Sunday, June 14, 2015



            Field Marshal Kondandera Madappa, OBE (Order of British Empire) was the First Indian Commander-in-Chief of independent India. He was a man of pristine character qualities, die-hard disciplinarian and  true patriot. He is the Patriarch of our Armed Forces and a General to who the nation owes tributes as the founder of an apolitical and efficient Army.

      General CK Karumbayah, SM, in his article wrote about Cariappa, -“ As the senior most officer, history thrust upon him greater responsibilities as soon as India gained independence. It was largely because of him Indian Army retained its cohesion, discipline, professional competence and an apolitical nature. If not for him probably the Indian Armed Forces could have got embroiled in politics as what happened in Pakistan.” Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck rightly concludes the above statement by stating, “ He set a fine example to those of his countrymen who followed his foot steps.” 

Family Background and Up-bringing. 

          Cariappa’s father Madappa was a revenue official in a small town Snivarasante in North Kodagu. Madappa married Kaveramma – a charming, graceful and pious young lass, who belonged to Codanada clan. They had six children - four boys and two girls. Cariappa was second and was born on 28 Jun 1900.He was very loveable and due to his winsome, jovial and witty disposition he was known as ‘Chimma’ to his near and dear ones.

         Cariappa was a student of Central High School, Madikeri and was an intelligent student with keen interest in sports and games. As a student in school he was slim, fair and somewhat tall for his age. He was very active, popular and even mischievous. There were occasions when he organized revolts against nagging professors and their outmoded practices.

         In the year 1917, Cariappa went to Presidency College, Madras as a boarder. Apart from being a brilliant student he excelled in cricket and tennis in particular- the games, which usually fashioned a polished gentlemen of times. Cariappa even as a student longed to be a ‘soldier’ - his ancestral traditional profession. He used to tell his mother in his young days that one day he would become ‘a big officer’.

         While he was still a student in Intermediate class in Madras Presidency College, he was selected for pre-commission training in year 1918. In year 1919, he was one amongst 39 Cadets who were given the King’s Commission after his training at Dally College, Indore.

Professional Career 

1920       -         posted to 2/88 (Coorg) Carnatic Rifles.
1920-22 -         Adjutant in 2/125 Napier Rifles in Mesopotamia.
1922-25 -         Posted to 1/17 Dogras and 1/7 Rajputs in Wazirstan-North West Frontier Province                                      (NWFP).
1933      -         Attended Staff College, Quetta- NWFP.
1936       -        Posted as Deputy Assistant Qurter Master General at Deccan.
1938      -         Posted Brigade Major of 20 Infantry Brigade, Quetta.
1941      -         Posted Deputy Assistant Quarter Master General of 10 Infantry Division and served in Iraq,                          Syria, and. Iran under General Slim.
1942    -           Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and raised and commanded the 7th   MG (Machine Gun)                              Battalion Rajput Regiment.
1943    -           Posted Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General of 26 Infantry Division at Arakkan                            Front in Burma.
1944    -           Promoted to Brigadier and took over command of Bannu Frontier Brigade in  NWFP.
1946    -           Attended Imperial Defence College, UK.
1947    -           Promoted to Major General and appointed Deputy Chief of General Staff, Army hQ.
1947    -           Promoted to Lieutenant General and took over Command of Eastern Command.
1948    -           Promoted to General and appointed as Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army in place of Sir                          General F Roy Bucher on 15 Jan 1949.
1953    -            Retired on 14 Jan 1953. 
1986    -           Bestowed the rank of Field Marshal on 25 Apr 1986.

Courage of Conviction and Forth-rightness 

        Cariappa is known for his forthrightness. In expression and in numerous occasions others misunderstood him. Cariappa sometimes even disagreed with mahatma Gandhi – the Apostle of Non-violent war, by stating, “non-violence was of no use under the existing circumstances in India. Only a strong Army can make India one of the greatest nations in the world”.

          General Cariappa during a discourse with mahatma on 'ahimsa' and in  justification of his views stated, “we soldiers are a very much maligned community. Even, you think that we are a very violent tribe. But we are not. Of all the people in the world, the one community, which dislikes wars, is the soldier community. It is not because of the dangers and the horrors in the battlefield; but because of the knowledge we have of utter futility of wars to settle international disputes. We feel one war merely leads to another. History has taught us this “.

            When accused of army spreading violence, General replied “in the democratic country soldiers do not initiate wars, Governments when they have failed to get satisfactory solution to international problems declare wars….. We merely carry out orders of the Government- and therefore of the people”.

