It is often said that man proposes and God disposes. I can say with all confidence that atleast in my life, God proposed everything even before I had a chance to ask. Sometimes I think my Bauji must be good friend with the Universal Power.
3 May 1964
This is the day that I became a commissioned officer in the Indian Army. From a young college boy just a few months ago, I was actually pushed by destiny to a path that I could not even image could be mine.
The commissioning is not considered complete without the the PIPING ceremony. Considered very prestigious, it is the initiation of the cadets into the Army. The ceremony is held at the stroke of midnight in the presence of the tricolor. It was quite magical.
The lights were switched off, we removed flaps from our shoulders and as lights were switched on, we were declared commissioned officers with two pips (stars) on our shoulders that meant rank of the second lieutenant. Parents and relatives of most of the Gentlemen cadets had come to celebrate the occasion. They cheered, hugged and congratulated the newly commissioned officers. No one from my home could come to the ceremony. It was too expensive to travel all the way.
I pinched myself, I remember, to make sure it was not a dream but reality. The renowned novelist, Paulo Coelho in his best seller, Alchemist, says that when you want something with all your heart, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Your desire should be firm, your determination strong and you should have a spirit which says never die. I am a firm believer in destiny and good karma. Right people appear at crucial junctures in your life and become a part of fulfilling your destiny.
Mind you, you have never met them before and may never meet them again. In my case, the eye specialist at Service Selection Board is one of them who overlooked my poor eye sight. OTS Pune allowed me to join Army despite being under weight by six kilos, and Jain college stopped my full fee concession so that I could migrate to GMN college.
The army service selection board visited selected few colleges in Ambala District to visit for recruitment and my college was one of them. What would you call all this, destiny, fate, luck or universal backing. I missed my father, my Bauji badly that day. He would have been really proud of his son. But I am sure, he must be showering his blessings on me, wherever he was. I was content in a way, that I would now be able to fulfil the promise made to my Bauji at his death bed. I could now play a big hand in helping my family. It had been a long day. I was content but tired and exhausted. As I retired to bed in my barrack, I went into a contemplative mood, reflecting back on hard and grueling training I had undergone.
On the day, we reached OTS Pune, our instructor asked us to run to the barracks, unpack our luggage, change into our PT kits and line up outside the barracks. He took us on a double round around the entire school and gave us break for tea. Our batch was nick named EC 8. At night, as we were preparing to sleep, our senior badge, EC 5 barged into our room and asked us to line up outside the barracks immediately. Charge against us was not reporting to seniors on arrival at the academy. They kept us busy till one am and we could hardly get four hours sleep. And it was time to get ready for morning PT parade again. It was indeed a very tight schedule. By and by, we got used to it.
I was very clear in my mind, I have to complete six months course at any cost. One day, a notice was put on the notice board announcing trials for selection of OTS cricket team. Those interested were asked to register their names at the company head quarters. Name of our company was Fateh, meaning victory. I got my name registered.
I was exempted from evening parade and reported for trials at main cricked ground. About 80 GCs turned up for trials. 15 players were selected and I was part of the team as left arm leg spin bowler and a player who could also bat. So life became little pleasant and comfortable as our evenings were spent in cricket practice and Sundays were spent playing cricket matches.
OTS also organized day trips for us. A few of them were to Shiva ji‘s forts; Sinhgarh and Rai Garh. Our vehicles were parked on the road side and we were asked to climb the Sinhgarh fort. A story goes that one of Shiva ji's favourite generals, Tana ji, won this fort from Mughals but lost his life in battle. On hearing the sad news, Shiva ji said, "Garh aya par Sinh Gaya. We won the fort but lost the lion."
The other fort, Rai Garh, was considered impregnable. A legend associated with the fort goes that a poor woman had gone out of the fort to chop wood, leaving her small child behind. By the time she returned, main door of fort was closed. The fort had a single entry point. The woman pleaded with the guards that her son needed breast feeding but no one listened. She did not give up, located a point and started to climb up the fort. She made it to top, found a way into the fort, went home and fed the child. When the news reached Shiva ji, he called the woman and asked her to show him the exact route she had followed. Shiva ji was shocked when the woman reached the top of the fort. He gave orders to plug all loop holes and ensure that the route was impregnable. He rewarded the woman for her grit and determination.
