Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Captains: A lost Commodity

THE LONG AWAITED FIFTH OF FEBRUARY 2011 soon came, a very special occasion, the 100th Anniversary of the Corps and award of the PVSM to the incumbent SO-in-C, and we the veteran Signallers of Greater Noida, piled into the hired cabs for the long journey to Vatika, Signals Enclave: the Dinner invitation in the pocket and the stickers on the windscreens.
I take the front seat, assuming the onerous duty of the co-driver, isolated from the rest, those at the back and in jovial mood, exchanging anecdotes from the past and the woes of the recent move to the still evolving AWHO Township.
We arrive at the venue with high hopes and are not disappointed, saved from the long walk from the parking, by the ferry service, adorned with the Jimmy lapel pin at the entrance, overwhelmed by the long receiving line, officers resplendent in the ceremonial blue patrols; the regimental ladies in colourful Saree's with welcoming handshakes and namastays with folded hands and what not.
I shake hands with Lt Gen Mohapatra, greet him on the Corps Day and congratulate him on the award of PVSM, wish his lady wife and get amalgamated with the milling crowd: a sea of unknown faces.
I pick a glass of Pepsi and start weaving, gingerly through the milling congregation of blue and green of the uniforms and the rainbow of the Saree's. I am confronted by a sea of red tabs: serving Generals, Brigadiers, Colonels, especially Colonels, looks like every one has been promoted to a Colonel, a sprinkling of Lt Cols, and here and there a few Majors. Surprisingly, no Captains, who used to be the bedrock of the corps in the days of yore, are nowhere in sight.
With my random walk, I do come across a few faces from past, hand shake and ‘How are you?’ later, it is a short hi and bye as we part once again.
Surprised by their absence I begin my quest for the Captains, hoping to exchange a few words with the young of the Corps, to get a feel of there aspirations, hopes and apprehensions, if any, share my own experiences of that rank, and get updated with the current Army life, especially Signals.
It was becoming an exercise in futility; I address a nearby Colonel; he looked a bit amused by the query coming from someone out of uniform. ‘I have one back in the Regiment.’ He responded. To me it gave a feeling as if he was alluding to a museum piece and possibly that he was he was.
Frustrated and in desperation I approach the So-in –C, him surrounded by an ever changing kaleidoscope of senior guests, their accompanying wives and senior officers in uniform, all the time trying to get in a word edge wise, getting a chance I manage to ask. ’Where are the Captains?’ ‘They are a lost commodity.’ Was his cryptic reply.
I make a hasty retreat, leaving it at that and a bit more confused, I button hole a group of young Majors, so different from the dominating personalities of yore, whose presence even was enough to instill a feeling of fear in one, while a raised eyebrow, on the other hand could make us tremble, their forte, bereft of much technical knowledge or the science of propagation and the vagaries of ionosphere dependent on season or weather, was managing the communications with a bark and a stick, also blowing both hot and cold as the situation demanded.
Looking amused at my ignorance, there is an effort to educate me, a long winded explanation later, the long and short of which is that Captain to Major was a short distance in time and the three pips of the Captain soon metamorphoses in to the Ashoka Pillar on the shoulder.
Reminiscing with the group with some of my experiences as a Captain, during the 1962 Sino Indian conflict, I was left disappointed with their distorted impressions of the conflict in general and the lack of appreciation of how the insurmountable obstacles faced by the communicator, saddled, those days, with the ‘Second World War’ equipment, were surmounted.
Weaving through and ahead, ‘low and behold’, what do I spy: a Captain and soon ambush the diminutive, apparition in olive green, obviously a SS officer. She equally surprised, is taken aback by my ‘Excuse me.’
It transpires that she is the Adjutant of the Regiment, one of the prized jobs assigned to the senior captain or a major those days, the chair from which one learnt the ropes of how to run a regiment.
Simple girls once married soon acquire the skill to keep the husbands on a short leash, so I presume be the case of female Adjutants: keeping the regiment on a tight leash. It appears to be well worn practice followed by the Regiment as even her predecessor was also an officer of the so called weaker Sex.
Having found the proverbial needle in the haystack, I join the now milling crowed around the heavily laden dinner tables. Partaking the delicacies, satiated and satisfied, in an euphoric state as we prepare to leave, I cannot but help notice some diehards with glasses half full or half empty depending the current perception of the nearly sozzled, still lingering near the bar.
With the ‘See-off’, once again with smiling faces, waiting for the lingering guest to depart, for their long delayed dinner, surely a bit hard on the ladies, shivering in the late night February cold, we set sail for the long journey back to Greater Noida.
As we take the long road back, still suffused with the euphoria from the pleasant evening spent in the company of the old and the new, I could not help but lament for the’ Lost Commodity’.
Brig Lakshman Singh (Retd)

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