“I was born to middle class parents and had an upbringing steeped in Indian values that got tampered increasingly with large doses of liberalism. Even after struggling they sent me to one of the best Indian schools of the times where freedom was taken for granted. There were no books no exams and no punishments for the first five years. As we grew senior, the students set their own rules and their own Honour Code. Nothing was forced, least of all academics. My passion for mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports took birth at The Modern School Delhi and got cemented over the years.
The essence of training at the NDA and later at the IMA is to make men out of boys and groom them to be a Gentlemen with the best qualities of head and heart. In the process we were broken and reconstructed to face impossible odds with characteristic confidence that has flown in the bloodstream ever since. Repeatedly driven to the threshold of physical and mental endurance only strengthened one’s self belief and confidence to sail through the impossible; this has carried me in good stead.
While I was still growing up to the wild and carefree ways of the Regiment, I was summoned by my parents for I hadn’t been home for close to three years. Forcibly bundled into a train by the Commanding Officer, I was soon chugging home to the Tuning Point of my life. I was taken to meet my present wife much against my wishes but we were attracted towards each other and married a couple of months later. She too carried with her the lineage of four illustrious generations in the Army. She has stood by me through thick and thin all these years. Yes my free wings and wild ways got clipped and I was put on a path of sanity and progress in all fields. Except for adventure and sports, we spend a lot of our time on shared interests. She has been God’s greatest blessing to me. We reared two loving daughters who, while being professionals in their respective fields, are married to Army officers— the fifth generation.
Few years later, as Commanding Officer I was exposed to intense combat, fighting militants in the North East and the Kashmir Valley. These tenures were immensely satisfying and the units that I commanded were both honoured with the highest appreciation for excellence in the form of Unit Citations. The vivid recollection of two dangerous ambushes through which we survived and a host of daring operations is here to stay. The first time our party was ambushed was soon after dark in a thickly wooded area in the upper reaches of North Kashmir. There was heavy exchange of fire till both sides ran out of ammunition while shooting in the dark !! Search of the area at day break revealed five militants killed and one seriously injured all this without a scratch to our boys who were being led by my 2IC. The second ambush soon thereafter caught one of our vehicles with five officers in it. The vehicle was ambushed by a large group of foreign militants who sprung up from thick undergrowth, firing heavy automatic weapons at point blank range. The vehicle had eleven bullet holes but none of the occupants was hurt. These incidents coupled with an increasing number of successful fire fights against militants, went on to reinforce my confidence in the team and marvel at the hand of God. Another time that we had God’s hand and blessings was when one of our patrols got hit by an avalanche but eventually scraped through without loss. The lowest of troughs was to lose comrades in combat and to see the families trying to pick up threads and make sense of their life. I had the honour of voluntarily looking after four widows of our brave hearts who went down fighting. I was in a position to help and God gave me the strength to go beyond rules to give them accommodation, schooling for toddlers , rations and fuel and most of all take them into the warm fold of the Regimental family. In return, my wife and I received blessings that were truly priceless Mean while my staff worked tirelessly to ensure their dues are released by the Government at the earliest.
While in the North East we exploited the inherent strength of our class composition – local troops. This enabled us to carry out a large number of covert operations. We had our own men selling chicken and eggs in weekly markets, as helpers in fair price shops, as assistants to bus conductors and even as fishermen joining villagers across the district during fishing festivals. Handpicked teams were left to fraternise and give a regular feedback. This helped us to map the area for insurgent activities and gave us a firm grip on local intelligence. Soon we hit out and this meant closing up with militants with heightened risks in a fire fight. Our men suffered injuries and often came out from the jaws of death but in the process, neutralised some dreaded militants. This became a game of Chor Sepahi that the boys passionately enjoyed. The boys endeared themselves to the local by their demeanour, fairplay and kindness and went on to pick up more friends.
Now when I look back, I feel that the best that could have happened with me was to serve in the Army. It has been a long journey of passionate work and valuable education in communication, human behaviour, inter personal relations ,team building, motivation, leadership, justice, compassion and most of all in the secular ethos of the Army. There were periods of intense activity when one couldn’t get leave — no, no didn’t even ask for leave because of the relative importance of operations at hand. On the eve of the Sumdrong Chu incident with China in the mid 80s, I remember boarding a meter gauge train from a nondescript, dark, desolate and mosquito ridden railway station in Assam thinking about my long homeward journey when an NCO from the Military’s Movement Control Organisation came looking for me with a torch in hand; I had been recalled. My initial disappointment soon gave away to a feeling of being wanted, and I was happily on my way back to the unit with a chest full of pride while enduring another three days of journey to the higher mountains. I finally saw my two and a half year old daughter eighteen months later. Such long periods of absence only strengthened the family bonds and kept our spark alive ! The military has its own way of helping you strengthen ties with the family. With shared concerns and mutual respect our love for each other in the family has only grown. The children have effortlessly imbibed military values while my wife has been a perfect example of compassion, always there to empathise with the regimental families.As I progressed in service my passion for reading and for adventure stayed on. I went on to do Scuba Diving, Hot air Balooning, River Rafting and Paragliding. I have a certification in these sports. I did Paragliding at 57, a couple of years older than double the average age of the remainder participants.
After retirement I have taken to full time Golf for we endeavour to play 18 holes every day. I spend time reading, travelling , gardening and catching up on all that I missed. My message to the youth – the Military is not just another Naukri. It is a lifestyle that money cannot buy. It commits you to a life of professional excellence, of dedication, loyalty and bonding that lasts a life time. It a life that that teaches you to work hard, fight hard, play hard and party as if there is no tomorrow.”
Story By – Mansi Dhanak | Mission JOSH
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