While I was commissioned in my Paltan over 60 years back, I shared many significant commonalities and anecdotes with my Battalion. We both were born in Kanpur, albeit I have seniority over my Paltan little under six years. While I was born on 13 Oct, my Paltan was baptised as 13 Kumaon, comprising equal numbers of the valiant Ahirs and the brave Kumaonis. As I studied in Rudrapur, and my late elder brother was serving in 6 Kumaon, I also knew a little about the Kumaon region and its brave Regiment.
Being from Gurgaon, I have known Yadavs or Ahirs since my college days. Nothing thrilled me more than being commissioned in 13 Kumaon, which, on becoming a pure Ahir Battalion, had many Ahirs significantly Subedars (later Hony Capts) Daulat Ram and Sultan Singh, Subedar (later Sub Maj & Hony Capt) Ram Saran, Havildar (later Subedar) Bahadur Singh and many more having served with my brother becoming part of my regimental family. Equal numbers of Ahirs came from 2 Kumaon (Berar) – one of the oldest Indian Army Battalions I was destined to command later in my military career. Subedar (Later Sub Maj Hony Capt) Ram Singh from 2 Kumaon was unique among them.
Havildar Daulat Ram was awarded Ashok Chakra while serving in 6 Kumaon for rescuing undaunted alone soldiers and porters carrying essentials who got buried under heavy snow, debris and avalanches at great personal risk, displaying exemplary courage and camaraderie. He was honoured with the Ashok Chakra Class III gallantry award, now called Shaurya Chakra. In those days, awards of Ashok Chakra, Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra were known as Ashok Chakra Class I, Class II and Class III, and so were the Vishisht Seva Medal series as VSM Class I, Class II and Class III respectively. Also, the present-day JCO rank of Naib Subedar was known as Jemadar. Though in today’s context, Subedar Daulat Ram was awarded Shaurya Chakra, as per the old custom, he was always addressed as the ‘Ashok Chakra Saab’.
On my joining the Paltan, I was posted in Delta Company as 10 Platoon Commander with ‘Ashok Chakra Saab’ as one of the Platoon Commanders and Subedar Ram Saran – another former 6 Kumaoni, popularly called ‘Mahashay Ji’ that roughly translates to Sir, Janab, Huzoor or Monsieur for his maturity, polished manners and smattering knowledge of Hindi, Urdu and English, as the Senior JCO. On the contrary, Daulat Ram was illiterate and rustic but professionally very sound, caring, and respectable- always full of josh and ready to take on challenging assignments.
Both had A/AXI gradings in various courses and served in the erstwhile 6/19 Hyderabad Regiment in the Burma Campaign, which eventually became 6 Kumaon. Similarly, Subedar Ram Singh from 2 Kumaon was posted to 13 Kumaon. Ram Singh was illiterate, AXI in 3” Mortar Course, physically very tough 100 & 200-meter services level sprinter, who used to gulp half a bottle of rum every night, yet be the first present on the next morning PT parade.
In August 1964, Paltan came from Darbuk to Gaya as part of the 42 Infantry Brigade. Brigadier (Later Lt Gen) SS Nakai was our Brigade Commander, who somehow was unhappy with Lt Col Mukut Singh, our CO and ordered a test exercise for Paltan culminating in live 3” Mortar firing, three days before Dushera, an important function for our troops. I was the Intelligence Officer (IO) & Sub Ram Singh was the Officiating Mortar Platoon Commander.
The Brigade Commander desired to hear the CO’s verbal orders a day before Dushera, emphasising on stealth and surprise more. The next day, the Commander on arrival said, ‘Let’s hear your orders, Mukut.’ The CO replied, much to the annoyance of the Commander, ’Sir, to maintain stealth and surprise over the enemy, I preponed my orders’. This infuriated Commander who out of the blue, indicated far off Twin Trees as the enemy target to Sub Ram Singh for neutralise with 3” Mortar firing immediately. Ram Singh in Haryanvi asked the Commander, ‘Saab, koun sa gola dalu’, further annoying Brig Nakai, who shouted, ‘Bada Teesmar khan hai. Oye mein arty ka hun, tum kiya samajhte ho apne aap ko, chotha gola target par aa jaye to bari baat hai’ or words to that effect. Ram Singh brought the second round on target. Suspiciously, the Commander growled, ‘Tum ne targets pehle sey register kar rakhe hain’ and ordered Mortar Platoon to move about a km away and deploy to a different location.
