Noel Ellis's Official Blog

I wield the pen to explore the vastness of the human mind

Category: MEMORIES

FABRIC OF INDIA

 

 

FABRIC OF INDIA

I have no idea about clothes and fabrics. I stick to the basics, which was taught to me during my Army career. A dark coloured trouser and a light coloured shirt. Dark means close to black, navy blue or a dark brown. Shirt means a plain white or light coloured shirt, no pinks or purple. Yes, when it comes to casuals I prefer blue denim jeans with a single coloured T shirt preferably with a pocket, no checks & no stripes. I am in love with “khadi”, like a well starched kurta-pyjama. These days you get shirts which stand stiff like the good old days of our OG uniforms. I also prefer to wear silk scarves in “bandhej” prints in winters. Over the years my choices have evolved.

Today, I go to a shop and ask the salesman to show a sober coloured shirt. If he brings a floral, purple or dark coloured one, I leave that shop and go to the next one. You may call be a dimwit, never mind. For me sober means something which is not gaudy, outlandish, loud, flashy & showy. Who defines all this? Your guess is as good as mine. I cannot impose my choice on you. So is with the nation. How does one decide what fabric suits the nation? I am sure it too would have evolved over the centuries.

Man used to roam around naked and the first dress he wore was a fig leaf. Later he found wool. He discovered silk and cotton. Jute also came in. Synthetic apparels also surfaced. Plastics did make inroads to the fabric scene. Did anyone think about it that why we changed from one type to the other. We mixed and matched. Our outer cover changed with time and so did our inner feelings about other fellow humans.

Then there are people with a kitschy kind of choice of clothes, tasteless, cheap & vulgar in some ways. Well, I am no one to sit in judgement either. Probably the other fellow thinks about my choice of clothes in the same manner. Nevertheless, it depends on individual person how he wants to attire himself. Such people do exist in the society and we live with them in peace.

Well if I see how the “fabric” of India transformed over a period of time which was intricately woven into its culture, architecture, clothes, cuisine, transport, infrastructure & even warfare. Spices slowly entered our lives. As trading started there was a spice route. A silk route existed too. Soon the flavours, tastes, and colour of the pallet & fabric started to absorb the extracts of foreign lands. All got amalgamated as people traveled far and wide. India remained resilient and peaceful.

Invaders came and went, they killed and looted India but the fabric of India never got tarnished. Mughals, Christians, Parsi’s, Portuguese, Tibetans came, some stayed on. Even Hinduism evolved during times of turmoil to strengthen the fabric of India. It spread to various shores and was absorbed there. Each invasion contributed to the Indian fabric and helped in improving it.

Today this fabric is tearing up. The “tana-bana” is all messed up. If I don’t like the colour of a fabric you wear I will get intolerant. Then a tug of war begins. The cloth meant to cover us gets shredded to pieces leaving us half naked and exposed. Indian fabric was never so intolerant. Today, a poor person with tattered clothes will be tolerated but a lady with a tattered designer jeans will be looked down upon. Adivasi without clothes is not an issue but an advertisement of a bra and panty hurts our sanskriti. I dare not talk about the “temples” of Khajuraho.

Condition of the country today is such that we have to keep patching the fabric we wear. In good old days mom used to get “rafoo” done where the pant or shirt used to get torn. It used to be the artistry of the darner who used to blend and match the texture and design of that shear. Only you could guess where the cut was. Such craftsmen aka leaders are gone. Now with so much of infighting we need to put a “Paiband”. It is a kind of patch of cloth which is stitched to cover a big hole. That is the state we are reaching at.

Today, we don’t care for the fabric we were proud of once. Ultimately a time will come when that piece of cloth will become un-wearable and will have to be thrown away as the rafoos and paibands would no longer suffice to cover what they were supposed to. Why have we reached this stage and why can’t we preserve our very Indian fabric? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND
© Noel Ellis

DANCING IN THE RAIN

DANCING IN THE RAIN

Petrichor is that earthly smell which emanates when parched earth receives the first drops of rain. I just love “Mitti ki sondhi khushboo”. I remember a grass root called “Khas” which was used in the desert coolers. It used to emit a very unique earthy smell too. I also remember smell of tea in a Kulhar or Sakora at a railway station. The taste of the tea used to be transformed by this small earthen pot.