Vision and Awareness of Existing Circumstances. (Anecdotes and Utterances)

         * General Cariappa always strived to impress people and powers that be, that without some discipline masses of people are but the crowd and the rabble, that democracy is but a  ‘mobocracy’ without discipline and direction, that  the rulers and the administrators without character are but a gang of ruthless power seekers and exploiters and that loss of morale leads to the collapse of will to improve and to succeed. He made bold to suggest to political leaders that some kind of military training for all the citizens would improve their way of life and chase lethargy and indiscipline out of their lives. But he has met with rebuff that he wanted to make India a military nation.

     *Gen Cariappa had a large jungle area surrounding his post retirement abode ‘ROSHNARA’ at Madikeri. The pension he received was meager and not adequate to maintain a large establishment and live a life of comfort.His friends advised him to cut trees from the jungle, which was his own, and sell the timber so that he could live life like a lord. He scoffed at the suggestion. He loved the environment the flora and fauna too much to accept the idea. Instead he adopted a life of simplicity and dignity, which was the hallmark of the man. He was a man of limited desires and considerable self-control.

        *When General Cariappa was asked ‘What prompted you to settle in Mercara, a small town without many modern amenities, instead of settling in Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore as many dignitaries do?” he answered “This question has been asked many times and some of my friends question my wisdom of selecting a small-town like Mercara to spend the evening of my life. I have always told them that there is no place like Mercara (coorg) for me in the whole world and this land of ‘Cauvery Mata’ far excels all other land and I hold it dear as the cradle of my childhood, the Brindavana of my youth and the Varanasi of my old age”. This is where his root lay.

           * General Cariappa believed in the 'pitru devo bhava (worshipful remembrance of parents) and is highly proud of being the son of his dear father.In his article in the Bhawans Journal in the 1965, General Cariappa wrote that “To me the greatest personality I have ever known in my father. I well remembered he telling me ‘my son live your life on your own merits. Do not ask for favours, nor be under any ones obligations’ ”.

            *  When General Cariappa was asked why he did not accept any assignments in some big business firms, when he was offered so many, he replied. “Think of a retired General of a big country like India approaching a civilian officer or waiting for a minister seeking some concessions or help for a company over which he presides, with that sole object of earning some coins!” When the General was reminded that many Generals after he had done that he quipped “, But you must know that I was the first Commander-in-Chief of independent India and I have the responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the high office I held”.

         *  General KM Cariappa when he was the chairman of the All India Sports Council he came in contact with Mr. Vijay Merchant. While on a discussion between both at Vallabhai Patel Stadium in Bombay, a young man hurriedly tried to pass between the two on his way to the enclosures. General stopped him gently and very mildly asked him whether it would have been better for him to merely say “Excuse me, may I pass, please”. And added, “Either of us would have then said “sorry’ given you ample space to go by moving on one side. This is where we lack discipline, my young man and unless young people like you are disciplined, we shall have nothing but indiscipline in the rank and file in this country. I hope you understand ?”. The young man felt so ashamed of himself at this mild admonition. Later General introduced himself extending right hand and shook him warmly saying “ I am pleased to meet you and I trust you will remember in the future what I have said and pass it on to others”. 


Field marshal KM Cariappa’s vision envisaged a disciplined youth working towards the unity and prosperity of the country. His advice to them was to develop  virtues of Physical fitness,Moral correctness, Mental alertness, Discipline, Selflessness, Honesty, Loyalty, Sense of duty and above all   character.                                                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                            -Col R Ravi Nair- 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

EXPEDITION ' UMBA ' - 1973 ( a retrospection )

“My courses are set on the storm winds, 
I sail on the lightening stream“

Umba or ‘Amba’  is a mythological name given to the tallest  peak in the Sankoo Valley of Kargil District , Ladhak. The peak hails its name from the Umba Village which lies at its foot hills. The peak towers haughtily at 5970 m/19600 ft above mean sea level and offers a challenging sight to any mountaineer. She is snow-laden for most of the year. The peak is protected by glaciers from all sides, which dissuades even the keenest climber. The peak for the first time was assaulted by a team led by a westerner in year 1948. The success of the expedition is not known as he returned an insane without his team. Many an expeditions were launched ever since but all had to beat a retreat. The superstition goes with the villagers that ‘no living being can ever reach the Summit’. High Altitude Warfare School Sonamarg (HAWS) took up the challenge and launched a foiled Expedition in 1971. This is the story of yet another attempt by the School in year 1973.

