Brig PS Gothra (Retd)
“Saab, you are new and hence you don’t know about me,” said Sepoy Kanan (not real name) when he moved to the podium after I finished my speech at his farewell party on his retirement. He said that in Hindi and then went on to deliver his rest of the speech in Tamil. All I could understand in his speech was ‘Pudu Saab’ mentioned four times. I could also see some smiles on the rest of the soldier’s faces. I felt that Kanan was calling me ‘Fudu Saab’ (stupid officer). The feeling got reinforced as the senior JCO leaned towards me and whispered, “Saab Iska Do Baar Form 10 Barah Tha (Sir, his Form 10 has been filled twice).” A Form 10 is the military report of psychiatric disorder.
I was feeling that I should have known more about him. It was my tenth day in the unit. The company commander was not available so I was given the responsibility to deliver a farewell speech and present a memento to Kanan.
I had asked the neighbouring company commander on the phone as to what I am supposed to say in Kanan’s farewell. He said just talk something nice about the person going on retirement and wish all the best for his family. Garnering some information about Kanan while he was sitting next to me, I showered all the praises for the imaginary good work done by Kanan in my speech.
I couldn’t sleep that night and decided to be meticulous and do some homework to avoid that ‘Fudu’ feeling in future.
But thirteen years later it happened again on the fifth night in Operation Prakram while laying a minefield. Six months earlier, I had been tasked to plan minefields for the battalion. I went to the border, climbed the surveillance towers, had a look and planned the minefields. Fresh from staff college I used the best of colours and calculations to plot those minefields. The sketches looked neat. In fact, it got me some appreciation also from the Brigade Staff.
On that night when I moved to lay the minefield, I found a thick growth of 12 feet high elephant grass at the minefield location. So, it took my party quite a bit of time to beat the grass. The marking tape when laid, looked more like a serpent. Improvisation in terms of shorter distances between the markers and GPS fixes helped. But the worst was still to come. Post-midnight when we were halfway through, a Pakistani patrol came and stopped on the zero-line trying to decipher what was going on. I was sweating as I had not briefed my party to freeze when such a contingency occurred. If any Jawan makes any awkward moment in panic the enemy could have fired and in the consequent commotion my men could have tread the mines laid by us.
Fortunately, the boys remembered my instructions given at some other time in a different situation. For the next half an hour we were motionless and this made the Pakistani patrol move away. In that half an hour I was feeling like a perfect ‘Fudu’ for not moving on foot while planning the minefields and not briefing my team about the contingency of enemy firing.
And yes, the gist of what Kanan said in his speech was told to me by the senior JCO the next day. He said that he had got in the wrong habit of shirking work on joining the Fauj (Army). No one likes a shammar, not the peers and neither the juniors. Hard work is liked by everyone. He was going out of Fauj with a big regret of not contributing anything worthwhile. “The Pudu Saab (Pudu means ‘new’ in Tamil) seems to be sincere so everyone in the company should support him in his endeavours. That encouraged me to learn Tamil faster. But “Fudu for Pudu” remained with me always.
(The author is a celebrated military writer. WhatsApp – 9906411288; E-mail email@example.com)