LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
By Noel Ellis
In 17 MECH, ADAPTABILITY, ARMED FORCES, ARMY, ARMY CHIEF, ARMY LIFE, BUDDY, CITIZEN, CIVIL LIFE, CIVILIANS, CONSERVATION, DESERT, DISCIPLINE, FAUJ, FAUJI, HIGH ALTITUDE, HINDUSTAN, HUMOR, INDIA, JAISALMER, JODHPUR, JONGA, LADAKH, LEH, MEDIA, MEMORIES, RATIONING, SATIRE, TALES, WAR, WATER, WIFE
I was watching a programme on water scarcity where I saw long queues of residents waiting to fill water in Simla. India may see a water crisis soon. Does this strike a chord somewhere? War for oil is passé, the next World War is going to be for water, I reckon.
Hills do have a peculiar problem where water freezes in pipes in winters. In summers tourists flock the area and consume water in bucket loads, in rainy season every drop gets washed away. So how to sustain is the question. My place has an average rainfall of 2500 mm plus per annum and all goes to the sea. Villages around are crying hoarse for drinking water but nothing is being done to harvest a single drop or address their perennial problem.
Be that as it may. I remember in the deserts I was lucky to have served in a battalion which had no dearth of vehicles and had many bowsers of 1000/3000 litres capacity. We were also fortunate enough to have our Engineer Regiment friends who used to go in advance to establish water points for us in midst of nowhere. I must also thank the Indian Government and their vision to construct the Indira Gandhi canal from Harike barrage in Ferozpur to deep inside Rajasthan, teeming with fish and delivering pure water from the confluence of Beas & Sutlej Rivers to the parched deserts. Fresh canal fish, fried to perfection with rum and “thanda pani” was ultimate during exercises.
I remember a place called “Dharmi Khu”. It was a deep well very close to the boundary of India and Pakistan. Shepherds of both countries used to water their cattle from this common well. I for the first time saw two camels pulling a huge leather bucket (MASHAK) made of one piece camel skin out of the well from a depth of about 1000 feet for water to reach the surface. The communication between the camel operator and the man at the well used the typical one finger whistle. It used to be fun to see the irritated camels come back in reverse gear grunting and blabbering their frothy tongues. I have tasted that water, it was very brackish. Normal people will spit it out like a shower but man and beast in those far off lands had to drink it. I hope “Sagarmal Gopa Canal” water has reached there by now.
The chaggal (water canvas small) and the pakhal (mule tank) were the ultimate Army water carriers. As a Mech Officer I never carried a water bottle but had chaggals tied all around my open jonga. The thin crust of ice in the chilly desert winter on canvas buckets was common. How can one forget, beer bottles were chilled in deep pits left overnight, sprinkled with water in the golden sands of Jaisalmer.
In Ladakh fetching water was fun. Though we had an engineer detachment but they were left to run the boat in Pangong Tso with a modified one tonne engine. The water point was between Lukung and Phobrang village. My “Pinja” buddy in a 3 Ton with my wife and our post dog Rambo used to hop on with a small working party to fetch water every second day. Wife, I & Rambo used to get down at the fishing point to catch Brown Trout. Rest of the party used to go to fetch water. I used to wonder why they didn’t carry water tanks. They used bring back frozen blocks of nice clean transparent ice. This also solved the mystery of why these guys carried crow bars instead of rubber hoses. Later I found this a common site in Ladakhi villages where ladies used to carry ice in baskets.
Water both in High altitude and the deserts was rationed. Our unit water bowser used to pump water in our over head tanks once a day in married accommodation at Jodhpur. Jaisalmer was equally bad where we lived off pakhals. While one was deployed in the deserts for exercises and operations one had the privilege of having an exclusive bucket of water as an officer. Men generally took a dip in the canal in case it was in the near vicinity. In my whole army life it was rarely I would have taken a shower. Today, in Jodhpur one has to store water in underground tanks and it is 1000 rupees for a tanker these days. All our lives we lived with water timings and never complained.
Most of us would never have witnessed dry cleaning of utensils. Let me tell you about a typical desert village where the utensils are rubbed clean with sand and we too did it in various exercises to conserve water for the days ahead. I haven’t seen “BARTANs” cleaner and glistening like gold after dry cleaning with sand. They will beat Vim bar any day.
A man can live without food for weeks but maximum three days without water. If water is so important, then what are my countrymen doing to preserve it? I think fauji’s can manage with rationed water can the rest of India too? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!
