Jai jawan

Right In The Middle

Till the mid-70s, the Indian Army used to recruit uneducated or poorly educated youth into the infantry. Although, I was sympathetic towards them, it was amusing to work with these innocent boys from the Punjabi countryside. When asked about educational qualification, an uneducated jawan would say, “unpadh hainji”, while the ones who attended elementary schooling would say, “primary padhe hainji”.

Similarly, the ones who had studied up to seventh, would say “middal padhe hainji” and those who had studied up to eighth standard would say “high school padhe hainji”. One who had studied up to ninth standard would say “under matric hainji”.

Those who attended even a single day of tenth standard would say, “non matric hainji” and while those who had passed the 10th standard (matriculation) belonged to the elite group of jawans in my Sikh unit and would say, “Asi paade hain ji”. I am a proud retired officer of a Sikh light infantry unit which had all dalit men.

While I spent most of my service tenure in field areas, I came up with new methods to keep my men engaged the entire day, lest the monotony created problems of discipline. One such method/idea was arranging an inter-platoon volleyball match on the hilltop company post, because the space available there allowed only this game.

If we ventured to play football, a powerful kick could easily launch the ball into Pakistan-occupied territory. As only a handful of the men could play the game, the others were kept busy cheering their team-mates. The ‘elite’ jawans who had studied above ‘middal’, were appointed to referee the match and keep the score. The bottom-rung ‘unpadh’ were content with lugging water or serving tea and pakodas to the spectators and the only VIP ie, me.

As the match started, listening to the counting of the score was more amusing than watching the game. When the scorer thought he wasn’t being given enough attention or when he thought it opportune, he’d scream the scores out loud, ‘saven’ (seven), ‘sikkas’ (six), ‘servace containoas’ (service continues) or ‘alevan’ (eleven), ‘naayan’ (nine) or ‘service change’. When the match ended, the grand finale came with a ‘non-matric’ jawan exclaiming “ghip ghip hurray!”

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