This happened a long time back. With my wife and a one month old daughter I was on the way to join my new unit which was located in the hills of Champa Valley in Himachal Pradesh. It was my first posting to an active airborne battalion. The nearest railway station (always called ‘NRS’ in army parlance) was Pathankot. After getting out of the train train one was expected to go and report to the Transit Camp. From there, vehicles used to transport the troops and families to various locations in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu Kashmir. The reader may kindly note that those were the days when the rail link ended at Pathankot.
So we found ourselves in the Transit Camp at Pathankot on one chilly Wednesday evening in November 1973. After running around to organize hot water and other such essentials for the baby we spent a fairly peaceful night at the Officers’ Mess in the Transit Camp. There I was told that a vehicle will fetch up from the airborne unit in the morning to take us to the location which was a place called Bakloh, about 80 kms away from Pathankot.
The next day morning we got dressed and I went to the office of the Transit Camp to find out about the vehicle which was supposed to come from the unit to fetch us. It was November and Pathankot can become extremely cold in the winters. When I went to the office I found that the staff had not come for duty. I, therefore, decided to wait outside and use the time to light up a cigarette. In about couple of minutes an oldish looking gentlemen wearing scarf, a tweed coat with leather elbow patches, a golf cap and creased trousers came towards the office. Proud as I was about being selected to join the elite airborne battalion I did not pay much heed to him. He went across to the office and had a peek inside. He turned to me and said “ Nobody In ” I said “Yes”. The gentlemen then came closer to me and started asking me as to what my name was, where I was going to in what capacity etc, etc.
Out of sheer respect for his age I was quite polite in responding to the questions initially but when the questions became more and more probing and personal, I started getting a little abrupt with my answers. I then decided to learn something about this gentlemen who was questioning me so closely. So I asked him as to what he was and what he did.
“ Well! Son! For most part of the day I play golf. Do you play?”
“No” I said, “I think it is an old man’s game”.
“You are somewhat right.” However, try it and you may like it. You must be aware that a large percentage of golfers are doctors. So it will go well with your profession”.
When he mentioned the word profession I thought I must ask him about his profession because playing golf did not appear to be a full-time profession. With this in mind I asked him what did he do for a living.
“Son! I already told you most of my time I play golf. In my spare time I command the 25 Division of the Army!.”
I did not know where to run or what to do. I wished I could get buried in the earth and promptly I gave him as smart a salute as possible and stood ramrod straight in attention in front of him. The general started smiling and said ,“It’s alright! Don’t worry! It’s not written in on my forehead that I am the General Officer Commanding this division here. Are you alone? Where’s your family?”
“Sir! My wife and my one-month-old daughter are in the Transit Camp Offficers’ Mess.”
“Did they get something hot to eat? And what about the baby?”
I was hesitant to answer these questions because the arrangements in the Transit Camp Officers’ Mess were far from satisfactory and, in fact, my wife & I did not get a decent breakfast. The General sensed this and said, “OK! Come with me.” And started walking away. I followed him and suddenly I found his station wagon resplendent with two stars and swallow-tail flag announcing his rank and position. He asked me to get in with him and ordered the driver to take us to the Transit Camp Officers’ Mess.
There was utter commotion in the Officers’ Mess when the General’s vehicle was spotted. In a matter of minutes the NCO in Charge of the mess was given the thorough dressing down by the General. He then turned to me and asked, “ Where’s your room? I want to meet your wife.”
I led him to my room, knocked and entered. I tild my wife that the Commanding General wanted to meet her. He came in, wished her with a proper ‘Namaste’ and said, ‘Beta! I’m sorry that you were not comfortable. But things have been sorted out. Have a nice breakast, relax and then only take the trip to Bakloh.” Turning to me he added, “I will meet you next month in your battalion when I come for my inspection.”
And he did precisely that. When I was being introduced to him by my commanding officer he said “I know this chap! In fact I saw him before you did.” Then, looking at me he said “Keep up that aggressive spirit young man! Otherwise, you cannot be a good commando doctor.”
My wife & I always remember that gracious gentleman with impeccable manners & courtesy.