Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Early Formative Years

The Indian Army has undergone many changes for the better in its equipment profile, training philosophy, and logistic capabilities, although it has also been inevitably affected, to some extent, by the declining values in our society. Today, there is proper planning for the career development of officers and soldiers. In the early sixties, before the Indo-China war of 1962, and soon thereafter, one learned to live with frugal resources and allowances. The national priorities at that time, including the border settlement, were planned to be resolved by an emphasis on diplomacy rather than military power, and the Army was being employed on tasks such as housing and road construction rather than training for war. The Armed Forces were thus deficient of weaponry and equipment, which were generally of old vintage and often obsolete.

It was a challenging time in more ways than one. There were shortages in manpower, both of the officer cadre and other ranks. The Gorkha battalions had a good mix of middle-level officers inducted from various regiments of the Indian Army. This was due to the fact that, till August 1947, Gorkha units were officered entirely by the British. Their replacements were ‘old-timers’ with a variety of interest and traits. Some transferees were good professionals, whereas a good number were only interested in drinking and socialising. The young officers were left to do various tasks or sent on multifarious routine duties. These varied from unit administration to the formation Head Quarter tasks, such as collection of classified documents, cash from the banks, and so on. In fact, even a sum of Rupees 10,000 had to be collected or deposited by an officer with an armed escort! In short, there was what may be termed wasteful work with little planned routine. However, these had useful pay-offs as well – primarily of honing the ability of improvisation. We learnt to do all sorts of tasks, and accept challenges as they came. Fortunately, our unit had a very fine Commanding Officer in Lt. Col. R. S. Rai, and a competent team of officers. My senior subalterns were Brigadiers (then Lieutenants) Nripad Gurung and Raj Negi., both outstanding officers.

Today, very rightly, units try to give pre-course training, and systematically prepare the Young Officers – YOs as they are referred to – for likely missions, although with some inevitable interruptions. Here, I wish to mention that many a time, events are not well planned for all of us, but sincere hard work and commitment can always help to make up. It should, therefore, be our effort to put in our best whatever the circumstances, rather than to get disheartened by a perceived lack of opportunity or lack of pre-course training. For instance, I got the opportunity to do the PT Course, the Snow Warfare Course, and the Mechanical Transport Officers’ Course, all within the first two years of service – without either much planning or preparation time. Fortunately for me, by dint of hard work and some good luck, I earned excellent grades in all the courses, which helped me professionally and gave me the confidence to keep up. However, on the flip side, I missed doing the basic weapons course – which was generally considered a must – as the vacancies were fully utilised and were never surrendered by any unit.

Though we did not naturally think of it as such then, but now as I look back at what constitutes my personal history, I find that I was fortunate to have personally witnessed or participated in events which may be termed historic in the context of our country as well as the larger context of the subcontinent. I had barely completed three years’ service when I was posted out as the GSO 3 (Int), of a Mountain Division located in Sikkim. The GOC, Major General Kamta Prasad MC, was also from the 4 G.R. He selected me as his ADC and I continued as the Aide for over one year. This was not as easy an appointment as it may sound. The GOC had a remarkably short temper. He had been a Japanese POW during the War, and that experience might explain his lack of patience with his fellow-men. His staff had the challenging task of negotiating his temper while doing their duties. Many of them did not come out unscathed from this experience. However, this appointment gave me new opportunities for professional education. I had to travel extensively over the divisional sector. This, though arduous, was exciting. The road net-work, beyond Gangtok was rather undeveloped. We had an unmetalled one-ton road, leading to the Nathula Pass, and another similar road axis to the North Sikkim. The deployment was new and involved frequent changes. There was inadequate winter clothing and equipment. The preparation of defences involved digging of defences on the ridge lines, astride the axes, and on the water-shed.