The Expedition UMBA, strength of forty - a conglomeration of signal and medical detachments, porters, ponies and of course us - the climbers- the students and instructors of Mountain Warfare Advanced Course, set forth from HAWS in an auspicious hour on 2nd Aug 1973. Every one was in high spirits with the prospects of reaching the summit. Major Pushkar Chand of Para Commandos- our Expedition Leader and instructor, had least doubts left on the success of the mission. Success of his previous commando missions had lent him enough egos that he planned and desired to convert this expedition in to a commando raid. Captain SC Thakkan of Grenadiers - his Deputy, was not all that bright with the idea of his boss, as his long tenure in HAWS trekking and climbing the mountains had taught him enough to take such ventures with a pinch of salt. Our mountaineer doctor, Captain Shetty was in his usual form- calm and confident that his mules would accompany him with his medical satchels and oxygen cylinders to his forward medical station. The students came, some in high spirits and some with their morale in their boots.

We were at Kargil after crossing Daras by mid day. The journey thenceforth was a test of endurance of ones bowels. Traversing many a hamlets with nondescript names, which appeared and disappeared like oasis in the Sankoo Valley, the road was still ahead of us like a brownish tape winding through the barren slopes of the massifs. Settlements kept on appearing and disappearing. Their bit of greenery and the expressionless mongoloid faces staring at us were the only interludes. By evening the road took a sharp turn and our vehicles pulled up before an old school building which stood out due to its tin roof and white washed walls in sharp contrast to mud plastered  hutments around. We had reached Village Sankoo and end of the road.

After a clear days rest and recuperation at Sankoo, we were off to our Base Camp at Vakoza village with a retinue of mules and yaks loaded with our 15 days rations and the climbing equipments. Traversing a series of settlements called in vivid names we reached our destination just before darkness fell. We immediately pitched our tents and were off to a long deserved slumber. The peculiarity of the villages which struck me was their irrigational ingenuity. Every plot of cultivable land was irrigated by indigenous drainage systems. A sprinkle of water mills with their wooden funnels gaping like dragon mouths were an inevitable scene in every village.

At dawn, streaks of sunrays were pouring on us through the massifs around us. The hanging clouds of the previous day had cleared and by now we could see the Umba Peak majestically towering over other peaks. It offered us a stately challenging sight. The gruesome realisation of our dream was in sight.

The Assault Party left in the morning, on 5th August to establish the assault camp No1. By now the party was divided in to two. The Assault Party consisting of two Instructors and six students and the Admin party which formed the rest. The Admin party was to assist the assault party in lessening their burden and maintaining the Line of Communication to the assault camps intact. 

Ferrying of stores commenced from next day. The humping had to be done man pack, as the ponies, yaks and their handlers just refused to go ahead of base camp.  Unwieldy loads of 30 to 40 Kgs were packed on man pack carriers and had to be carried piggyback. The climb to Assault camp was gradual with intermittent steep features coming in between. It was drizzling most of the days. This made going all the more difficult. Soft mud had turned in to slush and one step ahead showed us two steps down. The chiding wind that blew at fifty knots an hour made the voyage a saga of miseries.

            On 7th the Assault Party set out for reconnaissance. As the Camp No1 was ahead of Shanshila Pass, our first hazard was negotiating the pass. It was a sheer vertical climb of nearly 2500 ft. The approach was through screed slopes and it took us nearly three to four  hours to traverse that distance. Soon we were negotiating the glazier which loomed in front of us. The glazier seemed quite untamed. Deep crevices were plenty. The sight of multi coloured layers of ice disappearing to fathomless depths of the crevices, each hue denoting the residual condensation of centuries in the formation of the glazier itself, was really awesome.

All the way we went pitching flags. Now and then big chunks of ice came hurtling down bringing down an avalanche of soft snow. To keep the eyes on the murderous slopes and the glazier was a tiring task. There were steep slopes to be traversed by cutting steps. In places were it was dangerous pitons with fixed ropes had to be laid and left for our return trip. By mid day the weather started getting packed. Thick fog came floating down and one could hardly see the man in front. A hailstorm was bruin. Now it became all the more dangerous and risky. The murderous crevices could be detected only on close proximity. Still we moved on like phantoms. Aim was to reconnoitre the route to the saddle that joined with the summit of the peak. The last stretch to the saddle was perilous. It took 3 hours of step cutting in the rock hard snow which took Major Chand’s rope to the saddle. Our fingers with inadequate protection of mittens and snow gloves refused to function. It was all blue and black. But the initial success was giving Chand ideas. He wanted us to scale the summit the same day.  But empty stomachs and sullen faces of his rope mates dissuaded him. Now with help of the route marking flags we groped half glissading our way to the camp.

Chand was all in laughs narrating his story of falling in to a crevice hanging upside down by his rope like a spider in its web. Some started suffering from the proverbial hallucinations. Naik Heera, one of his rope mates heard someone calling him from behind. He kept on hearing it. And Chand had to literally slap him to keep cool and keep his eyes on the man ahead. By the time the Assault team reached camp it started snowing heavy. Snow had built up two to three feet and it had no intension to recede. All made a dash for the base camp.

