Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Gods Must Be Crazy!

Napoleon Bonaparte, was being extolled of the virtues of a new General - the man's heroism, bravery, skill in battle and so on.  He waved his hand impatiently. "That's all very well," he said, "but is he lucky?"

In the Indian Army, the one quality that jawans deployed in field units seek of their Commanding Officer above all others, is that he be `lucky’. Now a lucky CO is one in whose tenure the unit suffers no casualties. When I was posted as CO of a unit deployed in Nagaland, when the insurgency was at its peak, I too prayed that I remain `lucky’.

I decided to seek divine help. As my gypsy was turning into the unit, I asked the driver to take me to the unit mandir first. On reaching there, I was pleasantly surprised to find it deserted, ie the ubiquitous `panditji’ was nowhere to be seen. Good, I thought, I’ll have a few moments alone with the `Boss’. As I knelt down, I whispered a one-line prayer. “Boss,” I said “apni taraf se I’ll do my best – baaki aap sambhaal lena!”

Within two weeks of my taking over, the neighbouring Signals Unit lost three men when the 3-tonner they were travelling hit an IED. They were escorting a school bus, and we thanked the Heavens that the bus itself had not been hit. But three soldiers had been killed, including a recruit who had just landed up from the Training Centre the previous day! The `luck’ of my co-Commanding Officer had been blown to bits!

A hurried reminder to the Boss was indicated, and despatched post haste.

Did it work? It sure did! In the two years that I commanded the unit, we did suffer a few gun shot wounds, but none of them were fatal. Later, one signalman was diagnosed with cancer, but he too survived. So yes, I was a lucky CO!

Back to the missing `panditji’. He had been waiting outside the CO’s office with the mandatory `prasad’ in his hands. His assumption that the `naye CO saab’ was a deeply religious man, having visited the mandir first, was soon proved to be way off the mark!  My insistence that he wear his uniform and not the crisp white dhoti kurta to my monthly durbars, and perform his duties as a JCO (we were in field, for crying out loud!) caused him no end of anguish.

He tried his best to get back at me. Once he displayed mock horror when he realised I didn’t know the gayatri mantra. “Waisay saab”, he asked me in that unctuous tone that I found so grating “aap ho toh Hindu hi na?” I looked at him sternly, and for the first time, I offered him a seat in my office. The moment he sat down, I recited the Lord’s prayer “Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name..” which we had learnt in school. In full, and pat. Verbatim. He looked stunned, and never spoke of any mantras again.

The only time he thought he’d given me my comeuppance was when he decided to hold a `Satya Narayan ki katha’, which I would be required to preside over. “By all means” I told him “Kariye!”. He said I’d have to fast till the katha was over. “Theek hai”, I replied “we’ll hold the katha at 8 am the next morning”, that way the only meal I’d have to skip was my bed tea. “Nahin saab, it has to be after sunset” he countered. I thought I imagined him trying to suppress a feeling of glee. Ok, so he had me there – he had me starve for an entire day!

On another occasion, Major Chatterjee’s daughter was to begin school, and as per Bengali tradition, a puja was to be held as an auspicious start to her learning process. The eldest in the family was required to hold her hand and write some `shubh akshar’ on a slate that would set her on her way. I took the little girl into my lap, and held her hand solemnly poised over the slate. I looked quizzically at the pandit. “Om likhaiye saab” he intoned, knowing fully well I didn’t have a clue as to how to write `Om’ in Sanskrit! I was flummoxed, but only for a moment. I held her hand and wrote a huge `O’, followed by an `M’. Would have made him feel pretty silly, I thought!

On my last day in the unit, I did look up the Boss again, to thank him. He had seen me through, and my `luck’ had held.

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