Disclaimer: This is a work of complete fiction and will be presented in four chapters. Some officers and men mentioned in this story have served in 17 Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army. Some are the creation of my fertile imagination. All places exist, as does CITS, Sarol. Many of you wanted to know how life is in the army and what happens when a unit moves from a peace location into operations. Here it is.
Day & Date: 23 June 1996
Location: Tibri Cantt, Gurdaspur (Punjab)
The bile in my stomach started to rise and this time, it would not stay down. It came up rushing from my gut as I ran towards the toilet and came gushing out of my mouth. Whiskey and other sins lay splattered on the floor. Another heave followed by a few more and I was retching on an empty stomach. My head hurt like a goblin had crawled up on me gently without a sound and hit me three millimeters above my temple with the hammer of Thor.
Saturday night was when the Jat unit of our brigade decided to give us a farewell party. I am a moderate drinker, if at all. But the youngsters of the Jat unit decided that they would give us a farewell party we would never forget.
I staggered to my bunk and sat down, reaching for a glass of water. I drank a sip, unwilling to drink more and felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“Drink up, Sir” said Capt. Varun Batra, my company 2-i-C (second in command).
“Yes mother”, I croaked, taking two more sips.
“Feeling better, Sir?” Varun was all concern.
“Shut up, Varun. My head is breaking into pieces”, I snapped irritably.
Varun walked to the medicine cabinet and took out two Disprins, poured a glass of water and let the tablets dissolve. He handed the glass to me and waited.
I took a long look at the glass and slowly downed the foul liquid.
“Fifteen minutes, Sir. In fifteen minutes you will be rocking” said Varun. In Varun’s scheme of things, everything, which was good, was rocking. If you got a 9 pointer ACR (annual confidential report), you were rocking. If you almost got a nine pointer, you were almost rocking. If you were dead, you stopped rocking. The world was divided into those who rocked and those who did not.
We sat in silence and soon the tablets were working their magic. Varun stepped outside and walked across the narrow dirt road to the officer’s mess.
“Mess” he howled.
“Koi hai?” he added in a fake British accent, his take on how a young British officer would have sounded in the early twentieth century.
“Ji sahib” was the immediate response. Out rushed Mess Havildar Dharam Singh, all of five feet nothing and a middle, which would have done a halwai proud.
“Two cups of tea, please” Varun said. Dharam was already running to comply. Unit legend had it that Dharam Singh’s original name was Samay Singh and Subalterns of 17 Kumaon Regiment being a one-of-a-kind species, started calling him Time Lion. The Commanding Officer found this strange and so, by the powers vested in him by the President of India, he ordered the adjutant to change Samay’s name to Dharam Singh vide a Special BRO (Battalion Routine Order). Dharam Singh was handed over a copy of the BRO and the deed was done. Time Lion became Religious Lion.
I was feeling better now was ready for another day. Varun entered and sat down on my study chair.
“Another farewell party today. Its going to be rocking, Sir.”
I didn’t want to speak about any party of any kind and motioned to Varun to let me have some peace and get out of my room. It was Sunday and I wanted peace. Varun ignored me. He started whistling a mangled version of “Cocaine”. He was a happy man. He was ‘rocking’. I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
Later in the evening, we landed at the Rajputana Rifles Officers Mess. The Brigade Commander had not yet arrived. Mess waiters wearing Rajasthani safas or ceremonial turbans stood attentively. Soon enough the brigade commander arrived in his trademark black staff car, along with his lady wife. In the army, all wives are called lady wives for some reason; as if there are any other kind. His Brigade Major in a Gypsy, accompanied by his lady wife, followed him. We were soon inundated with top brass and their lady wives and the party got going.
The Brigade Commander walked about the lawn meeting everyone and soon came to where Varun, a few youngsters and I were standing. He shook hands with all of us and settled comfortably in a corner.
“I hope you are looking after yourselves” he said. There are a few sentences very typical to the Indian Army and this was one. Logically, this sentence has no meaning and is as inane as asking a person standing in front of you “Oh, you are here”? When a Brigade Commander says it, it becomes an exercise in welfare and morale boosting. If a Captain says it, it sounds hollow. It actually is.
“So, the battalion is moving from a peace area to a field area” said the commander.
“Yes, Sir”, Varun answered.
The commander knitted his eyebrows, making an effort to remember. “It must be my old age”, he said. Everyone laughed politely.
“Poonch & Rajouri Sector, Sir” Varun said helpfully.
“Ah yes” the commander slapped his forehead and added, “Please enjoy yourselves, gentlemen”.
As the commander moved on to another group, Varun said cheers to everyone. Winking at me, he said “Sir, I have a ready supply of Disprins for you”.
“Cheers” I winked back and raised a toast.
And this is where our little story begins. The story of how 17 Kumaon was launched into operations on the Line of Control.
CHAPTER TWO OF “THE WOLF PACK” WILL BE PUBLISHED ON TUESDAY (1 NOVEMBER).