Noel Ellis's Official Blog

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

Category: MEMORIES

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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