Rains have brought much relief from the heat and humidity. Here when it rains, it rains like hell. Not like Cats and Dogs but like Elephants and Rhinos. The brown and burnt terrain has suddenly turned lush green. I have yet to see so many shades of green. With the sky overcast, these shades vary & add beauty to the landscape. It is 10 am now and it as dark as 7.30 pm. “Kaali ghata cha gayi hai”.

The chicks of nesting birds have flown. Ponds are overflowing; Ducks and Cormorants are flocking in them. Frogs and toads have gotten busy fluffing their wind bags and croaking sweet melodies. I have yet to see one worth a kiss though. Earthworms have left their holes and are easy pickings for Mynah’s. They devour them like noodles. Ants have now got wings & are flying in swarms. Street lights are clogged and the frogs are having a “barakhana”.

Waterfalls have come alive and are in gusto, sprinkling and spraying water on passersby. All sorts of contraptions besides the conventional umbrella and raincoats are out. White cement bags slit from one side are a common site. Ladies wearing polythene bags instead of shower caps appear funny. Motorcycles with handle covers and seat covers, kids with school bags under wraps are a common scene in this part of the country. A kind of “wetty” feeling is in the air.

You open a packet of namkeen it will go soggy in a minute. The crunchiness just doesn’t stay. Biscuits many drop off from your hand before dipping them in tea, just exaggerating. The only saving grace is the garma garam pakoras which my wife makes for me after office.

The man who cannot just do his job is our poor dhobi. How hard he may try and how hot he may iron the dresses, they are going to stay soggy. The bed feels soggy, the sofa feels soggy & the towel too feels soggy. I just can’t stand that typical stink which creeps in from somewhere in wet towels and baniyans. Clothes now take three to four days to dry. Imagine if you have to wear soggy underwear.

Soon algae will start greening everything. Mushrooms have already started sprouting all over, not the edible ones but the decorative woody kind. Flowers pots are on a musical chairs spree as one has to keep shifting them. In our place plants actually drown. For plant lovers like me, our green house has been converted into a makeshift shelter, with all of them huddled together to face the wrath of rain. Small embankments to divert water, besides water blocks to stop flooding are being made. Digging and freshening of drains is in progress. Tough times I must say.

I somehow love rains. The pitter-patter is such a soothing sound punctuated by the roar of thunder and a crack of lightening. It shakes your soul out in a way. As I drove my bike with my daughter through villages and farms yesterday, it was very soothing to see light green grassy patches. On closer look we found them to be paddy seedlings. Oxen standing in the fields with their ploughs hooked up. They too have their raincoats made out of fertilizer bags. Their horns brightly painted and tinker bells making music as we saw them obediently reacting to every whistle, shoo, shout and sound of the farmer. I wish the farmers luck. May they have a bumper crop and may million hungry mouths be fed.

My only issue is why all this water is flowing down to sea without being harvested. Villagers fight for this precious resource in lean months. People blockade our company gates if water is rationed. Villages which had two hundred people twenty years back now have two thousand. I do not see any government water pipeline or even an effort to mitigate their water woes. Funds come and go down the drain it seems.

Be that as it may. Next three months are going to be wet, wetter and wettest. Getting drenched is a ritual as work will never stop. Schools here do not have a rainy day holiday. I like one thing about the honesty of local people that no one runs away with your umbrella or your slippers.

Rain is a blessing indeed and my garam piyali of chai has arrived. Let me stand in the corridor and appreciate the rhythm of falling rain. Is anyone coming to dance with me? I wonder!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

A DAY IN THE VALLEY

 

 

 

A DAY IN THE VALLEY

 

“Eidi hazam aur cease fire khatam” reminds me of my childhood when we used so sing, “Tamasha khatam-paisa hazam”. The holy month did not remain as holy as it ought to be. Encounters with death loomed large over the security forces and others too in the valley.

In J&K brushes with death are common.  It need not be an encounter with militants only. If you come back safely after your posting, you can thank God. One has to be prepared for an encounter at any moment. Chances are moment you let down your guard a bullet comes looking for you. One has to be on his toes throughout his tenure. It is a high pressure job.

