Vignettes from the Uniform

Foot Soldiers: “For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”
  1. The recent incidents in J&K and the subsequent actions have brought to fore many issues. Many of my friends, who have not donned the uniform, have oft asked me very pointed questions. Some of them even went ahead and suggested what the response of the uniformed forces should be; from the dubious to the incredulous. Some of you are privy to these through the social media. That our nation does not have conscription army, coupled with complete lack of ground situation, prodded me to share some real-life vignettes to understand ground realities.
  2. My ‘infantry’ battalion; Infantry are the foot soldiers you witness operating in Saragarhi, Mumbai during 26/11 or Kargil in the chilly heights of Tiger Hill/ Tololing.

Fail Fast

3. In my first field posting, we were deployed in the North Eastern frontiers. Of the 4,057 kms of border that we share with China, 1,126 kms is in Arunachal Pradesh. If you see the map, you will notice River Ngi Chu, emanating from the Tibet Autonomous Region enters India and becomes River Lohit. It is a major tributary to the mighty Bramhaputra. River Dong flowing from East to West joins River Lohit. From this junction if you look due East approximately 28 kms (as the crow flies) is the tri junction of the Indo -China – Myanmaar border. A man-made marker is present to identify the location.

4. The mission of our ‘Long-Range Patrol’ was to go along River Dong to the marker.  Time 15 days. 10 men self-contained for the entire duration. Thus, each of us carrying anything from 30 to 35 kgs on our back. We were carrying a Radio Set to give an “all Okay” report each evening and our location. There were no track or trail to follow. Our plan was simple. A four/ five -kilometre march each day. Reach our location and prepare one hot meal and settle down for the night which descended at 4 pm!

5. The first four days were uneventful. That is, if you don’t account for the leeches!! They manage to enter  through the shoe eyelet, crawl up and keep sucking blood. Once huge, they just drop off leaving behind huge blood clots. To counter the leeches, we walked with a salt pouch at the end of the stick and keep dabbing around us. Phew!

6. We would set off after having our hot cup of tea early morning and reach our destination by around 12 – 1 pm. The walk was gruelling and tough. We would often have breaks to catch our breath and have some ‘shakarparas’ (Indian snack, rich in carbs). It tested us for physical fitness, mental robustness, determination and grit. On reaching our destination for the day we would settle down, contact our base and report location and prepare one hot meal and rest. We explored a variety of flora and fauna. My troops being from the North East helped as we would invariably have some fresh catch to keep us going, thanks to the booby traps they would lay.

7. Disaster struck on the fourth day when the heavens opened up. The heavy rains drenched us to our bones. It rained for two full days. We were forced to cancel our walk. Cold and shivering we were forced to take shelter under the canopy of the trees. We commenced on our mission the sixth day without our hot cuppa and, we kept walking till 2 pm. I was aiming to catch up the two days that we missed. Dinner was a challenge as we could not find any dry log| trees to light fire. We slept on half empty stomachs. By now we were running low on our rations and were hoping to complete our mission. But by the ninth day, it seemed like mission impossible.

8. We came up with a brilliant idea. Shed all our weight| heavy bags and proceed with bare essentials. Complete our task and on our way back, pick up our stuff. This sounded very logical. And the next morning, we set off, so much the lighter. That day we walked and walked. By around 12 noon we reached our marker and unfurled the Indian Tricolour and planned to stay there for the night. Without the packs, we had no extra clothing. A bonfire was lit, my boys managed a nice game, and we celebrated with a barbeque. The night was cold. Shivering through the night, we curled up against each other to keep us warm, we all got up at 4 am to return.

9. Things were fine, till we reached the place, where we thought we kept our belongings. Zilch!! We searched and searched and came up with nothing! We decided to spend the night there. With no warm clothing, cold and shivering and this was when the rain gods decided to test our resilience and mental stamina. Wet, cold and hungry, we all huddled and tried to catch a wink. The rains didn’t relent. The radio set was defunct by now, as our batteries had run out. Totally lost in wilderness, with not a soul aware of our location.

10. The fourteenth day, we resumed our walk, with no packs, drenched to the core, and to the pitter patter of the rains. Walking, in stupor, one boy lost his footing, and had a drop of nearly thirty feet. Dangling above the River Dong, which was flowing down below. Rescue was a major challenge, as we could get no footing in the slippery sides. Tying each other two men, lowered themselves and rescued him. He had a fractured ankle. He could definitely not walk anymore. We tied his ankle and decided to carry him. We crafted a stretcher from the logs and commenced our journey back. Night descended and were forced another halt for the night. The morning, saw heavier showers, and visibility restricted to 10 yards. By now two men had very high fever and were unable to walk. I had huge blisters in my foot.

11. We were to return to our base by the fifteenth day; and here we were stuck in an unknown location. Soaked to our bones, we decided to take change things. Hungry, I nominated two boys to hunt for some food. We had weapons to scare away wild animals. As the leader, I was carrying some ammunition. So, the two hunters go to fetch us some food. After some hours we hear a shot! Bingo! Darkness sets in and nothing; Kaput – neither the food nor soldiers. Some local leaves were boiled and we sustained for the night.

12. Just before dawn break, the two soldiers lumbered in. Bedraggled, dishevelled, tired with cuts and bruises all over their bodies as if mauled. On inquiry, we learnt that the hunters had bumped into a small bear and took a shot and missed; the mother hovering nearby charged at them. The two ran to save their lives and kept running for over three hours and both of them could finally meet up only around 2/3 pm. While they were finding their way towards the camp; they found a cave and took shelter for the night. To their horror, this was the mother bear’s abode. They found some remains of the pack that belonged to us, everything torn to pieces and in tatters. They slid out in silence and found their way back to our camp.

13. Twentieth day, the rain gods had mercy and the sun peeked from the mountain range to the East. It ushered a fresh ray of hope and cheer. We found the energy to commence our journey to our destination. We were already three days past expiry date (much later we learnt that rescue mission could not be launched due to the inclement weather). With one soldier on stretcher, we took turns to carry him and made a halt that evening. One of our traps, set on our way out had a catch! Another hot meal (just tandoori!) was enough to perk us up. The hot meal restored our spirits. On the twenty first day, we met a rescue patrol which had been dispatched to look for us. We were still two days from the SP. With the help of the patrol, we gained speed and found our destination.

Call for Action

  1. The whole is greater than the sum total of the parts. Our actions resulted in a string of successes. T.E.A.M. is the key to success. 
  2. As a leader, not only must your T.E.A.M. know your master plan but it is imperative to have their buy-in. Leadership is the imposition of your personality in execution of task. And when the task calls for unlimited liability, you better look into every aspect of their training and operation. And remember, the devil lies in the detail.
  3. Get your T.E.A.M. to buy in your vision, and once that is done, there is nothing they cannot achieve. Believe me when I say, NOTHING!!! And to get your T.E.A.M.s buy-in they need to see:

+ Your skin in the game; your commitment and your whole-hearted involvement. No ifs and no buts. They can see through sham.