Apart from the valuable professional exposure on these matters, there were other positive experiences that I had there. Sikkim those days was a protectorate of India and much prettier, with a smaller population. As the ADC, I not only had the occasion to meet the King (Chogyal) of Sikkim, but also the privilege of attending his wedding to Hope Cook, a pleasant and pretty American lady who, contrary to the stereotypical image of Americans, was of very slight build. The wedding was solemnised in the Palace with the traditional Buddhist rituals by the senior monks, followed by a dinner for few select invitees. The King had studied at Darjeeling, and was a jovial and pleasant person. He used to stammer slightly, but whenever I had the occasion to converse with him, I found him well informed and easy to speak with.

After my stint as the ADC, I was reverted as the GSO 3, at the Divisional Headquarters for two years. My annual leave saw me heading not for home or holidays, but to the Platoon Weapons Course conducted at the Infantry School, Mhow. Since I had not done this Course, which is mandatory for an Infantry Officer, I volunteered to do so during my leave, by obtaining an additional vacancy. On completion of the course, I re-joined my unit in March 1965. It was then located in North Bengal. Lt Col (later Major General) B. D. Kale was the commanding officer. He was an excellent trainer and ran a very happy team. He was extremely fit and considerate. During his command, our battalion stood first in the 50 km long route–march in the division.

After the conflict in Kutch in 1965, and before the 1965 Indo-Pak War, there was a lull in the tensions and leave was reopened. I decided to utilize the leave period fruitfully. As soon as my family could complete the essential preparations, my wedding, which had been arranged with Aruna Ghildiyal about a year ago, was held at Dehra Dun on 7 July 1965. Incidentally, Major (now Lt. General) T. P. S. Rawat, another officer of my Regiment, also got married on the same day as us, and in the adjoining neighbourhood. But, naturally, I could not attend his wedding and vice versa. In September 1965, 2/4 G.R. was deployed on the East Pakistan border fully geared to undertake the offensive across. However, the hostilities never broke out in the East.

Aruna and I at Naintal, soon after our wedding

After the 1965 War, the battalion moved to Jhansi in central India. Before we got settled fully, the unit was moved to the training area to prepare for the Corps exercise. We also got a new commanding officer, Lt. Col. V. B. Sathe. Though highly professional in most matters, he rather liked his drinks. Not only that, he also expected everyone else to share his liking. Anyone who failed to join in with the necessary enthusiasm became the butt of his jokes. There were some young officers, like Capt. R. Nath, and Capt. Umesh Saklani, who by temperament or because of family considerations were originally strict tea-totallers. They took to drinking – or pretended to do so at least while in the presence of the CO in sheer desperation. I suppose this was also some sort of education. Though certainly not pleasant for those who do not have a taste for hard drinks, it must have helped to develop qualities of forbearance or toughness in us – presumably akin to the effects of ‘ragging’ that many undergo as part of their college education.

The training involved long marches by night, outflanking population centres and moving cross-country and setting up camps away from roads. I recall one instance in the camp when we had to send search parties to locate Capt. Saklani who got lost while coming to dinner in the mess. He later confided to friends that he was partially night-blind and missed the mess-tent by going around for more than hour in the pitch dark night, within a short distance of 500 yards. It is not unusual to lose your way if there are no landmarks or if you are disoriented in the dark, even for those with perfect eyesight.

The training schedule was very hectic and as the officer–in-charge training, I had to ensure that the schedule was implemented. I was made in charge, despite my relatively few years of service at that time, because the officer who was second-in-command was sent off on duty to the controlling higher HQ as the Officer Commanding Bank Control – an ad-hoc HQ for the river crossing organisation – by Col. Sathe. The reason for this was personal rather than any other, since the two senior officers did not get along very well with each other. While at the field training, there was no question of any visits to the unit location at Jhansi. They were simply not allowed. Neither was any telephonic or other communication. So it was that when our son, Vivek, was to be born at the Military Hospital (MH) in Jhansi, I was on exercise, and Aruna was all by herself. Fortunately for us, the first lady, Mrs Kamal Sathe, was very considerate. Also, unusually for those days, she had a car and could drive. She took my wife to the MH in January 1968, as Aruna still recalls, in her blue Morris Minor. I only came to know about the birth of my son on my return from exercise! This may sound a trifle unusual, and even perhaps unwarranted, in these days. However, our battalion has always maintained its traditional spirit of trust, cooperation and camaraderie, and the bond as well as the responsibilities of a family. This is the reason we were never worried about timely help, and could concentrate on our professional tasks to the exclusion of even family matters.