Next two days it was pouring and snowing heavy. There was no progress on the mission. Was the superstition working? Till the day of the reconnaissance, the days were bright and clear that men had to crawl under shade of scraggy rhododendron bushes to escape the heat. Now that the attempt has begun and the nature had turned vicious. The second night ie night of 9/10 showed signs of improvement. While on sentry duty at night I could see few stars vainly trying to peep out of the scattered clouds.

The dawn showed all signs of a clear day. All available hands were immediately rushed up to the abandoned assault camp for its maintenance. After a climb of an hour, fresh snow started appearing. If during rains it was the slush, now it was the fresh snow. Suddenly we saw ourselves off the mist and fog. The snow ahead of us was glittering throwing out ultra violet rays. We felt ourselves like ants crawling on a silver platter. There was a double rainbow in the clear sky. This amazing marvel of nature is to be seen to be believed. We had to strain and screw our eyes to get used to the newly gained brightness. No one had snow goggles with them. We reached the Assault camp and it was difficult to say that such a camp existed there. The tents had to be dugout and re pitched. By evening we were back and ten of us had fallen victims to snow blindness. The eyelids could neither be closed nor opened. And it kept watering through out. People preferred to crawl out of their pup tents and walk up and down in the hail and snow outside expectant of the dawn.

11th day was again bright. To take the max advantage of this the climbers again scrambled back to their perch. On 12th Assault Camp 2 was established ahead of Shanshila.

On 13th morning at 4 AM, four ropes set out with packed brunch, fruit juice tins, and plenty of Cadbury Chocolate bars. The flags we had left during the reconnaissance were no more to be seen. Again we had to reconnoitre and progress. One Party of two ropes under Captain Thakkan proceeded to try out the Right approach and the rest of the ropes the Left approach. The glazier had not changed a bit. With the sun coming out, the loose snow accumulated on the slopes started coming down. Blocks of ice weighing several tons broke away from its mother face and kept falling with deafening roar. We could hear the frequent changing courses of subterranean water channels and streams emanating from the glazier. The earth was trembling and it sounded as if demons were dragging gargantuan chains beneath our feet. Some times the sound was frightening. The  topography of the untamed glazier was ever changing Soon we got used to this phenomenon. But for the Grace of God it was a testing day.

We kept on climbing with the only aim of the summit. Each skyline gained with herculean efforts led to another skyline in front. The rarefied air of those altitudes was taking toll of our residual stamina. It was just grit and determination which goaded us forward. Avoiding crevices and avalanches, step cutting and scrambling up we inched forward. By 3 o clock we were at the base of the peak. Umba seemed within our reach. The savage wind and snow lashed relentlessly at our bodies tearing in to our garments as if searching mercilessly for any exposed skin, while trying to blow us back down the mountain whence we had come.  

Now Major Chand seeing the realisation of his dreams in hand was in full vigour. He, unmindful of the howling wind, took out his rope - the final assault team, and was cutting his way up. Each step took them nearer to the ultimate goal. By 4.30 PM they were up. But to their utter consternation they saw another peak looming before them- The real Umba. In between was a deep gorge, to traverse which would have taken another day in fair weather. Umba had deceived us. But now there was no time or choice left. The weather was again getting packed up with no sign of reprieve in the near future. Night was fast approaching with a storm brewing. The altimeter read 19500ft. All the days’ effort was wasted. It was bravado to take a chance with mountains in the prevailing circumstances. Reluctantly the mission was abandoned.

With sullen faces and sodden legs we commenced our retreat. It proved to be more perilous. Once, a complete rope of instructors went plunging down towards a deep crevice. But for the presence of mind and reflex action of Havildar Manohar, there would have been few more martyrs on the altar of mountaineering. He struck down his ice axe and dug down his crampons to belay the whole rope, thereby applying a sudden break to the headlong rush to death.

Soon the darkness enveloped the glazier. Everywhere was desolation and silence. Only the snow was real. The snow and that bone deep subzero cold that shrouded us from head to tow continuously shook our bodies in violent spasms of shivering. Like zombies we moved in the dark glare of the stars. Then the sickle of a moon came up as if to guide us out of that freezing cauldron.

By 10’ o clock night we were back at the assault camp. Our Doctor, like a good Sheppard waiting for his herds to return to pen, was there in the open with a hurricane lamp in hand and gallons of tea and brandy ready for returning heroes. 14th August saw us back at the Base Camp.

The whole course worked hectically in winding up the assault camp and base camp and was down at Sankoo Village on 15th. On 17th the expedition was back at the school, where we were given a heroes welcome.

