a cat) and Itsy along with one pup moved with another brother officer George, who himself was shifting to Nabha as a newlywed. Those were trying times for George too as he was moving to a new outfit and his wife was scared of dogs, but seeing our predicament they fostered Itsy and her pup. In another month Itsy’s fifth pup also got adopted at Nabha. This one year of motherhood, separation and movement was to make Itsy more strong but a bit insecure.
We landed back from UK in one of those midnight flights. Itsy who was now back with mom in law, came down from the first floor sensing our presence. Moments of joyous reunion – learning important lessons of separation and belonging. Itsy, now a five (or 35) year old girl soon got used to the 2 bhk ground floor government accomodation in Delhi and the small lawn behind where she would chase away the squirrels and watch us planting carrots and brinjals. She was no more the timid one, and none of us could take her mood for granted. Even Parin got two nips (including one in his tummy), when he was playing with her. Being an Indie, her health always remained good even as the neighbouring exotic pets kept having one problem or the other.
In 2011, we thought of getting her a sibling and by end of the year, Mishty bounced in. This pure black ball of naughtiness was to teach Itsy a few lessons of patience. The outstanding maturity of Itsy saw smooth settling down of the new arrival. Itsy with no airs, was now seeing a nakre wala younger brother, who refused to accept her seniority and saw her as a play fellow.
With Mishty around, Itsy became more mature. We were now a balanced family, with Itsy didi, Parin, Mishty bhulli and I believe Parin learnt a lot from both of them. As I moved to Africa for a year, Itsy could even video chat with me whereas Mishty could not hear me. Maybe, the Roadesians have special skills. As compared to Mishty who jumped over everything and slept atop a Blower, Itsy had her preferred places and never jumped on to the bed. Only time she violated that was when she jumped on to the bed to express her happiness when she found out on return from her evening walk that I was resting after a long flight from Africa.
Well, as they say, one human year is seven years of a dog. Itsy too became a senior citizen. A moody walker who felt irritated at times with the bounciness of Mishty, but a loving elder sister who taught her all basic stuff including barking.
A dental infection proved fatal for her as probing into her mouth was a strict no no, considering her volatile nature. Reena did 24×7 baby sitting and the local vet tried his best, but very soon she left for a greener afterlife. The place where she was buried was not shown to Mishty, but sibling love or intuition you may call it, Mishty walked to Itsy’s grave and sat down there for a while.
A decade of love and shared moments..her loss shattered Reena the most, even to the point of making me think why have a pet at all…but then, that’s what they teach us. Reena still recounts how a 10 year old Parin consoled her when Itsy went away..he said, “Mom, don’t cry about her not being here. Think of the ten wonderful years that you could give her, an Indie or a Roadesian“
If I were to list some of the lessons or reasons for having a pet, they would be-
Learning to love unconditionally
Life is transitory and short
A pet is the best gift that you can give your son or daughter
How you behave with those who cannot speak or do you no harm, is indicative of your character
The list is endless…
Cheers to you, Itsy…you lived your life fully and left us those lovely memories…we shall meet, for sure. Hopefully, that time we will not have this differential life cycles of one and seven.
A recent article by General Hasnain about an escapade in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) reminded me of an incident which I was party to, but from the law enforcer’s perspective. It is not so dated back in history like that of the senior General, but it has been almost two decades.
The Assistant Adjutant of Indian Military Academy is a powerful appointment in terms of enforcing discipline. Normally a bachelor officer performs this function as the duty is 24×7 wherein the more active he is, better monitored will be the Gentlemen Cadets (GCs). But again it’s not a one man job; actual task is of the Academy Adjutant who is supported by the Assistant Adjutant, four Battalion Adjutants and a team of drill instructors.
The year was 2003. Me and my wife, both instructors, were returning after an early dinner from a local restaurant (yes, I had married an Army Educationist, Reena, immediately after becoming the Assistant Adjutant, much to the consternation of the Adjutant who felt that our honeymoon will impact my 24*7 discipline enforcement time).
Post 8 pm, the main road in front of Chetwode building (Chakrata road) is normally desolate barring a few trucks, but on that day there was an autorickshaw which was moving at a mysteriously slow place in front of us. Since Reena was in her eighth month of pregnancy, our pace in the black Indica was also not much.
When you drive in to the IMA from town, there is a side road to the right few hundred metres before the Chetwode building, which leads you on to the Section hospital and Sangro company. The autorickshaw slowed down in that area and very briefly I saw a person with a Gentleman Cadet haircut (what we call a Zero cut) peeping behind.
My black Indica and blue bike were red alert landmarks for the GCs and I guess the passenger recognised my car and associated imminent danger in that split second. Before I could halt the autorickshaw, it surged ahead, now at a faster pace.
