1971 Bangladesh War

The first journey to the front

I joined the Army in the wake of the Chinese aggression in 1962. I belonged to the very first batch of the Emergency Commissioned Cfficers that had to be rushed to the border by cutting down on their training. I was posted to Arunachal Pradesh, then a land of mystery for me, for earlier I had never gone beyond Allahabad towards the East. My elder son was just about 14 hours old when I had to part company with my wife. She still looked in some post-delivery pain and by her side lay a sleepy lump of our flesh, our newborn son. I had only a vague idea about my place of posting and how exactly to reach there. It was drummed into our heads that officers never overstay their leave unless they are dead. So I kept a margin of two days while taking a train for Mokamehghat. The weird journey then involved trans-shipment by road at Mokameh and by rail at Barauni. By the time I reached Rangia in Assam, I found myself among a good number of newly commissioned Army officers headed for the front. We organised ourselves quickly for the next leg of journey to Rangapara North. Our luggage was neatly piled in the first class compartment right up to the ceiling and we spread ourselves wherever we could find space and by evening we reached the God forsaken place.

Someone among us had talked about a Sardarji inviting Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary to his 'dhaba' just when they reached the Everest. As if to give credence to this story, a real Sardarji appeared to whisk us away to his 'dhaba' at the place. Besides, he also owned a bar and a cinema hall. The man gave us a feeling that we were the knights in the shining armour who had come to defend the farthest borders of our country and he was proud to serve us. Early next day, we were on the move again in the train to North Lakhimpur. Most of our people got down on the way at Tezpur and went away waving to us warmly. Seven of us carried on to North Lakhimpur and were finally sitting in the Officers' Mess of the 33rd Heavy Mortar Regiment to be met by our Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mackeen, son of an Irish father and a Nepalese mother. A fine soul and an excellent soldier, he took no time to establish himself as our patriarch.

"How many of you are married?" he enquired. Three hands went up, including mine. He then asked how many of us had kids. My lone hand went up this time. "Son or daughter and how old?" he asked. I said, "Son, sir. Four days old." "What?" he said, surprised. I clarified that he was 14 hours old when I left home. The grand old man kept this in a corner of his mind. I was soon on my way to my sub-unit, the 116th Heavy Mortar Battery then deployed at Ziro in Subansiri frontier division of NEFA among the half-naked and heavily tattooed 'Apatani' tribals. After around three months, a message came from my Regimental Headquarters, without any request from me, that I would come down to North Lakhimpur to proceed on leave. My kind Colonel had even made arrangements for me to fly up to Delhi in the Army courier aircraft. Now, who would not like to die for the country under such a Commanding Officer

Source: The Tribune

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