Codes and kids

Codes and kids

As a young captain, life in the army was interesting and I recall we once camped for collective training, somewhere in rural Uttar Pradesh. Our office complex was located on a route that children from a nearby village used to go to their school everyday. The tents that housed the offices were pitched with signposts according to the army’s coded language with names like Tiger, Lion, Panther and Lamb.

The innocent children who read these signposts were inspired to take a detour from the office complex to explore the world of wild animals with a mixture of curiosity and fear. I once overheard an interesting conversation about how the army kept wild animals in tents. One child remarked “isn’t it surprising that they have a lamb with a tiger, lion, etc,” to which another child quipped “don’t the wild animals require food?” When, I narrated this over a drink in the officers’ mess everybody had a hearty laugh.

Next morning, we were working in the office and the communication was on radio link, as there was no landline connecting my infantry battalion to the brigade headquarters. Coincidentally, it was school time, when I was conversing on radio and was standing outside my office tent. I said “Hello, Kilo Lima Mike one, this is Lion on set, when is Big Tiger coming?”

Now, these names of animals are appointment codes that armies use across the world. These codes are no secret because the enemy also understands its meaning. It only conceals the level of headquarters, which is also compromised to some extent by most officers because they tend to use the word big to indicate higher HQs.

Interestingly, the children walking along erupted into discussion on hearing my radio conversation and in the context of the previous day’s observation. One child described in his wisdom, “Hey! They are not wild animals; it must be the army’s clever way of deception.”