Had the final assault camp been much ahead at the base of the peak or had we taken another approach, the climb would have been feasible.!!!

The fact remains- Umba still remains as chaste and unconquered as ever.

“In the evening of ones life,
 when one retrospect and savour such unique experiences,
one is overwhelmed with gratitude to God Almighty,
 who unflinchingly stood by and goaded one to safety and life ahead.”

Saturday, January 8, 2011



"When you got what you got in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn't your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you should pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass.

Some people may think you a straight- shootin' chum
And call you a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum-
If you cant look him straight in the eye.

He is the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,
Fore, he's with you clear up to the end.
And you've passed your most dangerous difficult test,
if the man in the Glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the path way of life
And get pats on your back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heart aches and tears,
if you've cheated the Man in the Glass. "
                                     (- Dale Wimbrow - 1937)

Do introspect !!!!Can you stare at
The Man in The Glass Straight in the Eye ? !!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Golden Handshake

Protocol Hand Shake

It was Dec 2002 and I was posted as the Group Commander NCC Mysore.

One fine morning I received a frantic message from the Sub Area HQ Bangalore that the then President His Exellency Dr Abdul Kalam would be landing at Mysore Helipad on 29th Dec by 1100 H and as per protocol I, being the Senior Armed Force’s rep at Mysore, am to receive him at the Helipad. The President was arriving at Mysore to inaugurate a function at JSS Mutt in the suburbs of Mysore.

Protocol demanded that when the President who is also the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces visits a station, the senior Army, Navy and Air force officials posted at the station received him. I contacted the District Commissioner and the Commissioner of Police and informed them about the impending visit and the role I had to play as the senior armed forces representative in the reception of the President. They were aware of the President’s visit and assured me that all protocols will be ensured. I tied up with the local Air Force Station to spare their senior officer for the occasion. Our Naval NCC Commander represented the Navy.

I was buoyant with the prospects of receiving the President that too His Excellency Abdul Kalam, who I revered as my role model. Preparations started earnestly and my, buddy and ‘man Friday’ Jagtar Singh got on with his part in real 'Pioneer' devotion. New medal ribands were sewn; the medals were buffed and honed to perfection.  New epaulets and peak cap were procured from Bangalore. The leather, brass and the terricots were all gleaming by the time Jagtar finished with his deft handiwork on them.

The President was to land at 1100h.  We, the Service reps, tied up to meet at our RV at 0830h and proceeded together to the Helipad. As we were closing in to the venue, we found formidable security cordons laid by the police. Since we were travelling in my Staff Car we got through the police cordons with out much difficulty. As we alighted from the vehicle we found a young smart lady Flight Lieutenant from Air Force manning the Air Traffic Control Station specially positioned for the President’s landing. It seemed, among khaki clad officious looking police swarming the area, the sudden presence of few defence service officers came as a great relief for the young girl. We exchanged salutes, pleasantries and stood together conversing to await the arrival of the VVIP.

The venue was teeming with all types of dignitaries. The MP, the Mayor, MLAs, Ministers , Senior Civil Bureaucrats, Social workers, Police officials, Politicians, Religious Heads of the Mutt etc etc. Seeing the crowd I was getting apprehensive as to how to reach the Helicopter breaking through this crowd. So I approached the Commissioner of Police, a friend of mine, who was in a conversation with the District Commissioner and told him of my role and requested him to position us at a vantage point from where it was easy to reach the aircraft when it landed. 

There was a discussion between the District Commissioner and the Commissioner of Police and the latter rushed off to some ‘dhothi’ clad person who had the airs of authority evident from the obsequious entourage surrounding him. After due consultations the commissioner came back and told me that the President is being received by the Mayor, the MP and few selected politicians and I have no part to play and we could go back. I was taken aback and explained to him the mandatory protocol and requested him not to break the protocol. Both the Commissioners were adamant and but I was insistent on my demand. The duo advised me to sit in the front row of the ‘pandal’ erected for guests, where the President would be coming after being received.

I was in a quandary as there was no time left to report the situation to my higher ups, since the President was already airborne and bound for Mysore. I could think of only one solution to the predicament. I called out for the ATC Officer and in the presence of the Commissioner I ordered her to inform the pilot of the helicopter and the Military Secretary to the President (who was also in the entourage with the President), that Mysore Helipad is not yet ready for landing as protocols were being violated.  On hearing this Flt Lt promptly took out her wireless set for communicating with the pilot of the aircraft. The Commissioner realized the gravity of the situation and requested to withhold the communication for a minute. He dashed off to some one in traditional attire and after a brief consultation with him returned with a wry face to usher me and my colleagues to the landing pad, assuring that we would be the first ones to receive the President when he steps out of the aircraft.

