As July waxed into August 1978, I, Captain Ranbir Singh Rathaur of II Garhwal Rifles, returned to my unit full of enthusiasm having completed my `pre-course'in preparation for possible selection for training at the prestigious Staff College, the ambition of every professional soldier. I was happy at my performance at the pre-course and therefore was not over-resentful when I was told that my long looked-forward leave would have to be postponed. There had been a sudden unexpected fall in the officer strength of my unit and I could not be spared.
The task assigned to me was completion of my Company's Annual Range Classification firing, but since the long range was at the time being used by another unit, I decided, pending allotment of the long range to my Company, to complete the preliminary zeroing of the weapons at the short range. While I was conducting the firing, the office runner brought me a message from the Commanding Officer (CO) : `The CO wants you to report to him, sir.'
At what time does he want me'?
`Right away, sir.'
I handed over charge to my second-in-command, mounted my scooter and rode off to the office, wondering what it was that the CO wanted to see me so urgently about.`Deepak,'I said to the Adjutant when I entered the office `the CO has called for me.
Please find out whether he is free to see me.'
The Adjutant checked over the intercom. `You may go in right now,'he said, as he replaced the hand set,'
I'll finish your cigarette for you. Don't stub it.'
I smiled, handed over the cigarette I had just lighted and walked over to the CO's room.
`May I come in, sir'?
There was a deep growl of assent. I walked in, saluted and stood to attention. The CO did not raise his eyes from the papers before him, not even to see who had come in. Thereafter, shuffling among the letters in his dak folder, he sighed deeply and looked up.
`What are you doing at the moment, Rathaur'?
I am putting my Company through weapon zeroing, sir, preparatory'to annual range classification.
`Well, don't bother about that any further. By the way how is your daughter - is she still in hospital'?
`No, sir, I got her discharged, though she has not yet recovered.
We couldn't manage. With my wife having to stay with the elder girl in hospital the younger child was being neglected.'
`Hmmm..... and how is the preparation for your examination getting on'?
I am at it, sit. Thank you for asking. It is going well and with your blessings, I should have no difficulty qualifying.'
`Good! I sincerely hope you will...'
The CO fell silent for a moment; he looked down as if somewhat embarrassed.
I sensed that vaguely and wondered what was bothering my Commanding Officer.
Then, rather abruptly, the CO looked up and said, Ì want to send you to collect our new identity cards... will you be able to go'?
`Why, certainly, sir. You don't have to ask.'
`Don't get me wrong, Rathaur. I asked because of your child's illness - I mean, would you be able to leave them for a couple of days? You don't have to leave right away - I had thought of sending Thakur, but as you know he is conducting a course for the promotion cadre and it wouldn't be good to pull him out of it for the two or three days it would take to collect the cards. That is why I thought I should ask you to go.'
`There is no problem, sir,' I said, `when do I leave?'
`No hurry. You could leave on 18 August by which time I am sure your children will be alright.
You should be back quite soon. Since you have problems at home, I have asked the Quartermaster (QM) to handle your reservation by the Grand Trunk on the 18th. Actually I was hoping that there would be no need send you at all and that Major Tandon, who is also going to Army Headquarters (AHQ), could handle this... But he will be busy with something connected with interrogation of Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs).... He was himself a POW in 1962, you'll remember!'
`Yes, sir. I do remember.'
`Well, since he is going in connection with the interrogation, nothing can be said with certainly about his stay; considering this I decided to send you independently... He would also leave by the same train.... I have already sent a signal arranging for your transport at New Delhi railway station and your stay in Delhi to the Minitary intelligence Directorate (MIDte) to Brigadier Pasricha, as I know him; he was at one time in our Regiment. Do you know him?', looking at me the CO asked.
`Yes, sir. I think I know him; but only by name. If I am not wrong he probably was in 3rd Garhwal,' I replied.
Exactly!... He is Brigadier Pasricha, now the DDMI.... However, you're aware about the functioning in AHQs. One really should not expect much especially in such matters connected with administration. So, if you find no transport, I suggest you take a taxi and report to him. If you do thatm in all probability you shall be able to collect the Identity Cards on 19th i.e. Saturday.
What do you say?'
I shall do it the way you are suggesting. Indeed, I am grateful to you for asking the QM about the train reservation and the signal for reception', I said, expressing my gratitude.
