Spice of life | Army’s heroes who fought with a never-say-die spirit
Kirpa Ram rushed forward, discarded his pads and scored a last-minute winning goal. He said in life, battle, and on the playing field, the most important thing is ‘pehal-kadmi’, or to take the initiative and seize the opportunity
In the army, we often conduct reconnaissance and refer to it as recce. The word conjures up images of long-range patrols in jungles or over mountains for days together.
In 2006, as the war between Lebanon and Israel raged, 15 Punjab was to relieve 4 Sikh there. One fine morning, my adjutant, Major Tejvir Singh walked into my office excitedly, “Sir, the orders have come for you to go for a recce to Lebanon.” I was wonderstruck. I had never heard of a recce to a foreign land in my service life and that too, on a commercial airliner. I was fortunate to be entitled to a four-day recce abroad. My charter was to assimilate the operational responsibilities of 4 Sikh.
I finished the task in two days. Colonel Subhash Panwar, the commanding officer of 4 Sikh, being relieved, and I had a lot of time up our sleeve to share anecdotes about stalwarts of each other’s battalion. First, I narrated an incident about a civil porter our battalion had hired during the 1948 war. He had been the only civilian to win a Maha Vir Chakra. During the Zoji La operation, one of our platoons was tasked to capture an enemy post. In the ensuing battle, one of our sepoys, after having been shot, had rolled down to an inaccessible ledge dominated by enemy fire. No soldier dared to retrieve him. It was at this critical juncture that this civilian porter, Mohammed Ismail, volunteered to rescue him single-handedly. With Herculean effort, he reached the wounded man, bundled him up in his blanket and brought him back to safety.
Similarly, Colonel Panwar went on to narrate the accomplishments of a stalwart of his battalion, Havildar Kirpa Ram, an equipment and boot repairer (EBR). EBR is a tradesman who mends shoes of soldiers. The picture of a tradesman conjures up images of a pot-bellied man with an unshaven face and unkempt hair. But, Kirpa Ram looked way too different. He was the goalkeeper of the unit hockey team who got picked up for the Indian Army team as the reserve goalie to legendary goalkeeper Shankar Lakshman, a three-time Olympian.
It was largely due to his heroics that the 4 Sikh hockey team always won the tournament. The goal posts could never confine him. He would always rush out to the top of the circle and coax his other 10 teammates to attack. Under the posts, he was an acrobat who rarely conceded a goal. Once, when the team was looking down and out, he rushed forward, discarded his pads and scored a last-minute winning goal. He said that in life, battle, and on the playing field, the most important thing is ‘pehal-kadmi’, or to take the initiative and seize the opportunity. Kirpa was not authorised a weapon but that didn’t deter him from becoming an ace-shooter. During the Indo-China war, 4 Sikh was inducted into Walong Sector, the present day Arunachal Pradesh. During one of the fierce battles, Kirpa was leading a column to supply ammunition when they got ambushed by a Chinese patrol.
Following his hockey field tactics, Kirpa Ram broke through the ambush but got severely wounded. He fought like a man possessed and engaged the Chinese with bayonets. As his column was outnumbered, he got killed in action and was awarded the Vir Chakra. The Indian Army salutes the spirit of the likes of Ismail and Kirpa Ram who fought beyond their call of duty. firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is a Patiala-based freelance contributor