With in minutes the helicopter was circling the Helipad for landing. On landing the President came out followed by the Governor and his entourage. As per protocol I received the President. He gave me a firm handshake, read my name tab and asked, “Nair where do you hail from Kerala?” I replied “Alleppey, Sir” “Alleppey – the Venice of the East!!! My old classmate Mahadeva Iyer is from Alleppey. Do you know him?” I said gleefully” Yes Sir “, and then he moved on to my colleague standing on my left.

My mission was accomplished. The protocol was kept. While moving out I passed by lady officer. All beaming, she yelled out” Congratulations, Sir”. I shook hands with her and told her “All because of your presence of mind of having taken out your wire less set at the right moment.” She then enquired,”Sir, were you serious about what you asked me to do?” I said, “Obviously.. NOT... Just a ruse!!! ”.

XXIII Sikh Pioneers Moto  
Aut Viam Invenium Aut Faciam.
 If you don’t find a Road, make one. !!!.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ambush at Point Pedro- Srilankan Diary


It was Tuesday on 25 July 1989 at Manthikka, in Sri Lanka, where the battalion was deployed during Operation PAWAN. That day there were multiple patrols operating in the area of Point Pedro. In one patrol, Major Rajinder Singh Katkat’s (KK) party was fired at when they were near the Burma Shell petrol bunk on the Thambashetty Road. Unfortunately, Sepoy Balwinder Singh of A Company got a clean shot through his head just behind his left earlobe resulting in a sudden death.

On hearing the news, I took two 1ton trucks and, along with Subedar Major Gurbachan Singh and the residual manpower left at the Battalion Headquarters, rushed to retrieve the body. We reached the spot with little difficulty and loaded the corpse in the truck. On the return trip, one of the truck engines failed. Leave it behind was not an option but we had no tow chain. In true infantry innovation, a rope was found and tied to the defective truck and we started towing it. As luck would have it, evidently some LTTE spotters had noticed our predicament.

We had driven barely 500 metres when an ambush was sprung on our convoy. Six to eight automatics opened fire on the vehicles. I was standing on the seat of the lead truck with my body out of the cupola. The firing was heavy but its staccato made it difficult to locate the weapons or the direction of fire due to echo in the heavily built up area. AK 47 and LMG fire was cackling all around. Reactively, fire was returned with all the weapons we had and bullets were flying all around. In the melee the tow rope broke. I could see the towed vehicle with the Subedar Major in the co-driver’s seat losing speed and coming to stand still and the distance between the two vehicles increasing. There was no question of leaving the Subedar Major and men behind, in the thick of an ambush. I ordered the driver to drive in reverse gear and get back to the disabled truck so that we could beef up the resistance.

The firefight was fierce and I could feel the bullets zipping past and ricocheting from the body of the truck as if caught in a hail storm. In our predicament, like a God-sent reprieve, Alokee (Captain Alok Raj) and his patrol materialized from the Point Pedro side. They too joined the firefight. The ambush seemed to be weakening and finally the firing petered out. Fortunately no one was hurt or injured in the ambuscade.

I detailed Captain Alok to take charge of the faulty vehicle and rushed to the Battalion Headquarters with the dead body. On reaching the Operations Room to give the completion report, I found the Commanding Officer (Colonel BS Pundir) and Surinder (Major Surinderpal) stooping with their hands on the heads, eyes closed, praying. They had heard that the ‘worthy Second-in-Command’ was caught in an ambush and was under heavy fire, as reported by KK. The Commanding Officer couldn’t believe that I was standing in front of him. His first utterance was – ‘You …. (expletives) … Ravi, you are alive!! Relief was writ large on his face. He later said that he was not worried about my fate but was horrified with the idea of how he was going to face Geetha (my wife)!!! Lucky escape indeed!!

The cremation of Sepoy Balwinder Singh was at 2 P.M. with the Babaji (Subedar Religious Teacher Jagrup Singh) in his inimitable style, lending sombreness and piety to the very poignant and sad occasion. May Balwinder’s soul rest in peace.

                   -Col Ravi R Nair (Retd)-

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)

SD College & Memoirs of an Ex Cadet


[Col R Ravi Nair (Retd) –Sr Under Officer NCC 
 & Gp Cdr NCC Kollam & Gp Cdr NCC Mysore - 1996-2003

Santana Dharma College is my Alma Mater and the only College of my allegiance. The Golden Phase of my youth was well spent in this campus. In retrospect, I vividly recall this phase by my intimate relations with NCC primarily and then by my involvement with the College Students’ Union. 