© Noel Ellis
By Noel Ellis
In ARMED FORCES, ARMY, ARMY CHIEF, ARMY LIFE, ATM, BANK, BEHAVIOUR, birds, CANTT, CHARACTER, CITIZEN, CIVIL LIFE, CIVILIANS, COBBLER, CULTURE, DASTOOR, Defence Minister, ETHOS, FAUJ, FAUJI, FLOWERS, HUMOR, INDIA, NEWS, PM, PRIME MINISTER, ROAD, SATIRE, SCHOOL, VETERAN AND WAR WIDOWS, WIFE
MY HOME IS OPEN FOR YOU
“HANS KE BOLA KARO BULAYA KARO
AAP KA GHAR HAI AYA JAYA KARO”
-Gazal sung by Jagjit Singh
Will opening cantt roads improve civil-military relations? If the answer is yes, then balle-balle but I have an issue with people who do not belong to the Armed Forces fraternity; I dare say “civilians”. It appears to me they take it as an insult if not an abuse. How should we address them as? Let us think.
I find “non-military people” carry many myths, that because I am a “fauji” I must be drinking daily. The second myth is that in cold areas we keep drinking alcohol to stay warm. Third myth is that liquor in the fauj is free, if not free then “bahut sasti” as they put it. Non-fauji’s are more aware of your quota of rum and would always request for a “case” or two on a regular basis. Some even have the audacity to offer extra cash for a bottle because “Purity ki sureity” hoti hai fauji liquor main & Chadti bhi jaldi hai. Also, CSD is the cheapest bazaar on this side of Suez.
I stay in a colony of my company. It has been maintained like a cantonment. People from the nearby villages make it a point to come inside, just to feel good & show their authority. The gardens, flora, fauna, lawns, fountains and a kind of discipline in the layout lures them inside. To keep them out is not possible as facilities like banks, ATM, School and relatives reside inside. If you stop them, they feel offended. If you let them go without a check then the company management gets angry. Catch 22.
We maintain parking in designated areas, however the village folk fail to understand that parking in the middle of the road can cause accidents, they just won’t listen. Speed means as fast as the accelerator can take you. Speed limits don’t matter. We put speed breakers, they started bypassing them. Helmets are an absolute no, they get a headache. Seat belt, what are seat belts they say. Plucking leaves from hedges is a big time pass for them.
Let’s now go inside a military cantonment. You will find very well laid out lanes, parking slots, parks, geru-chuna on trees and pavements. Without helmet you just cannot move, even the pillion rider has to wear one. No one litters as a habit. Outside, people litter as a habit. Spitting is rare in cantts, outside, gutka along with saliva is spat in every corner. On a roundabout, non military people get a licence to take short cuts. Suffice to say the basic civic sense is lacking. Why?
Keeping the cantonment neat, clean and green is a matter of pride for us. Units are given designated areas of responsibility to keep cantts spic and span. As a corporate we did a “Swach Bharat” campaign and picked up every tiny bit of filth around a famous temple close by. Within one week it is back to square one, dirty as dirty could be. “Koora” as they call it is piled a mile high again.
Well, let us welcome the non military crowd to our folds but with a caveat that friends when you come kindly maintain discipline, don’t break traffic rules, understand that someone else also has the right of way, don’t over speed, don’t litter and assist us to assist you to feel free and safe. All faujis know that they won’t stay more than two years in any station but maintain them to the best of their ability.
Please stand with our families who are separated from their husbands fighting on the borders for you. That lady is a father, brother and sister to her children. She doesn’t let the absence of the father be felt. She also knows that bad news can come anytime. She is the doctor, nurse, washerwoman, teacher, tutor, coach, driver, maid and banker for the house hold. She is used to living in a protected environment so please do not let her feel threatened is a request.
The Services are now kind of used to dictates’ of kinds, cease fire with militants, Yes sir, go for flood relief, Right sir, react in natural calamity Wilco sir, open cantt roads, yes ma’m, remove AFSPA, roger sir, civil administration has failed, control riots, no problem sir, fight militants, my bread and butter sir, fight enemy within and without, aye-aye sir. Ask for modern equipment, no budget, ask for ammunition, manage in what you have, Rations need to be restored, we shall think about it, implement OROP, we have given you enough, sort out pay commission anomalies, court will decide, give us at least our Izzat, what the hell does this word mean.
Be that as it may, we the cantt people do not want to unnecessarily inconvenience you guys at all. “Aap ka ghar hai aya jaya karo”. From our experience we know that once we let you in, you will take it as a birthright. Friends we in the forces live by certain ethos and Dastoor. We swear to protect our constitution and the integrity of India. Do the “non-military people” also do so? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!