+ They should believe that you put them before you, always and every time. I’m proud to share that YOUR army, the credo of the Chetwode, is drilled into every officer: “The safety honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety, come last always and every time.”

+ Nishkaam Karma as a karam yodhha, do your task and BE in the present. The rewards will follow. If you are looking for rewards, concentrate on your service. Its ‘give’ and ‘take’. Remember, you’ll always get more than what you deserve.

+ And if there is one, just one QUALITY that’ll stand by you. That stood by me and stands by every soldier when he dons the uniform. The one differentiator is INTEGRITY. Which really means, that your MEN TRUST YOU to do the right thing. Each one of us comes to this cross road, and we have to make a choice … I urge you, it’s not necessary to make the correct choice BUT make the right choice. It may be a road less travelled. So be it. The journey will be beautiful.

Jai Hind!!!!

JOSH Talks: Lessons on Team Building from the Army

I was invited to speak in the maiden JOSH talks event held in Kolkata on Jan 14th, 2018. With and audience over 500+, it was electrifying, energetic and enthusiastic. It was a wonderful experience to feel the ‘YOUth’ bubbling with energy!!!

A number of them walked up and wanted the talk for ‘keepsake’. It’ll be uploaded on FB and YouTube. Here goes the Script.


Tough times don’t last. Tough People do”.

Imagine the temperatures have further fallen and is presently hovering around 0°. Cold and shivering, you are sitting in a pitch-dark night waiting, waiting and waiting some more, where a minute seems like an hour. You are soldiers sitting in an ambush waiting for the terrorist to show up. Night after night hundreds of such teams of soldiers spend, such nights in the mountainous terrain of J&K. How do these teams operate and come out winners? Let me share some Lessons from the Army on Team Building.

After 20 years of service, The Selection Board approved me to Command ‘my’ infantry unit; roughly consisting of 1,000+ men. And shortly thereafter, we were deployed to combat terrorists in J&K sector.

Let me elaborate a little, for the uninitiated, what I meant by ‘my’ infantry unit. Infantry is the foot soldiers of the Army who capture ground, something, you would have seen in the Kargil war. I was commissioned and I commanded the same unit. The men of my unit are drawn from the Seven Sister States; which we club as the North East. These men have spent their early childhood in the jungles of Arunachal, Assam Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram.

These battle-hardened soldiers unflinchingly took me under their wings. My first fledgling steps in the uniform, in Lucknow, were spent with these men and they taught me lessons of life and warfare.

We’ve a tradition in our unit. The newly commissioned officer spends his initial two months with his troops in their barracks. Spending time dining with them, wining with them, playing with them, bathing with them, staying in the barracks. I had the opportunity to know these men from very close quarters. I was into all the ‘troop’ games; football, hockey, basketball, volleyball and even handball. Being from a boarding school helped.

After a month, the first pay parade. Those days the monthly pay of the soldiers, had to be physically distributed. In walks Sep Charliwan, a wonderful center half of our football team. I proudly announce, ‘Sir, Sep Charliwan. My Company Commander, my immediate boss, asks me, “And what is his Army Number?” Huh!!!! “Sir, I don’t know?” You better know. The next month pay parade, I announce, ‘Sir, Army Number 431000539 Sep Charliwan, reporting for his pay’. And what is his shoe size? KO!!!

Know your men. Know your men better than their mothers do; and love them as much, said Fd Marshal Slim addressing his officers in the Burma Campaign. I learnt my first lesson. If you don’t know your men, you are unfit to command them. You will not earn their respect. 500 years BC Sun Tzu wrote:

‘If you know the enemy, and know yourself, You will not fear the results of a hundred battle.

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. None of us work in a silo. We have teams to work with. As a leader or even as a team member it is imperative that you know the team very well. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Strong camaraderie builds strong teams.

When I assumed Command, Sep Charliwan had risen in ranks and was a JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer) now. And in one of our first operations, his sub unit, was tasked to go after some reported terrorists sighted. We sat down for planning, and Sub Charliwan, very politely tells me, “Saab iska planning hum karlega, aap sirf fire support dena from ‘X’ location”. Sub Charliwan and his team move up the treacherous mountain top. He splits his team, deploys a support team to cover their move and leads from the front, to hunt the reported terrorists. Chasing terrorists in the thick of jungles, may be slightly difficult to comprehend sitting in the confines of this auditorium. Rugged mountainous terrain with thick undergrowth. The visibility is restricted to 5-10 meters. It requires extreme physical fitness, mental robustness and stamina.

They reach a small opening and find the remains of a bonfire. The ember tells them that the terrorists have a lead of an hour odd. Trained in jungle craft, they start following the trail. After a while they are hot in pursuit. The terrorists see the soldiers and start fleeing. A downhill running terrorist, with his AK 47 on his shoulder, finger pressing the trigger and spraying bullets all around. Facing these oncoming bullets. Major challenge.

Sub Charliwan comes on air and tells me, “Saab one-two”. Those of you familiar with soccer will understand the term. The fleeing terrorist hit my ambush, we exchange fire, they change their direction and run right into the waiting arms of Sub Charliwan. Three terrorists neutralized with no casualties to self. A clean operation. Thanks to the planning and of course team work. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

Lord Wellesley quipped, that The Battle of Waterloo was won in the playfields of Eton.

Well, The Battle of J&K jungles were surely won in the playfields of Lucknow.

Beware of entrance to a battle, but being in Bear’t the enemy beware of thee’. No soldier, wants to be a runners’ up in the battlefield. There are no runners up in War. I assure you, to face oncoming bullets is not a comfortable feeling at all. How do you train for that? How do you control your nerves?

Let me share some secrets.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” On hearing a shot, your muscle memory takes over. You have trained so hard, you have trained so much that without thinking you ‘Dash – Down – Crawl – Observe – Fire’. We Just Do it! The harder you train, the better you get. This training is like meditation. You train and train and then you train some more. You train hard, because you know that some day it is this training that will save your life. It is the difference between life and death. People call it ‘Deliberate Practice’. Geoff Colvin/ Anders Ericsson/ Malcolm Gladwell all spoke about it in their books. It’s an old Army Saying: ‘The more you sweat in Peace, the less you bleed in War’. Training is the difference between amateurs and professionals.

After every two and half years in field, the unit moves to a peace location. The major part of this tenure is dedicated to training. Be it firing in the field firing ranges, to other operations of war. We train and train. The competitions are designed to support this training. Best Mortar platoon, MMG detachment, best firer, and so on. The sports competitions are held to build and improve camaraderie among each other. Training as a team lies at the crux of our success.

But then Murphy’s law says, ‘Anything that can go wrong, will’. I am sure, that no one in this gathering here believes that everything could be hunky dory and all the planning and training will avert any mishap/ disaster from happening. Always remember, ‘You plan for three options and the enemy will adopt the fourth’. No plan survives contact. So, while planning, do make contingency plans but avoid over planning. We had our fair share of accidents and failures. The ability to turn a failure on its head is an acme of a leader.

