Serious matter

Serious matter

The sight of a service helicopter approaching our base-camp, an inaccessible and snow-bound area, made everyone, from officers to jawans ecstatic because it brought mail from home which is a big morale-booster for Army men. And only on days when the skies were clear would these choppers come through making those days an occasion to celebrate.

Although most people desired news from home to keep their morale high, many homesick jawans wanting to meet their loved ones used it as a tool to persuade authorities to grant them leave. Every day the chunk of ‘dak’ (daily mail) put up to me by my staff, had a good number of telegrams which read ‘wife serious, come soon’ or ‘mother serious, come soon,’ the volume of which used to increase prior to festivals of Lohri, Baisakh and Diwali, since mine was an infantry battalion of Sikhs.

While documenting the request of leaves by Jawans, I observed that most of the jawans timed their receipt of such telegrams in such a way that it would be their turn to go on leave as per the leave request register. They probably did this to add more weight to their request since only a small percentage could be away on casual leave at any given time, so as to maintain an optimum level of fighting strength in the battalion.

Once, a young uneducated recruit came in for an ‘arj report’ (documented leave request) interview with me. When asked why he wanted to go on leave, he answered, “Sir, khushinal jana hai” (Sir, I want to go just for pleasure). I told him that the entry in the reason for leave column read ‘wife serious’ and asked him if he was married, he replied in the negative. When asked why he had written that in the register he said, Havialdar Major had said that a reason is to be given. So apparently, to this innocent, uneducated Punjabi lad from the countryside, the word ‘reason’ was synonymous with telegrams with ominous content.

Many days later, in a camp-fire after the completion of a tough commando exercise, the Subedar Major proudly mentioned to all officers that we stood first in the brigade during the manoeuvre because, “sadde munde tagde hain” (our boys are tough!) One witty officer immediately quipped, “SM saab, your boys are tough but their ladies are not.”

When the Subedar Major seemed perplexed the officer laughed and added, we get many telegrams reading ‘wife serious’ and ‘mother serious.’

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