I remember when posted there I was once detailed to get pay for the sector. I had to move from Kangan to Sharifabad. We congregated at the sector HQ as the personnel were from various battalions. I briefed the party on various drills and contingencies and moved in a convoy of a gypsy, a 2.5 ton (dhai ton) and an LPT (10 tonner) with about 36 people as a special pay QRT (Quick Reaction Team). No waiting for any ROP-Sharopy. (Road Opening Party)

Sharifabad was connected to the main road by a serpentine raised narrow bundh. Suffice to say that the bundh was broad enough for a truck to pass. It was rice harvest season. People were working in the fields. I saw a lot of “Tongas” and horses standing on the side of this elevated road. We were feeling comparatively safe as Sharifabad was just a few kilometers away.

There would have been no cordon and search that night, a good dinner and a peaceful sleep was on my mind. I asked the operator can you see the vehicles behind. He said no. I stopped, got out with my AK-47 slung over my shoulder and waited. The seventh sense was telling me something is wrong.

I said a silent a prayer and told the driver to turn back. It was a long curved road and the rice fields were about 15-20 feet below and water logged. The moonlight was being reflected from the stagnant water. Lo and behold I found two headlights down in the rice fields. All of us quickly dismounted. We got on to the Divisional frequency and intimated them that we need help. The AAG responded and said the needful will be done.

I went down sliding. There were 12 people in the 2.5 ton. We pulled out the driver and co-driver; they were in a daze but OK. The tragedy had stuck in the rear. The dhai ton was lying on its side. Three guys were injured badly. On one the spare wheel had fallen, on the other the jack had hit his head probably and the third was under the dhai ton itself. All were breathing but the situation was grim.

I baby carried a chap with lot of difficulty up the steep slope. The badly injured were put in the LPT. Walking wounded were put in the gypsy. I left a guard of One JCO & 6 jawans as ammunition and weapons of the injured could not be accounted for. Once the critically wounded were in safe hands we rushed back to the site. It was cold but we traced out each and every magazine and weapon even in knee deep water as it was moon lit. Recovery of the dhai ton was left for the next day. Villagers has evaporated into thin air.

I spoke to the driver who told me that he had seen a few villagers next to the tongas, who shooed the horses away seeing our vehicles approach. To avoid hitting a horse I cut the steering and the result was in front of us. I left further investigation for the next day and rushed back to hospital. Three guys were very critical and rest were shaken up with minor cuts and bruises. No one had a wink of sleep that night for obvious reasons.  Next morning two of the most critical were heli lifted to Udhampur, Sad news reached me that one jawan passed away in flight and the other after about two hours in hospital. I had a lump in my throat and still get it when I remember them. God bless their souls.

We the security forces suffer causalities in various administrative moves too. The risk of serving in J&K is compounded as on one side is the devil and the other is the deep sea. God forbid, had a Kashmiri been killed in the incident where not a single round was fired, I would have been answering the human rights courts.

Out of 36, 33 of us got back, two left for their celestial journey and one badly injured came back after a long time of rehab and sick leave. His both legs had multiple fractures as he was under the vehicle. I look back and think life was not easy in the valley. I moved to Manipur from the valley. It was like falling from the frying pan into the fire. Picture abhi baki hai mere dost.

What was the cost we paid to collect those 50 Lakh rupees as pay? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

JUGADU TALES

 

 

 

JUGADU TALES

 

Necessity is the mother of invention and in India it is called “JUGAD”. We can modify anything, copy anything & duplicate anything. To make any contraption, the brain is Indian, the brawn is Indian, tools are Indian, finance is Indian, the consumer is Indian and it is best suited to our Indian needs. The “jugaadu” in me was waking up as I walked around my colony yesterday.

I was astonished to see countless mangoes strewn on the ground. With so many children around how come this fruit hasn’t been touched. Reasons could be like; this year was a bumper crop, so now we are fed up of eating mangoes, it has rained once and people avoid eating the fruit as it becomes infested with worms and insects. Another reason could be that fruits of a particular tree are either very sour or very feeka (Tasteless) but one thing that caught my nostrils was the smell of fermented fruit, that fruity-mangoey kind of liquory smell.