In one of our operations, we suffered a fatal casualty. This was my lowest moment of my command. We were in the thick of jungles and the road head was two hours. Transporting the martyr to the road head and then to our base was a challenge. I had to make a decision. The regulations state that the ‘Last Post’ of a martyr in operational area can be sounded in situ. In that location itself. While the ‘father’ in me said, I would like to see my son.

I took a decision to fly him home, some 3,000 kms. Remember, the martyr has to be embalmed lest decay sets in. Transferring him to Delhi, and another flight to Guwahati. And move 500 kms by road from Guwahati to Aizawl. It was an administrative nightmare but worth it. As the martyr entered Aizawl, the entire town had lined up to pay homage to the soldier. The local administration, the media and the local representatives. A huge procession reached his village and the soldier was laid to rest in the church and a memorial constructed.

The accompanying JCO brought back a letter from the father of the martyr. “Sir, I thank you profusely for sending across my son. I’ll remain ever grateful to you for this act. In his letters, my son has been writing about the unit a lot. My younger son is thirteen years old, please tell me when can he enrol and join the unit to continue the half-finished task of his brother?” On receiving the letter, I sobbed.

Recently, our unit was celebrating its Golden Jubilee and I was attending the momentous occasion. To my surprise, I meet the parents of the martyr, who had traveled all the way from Mizoram. They were profuse in their gratitude and proudly introduced me to their younger son, now a soldier in the unit.

Regard your soldier’s as your children and they’ll follow you in the deepest valley. Look on them as your own beloved son and they’ll stand by you even unto death. Failure will happen. Face them and turn it around. Every adversity provides an opportunity.

The soldiers goes to Battle for ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan’.

Naam, the name of the unit, the izzat of the unit. We build a culture within our organizations where the individuals have a stake. You all have heard of the terrorist attack on Taj Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008 and read about the acts of bravery of its employees. When the chips are down, when we are facing bullets the one thing that constantly reminds us to do the right thing and why we are doing what we are doing is Naam. The izzat of the unit that you are serving.

Namak, the salt of the country they have had. A soldier cannot even think that he could do anything, anything at all that will belittle his country or countrymen. We are conditioned to think ‘Country First’. The Arthur Andersons, Enron and Satyam are issues which reflect poorly on the Country. What is the image we would like to portray of our Country? You all are the brand ambassadors of our Country. Each one of you sitting here is a soldier out of uniform. Protect your motherland. Nurture it. Nourish it. Love it and be proud of it.

Remember: ‘Koi desh perfect nahi hota, use perfect banana padta hai’.

Nishaan, the standard or the colours of the regiment. The colours goes to battle with the unit. It rallies troops around it and raises their morale. It gives each one of us an identity. To keep the ‘nishan’ flying high, always and every time. Build a legacy for others to follow. Great institutions are made with legacies. What is the legacy you are leaving behind?

Zindagi mein ek aisa junoon rakho, jiske lie apni jaan dene ke lie taiyaar ho!

You will have a rallying point and this will motivate and guide you of your actions always and every time. People call it passion. Some call it purpose. Find your purpose and you’ll find meaning and will be self-motivated to achieve it.

A soldier knows that he is the last bastion to protect his motherland. This is the ethos drilled in the rank and file, right from the officer down to the soldier. Each one of them ready to shout, ‘Yeh Dil Mange More’!

Jai Hind. Jai Hind.

Live a LYF

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma Phaleshou Kada Chana ! Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani !!

Srimad Bhagvad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 47

Nobel Prize winning author and iconic realist Ernest Hemingway defines courage in his memorable Spanish Civil War novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ as ‘grace under pressure’. Had he added ‘untrammeled genius’ to this definition, he could well have been describing Capt JK ‘Chotu’ Sengupta. An amazing Cavalry officer-turned-entrepreneur-cum-social worker, Chotu (called ‘Jojo’ by family) became ‘profoundly blind’ in medical parlance after a Cobra Missile hit his Centurion tank turret during Sep 1965 Indo-Pak War. Though 100 percent blind; that blindness was a career turnaround for Jojo because he used it with grit to light up the countless lives he touched; all with Hemingway’s understanding of courage as ‘grace under pressure’. Respecting courage in all forms – across uniforms and gender.


Capt Jayanta ‘Jojo’ Kumar Sengupta aka Jojo

What can You Say?

The unforgettable opening lines of Erich Segal’s Love Story come rushing in when Chotu Sengupta is remembered. What can you say about a brave, outstanding Cavalry officer who died at 70? That at 22, he was blinded by exploding binocular glass splinters caused by a missile hit during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. That he was a topper in all he did. That he was handsome, personable, perceptive, blessed with a family that doted on him. That he made blindness seem like a weapon which could be used for societal good. That he proved that when fate closes doors, the human spirit opens windows for achieving world class excellence in any work one chooses to do. That he loved life, helped children of lesser God cope with the travails of life with confidence, panache, that he also loved Rabindra Sangeet, reading, educating, sharing, fine dining, dressing with sartorial elegance. That the only battle he ever lost was surrendering with half smile to insidious lung cancer. May be there is no need to say more, instead, simply salute his memory at a time when the 50th anniversary of the war that him is being commemorated.

Early Genius

On Honour Boards and in the Army LIst, Jojo was called Jayanta Kumar Sengupta. Names don’t matter really as long as we get the point: ‘Honour’ figured prominently in his life because this officer and gentleman was special.

Born on 17 October 1942, Chotu was the second son of Amar Prasad, a corporate executive and Namita Sengupta. He left Huddard High School after making it to the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehra Dun, where his genius blossomed. He was adjudged ‘Best Cadet’ and also stood 1st in the All-India UPSC order of merit for National Defence Academy (NDA). He won the Gold Medal for the 22nd course at NDA and again the Gold Medal at IMA, passing out tops with the 31st course.

Commissioned into India’s oldest Cavalry Regiment, The 16th Cavalry, in December 1962, Chotu was awarded the Silver Centurion trophy for the best Young Officer (YO) at Ahmadnagar. When the 1965 Indo-Pak War started, he was attending a Gunnery course at ‘Nagar. Soon enough, attendees were rushed off to war but his peers knew he’d have topped except that destiny had a higher form of life and living in store.

A Cobra Missile Hit: A Hard Knock by Destiny

US based veteran Lt Col Kartar Singh Sidhu-Brar, Chotu’s wartime CO, recalls that Chotu rejoined the Regiment past mid-September; family recall placing his arrival as 17 September. The Colonel recalls that Chotu ‘had a very special place in our hearts and those who knew him’. He recalls Chotu cheerfully roughing it out in the haystacks of village Arjanpur (near Amritsar) where the Regiment was deployed there during Op Ablaze. Pakistan launched Op Grand Slam in Chhamb and the Regiment was moved for the Sialkot Sector – a new area.

The Regiment entered Pakistan at 0630 hours 08 September opposite Ramgarh, Samba, as the right leading Regiment of 1 Armoured Brigade with The Poona Horse on its left. First contact was established with Pakistani armour within hours with mixed results on display. The official record of the MoD published in 2011 shows the Regiment as having shot 14 Pakistani tanks and 4 RCL jeeps but suffering losses too along with two officers who died; one of whom, Maj MAR Sheikh, was posthumously awarded the VrC and the other, 2/Lt Vinay Kaistha (another Silver Centurion) a M-in-D.

