Bonding, Bonhomie, And Camaraderie
3 ingredients which make excellent soldiers
The third week of February found me in the hospital fighting pneumonia. On discharge from the hospital, I was advised rest and recuperation, as pneumonia does take the ‘Mickey out of you’, as the Americans colourfully refer to fatigue, but the Raising Day celebrations of the battalion I had the honour to command were slated to commence in less than a week in distant Saurashtra and the battalion was beckoning!
After all, I was not only the second commanding Officer of the Paltan, but had been part of the battalion since its Raising at Belgaum on 01 March 1976, as its second-in-command. Yes, ours was the ‘Bachha’ Battalion of our Regiment then.
Over the years, we had shed the ‘Bachha’ image, as we progressed swiftly and now after 46 years of our Raising, we had become an outfit to be reckoned with. Hence, post-Pneumonia fatigue and other side-effects were shelved and we were on our way to participate in the Raising Day celebrations.
A lot of water has flown down the rivers of India since that day in 1976, when under the command of a specially chosen Commanding Officer, a sound professional, Lt. Col. (later Lt. Gen.) M.A Zaki, Vir Chakra, the Raising of the 18th Battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry commenced. The Raising was completed ahead of schedule and thereafter the battalion never looked back, but moved from strength to strength under highly competent commanding officers and junior leaders.
Having completed 46 years, it was now time to celebrate the 47th Raising Day, under the command of its 17th Commanding Officer, Col Jagjeet Singh (Jaggi). This was a special day as the battalion had been awarded yet another Unit Citation, making it the fourth, with two consecutive ones, a record of sorts.
Celebrating Raising Days by units of the Armed Forces is nothing new, but for combat units it is special. The Paltan is the ‘home’, where one returns many times after doing staff, instructional or ERE (Extra Regimental Employment) appointments, so essential for all round development of officers, JCO’s and Jawans. Thus, the bonding with comrades continues and both the individuals and the Paltan look forward to such going and coming.
Raising Days are celebrated every year, irrespective of where the battalion is serving. Only the scale and content of the celebrations differs. Thus, in field areas, on account of operational commitments, scaled down versions are the norm. In peace stations, where families are also present, the celebrations take a decidedly colourful turn, as everyone looks forward to meeting old and new comrades and the battalion makes it a point to showcase its high standards.
The number of all ranks who attend Raising Days as guests depends on the quality of bonding of old and new incumbents. A large number are those who have been away from the battalion as they have moved on, to other appointments or have hung up their uniforms.
As an example, in the 46 years since the Raising of the battalion, there have been 17 commanding officers and on this Raising Day, only three could not make it, for very good reasons. This, in my view, is a record of some sort and a good indicator of personal bonds made and sustained over the years.
It is not just commanding officers, but individuals of different ranks, who ensure that they are there for this important day. In the present case, a total of 40 officers of varying ranks and an equal number of JCO’s and Jawans had come from all parts of the country, from Kerala to Punjab.
We had a long and tiring journey, using different modes of transportation and hence reached quite late on the eve of the Raising Day, viz. on 28 Feb. Nonetheless, we freshened up and reached Whispering Meadows (a landscaped garden within the military station), the venue of the ‘meet and greet’ Raising Day Dinner.
The party was in full swing when we reached and we commenced meeting everyone, from Jaggi, the commanding officer and his elegant wife Sonam to all the serving officers and ladies, but initially the old-timers, which included Col Kartar Singh, who had taken over the command of the battalion from me in 1979 at Secunderabad. I also met the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’, Gen Narayan and the current brigade commander of the battalion. Naming everyone is not possible for the numbers were vast indeed.
Since everyone had reminiscences to exchange, the clock was forgotten, as was food. Only the liquid refreshments kept coming till some of us reminded everyone that we would be getting many occasions to exchange long-forgotten events in the next few days. So, with great reluctance dinner was served. When we bid everyone good night, bonding was continuing, especially amongst the younger officers!