This reminded me of a conversation with a colleague who won panchayat elections a few days back. Country made Daru and non-veg is a make or break for any election here he claimed. More the daru flows the probability of winning is directly proportional to it. This has to be continuous for many days before voting. I said you must have spent a fortune. He nodded.

How do you procure and transport daru without getting caught? He said sir; for police there is a jugad. There is a distillation plant in my backyard and has been brewing nonstop since last few months. He refused to part with the recipe. I was very curious to know the mode of transportation. He took me to his car and opened the dickey and I found a huge inflated truck tube along with smaller tubes. He said all these are the left overs. I touched them and they went “thull-thull” like a water bed. I was thinking to myself that thank God we are going tubeless.

I went into flash back of the good old days in school. During the summer vacations we used to be vagabonds roaming around every nook and corner and it used to be fun collecting used test tubes from behind the chemistry lab. I saw a broken distillation set & picked it up. I brought that equipment home and buried it in the backyard fearing dad’s wrath.

I also got hold of old rum bottles and made out a concoction in which if I remember correctly I made a slurry of jaggery, lot of “peesi hui long & elaichi”, sugarcane juice and some home fruit juices. I filled about ten bottles and buried them close next to our guava tree in the backyard. All this was done in total secrecy, in the afternoons when mom and dad used to take their siesta. This was in class XI. As time flew by, we got busy with NDA preparations and later for XII boards, those graves were never dug. Mom kept wondering where her fridge bottles evaporated.

One fine day, dad decided to put manure in the fruit trees. He dug those circular pits around the trees when he accidentally dug out one bottle of that concoction I had prepared. It had turned jet black. I confessed to dad that all this “jiggery-poggery” I had done. I was preparing for getting a solid thrashing. He said let’s try distilling it. That reminded me that I had a distillation set buried too. How effective or defective it was time would tell. The rubber hoses had worn off and glass had broken at places but we did a jugad for all that.

Distillation started and the end product was an absolute clear tasteless liquid, flavoured with elaichi. I had tasted dad’s rum chori-chori but this damn thing had no taste at all. Patience was running out as it was taking hell of a long time and finally the first bottle was left with a gooey black residue. In the evening an uncle came to visit. Dad said let’s try Noel’s special brand. Uncle used to be an occasional drinker and used to make a weird face when the first sip of Hercules or Sea Pirate XXX used to go down his gullet. Dad also proudly told him ghar ki bani hai, two years old hai. Dad stuck to his usual rum. Uncle was all smiles and laughing. Just as he was about to leave he just could not get up from the sofa. All hell broke loose.

It hit him so badly that he had to leave his scooter at our place as we could not figure out how to open a Bajaj Chetak due that typical twist of the handle with which the lock opened. Dad was impressed that for the first time I did something practical in Chemistry. How hard my chemistry teachers tried, I could never balance an equation but I balanced the whole contraption of this distillation process which started from a make shift “chullah”, to pipes from the kitchen tap for cooling and finally collecting the “liquid gold” in another bottle. The “pahle tor di daru” as it was called in Punjab, was a success.

Should I do a jugad to make some mango liqueur for old time’s sake? I wonder!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

CHANGING TIMES

 

 

 

CHANGING TIMES

 

I was not aware of this thing called Netflix, except for a few advertisements I had seen on TV. My daughter came to me and said papa there are very good programmes and movies on it so please take a subscription. She said she will watch them on her mobile. I gave her the nod.

She told me Papa I would like to pay for my connection with my debt card, as recently I have activated it. Well, I was more than happy because of the confidence of this young girl and her enthusiasm to learn online payment. Honestly, I am so sceptic to use debit cards online and avoid transactions. I have a level of discomfort in doing so. Though, I had to download “Paytm” on my mobile. Modi ji had given us a scare of our lives to go cashless. Things have become easy these days and children are at ease with technological advancements. I must learn and keep abreast.