At the new mortar position, the Commander directed a far-off electric pylon as the next target for destruction. Ram Singh’s query, ‘Kaun sa gola saab target par dalu’ irritated Commander further and said chotha wala. While 2nd round was just short of the target, Ram Singh ordered a cease fire, saluted the Commander and said, ‘Saab agar fire kiya to pylon barbad ho jaye ga aur bijli bund ho jayegi’. The Commander was amazed at Ram Singh’s professionalism and ordered the exercise to end and let Paltan celebrate Dushera. Incidentally, earlier, Ram Singh was made local Lance Havildar and posted to Infantry School, where he remained instructor for ten years and returned as Jamadar (Now Naib Subedar). Such was the calibre of junior leaders then!
In 1969, when Paltan was in Binaguri, on 15 Aug 1968, Ram Singh was awarded a COAS Commendation card and very excited told us, ‘Ram Ram Saab, munney COAS saab ka Condemnation Card mila hai’ to everyone’s great laugh. Bahadur was all round sportsman and always promoted by bringing sports laurels to Paltan. As Subedar, he went on a long-range patrol (LRP) with me in Mizoram. He was illiterate about field craft or map reading. We were dominating a village near the Burma border devoid of roads and tracks, and his platoon was deployed a few km away from my position to neutralise MNF infiltration. After the operation, I was to join him and proceed to the next mission. While on the radio set, I asked him the direction, and he said,’ Saab map kholo aur lal road par chalo, mein theth aap ko mil jaunga’, obviously referring to the grid line as a non-existing road!
In another bizarre incident, Maj (later Brig) RV Jatar was leading a column in Mizoram in mid-February 1968. Havildar Om Prakash, an exceptionally good Battalion footballer, walked behind the leading elements. There were strict orders not to cough, smoke bidis/cigarettes or use even muffled torches to maintain stealth, surprise and secrecy. Around midnight, to ensure command and control, the column commander would ask for the silent head count as per standing operating procedure (SOP) from the rear to let the column commander know the correct strength. The only fear was that if the column ever halted for a longer period on the narrow winding track(s), men, due to prolonged tiredness, would often dose off and thus be less alert. Havildar Om Prakash, to smoke a bidi, entered a nearby Jhoom hut and lit a bidi. To his utter surprise, 5 Mizo insurgents with personal weapons and some goods lying beside were snoring in the hut. Without losing his cool, Om Prakash stealthily threw a hand grenade. Unfortunately, the detonator was wet due to constant rains, and the grenade did not explode. And with its thud, all hostiles quickly got up and tried to escape with their weapons. Om Prakash, with great cool presence of mind, fired from his sten machine carbine a long burst killing three insurgents, while the other two managed to escape. The BIG fish killed in the net was Zaithanmowia, the Dampha (Western) area’s SS Commissioner and capturing of their arms, ammunition, Remington typewriter and handwritten Mizoram constitution duly signed by Laldenga, Zaithanmowia and some other top insurgents and Rs 20,000 in cash.
The next day morning, on an emergency helipad, Brig Jaswant Singh, Brigade Commander, Major General Sagat Singh, GOC 101 Area and Army Commander SAM Bahadur, landed with much bravado, sweets and rum for the troops. The most successful ambush was broadcast on All India Radio and published in many leading newspapers all over India. I daresay, the killing of Zaithanmowia broke the backbone of the Mizo insurgency, and it was a big feather in the cap of the Rezang La Battalion, Major Jatar and his column led so successfully.
A few days after the column’s return to Aizawl, the Brigade Commander visited the Battalion, and the CO discussed with him the initiation of some deserving citations on the successful mission. The Commander could not meet Maj Jatar who was away on some temporary duty but met Lieut Chiddi Singh and praised him with much bravado and exuberance BUT Chiddi opened the wrong lid in his terrible statement, ‘Sir it is, all bundal bazi, actually, bloody Hav Om Prakash, violated the orders and went to smoke a bidi, saw hostiles sleeping and threw a grenade which he did not keep dry and that failed to explode…he should have been punished’ or words to that effect. All present there less Chiddi were crestfallen, and the battalion lost all the name and fame earned in a jiffy, adversely affecting the troops’ morale.