Aruna with the children
Before participating in the important Corps training exercise (Ex Betwa) at Shivpuri-Jhansi area, I had been detailed for the Junior Command (JC) Course at MHOW, again an unplanned but a welcome change. This is considered an important course, and a pre-requisite to taking the Staff College Entrance Examination. I worked extremely hard and managed to do well on this course, and later I got posted as an instructor to the JC Wing, at the Infantry School, at a rather young service of nine years. This was the most rewarding tenure, both professionally as well as personally. We were able to spend time together as a family at Mhow, and I could also study for the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) Entrance Examinations. The tenure at the JC Wing was professionally useful, as one got the opportunity to operate with all Arms and Services at the functional level.  We were also blessed with our second child, Anisha.

While at the Infantry School, Mhow, when I had completed only half the tenure and was in the midst of my preparations for DSSC examinations, I was in for a surprise. I was selected for a posting to Nepal to head the Welfare Wing of the Indian Mission at Pokhara. I had to regretfully decline, as I was keen to take the competitive examinations for the Staff College, which I subsequently cleared successfully, and moved on to do the Course at Wellington.
Aruna and I at the DSSC, Wellington with Mrs. Datta, Mrs. Khanduri and Mrs. Shukla

The Hockey Team at DSSC, Wellington (I am standing first from left),
Also in the picture:
Major J.S. Rao standing second from right, Major G.S. Somal, sitting extreme left, Major B.S. Randhawa, adjacent to Commander (later Admiral) Khurana, the Officer-in-charge Hockey, and extreme right, Major Kharbanda

On completion of the course, I got posted to my unit, 2/4 GR in Ladakh in the Karu Sector. Shortly after, we were caught in the tumultuous events of the 1971 War. During this time, the battalion under the command of Brig Prem Gupta, was moved to the ‘Samba Sector’ and participated in the1971 War as part of the 1 Corps. I was holding the ‘Screen’ position’ in front of the DCB obstacle, in the 168 Infantry Brigade Sector with the A Company group. We were subjected to frequent shelling by enemy medium artillery but we suffered no damage due to our evasive action of siting defences away from the village.

The buildings, (already vacated by the villagers) at ‘Nanga’ village astride the screen position, were a prominent landmark (which we had taken care to avoid), and did suffer damage from the shelling. During the initial phase of the events, our battalion provided the firm base and flank protection for the planned 54 Infantry Division offensive. This was a defensive task, and it denied the battalion an opportunity of going into attack, which was eagerly awaited by all ranks. Thereafter, when the enemy was expected to launch a counter-attack with his reserves, the entire brigade was asked to remain on the defence. The anticipated enemy counter-offensive on the defensive position never came, which 168 Inf Bde with 16 CAV was supposed to absorb, and before the Brigade could be employed for further tasks, the War was over. Thus, the battalion missed out on going into the real battle, which is the ultimate dream of all fighting units of the army.