On arrival on 17 September, Chotu was appointed troop leader in B Squadron under Maj ‘Morris’ Ravindran. The squadron was then located near Bhure Shah located 2 km northwest of Alhar RS on the Sialkot-Chawinda BG railway line. Pakistani 22 Cav (Pattons) was tasked to hold the ‘Black Line’ – the railway line from Gunna Khurd to Bhure Shah. It was Wajahat Task Force, an adhoc jeep-mounted Cobra Missile set up deployed alongside.

On 21 September morning, Chotu had taken a well concealed position in a sugarcane field with his tank. He was standing on his commander seat, looking out of his cupola for enemy tanks by using his high-magnification periscope (some reports suggest he was conducting Artillery Shoot) when his tank sustained a Cobra Missile hit on the turret fired from Bhure Shah. The metal splinters smashed the periscope’s lens, the glass shards penetrating his eyes, blinding him and ripping up his face, fracturing his jaw and left arm. Capt (later Col) ‘Wendy’ Dewan was close by when Chotu was hit. Blood streaming from eyes and face. Wendy remembers that Braveheart Chotu was calmness personified; ‘I can’t see but “I’m fine”. How are the boys and the tank?’ The tank being serviceable, Chatu was placed on blankets on the tank deck and brought to headquarters as Gen Rajinder Singh ‘Sparrow’ MVC**, GOC 1 Armoured Division landed. He straightaway ordered his helicopter pilot to fly Chotu to the Udhampur MH.

All else Failed but for Chotu’s Spirit

Shifted to Army Base Hospital in Delhi, Chotu was visited by PM Lal Bahadur Shastri who found him cheerful and optimistic despite his bandaged eyes. He was shifted to INS Ashwini and later to top-ranked Walter Reed Hospital in USA but his optic nerve was severed and that meant ‘100 percent blindness’. The Army sent him to London to St Dunstan’s – a world famous medical centre for war-wounded soldiers rehabilitation and mobility training. Chotu learnt Braille and typing there, powered by his remarkable optimis, humility, wit and sense of humour and his zest for life and live. In 1967, he was boarded out from the Army on medical ground with 100 percent disability.

For anyone else that would have been the end but this was no ordinary man. In a rare interview, Chotu avoided speaking about himself, always about others. He smilingly recalled that ‘there was no emotional setback following the mishap. Indeed, my family and the Army were strong sources of support’. He added that his St Dunstan’s stay where soldiers blinded in war are trained was a godsend for him. It was a new beginning and he made it count. ‘I met a lot of Britishers with similar disability. Seeing them go about their work inspired me a lot’. The standards he later set are in actual fact the stuff legends are made of.

A Genius Reborn

Focussing on winning the ‘Battle of Life’, this unassuming, genuine real-life hero attracted people like a magnet to his persona. Nothing deterred, Chotu took up a dealership with Tata Oil Mills. In 1972, he was allotted a LPG dealership in Siliguri and relocated there from Calcutta with infectious positivity.

In 1977, Chotu got married to Ms Rita Biswas, a teacher driven by passion and remarkable self-starting traits. The duo were like minded in visionary goals, compassionate and compelling and together that made magic.  Jojo is on record paying his wife a handsome, heart-felt tribute for the manner in which she brought greater focus, happiness and harmony in his life. Blessed with twin daughters, Sreemoyee and Sreerupa and younger son Bibek, the careers of the trio were on song well before their beloved father, friend and role-model moved on. The lost him on August 31, 2013 but are living out his dreams with rare nobility, success and character.

Jojo kept the Honour Board ticking. He did his BA from North Bengal University obtaining the expected ‘First-class-First’ rating, by now his DNA. He also routinely won the ‘Best Dealer’ Award from the Tata Oil Mills for a number of years. As an LPG dealer at Siliguri, his consumers remember with awe how he had memorized about 8,000 subscriber names, consumer numbers and addresses, compelling people to call up ‘Joy Da’ to verify their details instantaneously when seeking gas refills or terminations/ transfers of LPG connections.

Reaching Out to Help Disadvantaged Society

Having stabilized his family’s future, Chotu went through a transformation in 1990, taking up social work on a big scale. By 1998, he, Rita and friends had founded The Prerana Educational Centre. Flourishing today, it has 145 physically challenged students on its rolls. Earlier, in 1990, Chotu had also founded the North Bengal Council for the Disabled (NBCD) to run the centre. Apart from Prerana, he also reached towards the rural handicapped under the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program. Since 1998, about 700 villages around Siliguri have been covered to help rural disabled cope. Chotu ensured that the CBR became a WHO certified initiative which today benefits 3,000 people.

The Children Follow Dad’s Lead

In 2003, Sreerupa got married to Maj Gopal Mitra, SM (Retd). By itself, this news should not be a reason for specific mention in a Braveheart tribute but for one compelling fact – Maj Mitra having been totally blinded in a terrorist encounter in Kupwara, Kashmir, in 2000.

Commissioned into 15 Mahar, this St Xavier’s Kolkata, Honours graduate suffered total visual impairment. He thereafter underwent extensive reconstructive surgery but his military career was over. Nothing daunted, this young gallantry award winner. He underwent several reorientation courses, ending up with is being the first ‘visually impaired’ student to top a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai post graduate course. Mitra then pursued MSc in Development Management at London School of Economics (LSE) with outstanding grades. After several career advancements, he is now with UN Children’s Emergency Fund as Programme Specialist for Disability. Sreerupa completed her Masters from LSE, London and now works at the UN along with her husband Gopal. Her twin, Sreemoyee completed her Masters in Early Years Education from the famous Institute of Education, London and now teaches at Neev School, Bangalore.

Chotu’s son, Bibek, is a top-notch financial expert. Chotu’s sister-in-law, Nalini Sengupta, runs the famous Vidya Valley School, Pune, where Chotu was on the Founding Governing Board. Ms Rita carries on her shared legacy with Jojo and has ensured that the Institutions they started together remain vibrant and blooming.

The Never Say Die Spirit

Suffering for almost a year from lung cancer, Capt Sengupta passed away at Command Hospital Pune on 31 August 2013. He requested the astonished doctors for a shift to an ordinary Officers Ward to be more accessible to his family and friends. He faced death with the same calm and equanimity as he faced the Cobra Missile or his total blindness. There was respectful silence as their tribute for a Braveheart who, though small in size, had set sky-high standards of bravery in adversity and in conduct becoming an officer and a gentleman of impeccable class of the rarest kind.

What can you say for such a man who lived and died in a manner that one hopes future generations will take inspiration from? Nothing more than joining the author in respectful salutes for a man who though, ‘profoundly blind’ taught us to see life in all its vibrant colours; live a professional and socially responsible, cheerful, fulfilling, selfless life.

