The Army Headquarters
10 O’clock the following morning, we arrived at the AHQs and handed over the documents in one of the offices, as indicated in the Move Order. But we were shuttled from one office to another and from one block to the next till we finally reached the required office in Sena Bhawan.
It was surprising to see the mesh of indiscipline at a place from where control over the entire army is exercised. No one cared for anyone, irrespective of rank. Everyone, barring a few, looked busy in himself. In some offices, the officers and the clerks were alike busy reading novels or writing personal letters, behind the piles of files lying on their tables. Some of them felt hurt by even indicating or giving directions to a stranger who, because of ignorance about the place, felt completely lost in the vastness of the huge set-up. It looked as if there was no concern by anyone for anyone. No fear of admonition, utter disregard for any check and control, if there was any and lack of manners necessary in human beings.
I think these people are used to working in an emergency only,’ remarked Major Tandon while looking at the PA of Colonel Grewal. On our arrival, since the boss was not free, we were asked to wait. And, we had been waiting for the last twenty minutes. Seeing no scope still, for the intented permission, Major Tandon asked the PA to checkup.
The PA was busy reading some Hindi novel, probably Gulshan Nanda. He felt irritated at this unwanted interruption and with a contorted face pressed the intercom into service. Then replacing it, he told us to go in with a wave of his hand and picked up the story from where he had just left off.
Major Tandon asked me to wait outside while he himself went in. He introduced himself of Colonel Grewal and apprised him of our duties. Tandon also expressed the doubts that I had and sought clarification.
Grewal looked quite disturbed by these and explained, `Your doubts are completely unfounded.’ He took from a pocket his laminated identity card and showing it to Major Tandon said, `This is a new type of card; haven’t you seen them before?... You’ll be collecting these for the whole formation. `Then, he continued absurdly,’ but the cards are not ready as yet. I hope we shall have them ready by tomorrow or the day after the day after.’ He asked Major Tandon to come the next day. However, major Tandon sought further clarification about his duty. i.e. Chinese Interrogation. Colonel Grewal passed it off as mistake by the unit. The Army Hqs had asked the unit for two officers to collect and carry the cards of the formation, as it meant a job of great responsibility. Colonel Grewal happily gave permission to Major Tandon for staying with his parents, and assured further that by all means the cards would be handed over by Tuesday. But in case there was any delay, he would let Major Tandon go back. Major Tandon was supposed to be at Mhow by 26 August, for his `Senior command Course’.
In that case, `the Colonel replied, `We would make some alternative arrangements to provide an officer or a JCO to accompany Rathaur back to Kamptee.’
After this assurance, Tandon happily left the office and came back to me.
`Let us go,’ he said, `we have to come tomorrow. The cards are not ready.’
`But why you? You’ve not come for the cards, your duty is different,’ I asked.
`No, that was a mistake. I’ll explain to you later.’
Ìn that case, could I talk to Colonel Grewal? I know him.’
`No, I think you could do it tomorrow. I’ve to meet a friend of mine, Major Vasudeva of my former battalion.’
As we walked, Major Tandon explained everything they had transpired between him and Colonel Grewal. He apprised me about the permission to stay with his parents, and said, Ì told you? Your suspicious were wrong,’ and smiled exultantly. I kept pondering over the talk between Major Tandon and the Colonel.
Later we met Major Vasudeva and I was surprised to see it was the Vasudeva whom I had known well at Samba.
`How come you’re wearing our `Royal Rassi’ (Lanyard)? I thought you were with the Gurkhas?’, I enquired.
I took fancy to your regiment,’he replied cheerfully in his nasal accent. Major Vasu was always a vivacious officer with very charming manners : anyone meeting him for the first time would fall for his liveliness, which probably proved dangerous to many of the opposite sex and was a constant threat to his medico wife who hereself was a Major in the Army Medical Corps, and a source of envy for many of his colleagues. Major Tandon asked how we knew each other. Vasu recounted our sweet association at Samba.
Vasu wanted to offer us a cup of tea but, despite his efforts, he failed to get it.
`Sorry, actually tea is served at a particular time,’ Vasu said, resignedly and added, ànd now it is lunch time.’