After the war, I was moved to the North East, as the Brigade Major (BM) in 61 Mountain Brigade, which had just reverted from the Bangladesh-Chittagong hill tracts to the area of Lekhapani in North Assam. The tenure with 61 Mountain Brigade took us to Nagaland and Manipur for the counter-insurgency operations in areas of Tamenglong, Mao-Maram and Ukhrul. Brig K. P. Pande, MVC, was the Brigade Commander. He had proved to be an excellent Field commander in the Bangladesh War. All the three battalions in the Brigade fought well in the war and earned many gallantry awards: 13 Kumaon, 7 Rajputana Rifles, and 2 JAT. The Brigade Commander’s attitude helped the units to perform exceedingly well in the battle. He had the great qualities of reposing trust in, and delegating appropriately to, his subordinates. These are important lessons that all senior officials in all branches of public and private service would do well to emulate.

Under our Brigade Commander, we were involved in counter-insurgency operations, which involved Cordon and Search, Patrolling, and Road–opening operations. All these tasks were dependant on receiving appropriate Intelligence inputs– which was generally neither timely or accurate! But we did the best we could. I found the people of Manipur to be highly educated, cultured and friendly. If they could resolve their suspicions amongst each other and their divisions on tribal loyalties more productively, I believe there is no aspect that they cannot achieve. It is sad that till today, in the absence of a political solution and appropriate economic development, the insurgency in this part of our country continues.

Friday, 15 June 2012

As a Young Officer in 2/4 GR

I was commissioned in the 2nd battalion of the 4 Gorkha Rifles (GR), on 13 December 1959. My only reasons for opting to join the illustrious Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army were, the impressive looking head-gear donned by them, and my love for football (having played for the IMA Eleven)! One had little awareness of other military matters. The Adjutant of the IMA, in those days, was Major R B Dunne, a rather smart looking personality from 2/4 GR, besides the very soldierly Captain Bharat Singh, who motivated me to join the 4 GR. However, this was not entirely smooth sailing. My Battalion Commander, Colonel A. S. Judge was a ‘Gunner’ and he wanted me to join the Artillery. In the provisional allocation, I was earmarked for the Artillery. This caused me much concern. And made me rush to Capt. Bharat Singh, who reassured me, stating that a senior Lt. General of the 4 GR, was scheduled to visit the Academy, and he would sort out the problem.

There was a hockey match preceding the Passing Out Parade where I was also representing the IMA hockey team. During the introduction of the teams, to my great relief, the senior officer told me of my posting to the 2/4th GR, of which he was also the ‘Colonel’ of the Regiment.  I was very happy when, later, I was presented with the rifle green beret, the cane, and the belt of the Regiment and briefed about the location of the unit in the J&K, by my sponsor Capt. Bharat Singh.

The Battalion was located in the high-altitude area in the Kargil sector in Ladakh. Those days in the winter months, the only mode of transport was a lift in the IAF courier service in the Dakota aircraft from Jammu. This had limited capacity, and the flight depended on good weather. There used to be a huge pile-up of the waiting soldiers, in the transit camps at Pathankot and Jammu.  Pathankot, those days was the railhead, and accordingly I reported to the transit camp at the railway station for onward move to my unit. Along with other transients, we were assigned to the Officers Lorry, in a 3-Ton convoy for further despatch to the Transit Camp at Jammu. Here, at, the Jammu Transit Camp, we were manifested for airlift to Kargil. Though officers were given priority, the wait could vary from days to weeks. It all depended on the availability of aircrafts, and the weather. Many a time, there were last minute cancellations or diversions enroute due to inclement weather. After a wait of nearly 10 days, I was lucky to get a lift in the Dakota flight to my first military duty-station, to begin my long and eventful journey in the army.