The tribute has been the work of a very fine Cavalry Officer:  Maj Gen Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM (Retd), another fine soldier, whom I was fortunate to interact with during my service in the uniform.

Another Day, Another time


November 18, 1962! Another Day, another time. The winters had set in. It was icy cold and the snow covered peaks sent down breeze that penetrates to your very bone. The night temperatures dropped to low single digits. It was icy cold on the peaks around Chushul. Our adversaries from China decided to unfold a devious plan. The wanted to annex the entire Leh/ Ladakh sector. The entered from Rezang La and they encountered 13 Kumaon led by a tiger Major Shaitan Singh (MSS). The battle was fought at an altitude of 18,000 feet in Ladakh.120 soldiers of the Indian Army pitched against 5,000 soldiers of the Chinese Army. The Chinese also had artillery support. The brave 120 soldiers were bereft of artillery support.

This is the story of unparalleled valour, raw courage and victory buried in the overall defeat in 1962. Even to this day, my heart fills with immense pride regaling the saga of the battle. Rezang La (a pass in the mountain range), Gurung Hill and Spanggur Gap. Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon was at Rezang La. MSS was a Rajput commanding an Ahir company. Around 4 in the morning the scouts alerted MSS about advancing troops through the gullies not in ones or twos but in hundreds, heading for the peak.

MSS told his men to remain alert but not to open fire until he gave the command. As the Chinese troops advanced, the light machine guns opened fire with menacing accuracy. The first wave retreated. But the Chinese were numerically far superior. Before dawn the second wave advanced. This too was beaten back. By now at least 100 Chinese troops lay dead or injured but even before the Indian soldiers could replenish their stocks and reload the machine guns, at Number 3 Platoon Post Chinese soldiers kept advancing wave after wave. MSS and his boys kept firing even though they were under constant barrage of artillery fire. There was no way of replenishing ammunition.

MSS had two options: a. Fight to the last man, last bullet or b. Abandon Post.

His soldiers were tired and bleeding. But their morale was high. They chose option A. Not a single soldier abandoned post. Not a single man fled the battle. But 120 men against 5,000? Isn’t that very heavily skewed? Yes, it was and yet each man fought till the last bullet.

Individual gallantry apart, there were innumerable stories during the battle. The wrestler who crushed two chinese soldiers head with his bare hands. Another flung himself on two Chinese soldiers as they were climbing the peak – and took them down along with him. MSS did not want to be captured. He was mortally wounded. He ordered his jawans to hide his body behind boulders. One of his buddies unslung his rifle, used the sling to tie MSS’s body to his and rolled down the hill, all this while MSS breathed his last. His body was hidden. Only six of the 120 soldiers survived.  Five were taken as Prisoners of War (POWs). One slipped back and narrated the story. MSS was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (Posthumously).


Major Shaitan Singh, PVC

As the folklore goes, the Chinese stopped at Rezang La to count their dead and tend to the injured. They lost their will to move forward and retreated. The battlefield was covered in snow. In 1963, when the snow melted and a new battalion returned to Rezang La, they found the brave soldiers of 13 Kumaon still in their trenches, frozen, fingers on their triggers.

This was bravery beyond the call of duty, in the line of fire. 114 bodies were cremated with full military honours in 1963 at those icy heights. Bravery that continues to inspire generation of soldiers. At Rezang La are etched the lines:

“How can a man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his father and the Temples of his Gods.”

Just Show Up …


Soldier in alert at Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate

The Autumn Term had begun at the National Defence Academy. The rejuvenated Cadets were trickling into the Academy portals and excitedly looking forward to the new Term and to meet their Brothers-in-Arms. The almost salubrious climes of Pune were witnessing the changes of weather. The climate was changing and the summer had been giving indications of its harshness. The training Officers and their team had devised a new methodology of getting the best out of their Cadets. It was decided that the Drill Practice would be in peak afternoon followed by a practice cross –country run in the drill boots!! The idea was to strengthen the legs of the Cadets and on the final day of the Cross Country, the Cadets of the Squadron would be able to fly wearing the lighter version running shoes. It is a well-known military tactic to train harder in peace and consequently bleed lesser in war.

The new training sequence was planned well but the human bodies take their own time to adjust to the rigors of physical pressure modifications. The new term also saw the joining in of a new Drill Instructor (Drill Ustaad), Lance Naik (L/Nk) Diwan Singh Danu. The first looks of the affable Kumaoni were pleasant and he had replaced the tough task master Company Havildar Major (CHM) Girdhari Lal of the Grenadiers Regiment. CHM Girdhari Lal was an epitome of fitness and personal conduct. He would ensure that the Cadets would deliver their best and he would himself take great pride in demonstrating drill movements of great finesse and energy. Girdhari Lal had moved on posting and L/Nk Diwan Singh Danu had replaced him in our Squadron.

The first day of the new term began on a somber note as the Squadron began its training activities. Post lunch, the Cadets mustered in the Squadron Parade Ground and the training team took its positions. L/Nk Diwan Singh Danu had a sun burnt face and crow lines were sketching across his eyes. His veins stood out in his hands and his creased Uniform matched each angle of the Indian Army’s decorum. Fit as a fiddle, L/Nk Diwan Singh Danu came across as an ideal replacement of CHM Girdhari Lal. 150+ Cadets stood on the compact Squadron Parade Ground and L/Nk Diwan Singh Danu commenced the drill training. The heat of the atmosphere and the heat of closely maneuvering human bodies started building up to its crescendo. Soon, the starched Khakis were wet with sweat and the metabolism inside the human bodies was burning the lunch at double the pace to meet the energy level demands.

The sharp eyes of L/Nk Diwan Singh picked out various categories of Cadets and he gauged their efficiency levels. Quiet in his demeanor and efficient in his moves, he himself moved with the Squadron adding his tips to strugglers and appreciating the swift movers. Military drill is an art and when done with precision, it is a treat to watch. The mind coordinates the movements of the body in an effortless fashion and the erect postures bring out the best performance from the military folks. It is also a form of rigorous exercise and if done with passion, it can rejuvenate the human body and soul. Diwan Singh turned out to be a participative trainer. He would complete the drill class and then be available on his bicycle to join the Cadets for the run in the drill boots.

The first week of run in the drill boots immediately after drill class post lunch started taking its toll on the Cadets. The strong ones completed the routine like a clockwork, the middle ones completed the chore with some strain and the weaker ones/the fresh Cadets struggled to cope up with the grind. The long term idea was to strengthen by training hard in the beginning and then to reap the fruit on the day of the competition. The pain in human bodies had started visiting and each day, a couple of Cadets went down with various types of body aches and stress pains. Sloan’s Balm started spreading its aroma in the Squadron corridors and the crepe bandages started showing on shins and other parts of legs. The fighters had started struggling with the new concept.

The ever watchful Diwan Singh had by now got well versed with the Squadron and knew each Cadet’s strengths and weaknesses. He too sweated with the Squadron and was never found slow in his moves or sluggish in his approach. The tiring out Cadets were now making the tail of the Squadron a bit longer each day during the run. The training Officers were looking a bit worried as the strategy was boomeranging on their plans. The final day was a couple of weeks away and the Squadron was struggling to keep bare minimum competition strength on to the circuit. The bench strength was rising. Diwan Singh Danu was now a worried man too.