Commencement Of Celebrations With Prayers At Sarva Dharma Sthal
As is the norm in most units, the Raising Day festivities commenced on 01 March at the Sarva Dharma Sthal. Jaggi, the commanding officer led the prayers, along with the present ‘Colonel of the Regiment’, General Narayan. Our regiment boasts of a highly martial Aarti, which is sung with gusto by all ranks, as well as the families.
Families At The Sarva Dharma Sthal
Having partaken of the Prashad, we were taken to one of the most important and special places of the battalion – the Unit Quarter Guard, the pride of the battalion.
Homage To The Warrior King-Motivator Of The Regiment
A new life-size statue of our Regiments’ icon and the nation's pride, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, in his battle dress and sword in hand, had been procured by the Battalion to add to the important artefacts and historical records already on display in the Quarter Guard.
After the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ had laid the wreath and inspected the smart and well-turned-out guard, we entered the main room of the Quarter Guard to see the well laid out records, photographs, and flags. All of us were highly impressed and congratulated the commanding officer.
Colonel Of The Regiment Inspects The Guard
The Special Sainik Sammellan, which is always the highlight of Raising Day celebrations, followed. It was a packed house. All ranks were there except those on essential duties. The ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ presided, and even I was given the honour of addressing the gathering, as the senior-most officer present.
I took this opportunity to present my personal 0.22 Bruno sporting rifle to the Paltan and delivered a short motivational speech. Using the analogy of cricket, I reminded them that the Paltan had been awarded the Chief’s Unit Citation in their previous tenure in a very ‘hot’ field area, under the command of Col Denu Thomas, the previous commanding officer, and had followed it up by being awarded the GOC-in-C Southern Command’s unit citation in the present peace station, hence they were now on a hat trick in cricket parlance.
Consequently, if they follow up and get another unit citation in their next tenure, they would have achieved the superlative hat trick. This was greeted by thunderous applause, signifying that they shall do it!
Thereafter, a large number of prizes and gifts were presented for various competitions and individual accomplishments. As a new innovation, some promotees were also pipped for their new ranks.
Brig. Ranjit Mishra Pips A JCO
No event in an infantry battalion is complete unless it ends with close interaction with the JCO’s and Jawans, over a cup of tea and pakoras. Such interactions are used by old-timers like me to judge the discipline, well-being and morale of the Jawans. The Jawans also look forward to mixing informally with colleagues and old-timers.
Thus ended one of the very well conducted Special Sainik Sammellans. Fully satisfied, everyone proceeded to their respective messes for lunch.
While we were thus engaged in important events, the ladies were enjoying themselves, as they always do in important pursuits of their own, orchestrated by the First Lady of the Paltan and her team. The Paltan ladies are a talented lot and contribute significantly to the well-being and morale of all ranks.
The JCO’s and Jawans families had laid down a number of activities, including a Rangoli Competition, followed by a display of creative work of the families in the Family Welfare Centre.
Ladies At The Family Welfare Centre Judging Rangolis
In our battalion, a Raising Day celebration is incomplete if a basketball match between officers and JCOs is not held. So, everyone proceeded to play or watch this sporting event in the evening at the Sher Dil Stadium; the match was fiercely contested, as usual!
The last formal event was the Bara Khana with all ranks and families assembling at the designated ground that had been spruced up for the occasion. In the formal invitation it was named Maratha Mejwani, another imaginative name. While we all were formally dressed, with shimmering traditional Maratha pagris, called phetas and safas, the evening belonged to the Jawans and their families.
Ready For The Maratha Mejwani
At The Maratha Mejwani
The Subedar Major Sahib, called Bahadur Sahib in our battalions, being the chief host, commenced the proceedings with a brief speech of welcome.
Anniversary Cake Being Cut At The Maratha Mejwani
Rum, the Jawans drink was the only pre-dinner drink and there was bonhomie all around. The officers went around to all the companies and songs and dances by children were enjoyed by all. Of particular mention was the rousing rendition of the favourite number ‘Maharashtra Majha’, sung with gusto by Lt. Col. Mahesh Mahajan and his team.
The ladies were similarly engaged with the large number of families, while the children had devised games for themselves. All in all, it was a pleasurable evening that was enjoyed by all.