With Reena in such a state, I didn’t want to risk a road race with an uttarakhandi Bajaj autorickshaw but the Assistant Adjutant instincts kicked in and we decided to follow. The Auto slowed down a bit in front of the main gate (another 500 metres after the last slow down), giving me a temporary false hope that it was a legitimate outpass type, but that was not to be.
The Auto picked up pace, like 60 km per second in 10 seconds (zero to 60 in ten seconds..not bad!) thereby spoiling my plans to get additional drill instructors from the main gate, who normally remain on standby. On one side was a GC attempting Escape and Evasion tactics and on the other hand was our yet to be born child who could be risked by this race…..
Being from the military, Reena was ready to risk it and so we kept the chase alive. An autorickshaw and an indica, two indian brands of Bajaj and Tata, racing on a faintly lit Chakrata Road…a fairly balanced bet it was and I was confident about trapping him in the next kilometre.
Expect a GC to come up with out of the box solution especially when his freedom is on the line, says the Drill Instructors Manual and sure enough this GC came up with one. Within 400 metres, the autorickshaw took a sharp Mission Impossible sort of left into one of the bylanes, almost at the same time when I was overtaking him to stop him. I followed suit after a quick manoeuvre with the Auto now having a lead of almost 10 seconds over me.
Hollow square is a known drill sequence wherein the participants perform drill to stand on the three sidelines of a hollow square. The fourth side is used by the Dignitary addressing the parade. The manoeuvre executed by the Auto was similar to a hollow square, with the next two left turns getting him back on the main road.
Now enraged and excited, I also homed in and immediately on entering the main road, blocked the puny Bajaj. How can a Bajaj challenge the Tata, after all?! The dinner now fully digested, I was hungry and angry; so didn’t waste a second to jump on to the Auto.
The ultimate surprise was to see that the rear seat was now empty and the auto driver was profusely apologizing for aiding in such an activity. As per him, the GC jumped off after the second left and should be hiding somewhere in the dark bylanes.
Not wasting much time on further questioning, we executed another hollow square but could not find anyone. While dropping Reena home, I activated all the discipline networks to alert the sentries and have a company wise countup in all battalions. The whole exercise took almost an hour and my confidence that the GC will be caught was waning by the minute. Few other indiscipline cases came to light, but all battalions reported full strength, that night.
The incident surely left behind a sour taste, but as Instructors, me and Reena were appreciative of the GC’s quick thinking under pressure. Surely, our Academy was training them well. Yes, it surely hurt my ego and I would have taken it out on some hapless GC who appeared for the next day morning Drill test, but then, that’s the way it is….
Well, life moved on. Parin came into our lives and we too moved out of Dehradun to two different stations and this incident was tucked away in some part of the brain where all such unsavory thoughts and experiences are kept.
One fine day, when I was performing the duties of Unit Adjutant, I received a nicely crafted demi official letter from some Captain A. I vaguely remembered his name as one of the GCs who underwent training during our time in the Academy.
The contents of the letter reaffirmed my faith in this wonderful organisation, which is known for acknowledging valiant acts by even sworn enemies. In two pages of beautiful calligraphy, my ex GC A, now a Gunner Captain had mustered courage to write to his ex Assistant Adjutant to apologise for that night.
On that night, GC A was returning after a coffee meeting with his beloved when he spotted the ominous black Indica on his tail. His Company (Sangro) was closer to the Section Hospital and that explained the autorickshaw slowing down near that bylane, which totally slipped my mind after the chase. Once he executed the hollow square escape and evasion procedure, he was sure that I would come sniffing soon after. Like a well trained ‘to be commando’, he jumped into an adjacent drain, which incidentally had 3 feet of stinky water; he lost his unauthorised mobile phone also in this dive. Even if I would have searched the area, it would have been difficult to detect such a well entrenched or should I say en-drained GC. So, he stayed in that stinky drain for 10 minutes or more, and then took a circuitous route to reach his cabin in Sangro Company which was on the other side of the road, diagonally opposite. How he managed to reach his cabin 👀 is an action which only he can explain. All this, while my team was focusing more on the battalions closer to the area of escape and evasion! Bravo.
Well, on a balance sheet, it’s not so tough to establish who won or lost. GC A lost his new mobile (which I vaguely remember, was gifted by his girlfriend) and had to endure ten plus minutes of a stinky drain but saved a few restrictions or route marches (punishment). And yes, he surely won in the escape and evasion action.
The Instructor faculty can proudly say, we trained him well. Feeling proud even after a personal loss; maybe that’s the essence of being a Guru!?
PS: I am intentionally not mentioning his name, because I am not sure whether he married the same girl😉.