On that day, the Cadets went about with the drill and many had reached their tipping point. Maybe, many of us had peaked earlier than expected and many were struggling to cope with their shin pains et. al. The drill practice was sluggish and not like the requisite clockwork. L/Nk Diwan Singh Danu was still performing at his peak and stamped harder in each move. The class came to an end and it was time for the Drill Ustaad‘s pep talk. Diwan Singh spoke passionately about his drill training, his achievement of the famed Drill Instructor’s qualification and subsequent posting to the Academy. He spoke with passion, zeal and tried to motivate everyone to overcome their pains. A hapless Cadet just let his emotions out and shared the vows of his now pulpy shins. The pain was all in the mind, said L/Nk Diwan Singh and exhorted Cadets to stamp the feet harder to train the body to a tougher level. The argument built up as the new experiment theory was being challenged. This was the time that Diwan Singh took off his shoes and showed his feet to the Squadron. The sun burnt face never did reveal what Diwan Singh had undergone. Both his toes were sans 3 fingers as the frost bite in the Glacier (The Highest Battlefield) had eaten his feet. The posting to the Academy was due and he was not being given a Squadron due to his physical inability. The affable L/Nk Diwan Singh wanted to perform his job as a Drill Ustaad and not on a desk. His fighter’s attitude got him one chance to perform with the Squadron and he was stamping his feet harder than anyone around.


The mere sight of those feet, the sun burnt face, the crow lines and Diwan Singh’s pep talk pushed the fight into the Cadet’s minds. The Fighter’s spirit was rekindled and the Squadron got invigorated. Each cadet came out the next day with a rekindled challenge and the human machines started operating again in tandem. The strategy was tested at its peak and the results came out 2 weeks later. The Cadets fought well and the Squadron rose up in position from the last term’s performance. The upward climb had begun and the results from here on were put on the rising graph mode.

In all human endeavors, the energy levels vary from one grid point to the other. Some humans have the capability to keep their energies focused and keep achieving their aims. Some are not so fortunate, lose out steam and go down into the annals of their life as ‘also participated’ variants. On the final day, each one of us gets an equal opportunity to showcase our strengths. On the practice days, all of us have almost equal opportunity to hone and sharpen our skills. All humans are not made equals and our brains are wired differently. However, when the challenge is common, then the practice has to be challenge specific. The legs and shins may pain, but when the drill is common, the feet have to rise up together and come down together in a synchronous motion. In a clubbed movement, the prize is common. In an individual movement, the stakes are personal prizes and gains.

There is no gain without pain and gains earned by sweat and toil bring everlasting happiness. The spirit of the competition rises as well trained humans participate to win. The winner does take it all but all others must stamp their feet harder to keep the competition alive. Do not worry about the pain as the smell of the victory wipes off the harsh training. Just stamp your feet harder and do not give up till the target is met. So, go on, stand up, put on your shoes and just stamp your feet harder. Will you?

(Authored by Commander Arun Jyoti, IN)


Soldier! … what goes in


Several years ago, the story is told of a Soldier who always wore his Regimental Tie and Lapel pin when in public (distinguishing him as a soldier; from that particular battalion/unit). On some occasions, be rode the bus from his home in the suburb to the city. On one such trip and when he sat down, he discovered that the conductor had accidentally given him a Rs 100/ too much change.

As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, “You’d better give the Rs 100 back. It would be wrong to keep it.” Then he thought, “Oh! forget it, it’s only Rs 100; who would worry about this little amount. Anyway, the transport company gets too much fare; they will never miss it. Accept it as gift from ‘God’ and keep quiet about it.”

When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, then he handed the Rs 100 to the conductor and said, “Here, you gave me too much change.”

The conductor with a smile replied, ” I noticed the Regimental Tie and Lapel pin. I have been thinking lately about asking a Soldier how to join the Army. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. You passed the test. Can you please mentor my son to join the Army?”

After exchanging contact details, the soldier stepped off the bus, he said a silent prayer, “Oh God, I almost sold you and my beloved Army out for a mere Rs 100.”

A soldier is distinguished by his actions. His actions speak louder than his words. YOU can identify him from a distance. From his bearing. From his demeanor. From his actions. From his words. He stood by the nation and has promised to stay put, when all else fails.

#Respect #Pride #Honour # Patriotism #Honesty #Integrity #Loyalty #NationFirst #Dignity #Nationalism #Righteousness #Army #JaiHind



Sep 12 .. Mark it in YOUr Calender

You would say, So, what’s special about Sep 12? Why should I remember it at all? This is one day in the history of the world that the maximum number of gallantry awards was conferred for a single day’s battle – 21!!! Each and every soldier felicitated with the Indian Order of Merit (equivalent to the Param Vir Chakra of today). The entire British Parliament gets up and in unison recognize the Valour of these brave SIKH soldiers.

UNESCO recognizes eight great battles, of which two of them are the greatest last stand battles. The Battle of Thermopylae captured on celluloid by Gerard Butler as King Leonidas in the movie ‘300’. And the Battle of Saragarhi. 21 Sikh soldiers and 10,000 tribesmen assaulting them. Such skewed odds stacked against the 21 soldiers and what do they decide to do – stand up and fight!!!! Each one of them.

The year 1897.

Battle of Saragarhi1 (9)

The Forts on Samana Range

Saragarhi, is a small village in the border district of Kohat, in the Samana range in present day Pakistan. After the seize of Malakand, the British had partially succeeded to control the volatile area. However the tribal Pashtuns attacked the British from time to time. During the Tirah campaign of 1897-1898, it was planned to occupy a series of forts, originally built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruler of the Sikh empire, to control and dominate the area.

Fort Lockhart on Samana range, Fort Gulistan on the Sulaiman range and as a heliographic communication post, Fort Saragarhi, was created midway. It was situated on a rocky edge, with a small block house, loopholes on the ramparts and a signalling tower. On Apr 20, 1897, 36 SIKH was raised under Col J Cook. In Aug 1897 under Lt Col John Houghton five companies were dispatched to occupy these forts. A general uprising began in 1897 and between Aug 27 and Sep 11, vigorous efforts by the Pashtuns to capture these forts, which were thwarted. On 03 & 09 Sep, the Afridi tribes attacked Fort Gulistan. A relief column from Fort Lockhart, on its return trip reinforced the signal detachment at Saragarhi. The total strength at Saragarhi along with this relief column rose to 1 NCO and 20 OR.

Battle of Saragarhi Hav Isher Singh

Hav Ishar Singh, The Commander

Sep12, 1897, a 10,000 strong Pashtun, Afridi and Orakzai tribes attacked the signalling post to cut off communication between the forts. The details of the Battle are considered accurate as Sep Gurmukh Singh signalled the events to Fort Lockhart. Lt Col John Houghton, watched from Fort Lockhart, with his own eyes, and counted at least 10 enemy standards (each representing 1,000 tribesmen) facing Saragarhi.