In my 32 years of military and eight years of Intelligence Bureau service, innumerable operations were planned, but honestly, I admit none of them were set-piece operations in conduct, and some story is stitched around, to tell the truth to the world. Such ups and downs abound every individual and institution in our lives. I am so happy to see Brig Jatar present for this glorious celebration.
L/Nk Ram Chander was the radio set operator of Late Maj Shaitan Singh, PVC, during the Rezang La operation. He was my weapons pre-course instructor, too. Once in Mizoram, while I was leading the column around 0200 hrs, there was a sudden firing. My first reaction was we were ambushed and rushed 2/Lt Gurung, the Company Officer, to charge through the ambush while I rushed forward and heard Havildar Ram Chander shouting, ‘Saab apna fire hai…stop firing’ and learnt that it was a wild bear’s attack on the leading scout who was badly mauled and later chopper evacuated. We all were so pleased to see veteran Sub (Hony) Capt Ram Chander, called Nambardar, attending the Platinum Jubilee. I was also thrilled to meet Sub Balbir Singh (Dhulia), Hav Jai Krishan, and many more. Unfortunately, I can’t recollect their names due to old age and fading memory syndrome.
I also recollect Havildars Ami Lal & Ram Singh, Sepoys Sher Singh and Jaika Ram as the best buglers and pipers enthralling troop/masses with martial music while Banwari Lal Saab thrilled everyone by singing raginis vigorously on all occasions.
I also recollect Subedars Ami Lal and Ram Singh as the best buglers and band masters of their times while Banwari Lal Saab thrilled every one singing raginis vigorously on all occasions.
The string band of the unit is exceptionally good and enthralled everyone with lively, upbeat music in all functions. Till the end of 1983, Paltan did not have a string band. While I was commanding Beraris in Suratgarh and 13th was at Bikaner, I advised Shekhu to send some boys with instruments as the Beraris had an excellent string band, and the results are for you to appreciate as the unit has the finest music troupe now.
Besides many other veterans, Lt Col & Mrs Chandu Lal graced the Platinum Jubilee and his illustrious son Col JP Yadav ex CO 8 Kumaon, presently serving in Nagrota. Many may not know Chandu was a Naik in the Intelligence Section, aspiring to get commission while I was IO in the Paltan in 1963-64. Endless such anecdotes need a book to compile.
13 Kumaon, the first Indian Army Battalion raised after independence on 5 Aug 1948 by Lt Col HC Taylor, celebrated Platinum Jubilee from 16 Nov to 20 Nov 23, coinciding with the Rezang La Day celebrations on 18 Nov 2023 in Damana. Incidentally, I am the only living officer who met Lt Col HC Taylor in 1965, serving as General Manager in the Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta. I am perhaps also one of the living officers who attended the first Rezang La Day celebration on 18 Nov 1963 at Chushul.
Lt Gen BS Sahrawat is popularly called Bhupi, and I live in Noida. So far, he is the first three-star general and former COR from the Paltan. Since he was driving his car to Paltan, he graciously asked me to accompany him on 15 Nov 2023. We halted at Jalandhar for the night, where he had successfully commanded the Corps. Pleasantly, Mirka, d/o of late Maj Gen Gurdeep Singh of our Paltan staying there, came to meet us, too. The next day, we drove to Jammu and were accommodated in the guest rooms of the Divisional Signal Regiment. We attended the dinner party in the 13 Kumaon Officers Mess in the evening and met veterans and serving officers with much bonhomie and nostalgic homecoming. Drinks, snacks and food were sumptuous, and the party lasted beyond 1 in the night.
On the morning of 17 Nov 2023, we witnessed the Inter Company Volleyball finals, won by Rezang La Company, followed by hi-tea, where I tasted Choorma after ages. It is a traditional sweet dish popular in Haryana made by mashing up rotis in ghee (clarified butter) and jaggery (unrefined sugar), considered a delicacy by the older generations BUT not the modern ones who prefer fast foods. The Barakhana with troops and the families was well organised, but I missed singing of the good old days ragnis like ‘Attarah November Basat ko, Rewari Motor Adde Par’, etc., by all ranks. We had dinner in the JCOs’ Mess in the evening and chatted a lot with Nambardar, Dholia and Sub Maj (Hony Capt) Bhola Ram. The hospitality, food and drinks were par excellence.