 The officer commanding the Rear elements of the Brigade at Jammu was also from our unit, (Maj. S. S. Tomar), a very lively person who made the daily routine interesting and instructive, besides giving us some first-hand information about life in the unit. The special clothing at Kargil was a padded jacket commonly called ‘Coat Parka’ and special gumboots for snow, besides extra issue winter clothing and the sleeping bags. The battalion HQ was located close to the air field, on the banks of the River Suru and the sub-units were occupying the heights on the Line of Control (LoC). This was my first experience staying in the underground dug-outs, known as living-bunkers, with kerosene fired bukharis for heating. After the initial three weeks of Orientation training at the Battalion HQ on the functioning of a unit, learning first hand, the duties of an infantry rifleman and a junior commander, I was asked to quickly learn Nepali as all the communication with the men was in Nepali. Thereafter I was posted to A Company as a Platoon Commander, on the LOC at the height of 12800 feet, opposite the famous 13620 feature. ‘A’ company had a very senior company Commander, in Major H. K. Shepherd, who was also officiating as the second-in command of the battalion. He was very thorough and meticulous in training and administering the men. He knew his men well and would maintain their personal records of the service and would insist that his platoon commanders do the same.

The company was deployed on the LoC, on five posts at altitudes varying from 11 to 13000 feet high. I was made the Officiating Company Commander and sent up to the pickets. Here I had the important responsibility of the security of the border, besides learning the battle procedures and minor tactics. I must acknowledge the good basic grounding given to me during the first few weeks, by the Adjutant, the QM, the Senior JCO, the Company Commander and the Second-in-Command on all the details, the regimental history, the customs and traditions of the Regiment. The Rifle Drill and Guard Mounting procedure, the management of Arms and Ammunition, and the range firing drills, may appear routine. But they were important for a fresh subaltern. The mess etiquette and dinner night procedure, despite being in the Field, had to be learnt, and periodically observed by those at the battalion base.

I was sent on a long range patrol of ten days during the winter where we were to be administratively self-contained, visit villages in the area with essential medicines and also practice snow-craft. I recall my attachment for a week’s patrolling cadre, with 1st JAK LI, at Drass, then commanded by Lieutenant Colonel M. M. Ismail, of 8 GR, who was a true professional, loved outdoors, and shikar. I enjoyed the training outdoors under him, the night marches, navigation by stars and the study of the, natural flora and fauna of the area. Incidentally, many years later I met Colonel Ismail’s son, an outstanding officer, commanding a Gorkha battalion in the Kashmir valley. The duties in Kargil were challenging and interesting except during the time I was located at the HQ. The late nights in the Officer’s Mess, were most difficult for young officers, where most of the senior officers got involved in playing continuous games of bridge and a few of us had to sit out for our dinner beyond midnight. The Field concessions helped save money for kitting, by making essential ceremonial military dresses and also contribute regularly to the family budget at home.

In March 1960, I was asked to come down to the Base from the forward posts, as a vacancy on the Officer’s Physical Training Course (OPTC) had to be subscribed within the next three weeks. I was asked to do pre-course training and the Adjutant, then, Captain (Later Brigadier) Vijay Badhwar, lectured me that “In the 2/4 GR, nobody, comes back with less than an excellent grade”! He impressed upon me that I must perform well on the course, to retain that reputation. Fortunately, being fit and a good sportsman helped and I returned with ‘Alfa’ Grades. This good beginning gave me the necessary motivation and the confidence, and I continued to obtain the Instructor Grades, in all my subsequent training-courses: Weapons, Mechanical Training, Junior Command, Senior Command, Staff College, Higher Command and the National Defence College.

After a few months, the battalion moved to the Kupwara sector in the J&K Valley and I was sent on the snow warfare course at Gulmarg. I learnt to ski and was retained as an instructor for the winter of 1960-61. This was indeed a great opportunity for me to learn mountain and snow craft. I made some fine friends who were also great mountaineers – Everest climbers Colonel N. Kumar, Jagdish Joshi, Avtar Cheema and Harsh Bahuguna, who were excellent skiers too. As I look back to the yesteryears, spent in the Field, there is great improvement in the pay and allowances, in the logistics support and the quality of life and service conditions – as it should be. However, there is also some dilution in the maintenance of high physical standards and moral values, which needs to be restored in a professional army like ours, by the officer cadre.

