Media reports fuelling disquiet about an officer and his buddy are saddening. Encouraged, a few disgruntled jawans put out videos that portray mass discontent. Serving officers say this is untrue. When I was still in service, one did come across an occasional oddball be it an officer or a jawan. A robust redressal system dispensed quick justice. Every jawan who worked with me is a part of my fond army memories.
I remember when my son was six years old, he stopped eating dinner. His worried mother spoke to me. I discovered he had started dining with our sahayak. I saw the two buddies sitting cross-legged and merrily dipping langar rotis in a mug full of tempting mutton curry. I told my wife to stop worrying.
My first sahayak in 1977 was Ram Singh, a sturdy lad from Haryana. He had about a year’s service and had injured himself playing hockey. Rendered temporarily unfit for military duty, he was assigned the duty of a sahayak.
Ram Singh was a simpleton. When told to get a particular trouser slightly flared at the bottom ironed, he conformed ‘Roger Wilco’ by replying ‘Aapke paas ek hi goonda type pant hai’. A few of my traits might have been questionable but Ram Singh meant no offence.
The scaling of sahayaks used to be one jawan for two subalterns thus Ram Singh from Bravo Company was sahayak to Lt Sharma of Alpha Company and I, who like Ram Singh too was from Bravo Company. Sharma and I were neighbours in the officers’ mess.
Alpha and Bravo were sworn inter-company rivals. Ram Singh had suffered an injury in a bitterly contested Alpha versus Bravo hockey match thus every time he saw Sharma he saw red.
Ram Singh’s day used to start at 5am with ‘chhota hazari’. A cup of tea with biscuits for Sharma and me. He would ensure that our ‘rig’ for the first parade was ready and while we were away, our uniforms for the day were readied by him.
Tuesday was a difficult day for Ram Singh. Tuesday morning’s Officers’ BPET (battle physical efficiency test) was conducted. This is a test of physical fitness conducted in full ‘battle gear’ and a few tests are graded by timing achieved. As far as Ram Singh was concerned, if Lt Sharma finished ahead of me then I stood defeated even if I was graded ‘excellent’. Invariably, Sharma would beat me to the finish line in the 2 mile test by at least a yard. Ram Singh would be hanging around the finishing point shaking his head in sorrow to see his hero from Bravo beaten by his bête noire from Alpha.
After his words of encouragement did not translate into vanquishing the demon from Alpha, Ram Singh changed his strategy. He once gagged me by shoving a hanky into my mouth prior to the start of the test. The tea served in the mess began to taste bad. It was realised that to build up my stamina, Ram Singh had started lacing my cuppa with desi ghee.
It was Monday evening. Over a drink in the mess bar, Sharma and I were guffawing over Ram Singh’s ham-handed tricks. I kept needling Sharma that for Ram Singh’s sake, he should for once turn off the turbo fitted in his backside and allow me to take the lead. When it came to Alpha versus Bravo it was no quarters given!
Ram Singh strapped my ‘web equipment’ and handed me my carbine. Sharma and I ran neck and neck. At the finishing point, Sharma stumbled and I breasted the tape. Armchair breast beaters will never understand the arrogance of Ram Singh’s eyes.
The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor