Commissioned in June 1971, I joined 3 Bihar Battalion in July 1971 at Tangdhar, Chowkiwal in North KASHMIR. My battalion was deployed along the KULSURI RIDGE in company posts, named such as Vaayu, Ravan, Taya, Gonda and Ajit etc. It was part of the 104 Infantry Brigade.
The Brigade Commander was Brigadier MML Ghai– an Engineer Corps officer, sneaking into General Cadre— an overly ambitious officer— who could betray anyone to advance his career. Forget subordinates; he got his GOC, Major General E D’Souza sacked over the Kayan Bowl incident in May 1972.
I must give out some encounters with my Brigade Commander, Brigadier MML Ghai. Here are some snippets:-
NIGHT 03/04 DECEMBER 1971: PAKISTANI INFILTRATORS :
At the outset, the reader must know that Brig MML Ghai was a very short-tempered man. In addition, he was always apprehensive of Pakistani infiltrators raiding his Brigade Headquarters. Therefore, he used to get hallucinations of such raids. His own staff used to make fun of his weak-hearted approach. Anyway:–
As a company officer of Bravo Company of 3 Bihar, I had only six months of service when the Indo- Pak war started in 1971. I had not done any basic young officer course. Therefore my knowledge of arms and weapons was what one had learnt in IMA, Dehradun.
Bravo Company of 3 Bihar, on 03 December 1971, was deployed at GONDA POST, which is a ledge going down towards Pakistani post, called Mortar Position, across CFL (Cease-Fire Line) it was not called LC ( line of control) then. We had a section strength listening post around 3-400 meters short of CFL.
On the night of 03/04 December 1971, I was sent to the listening post by my Company Commander ( Maj CMP Sinha—-later Colonel—- a gem of a man —- a great human being and a sound professional —- I love him).
A direct telephone line was laid from Listening Post to Company HQ to our Adjutant at Battalion HQ and then to Brigade HQ. But the messages were to be relayed through Company and Battalion HQs if there was NO direct contact. All were in Parallel connection.
At about 4 AM of 04 December 1971, some whistling sounds were heard overhead, sounding like an aircraft moving past. One of my tasks was to report any aircraft observed in our area because we expected Pakistani infiltrators being para dropped to raid our Brigade HQ. Surprisingly, this was the keynote assessment of our Brigade Commander before the war.
And a sincere young soldier, I was still contemplating whether to report this to my Company Commander Major CMP Sinha or not when the telephone rang up. I picked the handset. It was my Adjutant, Major BK Sharma, talking to our Brigade Commander, Brig MML Ghai. My company Commander and I were silently listening:—
Commander: BK, do you hear some aircraft sound?
Adjutant: No sir —No sounds.
Commander: you are all bloody well sleeping. Wake up; war has started.
Adjutant: yes sir, Yes sir,
Commander: What bloody, yes sir, find out where these aircrafts sounds have come from your areas? Be ready for the infiltrators.
Adjutant: Hullo Rajinder ! Hullo, Rajinder!! Have you heard any aircrafts sound in your area?
2Lt Rajinder: Yes sir! Yes Sir !!
Adjutant to Commander: Sir, our listening post has heard some aircrafts sounds!
Commander: I knew it would happen. Be alert. I will sack your battalion if infiltrators get through.
Adjutant: Right Sir, we will ensure nothing happens.
Commander: Check what types of aircraft were they?
Adjutant: Rajinder, what types of aircraft are they?
Now, it was the test of the professional knowledge of 2 LT RAJINDER SINGH— who was fresh from IMA. He refreshed his mind and silently went over his aircraft identification knowledge from IMA days. It took him 2-3 minutes, and he suddenly brightened up, almost saying, “Eureka! I have the most brilliant answer” in this excitement, he spoke to his Adjutant.
2 Lt Rajinder to Adjutant : Sir ! They are Packets; Packets, Sir! Packets! (Waiting for a big Shabash from Adjutant and Commander)
In the same vein, Adjutant Major BK Sharma enthusiastically tells Commander.
Adjutant: They are Packets Sir, Packets!
There is a split second silence and all-round euphoria as if the battalion has won a big victory. But it was not to be so when on the other side there was a thundering voice of Commander:
YOU BASTARDS! When did Pakistan Air Force acquire PACKETS?
Adjutant stunned but resumed: Rajinder! Rajinder !! Check again!!!
2 Lt Rajinder —- Total silence with handset kept slightly away from ears!
Now intervenes Major CMP Sinha, my company commander to Adjutant:
Come on Binod, there are NO aircraft, it is the sound of arty shells zooming past my post.
On this, all telephones went silent. My company Commander talked to me and gave me the first lesson of my military life: WHEN YOU DO NOT KNOW FOR SURE, SAY, I DO NOT KNOW! It will save you all the ordeals of further quizzical queries. But did it do the trick with Brig MML Ghai?
17 AUGUST 1972: BROWN PATCH COMMANDER
After my return from Young Officer Course (YO) after the war, in June 1972, I was located as Commander of a platoon post at Brown Patch. It was part of the Bravo company posts from Ghasla Top, Left Shoulder, Brown Patch to Ring Contour to Amar Singh Terri— close on the banks of Neelam River.
In April 1972, Lt Col SS Sahrawat had taken over the battalion’s command while I was still at Belgaum doing the YO course. He was a professionally very competent officer. What was more significant was his ability to stand by his courage of convictions. He was totally different from previous incumbents i.e. Lt col MM Tripathi and his successor Lt Col Parminder Singh.
One day on 17 August 1972, at about 10 PM, an explosion took place in the minefield in front of Brown patch. The blast was so noisy that it shook the various posts all around. It was probably a dog or some other animal who had got blown off. No one was sure. And no one could make it out at night. Someone from a neighbouring Battalion post informed the Brigade HQ. When the message reached our Commander Brig MML Ghai, he came on the radio set, directly to me.
Commander: One O Four for two Bravo, what is this explosion?
2 Lt Rajinder: Two Bravo for One O Four it is a mine blast.
Commander : I know that you rascal! Why did it take place?
2 Rajinder: Sir! I do not know. It could be an animal
Commander: What animal, you idiot? Domestic or wild
2 Lt Rajinder: Not very sure, sir, could be wild.
Commander: do you have wild animals in your areas, you fool?
2 Lt Rajinder: No sir —- maybe a domestic animal.
Commander: idiot, why cannot you be so specific— is it a dog or a mule?
2 Lt Rajinder: Sir, I think it is a Dog.
Commander: what was the colour?
2 Lt Rajinder: Sir, it is night; everything seems black.
Commander: I know it. Do not be smart? Where is the dog now?
2 Lt Rajinder: perhaps gone out without one leg?
Commander: which leg? Rear or Front?
2 Lt Rajinder: Rear sir
Commander: Right or Left rear leg?
2 Lt Rajinder: Right sir.
My signal operator runs to me with a message from CO ( Lt Col SS Sahrawat) to shut up and shout, “Hullo Hullo Hullo— I can not hear you sir !” and then switch off the Radio set. I exactly did the dame.
Now CO was on the phone.
CO: how can you see on a pitch dark night as to what animal it was and what colour?
2 Lt Rajinder: yes, sir!
CO: What, Yes Sir! Have you got NIGHT vision eyes?
2 Lt Rajinder: No Sir!
CO: Then, what?
2 Lt Rajinder: Yes, sir!
CO: Stop showing your Ex NDA smartness with me. Push off on ten days C/ L tomorrow morning and cross over before Commander again hauls you up as he did in June 1972 after the Chak Mukam incident. Do you remember?
2 Lt Rajinder: Yes, sir!
CO: Then buzz off right now— and cross SADHNA PASS by 5 AM. I want you in convoy to Srinagar from Chowkibal by 9 AM. Get moving. Lt SS Sohi, MTO at Chokiwal, has been asked to organise your move.
2 Lt Rajinder: OK, sir
Thus, by 11.30 that night, I was on my way to Battalion Rear at Tangdhar, and the same night, I was moved to Chowkiwal. The next morning I was on my way to Srinagar. When I returned from C/ L, I was sent as an umpire for an air exercise for a month and a half. I umpired on Maj Nanavati ( Later Lt General and Army Cdr, Northern Command ) of 2//8 GR; I learnt a lot from this great soldier. By the time, I returned Commander Brig MML Ghai had gone on ANNUAL LEAVE.
So I escaped further encounters with him until he returned as our GOC of 5 Mtn Div. When I met him at ROOPA CINEMA HALL after a presentation in June / July 1978, he asked me, “Have I met you before”. I shook my head and said, “NO, Sir”. Col TK Vasudevan, my new CO, said, “He has done well on JC Course and passed his Part D in one go “.
GOC: Hmmmmm! He seems to be an intelligent guy.
This was the last I had met General MML Ghai!