The Battalion moved to Mhow (Madhya Pradesh) as the demonstration battalion and was also earmarked to go to the Congo, on a UN mission. I was appointed the Battalion Mechanical Transport Officer and the Football Captain. We trained hard and won the formation football tournaments. I was also selected to lead the Southern Command Team in the Services Football who had three India level players in Havaladar Trilok Singh, Arvinder and Ethiraj. The Chinese invasion of 1962 brought the battalion to Dehra Dun, for a three months commando training for special operations, cancelling the projected UN mission. We moved to Sikkim in February 63. In the meanwhile I was posted to HQ 20 Infantry division as the GSO (3) Ops and was selected as the Aide to the GOC, Major General Kamta Prasad MC and later Lt General J T Sataravala, at a rather young service of three years. This was a new learning phase for me. The Commando training at Doon was imparted by some of the finest Officers who had been trained at the Ranger’s School in the USA and focused on survival behind the enemy line, the ability to operate by night, the ‘buddy system’ and junior leadership. This was to prove of immense value to all Ranks and to the younger officers in particular.

Although, in the Army there are many who feel that a young officer should do more of the Regimental Soldiering for the first 5 to 7 years, there are others like me, who was moved on staff appointments very early, with just three years’ service. I personally gained by the early move to the staff appointments, as I had to be on my own and learn new professional matters and interact with officers of different Arms and Services. This gave me a much better professional exposure. I made up for the lack of some important courses such as the Platoon Weapons Course, by surrendering my annual leave and going on the course instead. This may not have been possible if, like some of my batch-mates, I had got married too early. I think officers should refrain from getting married for the first five years, to devote full time to soldiering, and do well on the professional courses, as this would facilitate their future prospects in the service career.

Visits to the Recruitment Areas of the soldiers and understanding their environment, background and language, is another issue, which is not being followed strictly in most of the regiments today. Some of the older battalions like mine encourage officers to trek to explore the soldier’s habitat during annual leave. I remember visiting the recruitment area in ‘Western Nepal’, after the, 1971 War, to meet the War Widows and the pensioners, despite a wedding in the family, which had to be missed as the tour dates were clashing with the event. For this, I was never forgiven by my wife, Aruna, as it was her sister who was getting married. But the Regiment was always a priority over the family, as per the old norms.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Recollections of an Eventful Army Tenure

Early childhood days and going to NDA

Lt General Chandra Shekhar

I belong to an extended family of a remote village, in the Kumaon hills (now in the newly formed state of Uttrakhand), at  village ‘Paganna’, in the Pithoragarh district, a distance of a few kilometres from Dharchula on the Indo-Nepal border.

I lived in the village till early 1948. In all these early childhood years, I hardly recall meeting my father, who was away on duty with the Bengal Sappers and Miners, of the Indian Army. During the Second World War, he was posted on the Burma Front and later at Colombo and Singapore with, a Field Engineering Company. My father was the eldest son, with a younger sister and five brothers. One of his brothers was in the police, and died in the partition riots of 1947, at Dehradun. Two others also joined the army, and like him both attained the rank of Subedar Major and Honorary Captains. The younger ones were at home, helping out the family in rearing cattle and farming.

My Father, Late Honorary Captain Daya Krishna Joshi

 I recall, we were with our mother only at night before going off to sleep, as women folk in the hills are extremely busy undertaking a variety of house -hold tasks. Life for women, particularly in the hills during the yester years, was tough. They were involved in work all the time – milking the cows, clearing the cattle shed, maintaining the house, cooking, fetching fire-wood or water, besides knitting and washing. I hardly remember playing with my elder sister or younger brothers, specifically, as we lived as joint-families in the house, together with other cousins and elders. The children played collectively, went to the village school or accompanied the elders at times to the mountain meadows with herds of village cattle. The houses were always two-storeyed with slate roofs. The goth - ground floor - had half a dozen or so cows, two oxen, and a few goats. The senior members of the family had cots and the rest of us slept on the floor. Our grandfather, Shri Bishan Dutt Joshi, was the ‘mukhiya’ of the house. He was also the village “Pradhan’’ and a prominent personality. He was consulted for various ceremonies and rituals and had some exclusive religious beliefs and powers. He could it was believed, supposedly cure some chronic ailments, and even snake bites, by reciting some special mantras like a ‘tantric.’