In the good old days In Kapurthala, Punjab, we were addicted to Pakistani and English serials on PTV as kids. Dhoop Kinare, Uncle Urfi, Buddha Ghar pe hai, CHIPS, Six Million Dollar Man, Here is Lucy, Mind Your Language, Nilaam Ghar, Walt Disney Cartoons, plus late Friday night English movies were never missed. Dad used to put an alarm and wake the whole house up for this Friday ritual. Thursday night, sofas used to be pushed to the sides and mattresses laid out on the floor. Chitrahaar and Hindi movies were banned. Anything in English would do, after all Dad was an English teacher.

My duty used to be to climb the roof with a half broken bamboo ladder to a banister from where one had to get hold of a pipe going up to the water tank on the roof. Antenna used to be balanced on a 25 feet high pole tied to the chimney of the kitchen. I had to twist it from direction of Jalandhar to Lahore. Younger brother used to stand outside the drawing room as a relay station, relaying my voice “aa gaya”, “Nahi aya” used to be relayed back and forth. It used to be such a relief to hear “aaaaaa gaya”. By the time I used to get down, half the serial would have gone. By then Dad would have turned the tuning knob 360 degrees many times and kicked the TV just to ensure it behaves.

I remember in Jaisalmer, one of our COs wanted CCTV installed. He wanted RAMAYAN serial beamed to every company dining hall including officer’s mess. Complete India used to come to a standstill for it. I distinctly remember “Satayam Electronics” located at Falna Rajasthan were the CCTV experts. Yours truly was made in charge. One 3 ton, a couple of chaps and an electronics expert along with my favourite Havildar Azad Singh (Now Honorary Captain Retd) were given the task to get this whole contraption and get it functional.

We proceeded with all documents and cheques and landed up in Falna. Our electronics expert learnt how to join the “dabbi”. Dabbi was the splitter from where the cable could be sent in three directions. Then there used to be a “dabba” which used to be the booster for the signal. So with dabba, dabbi and chattri (Dish) we got back to unit.

Three days of hectic driving in midst of summers from Jaisalmer to Falna and back was some drive. On arrival CO gave orders that tomorrow’s serial he shall see in unit lines being a Sunday. We were dead tired and stinky but “CO Saab ka hukum” cannot be turned down. I asked Azad, kya karen, he in his typical jatoo said “gaad denge saab” meaning we will do it. At 3 am my eyes started to close. I had not had dinner as the task at hand needed my presence for many small things. I dozed off sitting on a red velvet folding chair. I told Azad I am breaking off. He said “saab eeb to jhanda gaad ke hi chodenge”, “re chore, saab ne garam chai pila saath anda bujia banwa liya langar tai”. (Sir we will finish this job and in the same breadth told a chap to get some anda bhujia from the cook house with a hot cup of tea to keep me awake).

At first light we tested our signals from a VCR as DD used start at 7. Every one said, aa gaya, What a relief it was! Dot at five to nine CO arrived. Our eyes were red and bloodshot. He went to one of the cook houses and saw the signal. I don’t remember whether I got a pat on the back or a kick about one foot below but I missed my favourite serial and slept off that Sunday. How I wish we had Netflix in the good old days. What all new inventions are in store for us in future? I wonder!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

WATERY TALES

 

 

 

WATERY TALES

 

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!!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

MY LADAKH DIARIES

MY LADAKH DIARIES

 

My climate (acclimatisation) at Leh went off well and I was ready to take on the mountains. For a Mech officer to get posted to high altitude meant one more medal. To earn it, I had to spend 180 days excluding breaks which I thought would be a cake walk. The reality was way off and I shall share how tough life is subsequently.

Early morning we started in a 1ton for Tangtse. It could take 6-8 hours, I was told. All was going well till we passed by a canal. I saw huge layered ice slabs neatly piled like files in a rack. A thought passed my mind, that why they want ice slabs in such weather. I looked at the Indus which was smoothly flowing, shimmering and meandering in the valley below but got no answers. Then I thought they must be transporting ice to Leh. Such weird thoughts get sorted out very fast. I got to know later that the canal had frozen in winter, ice was still melting and water goes to the Stakna hydel project. How stupid I must have felt. Bloody mechie come down to mother earth, I told myself.

As we were crossing a causeway near Karu, my excitement knew no bounds when I saw a BMP near the Indus river bed. My imagination started running wild as the valley was broad enough to take a Combat Group. I had also heard that a Mech Battalion and an Armoured Squadron were located there. I was on home turf kinds and without even reaching Tangtse, I was already making plans to take on the Chinese with anti-tank missiles.