It was the Summer of 2000 and Captain Mohit was deployed in the Valley as a Ghatak Platoon Commander. His troops were deployed in small groups with frequent ambushes and patrols to surprise the infiltrating terrorists. Day after day, night after night, the troops tried all the variations and innovations under the guidance of their Tiger.
The nights are 36 hour long, or so it seems when you are out on an ambush. You are fighting to keep your eyelashes away from each other like Tom in a Tom and Jerry movie. One of those darker than dark nights turned out to be the lucky night for the bhullas. Vinod who was a silent soldier all his life was manning the Light Machine Gun and holding the night vision too when he spotted some movement. His trepidation grew when he realized that it was a group of nine gun totting terrorists and they were bypassing his location. He alerted the others silently which was followed by a brief exchange of fire between Vinod and the group. Premature opening of fire is one of the ‘Do Nots’ of counter insurgency, but this act of Vinod was the best possible response in such a scenario, as the events later would prove.
No further movement or sounds could be observed or heard and the next two hours were anxious moments as the group waited for the first rays of sun. Other ambush parties along the route also reported no further movement which set in a sense of despair amongst many. The search commenced at first light and one of the parties detected a blood trail leading away from the ambush site into dense maize fields. Vinod became a 🌟 immediately.
As multiple teams moved in, there was an increased frenzy of search activity in the few square kilometres around that spot. Nine was a big figure and excitement was rife in the air as search parties went around jungle bashing. The next contact with the terrorist group was established by 10 am. Maize bashing, lucky escapes and hot pursuit soon followed and towards noon the terrorist group was split into two, with a six-member group trapped in a Nala, surrounded by own troops. The other group of three were to be later eliminated by another team, after a week.
The gun battle raged and the nala became a dangerous funnel of ricocheting bullets and sharpnel. The CO’s Quick Reaction Team soon moved in to finish the operations before last light as the other parties firmed in their various cordon locations. From above the Nala, on a ledge was deployed the buddy pair of Captains Mohit and S, both course mates. Capt S was the company officer of Charlie whose company teams alongwith Ghatak platoon had painstakingly isolated the terrorists. They watched eagerly as the sub teams moved in, still praying for a chance to engage at least one terrorist.
The terrorists were firing sporadically, primarily to preserve ammunition and to extend the operations into night so that they could sneak out of the cordon in hours of darkness. Orders were given to everyone to prevent desperate escape attempts of terrorists and also to engage from own positions depending on inter visibility. The huge boulders within the Nala were aiding the terrorists in taking up concealed and covered positions.
The din of firing soon ebbed and it was clear that the terrorists were down to the last man. The last terrorist, realizing that he was down to the final belt of ammunition, made an attempt to charge at the Tiger’s QRT, with his AK 47 blazing. Of course he didn’t stand a chance with so many guns trained on him and was eliminated. As he fell backwards, his AK 47 kept firing and one of those bullets found its way onto the nose of Capt Mohit who was firing from above. He fell backwards with a bloody nose and mouth, and his buddy Capt S could just mutter on the radio set – “sir, I think he is gone!”
A charpoy was managed and the sturdy bhullas carried Mohit (who incidentally is a bhulla, or a pahadi/ Garhwali) all the way back up another hill, and another two hours to a heli landing site from where he was soon picked up and moved straight into the operation theatre in Udhampur hospital. He was unconscious and the blood was still flowing but the bullet was missing from the cranial region, which was worrisome for all. Capt M’s dad who was in the Army was informed and he was also moving towards Jammu in the fastest possible means, assuming the worst.
Just imagine…… a young officer, unconscious, bleeding from the nose and mouth and a bullet untraced somewhere in the head….moments of anxiousness for all and the task of the surgeon surely was an unenviable one.
Now comes the twist in the tale. Despite all the bleeding, Capt M seemed stable which set the doctors thinking. An X ray of the entire face and skull area was again done and voila, the bullet was found. Not where everyone was looking for, but at the base of his wisdom tooth. To know how it reached there, you have to recall the shape of a skull…the nasal cavity is a triangle and the upper portion of the triangle deflected the AK 47 bullet downward and pushed it towards the jaw bone – the jaw bone being the strongest bone in the body was not to be intimidated and sent the bullet back upwards thereby resulting in the bullet resting next to the wisdom tooth facing upwards! One can say, Capt Mohit’s fate was given a grave challenge and his combined grit (firm jaw) and wisdom (tooth) overcame the challenge.
With the bullet having been found, the mood lightened a bit and sure enough Mohit soon recuperated and was given the shining piece of metal to be kept as a talisman. The spot of entry of the bullet is still visible as a starred scar at the tip of his nose. The spot changes colours when he exerts (like running Marathons, which is his passion) and we have classified it as his G spot, in jest.