Another memorable trip was to Mahabaleshwar for jungle warfare. At night ,we were taken to the top of hill as jungle was on its slope and asked to reach bottom of the jungle on our own. It was pitch dark and coming down the slope of a dense jungle was a nightmare.
Our regular exercises were held at diggi hills, notorious for its hard red stone rocks. You had to complete digging of your trench which was 3ft deep, 6ft in length and 15 inches in width. Two cadets had to complete digging by dawn as most of enemy attacks on your positions took place at that time. Punishment was severe in case you’ll could not complete digging of the trench. I was lucky to be paired with a rustic village chap who was used to this hard work.
Once at night time, our commandant came on inspection round. He recognized me because of cricket, stopped near my trench and pointed in front of me and said GC Segon, two enemy are there, a moving target, engage. I shouted, 100 yards, moving target, one round fire.
The commandant said sorry GC Segon, the enemy tricked you and moved away. Target not registered. Once commandant left, our instructor punished us severely for letting him down in front of commandant. After the punishment I approached the instructor and asked him about his opinion on my target engagement.
He said honestly he thought I did engage the target but then, senior is never wrong.
OTS life was quite regulated and disciplined. Time passed by and two months were over. I was a worried chap as I had not cleared my drill march past test. It was compulsory to pass this test otherwise, you will not be able to avail mid term break of ten days.
The last drill test was held fifteen days before mid term break. This time I was lucky to clear it. Mid term break came, we got our tickets for first class and a special train brought us to Delhi. I took auto rickshaw to reach home. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. My mother made my favourite dishes and sweets. We spent evenings listening to my favourite music. Time flew away and after spending ten days at home, I was back in OTS Pune for second half of training.
The second term became tension free as EC 5 course had passed out and there was no one to bully us and rag us. But no new course joined and we were deprived the pleasure of ragging our juniors. By this time, we were also accustomed to OTS ways of life and and knew the basics well. Once in a fortnight, GCs were given out pass to visit Pune city. Any one could recognize us from miles as all of us had our hair cut very short. It was called crew cut or army cut. We wore white shirt and white trousers and black Oxford shoes. All of us were on black bicycles.
As we got our first out-pass to visit the city, I still remember the warning given by our battalion commander. He said, gentlemen cadets, go and paint the town red if you wish, but do not get caught. If you are caught, even God could not save you.
Emphasis in second term was more on practical training. We were given training in the use of basic weapons. It started with handing of hand grenades. Once you remove the safety pin of grenade, it becomes live. Hold it tight, throw it at the target and duck behind a rock or lie low in a trench. Grenade will explode and cause damage in the target area.
Next was pistol shooting. Pistol is a small weapon which you carry in your hip holster attached to your belt. It’s maximum range is nine yards. You are taken to the firing range where dummy targets are fixed and your accuracy in firing is tested.
After that was the turn of the 303 rifle which served British in two world wars and was used by Indian army for 75 years and then handed over to the police force. The 303 rifle let down Indian soldiers badly in 1962 war against China, where it proved to be ineffective in extreme cold conditions. India lost the war and in a bid to make amends, went in for large scale recruitment of officers in emergency commission as well as jawans.
Army was also equipped with semi automatic rifles. We also learnt to handle sten-gun which is automatic and can fire effectively up to a range of hundred yards. It is equally effective at short range as it can fire a burst of bullets.
Next in line was heavy duty weapon mounted on a tripod, light machine gun. It is effective, accurate and and automatic, providing fire in bursts. A very important part of weapon trading is battle inoculation. Exercise is conducted at night. You are made to lie down in the trench and asked to look upwards as bursts of lighted tracer bullets are fired just above your trench. You can watch tracer bullets and listen to their hissing sound. It is your first encounter with live fire.
I lay awake almost whole night recalling my training days. Hard and gruelling training had transformed us from raw civilians in to polished army officers. Next day, we met our instructors who were mostly junior commissioned officers and Hawaldars.
They saluted us and said sorry if we were harsh but then, we were only doing our duty.
Stay at OTS Pune was over. A special train with first class brought us to Delhi. A new chapter in our life was about to begin.
I was now a proud commissioned officer in the army, entrusted with responsibility of defending my country against any enemy invasion. I felt validated. Finally.