18 Nov was the Rezang La Day. After the Mandir, we laid wreaths on the symbolic Rezang La Memorial placed in Quarter Guard and visited the Information & Motivation Room. Col. Alok Mehta briefed us about the battalion activities, funds, training, officers, manpower status, and the management of the Agniveers. We attended the Special Sainik Sammelan, where the Inter Company Championship banner was presented to the Support Company and the Platinum Jubilee ‘First Day Cover’ was released. In the evening, we attended the last formal dinner function in the Usman Club, interacting with the GOC, the Brigade Commander & the other unit commanders & their lady wives of the station. The area was well-lit and decorated, and the string band played haunting tunes. While the gents were dressed well in their formal suits, elegantly and formally dressed ladies in chiffon and silk sarees with the fragrance of exotic perfumes were a sight to behold, adding a touch of sophistication with glittering jewellery worn by them most elegantly. Drinks, snacks, food and hospitality, had a holy trinity of aromatics, leaving a delicate haunting aftertaste when we reluctantly parted short of midnight. Everything was perfect and ended on the highest note.
19 Nov 23 morning, we drove back to Noida with endless memories, nostalgia and best wishes for our Paltan praying Dada Krishan for it achieving greater laurels in times to come. Before I end, I thank my Battalion and Gen Bhupi for ensuring I attended this historical moment. Last but not least, commendations are due to Naib Subedar Sanjeev Kumar Sahib, Hav Jagmohan, Sep Sunil Kumar and Hav (Driver) Sushal for taking care of us during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Much of what unfolded over the three-day festivities was objectively ludicrous. The battalion rightly boasts of a rich history of valour and courage and has participated extensively in Nov 1961 Goa Liberation War, 1962 Sino – Indian War in eastern Ladakh (Rezang La/ Chushul) and 1971 War at BP 638 in Longewala in Jaisalmer sector and counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland, Mizoram and Jammu & Kashmir, deservedly earning country’s two highest awards the Param Vir Chakra and the Ashok Chakra under the dynamic leadership of late Maj Shaitan Singh and Late Sub Sajjan Singh respectively and bestowed with the rare honour of ‘Bravest of Brave’ Paltan of the Indian Army. The battalion has broken many glass ceilings by setting new records in various fields, like courses and sports, and serving in the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). The standards achieved by our Paltan from our days in service to the present era are amazingly high milestones that overwhelmed everyone with the response of proud veterans and serving alumni during entire celebrations. The event witnessed the presence of various dignitaries, including the former CO & COR Bhupi Sahrawat, Brig Jatar (Retd), the oldest officer of the Paltan and many serving and retired officers, ladies, veteran JCOs, NCOs and some Veer Naris. Presence of Mrs Jyoti Pendse Gokhle, from Pune, who runs Sandi’s Tour & Travels and has dedicated herself selflessly to helping veterans, widows and Veer Naris in distress.
All great regiments and battalions achieve their glory due to hard training, leadership, excellent management and a little luck. In the armed forces, we build cantonments, roads and institutions to honour our highest gallantry awardees, lest we forget that for the countless unwept, unhonoured and unknown soldiers, there are obituaries of anonymity that are not forgotten. There have been instances, where some martyrs families (Sep Sultan Singh, Rezang La in 1962 & Sep Dashrath, SC in CI Operations in J&K in 1992) were in distress and some of us helped them giving and collecting donations including PIOs living abroad. These celebrations are to honour them and their families’ sacrifices in the armed forces upholding NAAM, NAMAK and NISHAN by the serving fraternity and their families with veterans, Veer Naris, widows, and their families to strengthen the regimental and generational bonds, so very essential for boosting morale and combat effectiveness.
Briefly, that is us, our ancestors, our story and our history. We were never ordinary BUT extra-ordinary and the newer generations must strive hard ever for that sky is the limit objectivity.
My sincere thanks & Ram Ram to all ranks & veterans. Dada Krishan ki Jai.