Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Improperly Dressed

This is an incident that happened in 1972. We had been the part of the victorious Indian Army, which carved out the nation of Bangladesh out of Pakistan. The ease and fluidity with which the Indian Army achieved this miracle was praised the world over. As a young captain, those were heady times for me with a sense of euphoria at the highest. After the stress and strain of fighting the war for more than a month, the surrender ceremony was quite a morale booster for all the troops, and being a young officer I felt very elated and buoyed by all that was happening all around me. But, soon enough, our formation received orders to move from Bangladesh to the western borders and deploy there facing the Pakistan Army.
As it happens on many occasions, this move from the eastern most part of India to the Western most part was to be done in such a hurry that logistical and administrative problems of great magnitude had to be surmounted. Suffice to say that we soon found ourselves in various trains chugging towards the western border. By February 1972 we were deployed near the western border of India with Pakistan. The nearest village was called Malot, a medium-sized farming village many of which dotted our border with Pakistan. Since our formation was operationally deployed and since we've been moved hastily from the eastern theater we were forced to live under tents. The offices were also under tents. Everything was fine as long as the winter lasted. But with the advent of spring the temperature started to rise up. It was abominably hot during the daytime with the tents offering no comfort in shielding the occupants from the blistering sun. Try as we might, there was no alternative to sit in these so-called offices after about 10 AM.
Our formation headquarters was located near fairly large irrigation canal and that was the only redeeming factor because some amount of respite from the heat could be gained by frequent dips in the canal water. The brigadier, who was our commander, was a person who had different outlook on most things as compared to the rigid, stereotyped senior officers in the army during those days. When the summer started in earnest and the mercury was touching more than 47°C he passed an order that all personnel working in the offices need wear only sleeveless vests with regulation, army issue shorts and boots. Of course, the belt was worn along with the regimental cap. All of us found this attire to be quite comfortable and since we had come after being victorious in a war that lasted more than a month, we thought that we were entitled to have this latitude in functioning.
So it was that after the morning PT, which is the Army’s acronym for physical training, we used to reach the office at about 8 AM dressed in the pattern described above. One day one junior officer from the divisional headquarters belonging to a specialized service came for a routine inspection. He was quite unpleasantly surprised to see all of us in our peculiar attire. He felt that this was a serious breach of discipline and made no bones about his views to all of us. Most of us were quite bemused by this but our commander was quite angry. And what he did is one for the history books! He called his senior staff officer who was a major and had the title of “Brigade Major”, and told him to get this officer to his tent. This was done and the commander asked this officer as to what was his problem and why was he making observations against the dress that all of us were wearing. This officer answered that to the best of his knowledge such an attire was totally against all the army rules and regulations and he felt that, as a staff officer of a higher formation headquarters, it was his bounden duty to inform the commanding general of this breach of discipline. Our commander asked him, “Is that so? In that case we should ensure that all of us are dressed in the same way.” He, then, turned to the Brigade Major and told him “Ravi, make sure this joker is in a presentable dress as all of us are.”
It did not take the Brigade Major more than few minutes to remove the cap and the shirt of the officer. Naturally, there was a bit of struggle and I am told that the commander also helped and assisted the Brigade Major in accomplishing this task of disrobing this unfortunate officer. An Army issue shorts was brought and the officer was forced to remove his trousers and put on this shorts. Once this was done a huge smile broke out on the commander’s face and he told this hapless officer “Now you are looking like one of us. And can you now tell me if this is a proper or improper dress?” The officer was livid with helpless rage but he had to comply with what was done to him. The inspection went on followed by the mandatory lunch. During the lunch the commander fired a passing shot at this officer telling him that if he had any grudge about the incident and, he must report this matter to the commanding general. And since it was done at the behest of the commander all of us should be taken to task.
I do not know what happened afterwards; but we all had a good laugh and more than a few beers about the whole incident. I do not think in the modern Indian Army such commanders exist because these were the good old mavericks who imposed their charismatic personalities on the troops that they commanded which made them truly successful field commanders. Lest I be misconstrued, I hasten to add that the situations obtaining in the battlefields of this day, perhaps, do not warrant such personalized leadership except in the case of the Special Forces.

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