Noel Ellis's Official Blog

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

Category: POSTING

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

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

FIRST DAY IN LEH

FIRST DAY IN LEH

 I was posted to a new battalion on deputation based at Durbuk, (Tangtse) in 1990. It was in high altitude. Cold, frozen, snowing and icy was the impression in my mind. I was told it has a rear near Leh. “Rear” had a very different impression in my mind.

I was posted in Jaisalmer then and having measured the hot & sandy deserts by all means of transport available in the army including by foot I was looking forward to this change.

Zozila pass had not opened so I had to travel by air from Chandigarh to Leh. I was shoved into an IL-76. I saw this huge aircraft up close for the first time. It had been converted into a double Decker and I got a seat near the tailboard. Engines started and that whine was getting to scare me a little. We rolled off. With the first “jhatka” when the brakes are released I almost fell off. Soon the ears started getting blocked. I kept praying not realising I shall be jumping with parachutes from this plane later in life.

A 45 minute flight was an experience in itself. Then there was a thud, it was touchdown at Leh. We taxied and parked and as the tail door opened I saw a mountain of sand. I said to myself, hope I have landed at the right place. A very smart looking NCO with a red beret received me. We were off to a transit camp in a very shinny one tonner. We reached the site and I was taken inside a mess.

One had to bend to get in. Two odd bulbs were glowing in that room, flickering with the fluctuating voltage. They used to go dim and then flicker and then suddenly emit a bright light. I saw four people sitting on the table playing bridge. A few Gorkha looking people wearing torn sandow baniyans and combat pants were serving drinks and snacks. The bar man had a weird haircut with locks of curly hair over his ears. He was also chewing gum, unheard of in messes I suppose. I was not used to the “Pinja” way of life. I wished the crowd, they acknowledged as if saying one more “murga” has come and continued playing.

I was feeling cold in the month of April and watching those waiters in sleeveless baniyans I was getting the shivers. My feet were getting cold too and I was itching to go to the loo. The waiter guided me to a bathroom where I saw the Indian style thing. The door latch was a wire cable which one had to hook to a nail. No flush and I also noticed that the window glass was actually a transparent plastic sheet with which we used to cover maps. Water was freezing; sinks were there but without taps. Boy, I was in for adventure. I looked up to God, as I was closer to him by 11000 feet and asked him to bless me.

I came back and took a seat when someone said “saab ko drink lagao”. I said it’s too early, he said how you dare disobey the commanding officer. The waiter was already on my head with a whisky-pani. I asked for soda and he gave me a dirty look as if such things were never heard in these valleys. My mind floated back to Jaisalmer where Naik Padmasanan L our unit soda factory NCO could be hauled up for not filling adequate gas in the soda bottle.

I was a rum drinker so got it changed, took a swig and felt a little warm. In the mean time I found one waiter lighting up a contraption which I later came to know is called a “bukhari” (Kerosene heater). My feet were as cold as ice as the sky was overcast. The rum gave me a little pep but the bukhari boosted my morale. I was in summer uniform and constantly getting goose pimples which I think the mess Havildar noticed and from somewhere he brought an outer of a “coat parka”. I wanted to stand up and kiss him for his thoughtful gesture.

The barman was refilling the glasses without anyone even saying a word. I was already feeling little  tipsy by midday. The CO got up to take a leak & shook hands with me. He told me to enjoy my drink and left. Bridge continued. At 1.30 pm a person came with soup. It smelt good and I had a sip and it tasted really good. I asked the waiter what soup it is. He said “Haddi ka soup”. I was taken aback, “kis ki haddi ka soup”. Later I found out it was chicken soup.

Lunch was laid and I was feeling glad already. I ate well but the foursome had their “saunf” on the bridge table itself. We exchanged pleasantries during lunch. They told me to do as the Mess Havildar tells me to do. Then they got glued to their dealt hands with toothpicks stuck in their teeth.

I was taken to my room and given a sleeping bag. The mess Havildar said saab “aap sho jao”, dinner will be served in the room. I being from 17 Mech Recce and Support and that too Tracked was taken aback that in JA-SALE-MER even in midst of summers, we were told to report in suit and tie to the mess. Mess Havildar replied Sir; aap ka “climate” nahi hua hai is liye. Baki shaab log climate kar chuke hain. He meant to say that you have walked the earth more than you had to on the first day of acclimatisation in Leh, others are old hands. I thanked my stars and knocked off in deep slumber.

This was on first day of my posting to high the altitude desert. The next stage was at 13000 feet in the battalion after four days. The foursome also said “In the Land of Lama don’t become a Gamma”. What did they mean? I kept wondering!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

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