Noel Ellis's Official Blog

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

Category: TALES

WATERY TALES

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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

INDIAN MILITARY ACADEMY TALES

[ninja_form id=1]IMA was supposed to be a cake walk for us “nangas” but it happened to be otherwise for me. I was very happy to see Baljeet Sandhu in my platoon, after all SAIKAPIAN school types. The term break after NDA had cast a spell on me as I went through a nasty cycle of typhoid; jaundice and malaria in one go. I could barely stand on my two feet. Thanks to Rajinder Bhagtana who took real care of me till Dehradun. He had accompanied me to NDA wing along with Hitesh Kohli also. Heesh do you remember Jalandhar railway station.  Hope my memory is correct.

On arrival at IMA they asked us to deposit our identity cards of NDA for new ones to be issued. Let me confess now folks I had lost my NDA I card in fourth term in Ajmer when I had gone to attend my cousins wedding. She was the sis of Sanjeev Vajpei (G/65) God bless his soul. Can you believe it I did the entire monthly I card checks including drill com without one?  Now don’t ask me how I did it, I just did it. As it is I was shifted from Charlie to India Sqn with 28 days restrictions which finished with 42 of them besides the EDs & Lal Makans. Had I reported this loss, I would have definitely been a Brigadier if not a General.

Loss of I-Card, 14 days Restrictions from the Bhagat battalion parade ground into the tea gardens became a routine for me. I think I finished with 42 here also. I lost count actually. This did not deter me from doing my monkey tricks.

I remember how the Keren Company diving team was selected. Maj Satinder Singh (PARA) landed in one of the PT parades. Typical of him, all those who have passed all PT tests to my left. Half the second termers moved there, all those who have passed all higher tests to my right, so half of the rest moved there. Then he said all those who have passed two first class tests come to me. Seven of us came forward including me. You are now the company diving team, ustad inko swmming pool main le jao. So I learnt to do the “pike” and “swallow”. Shammer that I was I chose spring board as maximum he could push me to 3 meters. Who wanted to dive from seven or ten?

I also had a cat. All winter she used to be in my cabin in my rajai and when it came to littering she used to go my next cabin an Iraqi called ALI. This man used to keep a brand new quilt in his cupboard for cabin cupboard. He realised it too late and the cat had done her job. Anyways she became our fond pet. CSM Johnny and I have a pic with him. Do you guys remember Najim abdul lateef, tofeek ali wali quli blah blah blah another Iraqi. He had twenty four names and his sir name was Mohammed. Bugger only asked for pondies.

We had an ACC course mate Dili P Gurung, (God Bless his soul too) we became chaddi-buddies. I had a heater and used to make halwa very often. Basic Punjabi instincts. We used to have a typical laundry cupboard. I had a false bottom in it to hide all my gadgets like the sauce pan, ghee and various masalas. One day I had gone to Dehradun on liberty, Daju as I used to fondly call him did not come with me but promised me that once I come back he will get fish from Prem Nagar from his old ACC connections. He used to fondly call me EL. I came back and had fantastic fish fry and as luck would have it Capt Rayan Peter Lobo landed up on a Sunday surprise check. Daju was on 14 days run and my heater was confiscated. I disowned it. I had more company running around the tea gardens with me. Daju touched his ears that this was the first and last time he ever cooked in his cabin.

I had a bhabhi in Dehradun staying on Nashville road. Doonites would know the road and so would Salim Asif. We had had khana once, remember Salim. So there was a wedding in the family so I and Daju were invited. We went through Thimmaya battalion short cut on our cycles. We had a blast. Enjoyed the reception, daju carried his guitar and played like hell with the live band there. It was close to midnight and we both were a little high, well fed and feeling confident that no one will catch us while entering Bhagat battalion. As we were passing the FRI gate we heard a voice STOP. Instinct was to scoot but now we were gentlemen so we stopped. In the dark we saw a lady sitting on a lambretta scooter and a “Surdy” roaming around. Bloody hell, it was GJ. He took my cycle, mam sat on the danda and off he went. I had no choice but to sit on Daju’s danda. GJ had newly joined so asked us which company, I said keren. Name I gave him. Next day morning a Sikh Regiment jawan came looking for me. A shinning bike was handed over to me and I was told to report to his office at 1.30pm along with Daju. We got 7 hackel orders for not maintaining our bikes. They were cancelled before we were marched out. That used to be the spirit.

Next outing both I and daju were at bhabhi’s place. It was late already and we could not have got back in time. We found both our bikes punctured. We dug into our pockets and we had no money for a vikram too. Bhaiya offered yaar take my scooter and we did. I brought it and parked it in Bhangi platoons first room which was used as a batty’s store room. Next Saturday we decided to scoot after lunch. It was winters so wearing monkey caps both of us started from Keren company tea point. By the time we turned from the swimming pool turn I got an inkling a scooter is following us. I told daju not to look behind and I did the typical, “Nap de killi”. It was difficult to manoeuvre along the canal due to the pot holes but nevertheless. Two scooters were on a race. We reached the FRI gate and I took that road which used to go to clement town. Soon we turned back to find Sarkar kicking his scooter. I think his petrol finished. We enjoyed the evening in doon and came back in a Vikram. Got down at Prem Nagar and sneaked in.

Once we had finished our camp in the Sharanpur jungles we were getting ready for camp fire. Daju and I decided to carry a bottle of beer each and we will sit somewhere half way for a boost as it will help us finish the march with ease. It was Daju’s idea. The beauty was we carried the bloody bottles of beer till the end and they got confiscated when our kit was checked at the end of the josh run. Patil was generous enough to issue us another couple of bottles with promise to pay next week after Daju’s pay day.

We were third termers and cross country practice was on. We used to run to Garhi Cantt and turn towards RIMC and then get back if I remember the route correctly. Daju had his Gorkhali friends in Garhi and we had decided to have tea with them. Daju’s girlfriend was standing there to receive us. A voice came from behind buggers if I don’t find you guys in the third enclosure you guys are in for trouble. Capt Sarkar was following us again. We saw the family waving but refused to recognise them. We just about finished in time and escaped his wrath.

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

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