Col. C.P. Muthanna Meets A Veteran JCO
The next day, March 2 saw us all going round the battalion and discussing regimental and battalion issues with the commanding officer. The battalion had visibly grown in stature and the innovations made and in use in the Paltan reflected the hard work, vision and positive thinking that once again confirmed the progress the battalion had made.
We, the old-timers, were particularly impressed to see the strides made in digitisation and training aids being used to impart instructions using state of the art gadgets and other aids.
Lunch was in the JCO’s Mess, which was well maintained and decorated with artefacts. Their latest acquisition was the statue of Chhatrapati ShivaJi Maharaj on horseback that had been moved from the Quarter Guard after the new statue of the warrior king was installed there. I had the honour of installing it at its new abode.
Inaugurating The Warrior Kings Equestrian Statue In The JCO’s Mess
Lunch was traditional Maratha fare, served in thalis as is customary, despite the shortage of space, as the number of JCO’s has increased many fold. It was good to see both Jowar and Bajra rotis in the thalis, grains which are being talked about now. It is perhaps not well known that Jowar and Bajra rotis used to be the staple fare in our recruiting areas in the old days.
Traditional Maratha Thali Lunch With Sub. Maj. Sahib
The pride of place among the katoris in the thalis was of course the Kolhapur Mutton and the fiery Maratha Chutney, which brought tears to one’s eyes, yet nearly everyone asked for more!
While we were at lunch in the JCO’s Mess, the ladies were escorted to the local market. One later learnt that the ladies enjoyed a sumptuous Gujarati Thali lunch, after exhausting themselves and their husbands' purses, shopping for the ornate local crafts.
The Gujarati Thali Lunch
As the evening shadows lengthened, we realised that the celebrations were soon coming to their culmination. We were invited to the Maratha House for dinner, where the First Lady of the Battalion had laid down an elaborate dinner for us in their very well appointed house, with a lovely garden, which was full of flowers and had manicured lawns.
Obviously, the LOH (Lady of the House) was a lover of nature and had taken pains to maintain a lovely garden.
One of our ex-commanding officers, Maj. Gen. Sarabjit Singh Deusi presented his ceremonial dress, complete with medals, to the Battalion at the dinner. It will be suitably displayed in the Paltan.
Sarabjit’s smart son, Aftab is now a company commander in the Paltan, carrying on the tradition of the family. He and his equally smart wife were the comperes in a number of events during the Raising Day festivities.
The evening brought bad news for one of our past commanding officers, who received a message from home that his father had passed away. Immediate arrangements were made for his long six-hour road journey to Ahmedabad to catch the early morning flight to Delhi next morning.
This missive will be incomplete if I do not thank the present commanding officer, Jaggi and his wife Sonam for arranging one of the best Raising Days we have attended. Every event was planned and conducted with precision and panache, which has left a great impression on all of us who were fortunate to participate in the Raising Day celebrations.
Let me end this piece with a general point, feelers for which keep being reported in the ‘sarkari’ media. This pertains to the word ‘legacy’ that has been used or rather misused, mainly by our elected leaders and their bureaucratic advisors, who want to unnecessarily interfere in the ethos and way of life of the armed forces, by trying to do away with issues that are the very soul and mainstay of warrior soldiers.
Our soldiers derive their courage, pride and soldierly qualities from these so called negative ‘legacy issues’ propagated by persons who have little knowledge of ‘Affairs Military.
A re-perusal of what I have stated above falls in the category of ‘legacy’, which if done away with or diluted will adversely affect the soldierly qualities that have made our officers, JCO’s and Jawans famous in the world, as top warriors.
Those who are talking about ‘legacy issues’ have no legacy of their own, so they do not understand how the very issues they want to do away with are what sustains and adds to the warrior ethos of the armed forces. I urge all such arm-chair and file-pushing academics to learn the reality, instead of parroting wrong ideological views of their masters. The old saying: ‘Do not mess with the Armed Forces’ continues to be the ‘mantra’ to follow.
Some things are best left alone and the so-called ‘legacy issues’ are right on the top!
Lt General Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff; and Former Founder President of the War Wounded Foundation. Views expressed are the writer’s own.