Karu onwards the climb started getting steep. I, who had driven a 1 Ton up every sand dune of Jaisalmer District, now started to feel the presence of the mighty mountains. The scene was barren but sublime. The drive was bumpy and kept getting bumpier. Soon the road disappeared and converted into a track. Our vehicle started skidding. The sound of the engine in constant low gear was telling me something. Sitting behind, I was not able to see the valley below but when suddenly our driver braked and we started to slide backwards and the damn thing turned away from the mountain wall. My instinct to jump out was at its peak. Luckily the tailboard hit the vehicle following us & we came to a halt. All of us jumped doing a kind of obstacle course as the vehicles were kissing each other.

My heart skipped a beat when I peeped over the side into the valley. There were more than 10 odd vehicle chassis crumpled and crushed half buried in a graveyard of sorts. My goodness Lord I said, today we would have been minced. Our driver quickly got out, put a rock under the tyre and opened the tool box. He pulled out some chains. They were very funny looking things and I assumed that they would be for towing but to my surprise I found them to be anti-skid chains. Water had frozen and made a thick slate of ice on the track. Every year I was told that one odd vehicle goes down this slope. Frankly, I got the shivers down my spine. Whatever parts can be recovered from the vehicle is recovered and rest is destroyed in-situ. I shuddered but put up a brave face. The cold now started to grip me; I wore my coat Parka thereon.

I was shocked to see two drivers trying to burn their vehicles by lighting cotton waste under fuel tanks of their 3 Tons parked on one side. I almost shouted at them but I was told that the diesel has frozen in the pipes, as they must not have put anti-freeze in their tanks. I would have arrested them for destroying government property.

We reached Changla, it is 17,586 feet above mean sea level. It is the second highest mountain pass after Khardungla. The GREF teams keep it open but in the thick of winters it closes for weeks together. People told me that kindly pray before you leave or else Changla Baba will keep calling you back. The driver knew that I was a novice; he opened the glove box and handed over a pack of Parle-G and an aggarbatti to me. I thanked him as my “batti” was really band for obvious reasons.

The toughest part was yet to come which was down hill to Zingral. I could see the TCP but the road was multiple Zs, a zig-zag kind of landscape. On the first hairpin bend I saw a 3 ton in its grave. The officer sitting next to me narrated the story that it was a 3 Ton carrying CSD stores of a regiment which went down. He was part of the rescue mission. They told me that day every local Ladakhi they met was drunk. The reason was this vehicle was carrying about 150 cases of the most precious liquid on the other side of Changla. All bottles broke on impact and the liquid froze. The local fellows, after rescuing the men got busy sucking on ice and carried chunks of frozen liquor home. The drink was definitely on the rocks. In Jaisalmer one craved for ice, here one just needed rum and a glass.

It was close to dusk when we rolled into our battalion. The welcome board said “Second to None” with Snow Lions painted on its sides. I looked up and thanked the Lord and also said Changla Baba ki Jai in my mind.

I was cold, fatigued, disoriented and dizzy with a slight headache. I just wanted to have a hot cup of tea and I wasn’t disappointed as a jawan said “TASHI DELEG” & poured piping hot tea from a Chinese thermos in steel glasses. I rolled the glass vigorously in my hands. With one sip, I was already feeling better.

How many such trips would be needed to please Changla Baba? I wondered!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

CHOICE OF ARMS

 

 