`Yes! Yes!! I know your lunch time starts the time when you enter the office, till you leave!!!, I said mockingly and added,
`By the way I saw, wherever we have gone since morning, the same sad state. Now here also you’ve asked four different peons for tea but not one came back, let alone bringing any tea. I would be going back from here with the impression of "Free for All". Do people, tell me. come here for marking time? How do you survive here in this suffocating atmosphere?’, I asked sarcastically.
`My dear, who would call it Army Hqs, if such things don’t exist!... One must conform to the environment in order to survive.’ Perfect as Vasu was in twisting things, he smilingly changed the topic. He invited us to his residence for the evening. Nothing the address, we parted to meet later.
After dropping, Major Tandon at his home, I went back to the Area Mess. I took my lunch, changed into civvies, caught a local bus and came back to Major Tandon. Earlier, we had made a programme to see a movie. So we went to Chanakya and saw the picture, an English movie ; a story of a British Royal Fighter Squadron, commanded by an able Wing commander, during the second world war. Having lost all his ace pilots, the Wing Commander had to struggle and carried on with teenagers, some of whom had as little as 14 hours flying experience. The crux of story : It revealed the spirit of a nation which never gave in and ultimately, through perseverance, came out victorious. Quite inspiring.
After the movie we returned home. I reminded Major Tandon about the invitation, but he said he wouldn’t be able to go. `Kindly apologise on my behalf of Vasu, for not turning up;’ requested Tandon.
I took a taxi and reached the officers Mess at Dhaula kuan. There, I enquired about Major Vasudeva’s residence and proceeded to a nearby multi-storey building. Vasu lived on the 5th floor.
Upon reaching the building, I found a lift near the entrance, which was unattended. Entering it, I realised that I didn’t know how to work it. in fact, I had seen an elevator, for the first time in my life that day at the Sena Bhawan, There I didn’t have to worry because other people, familiar with its operation, were using it. But now I was alone. So, for some time I stood in the lift perplexed, trying to decide whether it would be wise to climb the stairs or take a chance by pressing a button. Finally I decided to take a chance. I read the few instructions written on the front panel with lots of push-buttons and lights. Which one to press? Àll right, I need to go to the 5th floor. I should, therefore, press a button numbered 5.’ I looked around to see if there were some other switches to make the lift operative before pressing number 5, but found none, except two other black switches with the PU and PC markings. I pressed one of the two and was thrilled and surprised to see the door closing. I quickly pressed number 5 with an air of efficiency, and the lift moved. After some time I felt a slow jerk and the lift bounced to a stop. Thrilled at this unexpected success I stepped out. In the gallery I read the room numbers and was surprised to find myself in a different place. I was on the 7th floor. I wondered, how did I land up there. It was because I had, in the confusion, pressed a wrong button. I took another try - pressed a button affixed to the wall.... This time, I was on the target, and I muttered that it was so easy. However, it, took a little time to find the room where the Major was waiting for us.
`Where’s Tandon?’, he enquired. I apologised for his inability to come. Vasu explained the setup of the buildings in general and gave a detailed account of the history of each of the items displayed in the room. During our conversation I learnt that Vasu had promised to visit one of his friends that evening but had cancelled the arrangements when he had invited Tandon and me to hs flat. Realising that the visit had been cancelled because of us, I insisted that Vasu should either inform his friend or he should go.
I wouldn’t like to spoil your visit.’, I said.
`Don’t be silly, your visit is more dear to me than the other,’ Vasu replied and laughingly he added, I could have informed about the cancellation of my visit, but I forgot to do so from the office. Here I don’t have a telephone, I mean the apparatus is here but it is not connected.’
`Well, it’s not a question of comparison,’ I said, `but one of principle. I would not like anyone to do such a thing to me’, I persisted that Vasudeva should inform his friend. `You have the apparatus; show me any telephone line around here, if there is one.’ Qualified in signals, I now had a proper opportunity to test my knowledge. Vasu showed me a line in the gallery. I asked for two pins which I inserted into the wires through the plastic insulation; connected each end of the cord to the pins - the telephone was functional. I asked Vasu to ring up the desired number while I held the ends close to pins with my hands. With a little effort Vasu got the number, spoke to his friend and jokingly told him how he was speaking. Ì can’t give you my number, yet I can talk to you anytime,’ he said and apologised for breaking the promise. Then, disconnecting the phone, he turned to me and said, `You’re great. Thanks for the discovery. I’ve found a way out for an emergency.