What happened thereafter is what makes it a folklore. At around 9 am, Gurmukh signals to Fort Lockhart, “Enemy approaching Main Gate. Need Reinforcements”. Lt Col Houghton states he cannot send help to Saragarhi “and to hold on”. In the Saragarhi post the bugle was sounded and in a flash the troops formed up two line abreast, one row in front, in a squatting firing position and the other standing as per the bugle’s tone. He speaks to the soldiers and gives them an option to move out and join Fort Lockhart or stay and fight. Each one of them univocally expressed their choice to stay and fight.

The troops were equipped with Martini Henry breech loading rifle, which at that time was the standard British infantry rifle. The Sikhs had only recently received these rifles, replacing the venerable Enfield. The rifle was capable of firing ten .303 calibre rounds a minute, it proved to be more than a match to the antiquated muzzle loading rifles possessed by the tribesmen. Each soldier had 400 rounds. But mere superiority of the rifle was no match for the hordes that confronted Saragarhi. Hav Ishar Singh, the Commander in location, decides to fight till the last and prevent enemy from breaching the fort.

The defenders now stood ready to face the advancing enemy. Ten thousand tribesmen of the enemy against just 21 of the defenders. Artillery pounded their position. The tribesmen had planned to overrun the Saragarhi post and move onto Fort Gulistan.

Battle of Saragarhi Sikh Soldiers

The Bravehearts

Though the rifle had an effective range of 600 yards, Havildar Ishar Singh held his fire, allowing the enemy to come closer, the better to deal with them. “Fire”, he yelled, when the enemy was just 250 yards from the post. The massed fire effect was deadly and the leading lot of the enemy crumpled to the dust. “Reload”, ordered Ishar and then the next volley was fired. But the enemy was not to be halted and the following lots of the enemy continued to advance towards the post. “Reload and Fire at Will”, ordered Ishar Singh and a hail of bullets soon followed the command. The ding dong battle continued till the first wave of attacks was beaten back and the enemy forced to regroup. The first wave of the enemy had fallen, but there were countless waves behind them. It would be but a matter of time before the hordes were at the gate.

In the first assault, Sep Bhagwan Singh and Lal Singh are seriously injured. Firing from one loophole to another, they beat back the first wave and hold on till noon. Sep Jiwa and Lal Singh bring in the dead body of Bhagwan Singh to the inner sanctum.

The Pathans now changed their strategy, and approached the post from two directions., one towards the main gate and the other towards the gap at the fort. To counter the charging enemy, Havildar Ishar Singh gave his next set of commands. “Squatting Soldiers to the Left, Standing Soldiers to the Right, QUICKLY, QUICKLY.

The tribals launch a second attack and breached the picket wall. The Afghan leaders promise the soldiers to entice them to surrender. Another attack fails. There is no question of surrender. And by early evening the inner wall is breached. By now the post has run out of all their ammunition. The tribesmen pour into the inner sanctum.

Some of the fiercest hand-to-hand battle takes place. Hav Ishar Singh orders his men to fall back into the block house, while he continues to fight. The soldiers refuse and remain fighting alongside their leader. Fighting with their bayonets and kirpans.

Sep Gurmukh Singh, who communicated the battle to Lt Col Haughton, was the last Sikh defender. He signs off his communication and goes to fight and is claimed to have killed 20 Afghans. The Pashtuns having to set fire to the post to kill him. As he was dying he was said to have yelled repeatedly the Sikh battle cry, “Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” (shout aloud in ecstasy, True is the Great Timeless one). Akal, meaning immortal.

Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned to Fort Gulistan, but they had been delayed far too long and reinforcements had arrived. Some 500 bodies are said to have been seen around the ruined post when the relief party arrived. The planning figures for any offensive is to the ratio of 1:3. It goes up to 1:9 in the mountains. At Saragarhi the ratio was 1:500!!!!!!

All the 21 soldiers who laid down their lives in the Battle of Saragarhi were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award that time; corresponding to the Victoria Cross and the Param Vir Chakra of today. Till date this is the highest number of gallantry awards given for a single day battle in the world. When the details of the battle were read in the British Parliament, the entire house rose in unison and paid homage to the valiant soldiers. The SIKH Regiment continues to celebrate Sep 12 each year, the day of the Battle of Saragarhi, as the Regimental Battle Honours Day. The battle is taught in the Schools of Punjab and in France’s National School curriculum.

A number of you questioned me why would the soldier lay down his life? Why would they unflinchingly display such acts of valour? What makes them tick? I’ll answer them in my next communique. Till then ‘Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’.

What makes these Army People!!




+ When a cold and shivering jawan gets you a cup of hot tea on a patrol break at 13,000 feet

+ When your sixth sense tells you there is something wrong with a guy at 50 metres

+ When you meet with an accident and the first thing you check whether the weapon you were carrying is functioning; your men come next and last you check your limbs

+ When you speak the language of the boys

+ When you sit from dusk to dawn in an ambush on Valentine’s Day, you know your Red Rose is being delivered home; you understand camaraderie

+ When you are a master to light a pump stove, lanterns, solar lights, bukharis and cold injuries than your average doctor

+ When you indicate people by the clock ray method

+ When only your buddy can dig out the thing you want from your rucksack

+ When your pain submits to your will; when you are tested to your limits of your physical endurance and some more

+  When you find it funny when your relative says he’s going on a holiday to a hill station

+ When your profession is a matter of discussion during marriage proposals

+ When you do not believe in ghosts but do believe in Peer and other high altitudes babas

+ When you know the real meaning of camouflage, in field, in parties, in unit routine and in your own house

+ When you can live, anywhere, with anybody, on anything that nature/ circumstances has to offer

+ When you know this LMG (light machine gun) will be re-sited by everybody up the chain, till it comes back to where it had been sited initially

+ When somebody asks, “Do you play Golf?” and you look at the brass on your shoulder and say, “Not yet!”

+ When you are the biggest consumer of foot powder, DMP oil (anti mosquito), water sterilization kit, ORS packets and Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) packets

+ When you give it all that you have and some more, go beyond the call of duty .. to get the job done; izzat is the end all of your living and existence

+ When you are the only one to get trained in bayonet fighting and you expect it to happen

+ When your GF thinks you are a combo of Rambo, Commando, Gladiator and Braveheart

+ When your Commanding Officer (boss), btw thinks you are none

+ When you get lost in a multiplex with signboards but are at ease in a jungle with just a compass to navigate and night the stars guide your way


Here Great Courage & Fortitude is a Norm


At 22,000ft, with temperatures falling below minus 40 degrees celsius, Siachen is the World’s highest and coldest battlefront. Crossing a crevasse is an adventure of its own.

Much has been written about the Siachen glacier. Statistics and technical terms, however, rarely do justice to what it feels like to be up there.

How can words describe the bitter cold slicing through the metal of the lumbering IL 76 aircraft that ferries you to the world’s highest killing grounds? Or how it feels to be buffeted and tossed about by turbulence as the aircraft careens through the narrow mouth of the Zojila pass.

