She’s a free citizen of India, sir

A short telegram on November 6, 1971, from my wife said: “Arriving Khandwa Sunday 1 pm meet,” put me in a spin. I was on a 13-week course at College of Combat, Mhow. War clouds were gathering, and so, after the first five weeks, the course was reduced to nine weeks for us to get back to our operational locations.

Mhow had acute shortage of accommodation. Only a few medical cases were permitted to stay in houses hired by student-officers in civil area, after  approval by an instructor. Because, we as armed forces officers, are to maintain a certain standard in everything. Apparently, a few officers from forward areas who hadn’t been with their families for a few years and had to get back for war, had hired sub-standard houses, visiting them in the evenings, but staying in single accommodation in the mess. Intelligence reported this to the College, who took a serious view of it. An address by the senior instructor ordered all families to vacate civil areas in Mhow, and all married officers on course to give a certificate that their family was not in Mhow. I did without a worry, not knowing what was to come 24 hours later!

Even before the telegram arrived, I had too many things on mind: studies; vacation of my house in permanent duty station where I had allowed a subordinate to stay, no news of my baggage as all units had moved at short notice to operational areas, and a letter from my Brigade Commander sanctioning just one day’s leave after the course. The telegram only worsened the situation after my certificate. One didn’t approach the Senior Instructor directly with a problem. So, there was no way, but to wait till Monday. My immediate worry was where to keep my wife and 15-month-old daughter. A friend, who was an Instructor at the Infantry School in Mhow, came to my rescue asking me to leave them with his family.

I continued at the Mess. Morning dawned and I sought an interview with the SI, along with an application. He was livid and blamed me for being clever: not vacating on time, hence, the application. He threatened me that for non–adherence, my grading would be affected, despite excellent performance. I pointed out that I had been refused leave after the course, no one knew if I would be alive after the impending war and so, he could be humane. But he wouldn’t budge.

That is when I told him bluntly, “She is a free citizen of India, Sir, staying with a family friend not from this College, and will not go back except after the course.”

The net result was that my grading suffered, after all the hard work of nine weeks. A small price to pay! But the bigger price paid was my daughter calling me “Uncle” instead of “Appa!”

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She’s a free citizen of India, sir

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