The entire officers’ enclave was deserted.
`You know it’s Delhi? in the evening, one doesn’t find anyone here, unless oneis sick in bed. Whoever comes here becomes a professional hunter. Now also the people are out hunting,’ he looked quizzically at me, giving a meaningful smile and added, `let’s also leave this haunted place.’
We came to the Mess. Vasu led me to the bar which was air-conditioned. In the sultry and humaid climate outside, it felt very pleasant. Laid out with a wall-to-wall, thick and aristocratically designed carpet; thickly padded sponge rubber cushions, crescent shaped sofas, closed off by a bar which was covered by a natural wood sunmica. The waiters wore white uniforms with red cummerbunds buckled by the brass insignia of Army Hqs, and peacock turbans. They moved briskly to and fro serving the members and their charming companions. The dim light gave the whole scene an air of mystic magnificence. Entering the bar, I gave the surroundings a cursory glance and, for a moment, felt a pang of nervousness at the unfamiliar surroundings. `Superb!’ I muttered, but aptly suppressed the feeling of awe which gripped me, almost knocking me over. I told myself with mixed feelings, `So, after nine years of service, I’ve discovered today what it is to be an army officer. I should consider myself one of those few lucky one’s to taste this life, even though it’s for only a few hours,.... there are many who never see civilization - never know it. What they know, all through their service, are the snow-covered peaks, thick jungles of Naga hills and the like, the desert of Rajasthan, of course seeing various kinds of insects and reptiles which abound in nature....’ I would’ve continued this exploration further, if Vasu had not checked me.
`What would you prefer?.... and don’t ask for any such thing which, I am unable to procure - I mean no softs.’ Vasu asked.
It wasn’t that there were no softs drinks at the bar, rather a way to indicate that wouldn’t get softs. Getting his meaning, I said, Ìn that case, I wouldn’t mind a glass of beer.’
We enjoyed the drinks at the bar for an hour, and then went to the dining hall. It was an extremely big and spacious hall, humming with numerous officers coming in and going out, stopping here and talking there, chatting to each other and some laughing at a crude joke. It buzzed as if one had entered a busy fish market, presenting a contrast to the snug and cool cozy bar.
After the dinner, Major Vasudeva dropped me at in the Area Mess. Here was another comparison; the Area Mess looked like a home for destitutes incomparison to the Dhaula Kuan Officers Mess.
The following morning I got up early, packed my scarce belongings, paid the Mess dues and waited for the jeep. The jeep came and I drove to Major Tandon’s house, as directed the previous day, Major Tandon was waiting.
In the AHQs we found the cards were not ready. So Major Tandon collected his Move Order, back for the unit. I was to be provided with another officer or a JCO as an escort, to carry the documents. We left the AHQs. Tandon was dropped at his residence. I collected my suitcase and reported back to the Area Mess. I had left a message for my wife with Major Tandon that I would return in two days’time, unaware that fate was hovering over me like a dreaded dark cloud and would descend before that time was up.
Finding myself alone, I become said. So I decided to visit my sister. After a hurried lunch, I boarded a local bus and reached my sister’s home. Despite her insistence that I stay, after dinner I returned to the Area Mess. Back in the room, I changed and lay supine on the bed thinking about the whole affair in retrospect. I analysed the conversation between Colonel Grewal and Major Tandon.
At first instance how can such a big mistake take place - between Chinese interrogation and collection of identity cards? looks absurd. Then why should a colonel take out his own card and show it to a major; saying. "this type"!! After all hadn’t Major Tandon seen his own card at the time of filling in details and signing it? Except of course the sealed covering.... And then, even assuming it was a mistake, why call two officers in the first place and then send one of them back and why the people in the AHQs should turn so generous all of a sudden in providing a second escort? And if they were providing one, they could very well provide the second. Then why had they called the unit to send a collection party at all? And secondly, if the cards were for the entire formation to which I belong, then the directions should have been from that formation’s Hqs and not the AHQs. Then it is all the more preposterous to detail officers from a unit stationed so awkwardly at a such a far off place as Kamptee, instead of from a unit of the same formation which was stationed in Delhi itself? They why should the cards be taken to Kamptee if they’re meant for the whole formation? Thus I concluded, `The whole affair is nothing but charged with doubts.’ Putting all bits together, from the start, I formed a clear and coherent picture boiling down to my calculations which were coming correct. But I bitterly ridiculed the Intelligence, for hatching a "Top Secret"plan, catering to the misutest possible detail to make it an Ünclassified"one. I mused over their secrecy! An open secrecy!! Then, I went to sleep saying,’ May God bless them.’
