Other facets

One of my first station duties was presiding over a Tree Census Board.

A posting as Instructor in Defence Services Staff College, Wellington presents a rosy and cushy picture alright. But there are other facets to it too! As a newly-arrived instructor in 1988, I was the senior most Colonel but the junior most available for ‘detailment’, as the system there for accommodation, station duties etc followed seniority of arrival, known as ‘protocol seniority’. One of my first station duties was presiding over a Tree Census Board! Though it reminded me of similar instructions from seniors at ragging at the Academy, this  involved counting trees that were planted the previous year, the number that survived, possible causes of the ‘death’ of the missing ones etc.

Despite my eager anticipation, nobody was posted in for four months. So I had the next job in May: escort the then Raksha Rajya Mantri and family from Bangalore to Wellington. It gave me a day with my two young daughters studying and running a home at Bangalore; so I was happy. RRM couldn’t; but his family consisting of wife and three daughters, all named after famous Indian rivers had to be escorted.

They were extremely polite and sweet and asked me to travel in the same car, while they all squeezed in at the back, conversing nicely throughout. PS to RRM followed in another. En route they decided to stay overnight in a Govt Guest House in Mysore.
The PS, a genial sardarji made sure I got good accommodation too. The next day, while nearing Bangalore, they decided to buy silk saris at Ramanagara and asked me for factory outlets. I recalled a family-friend, owner of the most famous factory-cum-shop and took them there. He was away but the staff called him up in Bangalore and I spoke to him. That fetched them a handsome discount and they were happy.

Next May during the term-break, I was the only Instructor available, as I had availed leave earlier; so my third and last such duty was to receive and conduct a Saudi-Arabian military delegation led by a General from Coimbatore airfield to Wellington and back. It went off very well, except for an interesting interlude: the Pak Military Attache to India was there too, to take them to Pakistan. I remembered him as the 2IC (Major) of an attacking POK Battalion who had been captured by a regiment of ours in 1971. At the Officers Mess, the day being a Friday, he demanded a white sheet/carpet for prayers, whereas the Saudis were carrying their own.

I wanted to remind him of 1971 and say arrogance hadn’t left him; but discretion prevailed. Just before the aircraft doors closed, the senior General thrust a tiny gift-wrapped packet in my hand asking me to give it to my child. I could not return it as the doors shut quickly. On return, I reported it to the staff who informed the Commandant. The latter called me and asked me to open it: it was a wristwatch with their emblem. He said as I had reported it and it cost under Rs 100, I could retain it. It was then that I noticed a similar one on Commandant’s wrist!

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