Friday, November 12, 2010

Living with The Pioneers - A true Story

Living with The Pioneers

(First Bn the Sikh Light Infantry-
Descendents of
XXIII Sikh Pioneers)

Fighting First some where in North, c/o 56 APO. To be precise at Meerut. Year 1974-75.

We were out on one of our 'Schema te Jangaa vitch fateh bakshna ' missions. Paltan out on its first 'Schema' on reaching the 'Chabi' Div from a long drawn High Altitude Field tenure, with the 'Burning ---- Hole' Div. Orders of the GOC was that the Infantry 'thur ke'(on foot), as part of economy measures. Nation was as such reeling from the depression post-71 War!!! Army also had to chip in with austerity measures. And the only organisation which could chip in by 'turke' was the Queen of the Battle- the Mighty Infantry.!! First mission was to carry out the Field Firing at Dehradun Badshahi Bagh Ranges.

No questions asked. 'Not to question why, but to Do and Die'. That was the order of the Day!! On vee hours of the D Day, the Fighting First, straining on its leashes for action, put the ‘first step forward’ for Dehradun Ranges which was only 300 kms away. After a solemn 'Ardaas'( invocation to ‘Vehe Guru Jee’ – God Allmighty to shower mercy to us on our sojourn) at the Unit GDS (Gurudwara Saab). 'Prashaaaday Chhak ke, Munde te Sardaar te Afsar' took to road with a heart renting 'Bole So Nihaal'. Famous saying ‘A thousand mile journey commences with the first step!!!!, and we had put our First step forward!!.  Reaching D Dun after an arduous march of 5 days is another saga to be elaborated at some other occasion.

The solace was, while returning we would be carted back in vehicles. But then, promises are short lived with higher echlons. And a determined GOC thought it proper to exercise the troops while on their sojourn to the base. So the Fighting First played and 'enjoyed' (sic!) various war 'games' enroute which culminated in a proper Divisional Exercise at Rourkee. Playing all the cards of the game, the Exercise was called off. The Paltan crawled in to the sultry comfort under a Mango grove seething with multitudinous insects, and heaved a sigh of relief, precisely after 3 weeks, since we had taken ('Shakk'en) our 'Prasaad' at unit GDS .

The Comdg Offr was the first one to peel off after handing over the command to the 2 I/C. The Second in Command was a large hearted man and followed suit after excusing the company commanders to proceed to base on 'compassionate' grounds. So the yoke fell on the bachelor boy - the Adjutant (yours Truly), who had nobody waiting for him at Meerut, but for his beauty- the Red Royal-Enfield. 
This is where our incident commences.

The Divisional transport - one platoon of 3 ton trucks reported as scheduled. The move plan was meticulously arrived at. Orders were given on the scheduled halts en route and the strict ban on wanderings on or crossing the High way while on halts. Speed limits were laid down. De-induction Tables and Move Orders were prepared and sent to the Brigade Hq. And after the 'Ardaas', the Paltan was bouncing back to Barracks. As usual the worthy Adjt in his Ops Room 1 Ton truck was on the lead to check the speed of the convoy and the Sub Maj was bringing up the tail with the URO (Unit Repair Organisation) complement. After 2 hours of traverse the Convoy halted for ‘rest and recuperation'. Head counts were taken. All OK reports were coming in. Adjt was on his 5th cup of tea on fervent requests 'ghut ghut' pee laiye saab , from reps of various admin groups.!! Still waiting to have a glimpse of Sub Maj saab to get the final OK report. Hours passed. Adjt’s adrenalin mounting. Then the Nissan truck of Sub Maj appeared on the horizon and drew near. The Vehicle stopped and he alighted, accepted the solemn salutations of ‘mundas’ (jawans) around and walked off for his tea. Getting impatient, the Adjt summoned the Sub Maj and asked for the 'Sab Achha' (All OK report).
Then the Sub Maj started spinning his tale. 'Saabji, mein taan aakhiri gaddi vich aa reha si. Mere saamne apni RCL jeep si, jhinu Banta (Sep Bant Singh) chalanda paya si te Santa (L/Nk Sant Singh) co-draver seat te einakaan (driving goggles) lai baitha si'. I knew what was coming. I held my breath and asked him. 'Sab jaldi bolo. age Kiya hua'?. He replied, ‘Kujvi nahin saab. Ek eetaan da truck (truck carrying bricks)aage chal raha si'. Now I became fully defensive and asked him 'Ok saab, jaldi bolo kya hua?'. 'Saab jee Eetaan de truck da draver ne ekdam break lagaditi, te apne Sante ne gadi nu idha morh dita' . He showed a 90 Degree turn with his hands. Then I asked him 'Saab RCL Gun da ki haal hai’? He said ' Oho taan bach gayi. Sirf Clamp tut gaya, hor gun maarra jeha mur ke idaan hogaya’. He again showed a 270 Degree turn with his right arm. By now I was fully exasperated and panicky. An US manufactured RCL Gun is a controlled item and soldiers handle it with reverence. One of them getting condemned makes the Battalion unfit for war!!!