Oh! Never mind. After all you are my officer... And if I know some one why should I not take his help to make the stay to my officers comfortable?'
I couldn't help but notice a kind of uneasiness while the CO talked. But, I tried to avoid it.
`By the way, I may remind you to be extremely careful while carrying the documents - any untoward incident can put you in a cesspool of trouble... I suggest, you carry a small box with a proper locking system - and don't trust anybody in the matter of its security, while you are travelling back... But don't take me as doubting your sense of responsibility - or intelligence. This is simply an advice to take necessary precautions... And, while you collect the identity cards, check them properly and if you find that the signatures of the officers are not proper - don't accept the cards till the defects are rectified.'
I was confused by the CO's briefing. I thought, may be the old man has gone out of his mind - or else is suffering from some mental disorder. I questioned, `That's this you are aksing me to do, sir ?'... How can I or anyone else remove the defects in other officers'signatures? More so, Iám in no position to see if the signatures are correct or defective... I'll request clarification.'
At this the CO turned pale. However, he was able to recover within seconds, and replied. `No, you have got me wrong! When I said that, I implied, when you collect the cards, you must check each one to see if it is sealed properly.'
`Right, sir, that I'll do... Anything else you want me to do in Delhi; or convey any message to anyone you know in the AHQs?'
`No, Rathaur thank you... you may go.... But check up with the QM about the signal for train reservation - and also inform the Adjutant to detail another officer to conduct the firing.'
`Yes sir, may I.....'
`Yes. You may go now.' Saying this the CO resumed scanning through the dak with an air of importance.
I saluted and left. Once out of the office, I smiled. I was greatly amused at the absent-minded attitude of my Commanding Officer.
`I traced my steps to the QM office, checked about the signal, went to inform the Adjutant about my proposed departure and finally reached the office of the Second-in-Command, Major S.N. Tandon Vr.C. We discussed together the plan of our move and stay in Delhi. At the end of our discussion, Major Tandon asked me to collect his Move order and the Rail Warrant when I was to collect my own.
I rode back to the short range and informed the JCO about my new duty; and regarding the detailing of some other officer for conducting the firing. I briefed the JCO regarding the conduct of firing in my absence - and finally directed him to wind up for day.
My mind then turned to thoughts of Delhi where I had my friends and sister, whom I had not met for many years; though I had passed through Delhi by train a number of times, I'd never had the opportunity to get down and meet them. The thought of meeting them sent a wave of happiness and warm feeling through me. I felt immensely pleased with the proposition of going to Delhi. It must be a completely changed place since I last saw it, I thought.
Deeply engrossed in thoughts, I was hardly aware that I had reached home. After parking the scooter, I climbed the stairs and went into the kitchen, where my wife was busy cooking. Quietly but mischievously I embraced her and planted a tender kiss at the back of her neck.
She screamed, obviously surprised.
Seeing her surprice I laughed at the successful act of my intimidating her for fun.
Though pleased at finding it to be her husband, she showed her woman-like anger. I don't like this habit of yours - even less when the children are around.'
I looked around and finding no children, said, `Come off it my love. I find no children. So why don't you admit that you in fact, love these silly actions of mine! Eh..?.... Now don't say,' I kept my finger tenderly on her lips, `what you are about it. I know it for sure that it's untrue,' and hugged her close to me.
Immediately, the children came running from the bedroom and shouted `Papa has come!... Papa has come!! Good afternoon Papa', my elder daughter said, `Papa I am feeling much better, there is no fever.' She then recounted her recovery from illness.
Releasing my wife from my affectionate hug, I turned to the children and lifted both of them up to me.
`How're my lords, my sweetos!! My Ritu and how is my Sonu?
While showing fatherly affection I carried them in my lap to the study room.
`What's happened today? You appear to be very happy - and back unusually early from the office?' my wife enquired from the kitchen.
`Yah, I feel happy ; isn't that sufficient reason to come early?' By then I had changed into my casual wear, a loose kurta and pyjama, and had come back to the dining room adjoining the kitchen, followed by the children.
The food was laid out on the table. I put the children on their seats, sat down on a chair, ate a piece of onion I picked up from the salad plate and inhaling the aroma of food, asked my wife to join me. She came with hot chappaties (a kind of Indian bread), and sat down in front of me.