My Grandfather, Shri Bishan Dutt Joshi

During his young days he used to be a mountain guide to the surveying teams of Survey of India, mapping the watershed on the Indo-Tibet border. After retiring from the army my father wisely decided to move to Dehra Dun, primarily for educational considerations, having realised the difficulties in the village at Pithoragarh .It was a difficult period for us as we had to live in a rented house and manage within his pension from the army. My intention for joining the NDA and getting settled in a job quickly so as to help my father financially, further motivated me to prepare hard. I made it to the NDA selections at the very young age of 15 years in my first attempt .Fortunately, my younger brothers were good in the studies and did well on their own to progress in life. In the initial years I, however, contributed to the family budget and towards clearing the loan taken for building our own house at Dehra Dun. My father lived to attain a healthy life of 93 years, had strong religious beliefs, discipline and high moral values. Though short-tempered, he was generous and well meaning. He took to palmistry and yoga, as a hobby and became highly proficient in both.

The land holdings in our village, as usual were small, on terraced slopes or down in the valley. These produced corn, millets, soya bean, and coarse grain, but in small quantities, barely adequate to sustain the household. We had lots of fruit trees – oranges, pears, walnuts and pomegranates in our compound. There was so much fruit that pears were often fed to the cattle as these could not be marketed or preserved. All the young males were away in the Army or doing some other jobs in the plains. It was part and parcel of what is typically called a ‘money-order economy’ of the hills.This continues to be so even today, as I noticed during my recent trip to Nainital and Ranikhet in May 2012, along with my family, inclusive of the three grand-children. Though these days there are much better roads and good connectivity, there is reduced forest cover, with considerable building activity mostly by outsiders. There is little evidence of investment in educational institutions, or in establishing eco-friendly horticulture activities, unlike in the state of Himachal Pradesh, which has shown tremendous progress and planning .The youth go astray after initial education, as there are no openings other than in the armed forces or small jobs in the plains.

My Father and Mother with all their children (I am standing on the extreme right) 

             The first time we moved out from our village, as a family was in February 1948, when my father took us to Dehradun where he was posted as the Subedar Major in the 501 Field Survey Group. I recall the trek that took us three days to reach the railhead at Tanakpur. There were no roads those days. Instead there were only caravan routes. On these routes, there was a stream of moving people, generally a mix of returning soldiers from leave or their dependents, besides the porters and the column of mules with loads on their backs. This journey, more like an expedition, took us, with porters and ponies, to traditional resting places enroute, like ‘Chalthi’ downstream or the scenic’ Champawat’, where during nightfall, the wayside stalls provided us with food and shelter. The children and the elderly were carried piggyback by the Nepali porters, known as ‘dotiyals’ or mounted ponies with frequent halts for tea enroute or for watering the ponies.

We hardly settled in a house anywhere during my early childhood. In typical army style, we relocated frequently as we accompanied our father on his different assignments, or stayed back in the separated quarters in the last location. In 1949, from Dehradun we went to Bangalore. I was too young then to recollect distinctly where exactly he was posted. Perhaps it was to the Madras Engineering Group Centre. I am only aware of this because I used to watch the obstacle course being used by the men. One day, I along with my younger brother, ventured to try out some of the obstacles when there was no one around. While climbing the suspended ladder secured by my brother, I went for a toss and cut my upper lip. This had to be stitched, giving me a scar on the upper lip as my identification mark. Here again, after a short stay of a few months, we moved to Roorkee, where my father was posted at the Bengal Engineering Training Centre, as the Group Subedar Major, for five long years, with two extensions granted in very exceptional cases due to his excellent work.