CHOICE OF ARMS

Choice of Arms (COA) used to be announced close to passing out in IMA. One could see three types of faces on hearing what has been allotted to you. Happy, sad and faces with no expression. Some people who opted for Ordinance landed up in Rajput Regiment, some could not opt for ASC because of their instructor’s pressure to join Gorkha Rifles.  Thambis got Sikh Regiment and Sikh gentlemen were allotted Madras Regiment. UP people got Naga regiment and J&K types were allotted Marathas. Most of us became “casualties” except for the super block kinds. (First twenty in the order of merit)
The Batty (Battalion Commander) used to announce the COA. GC 19964 you have been allotted Infantry, I almost swooned, with tears in my eyes that I have become causality. I was about to about turn when he announced Mechanised after a pause, I said what! I just could not believe my ears, as it was my first choice. The watery eyes changed to eyes glistening with pride eyes and then he added Recce and Support, 17th battalion. My expression turned to a frown that ye Recce and Support kaun sa keera hai. This was in June 1985.
When you come out of Batty’s office, you find GCs eagerly waiting, not bothered what they got but are more concerned on what the others have got. Quite a few of them gheroaed me asking Kya mila? Kya mila? I said Mech Inf. People almost fainted. Is sale ko Mechanised kaise mil gayi. The NRS (Nearest Railway Station) given to me was Jaisalmer. I did not even care to register it at that moment as the excitement was too much. The next thing was to have a beer, gum main ya khushi main.
I reached my room picked up an inland and wrote to Dad. All this while dreaming of the APCs (Armoured Personal Carriers) BTRs and the SCOTs, I had seen in Kapurthala cantonment. My motivation was Mech Units which used to come for equipment display to our school. I used to be awe struck when they told us these APCs float on water and used to show us a propeller at its rear end. I could never have asked for more from God.
Now to find someone from Recce and Support in IMA was like finding a needle in the haystack. I was lucky to find a Kote NCO of 17 Mech looking after my Karen Company Kote. I asked him ustad 17 Mech kahan hai, he said he cannot tell because of “sekorti” and equipment cannot be divulged as it is Top Secret. I asked a few Mech officers posted there, none could tell me what this recce and support battalion was all about.
Rumors were hot during that time. Posting locations, names of COs, characteristics of Brigade Commanders etc started floating around. There were certain fauji brats who knew various stations and hardships of those areas. So even if people were happy to get their choice, they were a little apprehensive of the areas they were going to serve. Well, in IMA who is bothered except taking the ANTIM PAG (final Step) which is the culmination of the POP (Passing out parade).
I was told that you are the luckiest person joining an elite battalion. One company is always on training in France. One started dreaming of the Eiffel Tower straight away. One company is equipped with helicopters for reconnaissance. Ones imagination ran wild that you are the next Rocky & Rambo combined. Pakistan you better watch out. Flying choppers whole night in my dreams used to leave me exhausted. The third company they said remains in India for training. I thought to myself as the unit is hush-hush, I will become a secret operative. I wanted to leave for Paris immediately but why have they told me to report to Jaisalmer. The excitement was too much to digest. Now, that once in a month beer became a weekly affair and that one fag a day became five. From Panama I graduated to Wills Kings. After all we were Mech People.
Be that as it may, COA got us busy drafting DO letters to the Commanding Officer as the first piece of military writing we were practicing. Life took a different turn that day when parents blessed their children and piped us. At least the civilian crowd like my parents had no idea what the difference was between Infantry and Ordinance. For them we were Officers of the Indian Army. We had made them proud beyond words.
All of us from different regiments took oath to abide by the Constitution of India and to go by land, sea or air to defend our motherland even at the peril of our lives. We had no choice left except to be an Officer and a Gentleman.
Our minds were blank as we did not know what was in store for us. Our thoughts were just conjectures. We didn’t know what a battalion looks like and what really happens in one. We all were happy folks, bubbling with josh and eager to join our outfits. All the training was in your heads, we were raw, unpolished and unaware of what lies ahead. We had joined one of the finest professions to be in service of our nation.

JAI HIND
© Noel Ellis

OUR DEER PINKY

 

 

OUR DEER PINKY

It was a cold wintry evening when two people clad in white dhoti, kurta & Loi’s (shawls) came to our house in Sainik School, Kapurthala. On enquiring they said they were parents of Bishnoi of Sarojini House of which Dad was the house master. They were carrying something in their lap which was very fidgety. They requested for old news papers. A very unusual request it was. As they stood up to greet dad, this twitchy bundle jumped out of their lap. It was a small, dainty, wet nosed brown baby deer (Chinkara).

We all were startled for a moment. They said that having heard of your love for animals Ellis Saab, we present to you “PINKY” as a token of love and respect for teaching our children. I saw my Dads eyes getting moist for the first time. In those days it was not banned. On asking what you feed it, they gave the details of how to feed it with a bottle and otherwise it would graze the lawn grass. In case some wheat can be made available it could be palm fed.