I sincerely pray for happiness daily so that at least you come for lunch on time, and not at tea-time in the evening.
She mused and asked, `what's the news?'
`Well, I'm leaving for Delhi in a couple of days.'
`Delhi?... What for?' she enquired impatiently, ànd you call this a happy news ?'
`Temporary duty! What else,' I replied
Hearing this, she remained silent. In that silence I saw signs of irritation on her face. To put her mind at ease, I told her that I would not be away for long. I would be back in a couple of days and went on to explain that I'd be able to meet my sister and friends.
For some time she remained quiet ; then suddenly declared, In that case I'm coming with you.'
I would love you to do that but you know there's the problem of the children. I would only be touching Delhi and coming back, a sheer waste of money. Can we afford to do that?', I asked.
`What a problem!..... Wasn't there any other officer the CO could have detailed? The whole year has passed in separation. We've not stayed together for more than twenty days. What a wretched life!' Brooding over the impending separation, she said this aloud, through it was obviously meant only for her ears. Sympathetically, I looked up from the plate to her face and kept staring for a while; I proceeded to explain about the complex nature of duties intrinsic in the army service and how one should look at them while serving, in a broad and bright perspective.
And why do you say, "what a wretched life", in such a depressed tone. It is a life one can dream of - do you know what they say, Ä life without hardships and without its experiences is no life worth living," saying that I looked at her and addeed, `Here, in the army you experience a different life, and if one is to go with this saying; it becomes all the more worth living ! Why go far, look at ourselves. Whenever I come back from these temporary jaunts how much you respond
!... I mean the intensity of belonging to each other, which may easily start decaying over a period of continuously staying together ; and I may find you always in search of some silly pretext to quarrel with me.'
`Now, please! Stop this lecture. You can continue it after you have eaten. If you think you're a wise man to preach to others, you should know talking is not approved of, while eating,'she said exultantly looking at me. Ritu extended her unqualified support to her mother saying. `Yes papa. Mamma is right. My miss says one should not talk while eating.' `To hell with the talk,' I said, `let us eat the food in peace'. Thereafter, none spoke, except for the grumbling of children due to excessive chillies in the food.
After the meal my children and I went to the bedroom and lay down on the bed while my wife busined herself in clearing the table.Thereafter, she also came to the bedroom and dumped herself sullenly on the adjoining bed, beside me. Neither of us spoke. Who should speak first ? Both of us were thinking the other should be first to speak. Thus, for nothing, the atmosphere became tense. Seeing that I decided to break the gloom. `Sabu! Now look, why are you so sullen and annoyed? And annoyed for what? And with whom! Me!! Well in that case you are absolutely unfair to me.... You seem to think that it must be me who has volunteered to go! While leaving you in distress!! Let me most sincerely correct you - while it is true that I am happy to go it is highly unfounded to conceive that I find happiness in leaving you alone. It is absured if you think that way. You are aware of the fact that I love you so much. It's the last thing I would think of; staying away from you...'
`Now hold it', I interrupted, `let me finish. You know that service is service. It's wisely said that service, even under one's father is bad; and I am servant, that too in the army! One can't have both at the same time; happy living and painless death. It is silly to think in these terms... I never volunteered - I have been ordered. And as you know, I don't relish the habit of brooding and creating tumult over such a trifling matter. And even supposing, if I do, does that provide an escape? There is a popular saying in the Army "When rape is inevitable, enjoy it". I grinned and added, `So dear Sabu, taking recourse to this saying, I explored the brighter side of this duty - and so, I was feeling happy. Now tell me, what's wrong in it ; to find happiness in a bad situation? Isn't it a quality that very few are blessed with?.... In fact you should be happy; your partner is among those few'. Saying this, I started giggling.
My wife who, apparently, was feeling relaxed by then, joined in the laughter.
`You are really a marvellous person; with an art of bringing anyone from delirium to stability and cheerfulness'. Saying this, she looked at me fondly; then hugged me like a child very close to her.
`So...o...nu: Mummy'. She had become oblivious to the children's presence; hearing her daughter Ritu calling, she quickly pulled herself away; feeling slightly ashamed, turned her face away.
By then the initial heaviness suddenly eased and gave place to cheerfulness. Thereafter, we talked intimately. Before we slept she asked me not to prolong the stay in Delhi.
|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 ||