Review: Bash on Regardless
This book comes from a prominent retired military-man, "one of our army's foremost battlefield commanders". We're told on the back cover: "Lieutenant General W.A.G. Pinto's experiences as a wartime divisional commander during the 1971 Indo-Pak war form the pivot of these memoirs."
Pune-based Pinto served the Indian Army during the not-so-peaceful times of 1943 to 1982 and retired as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Central Command.
At the start of the book, Pinto talks about his Goan connections. His father was from the Gustavo Pinto branch of the Pintos of Santa Cruz, Goa. Like all Goan migration stories this one too traverses many diverse parts of the globe and India too and is a mix of achievement elsewhere and a sense of loss back home.
Pinto writes: "In the distant past, one of my early ancestors was a Hindu of the Nayak caste or class. All the property from Campal, Santa Inez, Mira Mir, Gaspar Dias, Caranzalem, Donna Paula, Vanganim, Taleigaon, Santa Cruz, Bambolim was all his, a mighty fortune and also a misfortune. What happened to it all and how did it happen?"
We're told that a receipt for Rs.20 in those times shows his father sold his share of the Vanganim property to his brother.
"The starred Hotel Cidade-de-Goa on the high ground overlooking the beautiful lagoon is now located on the property," he writes.
Unusual too is the story of his father's lease of his share of the property called Mira Mar, where the estuary of the Mandovi river meets the Arabian Sea, "to a Portuguese gentleman who put up a hotel called Hotel Mira Mar". Turns out that the place later became notorious "as a house of ill repute".
When Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who spent his honeymoon there in Portuguese times, was at parties at which either of the Pinto brothers was present, "he always said that he was proud of his army; he had two Generals, both brothers, who were running a brothel in Goa"! (p.2)
Pinto complains about the loss of family property to "legalised land-grabbing", specially in the form of the law of "adverse possession".
He studied at Bangalore, Pune and Jabalpur, before the family settled at Pune, the "pensioners' paradise" in his parents' time in the 1950s. Summer meant holidays in Goa, the ancestral home at Santa Cruz, short excursions to the Calangute and Caranzalem beaches and the historic spots of Old Goa and Chandor.
But Pinto's story is primarily about the army. He takes us from his joining the World War II-time training at Lahore in pre-partitioned India. Those were times of the British Cadet Wing and Indian Infantry Divisions. War meant a compressed syllabus, and then fighting on the British side in Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (today's Thailand) and even an occasional love story en route.
India and (the 1947) partition follows in the story. But not before a Carnival-time visit to Goa, where he says at his "aunt's insistence" he requested the governor general's wife for a dance (p.21)!
Pinto goes up through the Indian Army ranks, then in the process of being handed over from the British or being set up in independent India, not without its colonial legacy - Shillong and the Wellington Staff College, et al.
But the heart of the story is Pinto's narration of the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of the independent nation of Bangladesh and his role in it. Pinto, then a major general, is widely known as the Hero of Basantar for leading the 54 Infantry Division in what is perhaps the greatest land battle fought by the Indian Army.
Pinto is credited with finding enemy soldiers ensconced across the Basantar river (a tributary of the Ravi river that is in Punjab, risking a night crossing and attacking from behind. This daring plan paid off on the morning of Dec 16, 1971.
Pinto vividly recalls the effort of 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, commissioned only a few months earlier, who destroyed five to six Pakistani tanks before being killed in battle. Khetrapal was awarded a posthumous Param Vir Chakra, India's highest gallantry award, and it is only appropriate that Pinto should be living on the road after him in Pune.
In times when military-linked controversies - and even corruption - makes it to the news, how one relates a story of this kind depends on one's own understanding of the man and his times. One could see those were more disciplined and less politicised times.
Pinto concludes with a chapter titled 'Sunset and Twilight', which talks about his retirement in Pune, and travels to visit family and friends abroad.