In 1977, I was attached with Mizoram range headquarters (Assam Rifles) at Serchip. I was a grade three officer dealing with intelligence. My sahayak, rifleman Shyam Chettri, and I were quick to adapt to the new environment as most of the troops of Assam Rifles were Gorkhas. I was sent on official duty to Silchar. Since I was expected to be out for a day or two, I did not ask Shyam to accompany me.
On the return from Silchar to Serchip, the Shaktiman truck I was travelling in rolled down a khud between Kolasib and Sherkhan. Two jawans met their end and the rest, about 10 of us, survived with injuries. We were evacuated to the Field Hospital at Aizawl. My injuries were moderately severe. The most painful was the shoulder dislocation. The then Brigade Commander at Aizawl, Brig Dick Dias, a Gorkha officer, was the first to visit me and, at my request, handed me a dozen packets of filter cigarettes.
On the second evening of my stay at the hospital, I was surprised to find Shyam looking for me. He was perturbed to see me immobile and unshaven. Immediately, he got down to business. Shyam picked a tin from the fire point of the hospital and heated water. He threw a towel around my stiff neck and started lathering my face with a shaving brush.
At that moment, the commandant of the hospital walked in the ward. He would pay me a visit quite often not only to enquire after my health but also to take away a cigarette or two. Seeing Shyam giving me a shave, however, infuriated him. He demanded to know who he was? Shyam politely told him that he was my sahayak. This infuriated Colonel said, "There is no dearth of staff in the hospital to look after your Captain sahib. Now where do I accommodate you?" I was amazed to hear an otherwise meek Shyam reply, "Sir, in spite of the staff, my sahib was unshaven and had not been given a bath. You could admit me in the ward next to sahib's room on the pretext of any ailment."
The commandant was impressed and admitted Shyam in the hospital. Shyam told me that on hearing about the accident, he had taken a lift in a civil truck by bribing the driver with a bottle of rum.
I recovered fast and both of us were discharged from the hospital.
Whenever my shoulder aches in winter, I am reminded of the devotion, loyalty and sincerity of rifleman Shyam Chettri. Both my sons, who are officers in the army, agree with me that it is difficult to find sahayaks like Shyam today.
(The writer Brigadier VK Sharma passed away recently)