I asked him 'Saab Gaddi da ki haal hai?’ Then he brought his hands in a namasthe posture parted to nearly one foot and then said ' Saab ji maarra jeha kloj hogaya' and brought his hands to 6 inches , held it at that and left it to my imagination.!! Just imagine an RCL jeep with a gun (US Made) mounted on it, of 12” long getting 'closed' to 6"!!

After having taken the 'panga' (risk) of eliciting the could’ve been 'avoidable' unpleasant report from the Sub Maj, the Adjt was in trouble. Sub Maj had done the ,'Thonu dassiassi' ( I had tolded you !!)trick and was sipping his tea amongst his admirers across the road. I ordered him, much to his chagrin, to cut down on his tea, and join me to proceed to the site of accident.

When I reached the site, I found no trace of the RCL Jeep or the 'eetaan da truck '. Sub Maj was least flustered. My fear was whether the Recovery Detachment of the Corps HQ EME Workshop had taken the jeep away. Then the report must have reached the Bde / Div Cdrs who insisted on a 'zero' accident state. If it happened, it was a 'command failure'!!! I felt terribly guilty that I had let down my Battalion and the Commanding Officer!! I was already hallucinating the tough times I would have to explain my inept handling of the situation to the Comdg Offr, who by now, much oblivious of the mishap, be on his third ‘gin cordial flavored with angostura’ at the Wheeler's Club with his family.   

Then I asked Sub Maj ' Saab gaddi te munde kithhe aai?' He coolly led me to a way side house on the NH 3. After having entered the court yard of the house through the narrow entrance in the mud wall, I found my RCL Jeep with the rcl gun  still mounted in a cocky position, with 'Santa te Banta' thoroughly occupied in fraternising the inmates of the house!!. I wondered, how a jeep with a gun could enter the court yard through the narrow passage in the wall?!! There didn't seem any other opening from any where too!!.  'Santa te Banta' and the old lady of the house were soon hosting me. 'Puttar, bai jaa. Garam chaa pee lo.' -Coaxing of ‘mataji’.  'Rottian nahi khaonge saab . Garam garam haigian, hor sabzi te taaji lassi -'Banta te Santa'. I lost my cool by then and gave both of them and in that veil to the Sub Maj, a vent to my pent up fury. All the B..C..s, and M..C..s I learned in 'First Battalion', gushed out . I was myself surprised at the 'lucidity' and 'diction' of my phonetics in Punjabi. Not very much to the liking of the old lady, who vanished from the scene shedding all her maternal charm!!!
    As expected in 'First Battalion', the mundas froze to 'shun'(attention) and cocked their heads to one side and concentrated, looking philosophical!!!. Once cool and spent out after the shameless tirade, the Sub Maj approached me cautiously and pleaded. 'Saabji  tusi ghusse nu chhaddo, munde siyane (good people)hege ,. Then I asked him what the jeep is doing inside the house and how it got there from the site of the accident?. He told me that after the accident they got hold of the driver of the truck and bashed him up. Manhandled the gun and leveled it to the truck, and did a firing practice with the breech of the gun being loaded with a 'khali khokka' and the 'all clear ' indication to the firer to Fire. Before the 'Firer' could press the knob, the driver of the truck, who was defiant and quoting all the traffic rules & regulations till then, was prostrating before them and ready for any compensation. Sub Maj took out 1000 bucks from his breast pocket and showed me, with glee in his eyes. Then, knowing well that the Bde Convoy was to follow in an hours time, he ordered the 'mundas' to break down the mud wall of the nearby house, and push the jeep in side and re-make the wall to its original state. That's when I realised the reason for dampness on the wall of having recently hand plastered.!! He said 'tussi phikkar na karo saabjee, apaan poora convoys jaan deyange, CMP Check Postaan de hatan ton, raat nu baapis aake jeep nu Shaktiman vich load kar ke junit MT (Unit mechanical transport park) lae challange. CO saab bhadar nu mein appe das deyanga.' The latter part of his statement pricked my ego for certain and was of no relief to me.

Then I went back to the convoy and proceeded to Meerut, highly tensed up.  After having checked in correctly, while giving the 'sab achha' report to CO, I included the 'mishap' also with great caution and apprehension. CO imbibed all coolly and queried whether Sub Maj is handling the situation and then  to my utter surprise and disbelief, told me to relax.
That's the END of my part in the episode. Weird are the ways of Pioneers!!! . Aut Viam Invenium Aut Faciam. If you don’t find a Road, make one. !!! That’s what they did in this case!

I still get shocks when I think of that 'Maarra jeha kloj ho gaya' state..
Such incidents make you fit and strong to survive amongst Pioneers and fade away smiling, with sweet memories to savor for the rest of your life!!!

                             Col Ravi R Nair (Retd)

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