© Noel Ellis
By Noel Ellis
In ADAPTABILITY, AIR FORCE, ARMED FORCES, ARMY, ARMY CHIEF, ARMY LIFE, BATTLE TANK, BEHAVIOUR, CANTT, CHARACTER, CITIZEN, CIVIL LIFE, CIVILIANS, Defence Minister, FAUJ, FAUJI, HUMOR, INDIA, INDIAN, JAISALMER, JEEP, NEWS, PAKISTAN, POLITICS, PRIME MINISTER, RAKSHA MANTRI, ROAD, ROAD CONDITIONS, TERRORISM, VETERAN AND WAR WIDOWS, VIP
CANTTS ARE FREE FOR ALL
A weird kind of feeling sets in when one hears that the cantonments have been made free for all. When I was posted in Jaisalmer in 1985, reaching the railway station from my unit used to take 30 minutes. At times the station bus driver was briefed not to let the station master turn the signal green till officer’s vehicle was in site. I remember I missed the train once and caught it at the next station called Thaiyat-Hamira, as my jeep had got stuck in sand. One always cursed why the cantts are so remotely located. I think we didn’t want spies sneaking into military locations.
We used to dislike going to the distant Air force station in Jaisalmer but could not help it as all VIP movement used to take place from there. Hell used to break lose if one found one item missing which meant more than an hour’s delay to fetch it from the unit. The station was fenced with various check posts. Security SOPs were strictly followed. By the way on the lighter side, I always used to wonder why the Air Force Police chap carries a compass as part of his accoutrements’. Did he use it to guess the direction from which I came from or that he set a new bearing every time he moved from the gate?
Be that as it may. Suffice to say cantts used to be far from towns to avoid being a hindrance to any civil traffic or people. As time went by people started to slowly creep closer to the boundaries and encroach prime land. I remember Nabha, a small little place in Punjab, where, from ones backyard one could get milk through the barbed wire fence. One could choose the buffalo to be milched. If that black beauty did not look at you and say moo you could tell the person to skip to the next one. “Saron da saag” used to be exchanged in “dolu’s” full across the fence. It could have been bombs too. People wanted the road through the cantt open but they also understood the security concerns.
Nabha had Bouran gate, Alhoran gate, Patiala gate, Dulladi gate & Mehsi gate, which used to be manned and used to be the first check point for people trying to enter Nabha fort. Those gates did signify that the fort was protected from all directions. Military stations & cantonments too are protected areas. Exposing those places to the public gives an opportunity to anti national elements to have a free run. Leaving our doors open does attract thieves I suppose.
Inside Nabha cantt we had a “Ghora khana” and “Hathi khana” (Horse & Elephant stables). It was like having your Armoured Regiment and the Mechanised Infantry Battalion. These locations were closely guarded as the animals needed protection against sabotage and subversion. Someone could steal the animals or poison the animals and their fodder or could pollute the ponds in which they bathed. Fit animals could be replaced with lame ones. All these were security concerns of the King who had many enemies. In modern times if someone can get in and sabotage our tanks and BMPs costing crores, we might be unfit for war. Well, time will tell its repercussions.
I was talking to a friend of mine and she totally turned me off by saying that you army men think too much of yourselves by calling us “civilians”. She further went to say that I must remember that the forces are under the civilian rule so don’t think you guys are superior kinds. If this is how our fellow countrymen think about people who live and die for the tri-colour, then there is something wrong with someone’s mentality. I dare not say the “civilian mentality” lest my friend feels offended again.
Doesn’t a security guard of your society ask you at the entrances that whom you want to meet? Doesn’t he register your mobile number, name and address before letting you in. Then what is the issue if they check you at an Army check post. By the way, the Armed forces adapt fast to changing situations. Our families are also now mentally prepared in case of emergencies like Pathankot. We know how to look after ourselves and we are flexible enough to cope with any challenging situations. That’s how we are bred. Opening of roads do irritate us but don’t bog us down.
In case an Armed forces man is on duty in Kashmir and gets a message that his house has been burgled, his car has been damaged, his little child and parents have been hurt and manhandled badly while he was in an operation putting his life at stake for the sake of the people who don’t know and understand what an encounter with a terrorist is. Can those people assure him the safety of his family when he is risking his life for citizens of India?
I also know of people who are best friends till the time they can lay hands on a couple of bottles of liquor from the canteen. If such people feel hassled to show their identity and get equally inconvenienced like every other soldier, before entering any restricted area, then God help us! If opening the cantt road is for ego or vote bank, then it’s a shame. Why have security and protection for ministers then? I was sent out to rot in the desert for one year because our parliament was attacked. Had one odd MP been shot dead, then would the forces been given a free hand & told to eliminate Pakistan? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!
© Noel Ellis