The following day I again went to the AHQs. This time, instead of Colonel Grewal, I was asked to report to Lieut Colonel Jain. In the office Colonel Jain offered me a chair and a little later a cup of tea. By then, I was absolutely clear about my "duty"but I did not show this in case it hurt their `secrecy’. Acting ignorant, I asked if the cards were ready.
`Well Rathaur I’ll find out a minute and let you know. Meanwhile I suggest you wait in my GSO 2’s office.’ Saying this, he left. I went to the directed office which was next door. There, Major Uppal the GSO 2, after customary introductions, invited me for lunch. While eating, Major Uppal asked me why I had come to Delhi. I explained about the identity cards. Hearing that, Major Uppal was surprised and said, `No! How can it be? We don’t issue identity cards! As far as I know the Identity Cards are prepared by the respective Commands’ Hqs. We have prepared such cards here in the Army Hqs, but only for its officers. And even here, not by our branch!!! I suggest you check up with Colonel Jain; surely there is some mistake somewhere.’
I was completely surprised, not so much that it was not the duty I had been sent for, but at the type of secrecy being maintained by this branch of the Intelligence Directorate, where a GSO 2 did not know what was happening in GSO 1’s office. Such security! When, with their close contact one officer did not know what the other was doing!!
`How would these people must be maintaining coordination that’s so vital for office functioning?’, I marvelled and smilingly said,’ I will do that, sir.’ I finished the sandwich and quickly drank my tea. Then, thanking Major Uppal for having shared his lunch and for his tip about my duty, I walked out. I went to Colonel Jain, who’d returned to his office.
Are the cards ready, sir?’ I enquired from Jain.
`Not yet. Come tomorrow, about 1100 hrs.’ Colonel Jain replied.
I found myself in quite a predicament. Because of my impending exam, my time was precious. Yet, here I was wasting day after day, playing this silly game. I thought to put an end to that, and said sternly, `Now, sir, don’t play this hide and seek with me. I know, I’ve not been called for what’s being told to me. Therefore, I request you, whatever it may be, to kindly act and soon,’ and added in disgust, It’s nothing but a waste of everybody’s time and efforts.
Jain turned pale and avoided looking at me. I was staring at him, observing the fast-changing colours of his face. Colonel Jain appeared hurt; probably finding a sudden dent in the otherwise well nurtured secret plan! He asked almost in dead voice, `How do you know?... Who told you? Then suddenly realising that almost certainly he was about to lift the curtain prematurely, added, `No, No. You’re wrong....’
`Now sir, please! Are you trying to tell me that your GSO 2 doesn’t know that you issue cards?’, I commented sarcastically.
I would have almost added everything I had deduced so far but, thinking about something, I checked myself.
In fact, Colonel Jain was so astounded that he was lost for words. Seeing him bogged down, I felt very amused and thought, `You’d get a bigger shock if I revealed everything I’ve deduced from all the holes in your supposedly well-made plan’. But, I didn’t do that. Coming to jain’s rescue I said, `Well, if its really only the cards I request, that they are definitely ready by tomorrow.’ Then I left.
Preface | Temporary Duty | The Move Order | The Train Journey | The Reception | The Army HQ | Close Arrest | The Interrogation | Background | The Intelligence | The Security | The Devil | The Confession | The Foundation Stone | The Great Detectives | The Corroborations | An Approver | Confrontaions | Hibernations | Leading to the Trails | Fairy Tales | Into the Fire | Army Procedure | As a Winess | Meeting with Family | Habeas Corpus | Death of Democracy | The Trial | Prosecution Case | The Defence | The Press | Rebuttal | Aftermath | Mystery | Postscript | Annexure I | Home |