Unlike my contemporaries I did not have a pre-university exposure, since I had joined BA English Literature (The premier batch 1965) after having completed the Senior Cambridge Examination from Sainik School. While in the College I had the opportunity of being elected as the Secretary of English Language and Literary Association, the Cabinet Member of Students Union and finally the Speaker (Chairman) of the College Students’ Union under the banner of Independent Student‘s Union (ISU). From a modest member of the Party I could graduate to Party President by the time I left the college. I am convinced that it is the National Cadet Corps, which imbibed in me the confidence and managerial acumen to acquire and hold important offices within the students’ community, and that too devoid of any exterior political influence or sponsors working towards it. 

The tuition culture was non-existent those days and looked down upon. The college campus reverberated with hectic activities of athletes and games lovers; with Mr.Naidu the Physical Director omnipresent on ground from the last gong for the day till twilight fades. All-round development was the key and no student prematurely worried about a career for one self. The Medicine/Engineering mania was not felt and the parents seemed to desire their wards to spend more time in campus. “Why are you late?”, “ I was in the Hockey field.”, was taken as an impressive alibi by parents. I wonder how many students play hockey, football, basketball or even enter the playing fields or track now a days, other than may be flexing muscles occasionally in a game of cricket? 

Enrolling in NCC those days was a natural response to any active and well-meaning student. The nation was still in the fervor of 1965 Indo Pak War and any able-bodied youth desired to be of some service to the cause of National Defence. Enrolment to the NCC was selective and an aspirant had to undergo stringent physical and medical screening and there were many unfortunates who were left out as unfit. We had six Senior Division Companies and the senior ANO (then known as Part Time Officers- PTO) was Major Rajashekaran Nair, He was solidly built, sporting fearsome ‘walrus moustaches’ with a dominating personality and blessed with a ‘Drill Sergeant’s commanding voice’. Cadets and common students were so sacred of him that even the most ‘mis-adventurous’ gave him a slip when he happened to trundle past. He had a dedicated team of PTO’s like Captain PK Padmanabhan Potty, Lieut R Ramachandran Nair, Lieut N Gopalakrishnan Nair, Lieut RV Ramachandran, Lieut MP Subramanian and Lieut CJ Rao. They were a team and fully in control of nearly one thousand cadets and their dealings highly business like. The Battalion Commander was Major Herman (17 Kerala Battalion – then located at Alleppey), and the Group Commander at Thevally Palace, Kollam was Lt Col CV Donoghue. 

The senior Division NCC, then was known as NCC Rifles and the uniform was mazri shirts and khaki trousers. The college had an imposing firing range where firing was a normal feature on any parade day. The cadets fired.22 and .303 bolt action rifles and even Light Machine guns. Weapons of all sorts and ammunitions were kept in a large Kote consisting of four classrooms within the college. To the best of my knowledge I do not remember having seen any police guard for its security. The ANO’s and the Under Officers were fully responsible and accountable. The security was untenable and the Kote was granted its due sanctity. The NCC administrative office, stores, Kotes and classrooms occupied the entire complex adjacent to the boy’s hostel, which now is the Commerce Department. The place was out of bounds for non-NCC students and non-functionaries. 

As a Sr Division NCC Cadet, I had the unique privilege of taking part in two Annual Training camps, Army attachment Camp with 1st Battalion the Brigade of the Guards. Advanced Leaderships Camp, Republic Day Parade Preparatory Camp at Munnar and the All India RD Parade at Delhi. Normal parades were on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. The ‘falling in’ on the parades, I distinctly remember as a solemn and impressive occasion. With a near 100% attendance of cadets who are properly turned out, the ANO’s falling-in at the head of each Company, the PI staff (Regular Army personnel, mainly from the North India-Dogra and Punjab Regiments) in full strength, and the parade being handed over in succession to the “Supremo” – Major Rajashekaran Nair, his imposing words of Command and the humanity responding to it!! . All were a herald of what I was to witness later in life while commanding troops of a well oiled Infantry Regiment”. No giggles, no suppressed coughs, no whispers, no comments, no unto wards movements!!. Every parade used to be affirming and reaffirming the authority vested on a student as an appointment holder- as a Leader. The defaulters if any were summarily disposed off either by ‘physical handling’ or by awarding stringent punishments on the spot – to be forgotten immediately. One normally found dozens of such ‘unfortunates’ revolving around the parade ground with the rifle held high!!! Long side burns and long hairs were becoming a fashion those days. But an NCC cadet stood out by his demeanor scrupulously insisted and set example by his ANO’s. Senior Under Officers took mostly all theoretical classes including ‘Military Tactics’. One had to spend hours to prepare for the classes one had to take. The only reference book available was a small NCC Handbook. Rest was all left for imagination and how good one is in spinning the yarn !!! But it was a stage to bring out ones latent Instructor prowess. 