How it feels to see grim faces of comrades around you, knowing that some will not return. How the first breath of -30 degrees celsius air feels like inhaling powdered glass, making you choke and bend over. How the numbing cold oozes through the sole of your boots, layers of clothing, skin and gristle, and into your bones within seconds. How your limbs and digits are frozen, and hurt all the time.

How can words describe that sinking feeling when you look at the memorial rock pillars with names of the dead etched all the way up, as far as you can see? Or how your world is perpetually dimmed by the dark glasses you wear so UV rays don’t lacerate your cornea. How it feels to forcibly swallow congealed lumps of canned food, meal after meal, for months on end. How every breath is a struggle because, no matter how deeply you inhale, the thin air cheats you of oxygen. How your head constantly throbs, spins and aches because of the high altitude.


The long trek to the post in rarified atmosphere is an effort in itself. With battle loads, its tests your grit, determination and courage.

How can words describe the small fibreglass hut, reeking of kerosene and unwashed bodies, that will be your home for a year. A home you share with a dozen other souls sleeping in squashed bunkers that have housed hundreds before you. How you search for a tiny space on the soot-darkened walls, to scratch your name among the hundreds already there. How hygiene is nothing but wiping yourself with a rag dipped in warm water, when you can. How your world is split between the blazing rays of a fierce sun and the perpetual shadows of kerosene lamps.

How every day is a battle to stay alive, every patrol a life-threatening mission. How every step can crack through an ice sheet hiding a crevasse and swallow you forever. How the slightest vibration can set off an avalanche and entomb you under tonnes of rocky ice. And, how a patrol that would take a few hours in any other terrain, takes days because your legs sink all the way to your knees into the subzero snow. What it feels like to carry a load of more than 20 kilos for endless hours, every day, for months, so that rations and fuel are stocked for the winter. How the winters are -45 degrees and “summer” a cruel -35.

How it feels to be emaciated as low body metabolism wastes your flesh away. How you stop recognising the face in the mirror, with listless eyes surrounded by circles getting darker every day, and bones outlined by papery skin scorched by a sun that is 20,000 feet closer than in the plains. How it feels to have matted hair that can’t be cleaned or washed for months, slowly obscuring your face. How it feels to make a choice, in the middle of the night, between emptying your bowels and staying away from the cold.

How it feels to hold the hand of a comrade affected by pulmonary oedema, choking on his own blood, feeling his pain as he crushes your fingers in agony. How it feels to hope against hope that a casualty evacuation chopper would be able to make it in time. And how, deep down, you know it won’t, and your blood brother will die in your arms, slowly, painfully, and there is nothing you can do. Except write down the last words he wheezes through frothing blood— for his family, parents and children. And how you will later lie to them saying he went swiftly, painlessly.

HAA Siachen Trg

Prior to induction, soldiers are trained at the Base Camp. You can see the 90 degree rock face, where the training is on.

How the thump of an inbound chopper becomes the sweetest sound in the world. How your heart pounds wildly when you hear your only physical link trying to pierce blizzards and gales to reach you. How you pray for the pilot to make it. How you curse him and the world when you hear the rotors veer away because he can’t. And how you cheer when he doesn’t give up and approaches you again and again till he lands dangerously, sometimes perched only on one skid—long enough to load a wounded comrade—before being blown away like a mosquito in a storm.

How one day, your tour gets over and the relievers come up to take over the watch from you. How unbelievable it seems that this ordeal is over. How elated you feel as you gather your men for your journey down and how painful that journey is when the men you take back are fewer than those you brought up.


After an avalanche, the rescue missions look for survivors. Without a single landmark, and the entire area covered in snow, the task is arduous, gruelling and tiring. 

And how ironic it feels that the countrymen you do it for will never know what it feels like to lose a part of yourself forever. That’s how it feels like to be in Siachen or any one of the thousands of posts where our soldiers stand watch.

Capt Raghu Raman, a veteran, authored this article.

What saved my life? It can save your’s too!

Adm Insp 05.10 (17)

The above photograph is telling of what ensures the men in uniform, under life threatening situations, perform day after day in extreme treacherous conditions, facing bullets, undergoing tremendous hardships of terrain and work conditions and survive!

You’ll acquiesce that it is not one factor that leads to success and necessarily a combination of factors that lead to the success of a team. Individual achievements aside, it is the team that has to perform. So what makes us tick? What are the factors that lead to success? And most importantly, can any of these help me survive in the world outside the uniform?

Let me begin with the one most glaring fact of the photograph above. You see a ‘buddy pair’ operating in unison looking after each other. The system of buddy pairs is an age old system prevalent in the Army and has been responsible for saving many a lives and ensuring success.

Wikipedia describes it as, “The buddy system is a procedure in which two people, the “buddies”, operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other. As per Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the phrase “buddy system” goes as far back as 1942. Webster goes on to define the buddy system as “an arrangement in which two individuals are paired (as for mutual safety in a hazardous situation).” The buddy system is basically working together in pairs in a large group or alone. Both the individuals have to do the job. The job could be to ensure that the work is finished safely or the skill/learning is transferred effectively from one individual to the other.

How does it work in field? How does it deliver result under such conditions? What are the factors which ensure success? Can I adopt it here to protect myself?

The buddies cover each other’s back. They look at their area of responsibility, the first buddy looks from 9’0 to 12’0 clock direction (ninety degrees) and the other buddy looks after from 12’0 clock to 3’0 clock direction. Thus the pair cannot be surprised by any lurking danger/ enemy. Thus the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts“. The buddies feed off each other’s strength, they know each other intimately (they are paired checking out their compatibility/ village/ affinity), and operate together. They revel in each other’s success and cover for each other’s shortcomings, if any. They train together and work in unison like a well oiled machine. Well, you get the idea!!!

I always recommend adoption of the buddy system in your day to day life too! It is the best tool to ensure Women Safety and fight Child Sexual Abuse. Move around, operate and work in pairs. Now, take your mind back to all the incidents of say, child abuse in the schools. The predator would find a secluded place (toilet/ gymnasium/ parking lot) and molest the innocent victim. If only the teacher/ parent/ guardian followed the age old practice of a buddy system. Take your mind to the school at 11 a.m when all the classes are on and all the teachers are in the classrooms. Megha wants to visit the toilet. Alone she is a potential victim. Now, when Megha has to visit the toilet, the teacher must send her buddy Neha along. The two are formidable. The predator is deterred. Should he still think of executing his nefarious plans, Neha can scream, alternatively, Neha can run and seek help. And the possibilities are manifolds. The drastic drop in such activities in schools where I’ve propounded the buddy system has shown very positive results. This could be applied for the car pool, the sports field and you think of any situation, it always works!!

As Megha grows up, this could also be implemented in the work place, party scene – or any other situation. One could have different sets of partners in crime but the buddy system always works.

Now you know, what saved my life. After 25 years in the uniform, I can confidently say and credit my survival to my buddy. This blog is to eulogize my buddy, but for him the days in the uniform would surely would’ve have been numbered.