Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Dear Tom Uncle

Being an army spouse gave me an opportunity to interact with various legends of Bhartiya Sena. One of them is Tom Uncle (as he has strictly told me to call him). My first meeting with the legendary, Brigadier Kailash Prasad Pande, popularly known as ‘Tom Pande’ was nothing short of a humbling experience. The moment we met I felt incredibly protective towards them, something unusual, something you feel only for your parents. Born on 4th July 1925 Tom hails from a reputed Army family of Madhya Pradesh. Now, it is their fourth generation in the services.

During our conversation Tom revealed that he has fought as many as 18 battles since World War II, losing none. Tom’s most commendable performance was during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 where he commanded a brigade with distinction which later came to be known internationally as the Phantom Force of Indian Army. For his gallant and skillful command of his force with complete disregard for his personal safety and even minimum comforts resulting in heavy attrition on the enemy, Tom was awarded the coveted Maha Vir Chakra by the President of India. I could notice the moist eyes of the most courageous, determined and inspiring leader of his times as he told me the heartrending tales of the 1971 Indo-Pak War. He lost most of his men at Dhalai where one of the toughest battles of 1971 Indo-Pak was fought. Oh! I just love these faujis.

A nostalgic Tom told about his life and times as an army officer. When I asked him how he judges the present Indian Army, the defensive soldier replied, “I’m very proud of it. Indian Army is one of the best in the world and I admire the professionalism that is seen amongst our troops today.”Following the gas tragedy in Bhopal in 1984 he was invited by the state Governor to be the chairman of the state Red Cross in which capacity he was able to bring solace to thousands of sick and the needy and created clinics and medical facilities to treat over one third of the severally affected population of Bhopal.
So what’s next? I ask. Very shyly, I am told there is a movie being made on him by director Siddarth Kothari and a book being written on the MVCs of the Indian Army by Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, VSM, SM. Long Live the Legend! And I am lucky to have met one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My little coterie of friends

I just couldn’t have written another blog without mentioning my great friendships which I have formed during my husband’s numerous postings. For me whether a station is good, bad or bearable largely depends on the friends I have made there. Each friend I mentioned here represents a world, which we once shared which was possibly not born until they arrived. All of my husband’s peace postings remind me of some or the other special friend I had there.

Our first posting Tezpur reminds me of Akhita, a sophisticated and chic Puneite. She was a close friend and our friendship grew from our trips to the hospitals during our respective pregnancies and its complications. Akhita is someone I value as a part of my life for so long, that it seems like forever. Mhow had superb Surender, a pucca sardarni, who never failed to amaze me with her frank and in your face outlook. In fact she is responsible for some of the crucial decisions I made about my pregnancy and deliveries. The fact that our husbands too were great friends made things easier for us. We were next door neighbours and had some of the most memorable times together.
Think of Udhampur I think of Meena, a great friend with a great voice. Though we both belonged to the different units our mutual love for ladies club brought us together. While I loved to emcee she loved to sing. Both of us together would lift up the dullest of the evenings. A short course in Mhow gave me a chance to get lose to Manisha a wonderful human being with a golden heart. I simply love her for her simplicity. A great painter and an excellent cook she taught me about the finer points in life.

Jodhpur gave me a chance to befriend one of our jawan’s wife. Although friendships with other ranks are simply not accepted in the army I formed a very good bond with Saroj during my daily visits to the vocational training centre. Saroj had two children and younger one a girl was mentally disabled. Through Saroj and her immense patience and love for her younger child I got to know about the other side of motherhood. While I got busy with my own little kids I can never forget the love I saw between Saroj and her daughter.
Bhopal is a place which gave a quite a bunch of great friends. Maybe because of the extended period of time we’ve spent here. With Janaki it was all very instant, our boys were of the same age and went to the same school. We had a lot to share which resulted in a very deep friendship. Bhopal also gave me a very special friend Radhika. Her husband has already hung his boots but we still are great friends. We have shared everything thought that ever crossed our minds during that time. Now although she is in Delhi, but even now we have a bond that whenever we talk we start from wherever we left. It’s as if we never leave each other. We seem to be always together, both carrying on with our duties as military spouse and are looking forward to spending the Diwali break together. She is like a sister I never had……

Friendships in the army are like one minute, you’re having the time of your lives together. The next, posting orders come and you’re suddenly saying goodbye. But this little group mine is always sure that the goodbye is to say hello again very soon and we make sure it does. We all stay in touch from wherever we are. Thank you girls! For all the good times, bad times and great times of the army life we faced together. God bless....