Dad took the leash and took her to the adjacent room as they left. We had spread many news papers for the droppings. The story was that this fawn was orphaned as the mother was shot by some people. It was raised by the Bishnoi’s and now they had found a suitable home for it.

It was extremely difficult to control the inquisitiveness of our dogs. Their barks was making pinky panicky. Curiosity amongst Ellis’ was also at its pinnacle. This little darling had done a 7 hour journey by bus from Hanumangarh to Kapurthala. It must be tired and disillusioned. We tiptoed into her room, I with a bottle of milk, mom with a fistful of wheat followed by brother with some grass and father to oversee things.

In came Coco, our Tibetan Apso, then all hell broke loose. She panicked and darted through all of us and the main door and escaped into the darkness. Dad told us that we have to get pinky back at any cost. It was dark and the colony was a jungle in itself. Pinky had evaporated into thin air. The front yard, the back yard, the dhobi ghat, everywhere, we ran helter-skelter looking for her but no luck.

I and my brother went on a search mission. It was close to midnight in that freezing cold of Punjab & we were quite dejected. As we were combing the area we reached the chota swimming pool. Stories of various “bhoots-prets” and deadly cobras were running parallel in our minds when my brother& I heard jingle of bells tied in her neck. In pitch darkness with fog also creeping in, we saw two eyes glistened & staring at us. The first reaction was to bolt as it could be a bhoot. We spotted her & breathed a sigh of relief. Dad was anxious, mom was crying and we were white faced, cold, damp with running noses. I put a blanket on her as she dozed off. What a first night it was!

There used to be a competition between me and my brother who will feed her. Filling milk in a beer bottle and attaching feeding nipples was fun. Soon, Pinky started considering me as her mother. She used to crave for milk thrice a day. Dot at the precise hour she used to give her grunts. I used to call her back in the same tone.

Our dogs got used to her and pinky to the house. Cats started to cuddle with her. She was so friendly that we freed her. Within minutes she jumped the wall and was hopping and skipping merrily. All of us were afraid that the strays will kill her, well; they were no match to her speed. Once all the hostellers “gheraoed” her in a circle, she just took off & jumped over their heads. Her typical “deer jumps” on all fours together were a treat to watch.

She started accompanying dad to the cricket field and used to stand next to him where the Umpire stands. Once she got hit by a straight drive and collapsed on the pitch with all four legs stretched & the tongue hanging out, stiff as stiff could be. The batsman ran away fearing the wrath of Dad. She closed her eyes and we thought we have lost her. For 10 minutes we all were in tears. Then suddenly she sprung up and bolted away. Phew!

I had joined NDA and came back on my first term break. Dad was sitting on his haunches and hoeing his garden bed. I was explaining to him the “ragra” and in particular the front roll. I don’t know what came to pinky’s mind, she came charging and butted dad on his bums with her head. Dad did a beautiful somersault and I said now you know dad.

As time went by she started loving music and the school band playing. She used to stand with the band leader and walk along the march past of the school parade. She became the school mascot.

One day pinky was nowhere to be seen. There was panic and a sense of loss as a story was afloat that someone had killed her. Fourth day, while dad was on his angling trip a “Kabari” (rag picker) who used to come and collect small fish gave an input that she has been seen in the cantonment. Dad wound up and came rushing five kilometres from Kanjali River. She was not there but dad found her droppings. On a lot of pleading someone told that she had been sold to a “Kasai” (butcher). Dad rushed to find that “kasai” who just won’t admit. With folded hands and 400 rupees did he take him to the shed where she had been confined to. She would have been butchered the next day. Four days without water and food she was a wreck. She couldn’t even stand on all fours. People who had caught her had bruised her very badly. Dad left his cycle as mortgage and took a rickshaw to get her home. We were delighted to see her alive.

Within days she was frolicking around as usual. She lived with us for 10 years and one fine day we found her dead in the wheat fields. Probably she ate too much of insecticide which had been sprayed on the crop. It was a sad day. Her grave is still there behind our house 12-A.

Thank you for being part of our lives PINKY we all still remember you fondly and miss you. Can we relive those good old days again? I wonder!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

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