Soon after July 1954, when I was still with the Tigers at Palam flying Vampires, I was delighted to find my friend Gora aka Second Lieutenant Kumar Devakram Majumdar getting posted to Delhi. My regular readers will remember him I think. He was my childhood friend from Jessore, my classmate for the only year I went to a school, my classmate again at Ashutosh College in 1948-49, the naughty friend who induced me to bunk a class and go ‘bird watching’, and who followed me into NDA JSW after missing his first entry along with me. He was from 4th JSW course that passed out from Clement Town in July 1952, joined the 14th Regular Course at Military Wing NDA Prem Nagar and got his commission into the 1st Battalion The Guards Regiment by July 1954. The 1st Guards were stationed at the Red Fort. Both of us were delighted.
In the early fifties New Delhi had a laid back character. Public Transport consisted mainly of horse-drawn tanga and a peculiar ubiquitous contraption called Phatphatia which was just a war surplus Harley Davidson motorcycle attached to a six-seat trailer mounted on two large wheels. These ran point to point services on fares calculated per seat. A ‘Delhi Transport Undertaking’ existed, but the frequency of its service was so low that one could not depend on it. Most young officers possessed motorcycles for personal transportation, but neither Gora nor I had managed to gather the modest sum required to possess one. We therefore settled into a routine of week-end get-togethers. Air Force Station Palam ran an ‘amenities’ bus service that could be availed from the station HQ gate to Connought Place. Phatphatias were readily available between the Red Fort and Connought Place. We therefore generally met somewhere in CP every Saturday afternoon, gallivanted, took in a movie, ate out and then came back together either to the Officers Mess Palam or to the Officers Mess of 1st Guards. On Sundays we would do different things as our fancy dictated. This became a predictable weekend routine for us. In any case, we were young then and those were happy days.
As we go along in our own paths growing up to be what ever we ultimately became, often we cross moments of learning that affect us for the rest of our lives. My tale today is about one such moment, faced together by me and Gora.
In our regular routine for weekends, the physical comfort levels in the two messes were distinctly different. Gora’s mess catered for hardly a dozen officers, in an opulently decorated mess flush with silver and silks; my mess was utilitarian, catering for about 200 inmates and unlimited transit visitors by a pretty lax lot of mess servants. I shared a room with Dadachanji, and Gora had to make do with a blanket on the floor when he stayed over. Gora had a room to himself, and it had a sofa on which I could easily stretch out. I shared the services of a room bearer with five other officers; Gora had a batman all to himself, a smart Gorkha lad named Ran Bahadur. The Pongos certainly lived in greater style. (1st Guards were one of the earliest infantry units to experiment with mixed manning. That is why we found a scattering of Gorkhas and Madrassis in that unit which was a purely Panjabi outfit before becoming a ‘Guards’ battalion)
My story is about one weekend very soon after Gora joined the unit. That day I had managed to get off early, and had managed to hitch a ride on a motorcycle of another officer going to town. I was there at the Red Fort quite early. Gora was a great fan of chess and I was not. He could beat me easily and therefore was more insistent that we have a game when ever we had time. We spent the afternoon playing chess. Ran Bahadur brought tea. Over tea we decided to go out to CP. We quickly changed and left, leaving Ran Bahadur to tidy up the room after us. We had a long evening, a leisurely eat-out followed by ice-cream, and topped it up with a late night movie. It was a pleasant summer evening. Phatphatias had stopped running. Tanga wallas demanded excessive fares. We therefore strolled down from CP to Red Fort. By the time we got home it was about two in the morning.
As we reached Gora’s quarters we could see Ran Bahadur standing erect in front of the door in an exact ‘stand at ease’ posture. ‘What is the lad doing here so late?’ Gora was worried. We hurried our steps and reached the room. Ran Bahadur sprang to attention, saluted and opened the room. We went in. Gora asked his man why he was still there. ‘Aap ke intezaar mein’ was the soft reply. Had he eaten his dinner? There was no reply from him. Obviously the lad had not budged from the post. Why did he not go home? ‘Chaabi mere paas tha’. But I could have picked it up from the lines when I came back? Gora asked and looked the lad in his eyes. His answer was soft and distinct devoid of any emotional intonation. ‘Hukm Nahi Mila Tha’.
Gora and I were both stunned. Here was a boy, just over eighteen years of age, and barely out of his initial training, and he stood at one spot for about ten hours without food or water only because he was without a clear instruction for his next move! How much patience discipline and devotion to duty does a man need to do this? Gora walked with him to his lines. Both of us were emotionally touched. We were so ashamed of our thoughtless actions that we could not sleep. We sat and debated, analysed our mistakes, and learned a lesson.
In the Chatwood Hall at the IMA there is a sign engraved in big letter
Safety Honour and Welfare of Your Country Comes First. Always and Every Time. Honour Welfare and Comfort of the Men You Command Come Next. Your own Ease Comfort and Safety Come Last. Always and Every Time.
Gora and I were both products of the NDA and we knew of this injunction well. We learnt that day that knowing something and practicing it intelligently are two different things. In this vast country of ours, every corner carries traditions and cultural influences that are distinct. If one wishes to be a commander of men one needs to love the country, be alive to its diversity and imbibe its traditions and culture. Or else one runs the risk of turning into a tyrant.