The army prohibits contact with foreign nationals. The instructions on the subject say that contact with foreign nationals, including on visits abroad, can be made only with the approval of the military intelligence directorate.
Most clearances for holidaying abroad are routine and usually given. However, contact with nationals of the two neighbours with whom we have issues, one to our East and the other to the West and converging towards North is a complete no no.
I was posted at Ludhiana and would come home to Chandigarh every Friday evening to spend the weekend with my family. I would travel to Chandigarh after office and would be in uniform.
One weekend upon arrival like always, I was met and greeted by my wife and children and a girl who is my daughter’s friend. My daughter since her school days is friendly with this person, who is the daughter of a police officer. There was another girl present this time whom I had not met earlier. My daughter introduced her as Zoya, her friend’s cousin. Zoya was a delight to meet. A bubbly teenager no more than 18 years with a winsome smile and impeccable manners.
We sat down to dinner and Zoya sat next to me. Good grooming shows. Zoya made some polite and correct conversation. She told me that her dad was a businessman. She knew little about the army, an organisation she admired and was fascinated with. I thought it strange that a businessman’s daughter would show so much interest in the armed forces. I filled her with all the trivia about the Indian Army a girl her age would be interested in and in the flow of the conversation, a little more than was necessary. I then threw an idea to the girls: “Why don’t you all join the army which is now open to women as commissioned officers?”
Zoya said, “Uncle, even in Pakistan women can join the army.” “That’s no concern of ours,” I said in a condescending tone and added, “You cannot talk of the valiant and noble Indian Army and the rogue Pakistani army in the same breath.”
Zoya became a bit unsettled and said, “Uncle, I am from Pakistan. We stay in Lahore and I study in Lahore Grammar School. I am in Chandigarh visiting my cousins.”
Flustered, I excused myself and left the table. My wife handled the situation, realising the reason for my discomfort.
Inside my bedroom, the dreaded and unforgiving army Act haunted me. Lying on my bed with eyes closed absentmindedly, I framed appropriate charges under the Act for my imprudenceand then mentally read out the charge sheet. ‘IC XXXXX H Col IPS Kohli is charged under provisions of the Army Act 63. An act prejudicial to good order and military discipline in that he, while on duty had the temerity of singing and supping with the enemy’. I felt bad calling the lovely and innocent girl from Pakistan an enemy, who at this moment was ague stat my house.
I rang up my boss and informed him about the faux pas. He heard me out and said: “Inder, you need not lose sleep over this trivial issue.”
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor)