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Unpopular house

punjab Updated: Nov 16, 2013 09:41 IST
Brig Harwant Singh (retd)

In 1970, I was attending the long gunnery staff course at the School of Artillery at Deolali in Maharashtra. During those days, it was customary for most pursuing the course to lose their bachelorhood in the long mid-course break. Accordingly many, including your's sincerely, got married.

The army enjoyed some prestige at that time and thus it was easier to find a bride but difficult to find an accommodation for her. However, my instructor was proceeding on annual leave and very kindly made his house available to me for the duration of his leave.

Time flew and his leave period was coming to an end when I began making my own arrangements. I ran from pillar to post to get a roof over our heads but to no avail. I could find neither government accommodation nor a house to rent outside the cantonment.

Finally, during the nth visit to the station headquarters, one kind soul indicated that there was a "civil-hired, unpopular house" available on Dondy Road (well-known to Gunners). I had heard terms like good house, bad house, big house, small house, lucky house, unlucky house, under-repair house, haunted house and even a dilapidated house but had never come across a term like 'unpopular house'. I thought only people were popular or unpopular not houses.

On further enquiry, it emerged that it was an army term for those houses that nobody wanted to occupy due to various reasons. I was informed that not only was the 'unpopular house' on a limb away from the main activity of the cantonment but it was also located in a theft-prone area. As I was desperate, I promptly accepted the offer without even seeing the house. The station headquarters staff gave me a curious look but relented readily.

After a detailed reconnaissance of the locality, I located the house and readied to shift there.
When the army truck with the luggage reached the allotted house, many curious people, and strangely crows, converged there.

I was told later that it was a rare phenomenon to see anyone coming to occupy that house. One of the items in my household stuff was a single-barrel, 12-bore gun, bought soon after the 1965 war, for a princely sum of Rs 3,000. It may be recalled that in those days, gold cost R100 a 'tola'(10g). I had bought the gun on the orders of my then commanding officer who was a great 'shikari' and desired that we all must possess a gun each.

I don't know what prompted me but I quickly loaded the gun and fired in the direction of the crows that were making a ruckus. Crows are a clever species and difficult to shoot. But that day a crow was hit and dropped dead to the horror of the onlookers. They started whispering among themselves. Meanwhile, the cacophony of the crows grew louder but I resisted the idea of firing more shots. Later, an idea struck.

I spread the word through our domestic help that I had been allotted that house to shoot thieves and that I would be rewarded for the same. Every Sunday, I would have my gun cleaned religiously and loudly lament, for the benefit of servants and others, that no thief had come and that I was missing my anticipated reward. Whether it was a coincidence or if the ploy had worked, there was no theft in the unpopular house during my stay.