I joined the Knox Memorial high School, now converted into a Central School. I studied here till the 8th standard before joining the Government High School Roorkee, from where I completed my 10th standard with first good grades, in 1954. In the meantime, my father had retired in 1953 and moved to Dehradun. I moved to my sister’s house in the Central Building Research Institute, adjacent to the then Thompson’s Engineering College, and now IIT. The early years spent at Roorkee Cantonment gave me a glimpse of Army life and an interest in sports. My education at Dehradun was for a brief 18 months at the DAV College, and gave me an opportunity to prepare for the National Defence Academy (NDA). Being the eldest son, I wanted to settle in a job quickly. Joining the NDA became a career option, only due to the awareness created by the smartly attired cadets of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) seen in the town at Dehradun and by interacting with friends similarly inclined, in the college.

I got through in the UPSC Examinations and joined the 15th NDA Course at Khadakvasla in January 1956. I was assigned to George Squadron, where I spent the next three years in six terms. Each term entailed undergoing composite military and academic training followed by assessment tests. We had a very strict squadron commander from the Navy (Sqn. Ldr. P.S. Bahar), who relegated nearly half the course, (a record at the NDA) to repeat the first term, either due to weak performance in the academics or in the physical tests. The training at NDA for three years was a great learning experience, and gave us a very fine background where we got excellent academic, military and physical education. The best part of the NDA training was learning all the basics – what I call ‘life values’, and interaction with fellow cadets from different backgrounds and schools ranging from reputed public schools to regional and vernacular schools as well as the Military Schools. The cadets with the public school background had the initial advantage in the English language and in the elitist sports such as cricket, riding; tennis and squash. This, however, got neutralized after few months due to personal attention and various sports facilities given to us under competent trainers. The NDA provided excellent facilities for sports, besides teaching, science, humanities, the military subjects and inter-service joint training. I had a natural aptitude for sports and physical training. I learnt quickly and represented the NDA in football and my squadron teams in all the other games.

I moved to the IMA at Dehradun, in January 1959, to join the 24 Regular Course, as a Gentlemen Cadet, along with other successful army cadets from the NDA for specialised army training of one year’s duration and was assigned to be part of the Zojila Company, located in the Kingsley Lines rather than the other temporary accommodation for the rest, being the champion company of the term.
As part of the IMA Football Team (I am standing third from right)
Standing A.S. Sandhu, Satish Murgai, Amar Sinha, a Nigerian GC, J.P.Khanduri, Myself, C.B.Khanduri, Ranjit Rishi
Sitting: Our Football Coach, K.S.Sandhu, E.M.Pun, Officer-in-Charge Football, B.R. Ale, H.S. Wadalia, Manuel Diwan

I was selected for the IMA Football and Hockey teams, and visited NDA to play the yearly tournaments The IMA also provided us facilities for organised outdoor treks and hikes during the term break .I was able to participate and lead a trek into the Garwhal hills to the Valley of Flowers and the 'Mana' Pass, during the summer break in June 1959. In December 1959, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 2/4th Gorkha Rifles, a distinguished infantry battalion with a rich military reputation and fame. The only reason to join the Gorkha unit was my love for football and the smart Gorkha hat. The battalion had on its roll, names like ex-IMA Commandants, Brigs Kingsley and Collins, besides General Joe Lentaigne, the first commandant of the DSSC Wellington. Lt Gen Moti Sager,was the first Indian Commanding officer of the battalion, as prior to 1947, the Indian officers were not posted to the Gorkha units. The famous author, John Masters, was also from my regiment, the 4th Gorkha Rifles. Looking back at my early formative years, I can see how the opportunities and the quality training at the NDA and IMA, and the professional courses in the Army Institutions, make us into energetic, disciplined and motivated leaders.

On the trek to Mana Pass (I am standing at the back, second from right)