The Espirit-de-Corps amongst the cadets of the college was commendable. They were one, when it came to competitions. Our competitors were Carmel Poly Technic College (under Major Kuzhuveli – another dedicated ANO) and TD Medical College. As I can recall, the winners were always SD College. SN, St Michael’s and NSS Colleges were in their conceptual stage only. 

The cadets took pride in their turnout and they even compromised their precious looks to a tough soldierly bearing, even to the risk of giggles and disapproving comments from the girls. Most of the cadets, specially Under Officers had their own uniforms stitched. Honing impeccable military bearing was the dream of every cadet. The order of the day was that one should see his reflection on the toes of his boots. We discretely took advice and tips from the PI staff on ‘spit-n-polish’ and maintenance of leather, brass and uniforms. The night prior to parade was always spent on spit and polish and starching of uniform. Remember, the ‘terry cottons’ had not entered the market. Upgrading of the issue hackles to nearly one foot long by joining two or three patent hackles used to be a delicate and deft task. One really felt elated fully decked–up like a ‘tonga horse’ and cycling to a NCC parade. One always felt that the ‘world’ around is gaping with admiration!! One felt on top of the world, if one happened to ‘home-on’ to a ‘Ladies only’ bus!! Those were the days! Will it ever come back!! 

There was an unwritten camaraderie in NCC. A senior cadet always took a junior cadet under his wings. Any mis-adventure with a cadet was taking a big chance with a 1000 strong organisation. Even ANO’s took a stand on this. The ANO was the ‘Guru’ and even the Head of the Department or the Principal had a secondary status. The former always accepted his obligations as such. There had been instances of ANO’s financing the college fees of cadets who could not afford it. That was the bond!! I distinctly remember an incident when the police wanted to make a forced entry into the college campus. The man on fore resisting the attempt was Major Rajashekaran Nair. There were some altercations and finally the police withdrew. The grape –wine is that the ANO ordered the ‘Kotes’ to be opened and the cadets be armed, to defend the sanctity of the campus. May be a myth!! But well accredited! Now days I see a police posse posted permanently within the college. I still recall an incident when an Under Officer cadet was facing dismissal on alleged misbehavior with a girl. The ANO stood-by and even to the great dislike of the management the Under Officer was reinstated. But the summary disposal met out to the Under Officer by the ANO ‘in camera’ is still a mystery. He is a very senior bureaucrat in the Government service. 

I as a cadet had just glimpses of the Battalion Commander and Group Commander. As far as the cadets were concerned their ultimate was the PTO. When I was detailed by Major Rajashekeran Nair to attend the Republic Day Parade at Delhi, I raised my fears of missing the ensuing examinations. He gave me an assurance not to worry on that score. Now I recall that I had missed all the college examinations, ie: Onam and Christmas Exams for my entire three years in college. But still the Principal and the English Faculty always considered me as a disciplined and ‘bright student’!! 

Those days the student politics and NCC movement were inseparable. NCC Cadets held nearly all the Students’ Union offices. This arrangement assured disciplined leadership and governance and students accepted it. In my first year the Speaker was Senior Under Officer Sadasivan Pillai. In my second Year the Speaker was Senior Under Officer CM Babu. I followed suite in my third year with the same qualifications. The sad thing is that now a days discipline and politics do not mesh well. I doubt whether any student of importance affluent or effluent is connected with NCC movement.!!!

There were no incentives to cadets as you find now a days. A student got enrolled due to sheer love for uniform and an orderly life. All the Under Officers and cadets who I know and recall have done very well in life and they all reminiscent with reverence their association with NCC in SD college. 

I for one, always remember with gratitude all the PTO’s (ANOs), PI Staff (permanent instructional staff- deputed from the Three Services) and the functionaries who had given me a direction in life and also brought to fore latent Leadership qualities including the confidence to face the world – to make me what I am today.

I also take this opportunity to pay tributes to the Principals Prof. Akhileswara Iyer and Prof Vaidyanathan and the Patriarch Sri Parthasarathy Iyengar (reverently known as Pappa Swamy), the Manager of SD College, for their unflinching and proud sponser and blessings to me as a student and a functionary of the student community.

Last but not the least, I am grateful to Prof Iyengar Sir and the members of staff of English Department, who were proud with a sense of belonging, to one of their student’s achievements in the extra curricular fields  and also encouraged me all the way for higher goals in life.
-Col (Retd) Ravi R Nair –
Ex-Group Commander NCC
Kollam Group, Kerala & Laksha Dweep NCC Dte
& Mysore Composite Group, Karnataka & Goa  Dte