Those who have read
the famous best-seller ‘The Time Machine’ would recollect
that a scientist had invented such a unique machine that could
travel into future. In the process, he was able to see for
himself what he and the world generally would be like a few
years hence. I had more or less the same type of experience
some years ago.
My ‘time machine’
brought me to Belgaum railway station to participate in the
eagerly awaited eighth reunion of the Maratha Light Infantry.
I was respectfully and courteously welcomed on behalf of the
Regional Centre by unfamiliar young faces. Though strangers to
each other, we all knew that we had one great binding factor–
the enviable Maratha hackle. Having comfortably settled down
in the allotted room, I could not resist the temptation to
roam around the Regimental Centre. The little things were what
I noticed first-a habit I had long since got used to during my
active service with the Ganpats. Over one decade of my
retired life was, I felt, a long enough period to make a new
breed of Van Winkle out of me. Hence, my curiosity to see all
the changes. I could hardly believe the Regimental Centre
could change so much with the passage of time. The very
complex had altered beyond recognition. It was larger, more
tidy and more populous. There were rows of houses and barracks
that I had not seen before, and those that were my familiar
haunts had disappeared. Strange names were seen at the
residential houses. There was a busy, bustling tone about
everything. Everyone appeared to be giving me a curious
glance. Everything was strange indeed!
The reunion function
commenced the next day. I met my long lost buddies with a lump
in my throat. Oh boy ! How young I felt in their company. We
retraced the forbidding heights of the Himalayas, penetrated
the leach infested jungles of the Naga Hills, marched through
the scorching heat of the Thar desert and fought the 1965 and
1971 wars over again. Yet we had occasion to listen to the new
battle being fought by the young generation with strange new
weapons and equipment. Unfamiliar young faces introduced
In the social gatherings
we ‘old timers’ walked over a boisterous, louder group.
They carried the perennial air of self-confidence and
joviality associated with young age. The carefree laughter
subsided for a while. A momentary uneasy silence descended on
the scene. To break the awkward atmosphere created by us, I
asked a young officer regarding the well-being of one of his
battalion’s retired COs. "Met with a tragic mishap
after his retirement, sir. Fell from the roof of his house
right between his wife and his youngest son". I uttered a
deep, sad sigh and, in a state of shock, drifted over to
another group. What a way to die for a war veteran who came
unscathed from his close encounters with death during his
The reunion dawned
bright and clear so typical of a place like Belgaum. I
recognised an old barber. He had also since retired and ran a
hair cutting saloon now in the Camp Bazar. I noticed from the
signboard in front of his shop that he did not call himself a
barber any more. ‘Ganpat Salunke Hair Stylist’- he claimed
himself to be, having cut jawans’ hair with a jungle hat on
their heads. I settled down in a chair for the hair-cut. Not
that I needed one but how else could I hear all the gap
shap which was his favourite past time. He entered into
spirited diatribe about the new generation. "Once upon a
time long hair was the exclusive preserve of the hippies; they
have gone but the style remains. Now all the straights also
sport it". He rambled on about a world gone into reverse.
The Qutab Minar is no longer the tallest structure in Delhi,
nor would the modern generation like to climb it. No lift, you
see! The superstars of sports would no longer play for the
sake of the nation or in the interest of sport. Only for the
lure of money. Indeed, it was a world gone topsy turvy!
Having my hair cropped,
rather ‘styled’ at an absurd price, I decided to visit the
JCOs Mess in its quieter moments. The good old radio had
disappeared; its place was taken by a sleek looking TV set.
There was something called VCR that kept it running; live
transmission not-withstanding. The Mess NCO told me that among
the selection of video cassettes, as many as nearly half were
in English- Rambo, Iron Maiden, Benson & Hedges
golden greats, Jaws, Close Encounters etc.
He drove home the point that JCOs and Jawans were no longer
the illiterate, rustic men straight from the outback that we
had in our time. All of them were matriculates with a fair
percentage of graduates thrown in. The cinema hall is not
bursting to its brims any more on picture days. A number of
jawans want to watch their favourite programmes on TV or on
We assembled for a
prearranged bridge session in the Officers’ Mess. Moghe,
Baba Desai, Krishan Awasthi, Bahukhandi and I. In one of the
rubbers, Moghe and Bahukhandi were partners while Awasthi and
I were at their opposite ends. Sober, sensible calling went on
for a couple of rubbers and then tempers started rising as
often happens in this game. Mutual recriminations among
partners also commenced; a usual feature of this otherwise
excellent game. Moghe carried the bidding to a game call.
Awasthi, sitting on his left, took his habitual long, hard
puff of his cigarette through his clenched fist. When he does
that, there lurks a danger for the opponents. Very coolly, in
a low whisper, he uttered the rather dreaded word-DOUBLE.
Bahukhandi went two down. Then the inevitable postmortem.
Moghe pointed an accusing finger at him and screamed : ‘‘You
are a nut. If only you had used your grey matter, you might
have got away with an over trick". Red faced, Bahukhandi
rose from his seat to his full stature, threw all the cards
into thin air and shouted back : "Long time ago I had
taken a silent vow not to be your partner in bridge knowing
fully well your short temper and tendency to shout. Gentlemen,
I am not playing any more. Here is the money on behalf of my
partner also". Having said this, he sank back into his
chair and started sulking. After lots of persuasion and
all-round apologies, the game was resumed but not without
making frantic efforts to round up all the scattered cards
strewn all over like the fragments of an artillery shell. Such
is life! That is what makes it tick and so colourful. I was
reminded of a pop song with the theme that the person who
brings cheers and happiness to this world will only be
remembered. The serious and the colourless personalities will
soon be forgotten.
Time to bid farewell
arrived. There was a trace of a sentimental tear in old
comrades’ eyes. We promised to attend the next reunion too.
There was silence in the vehicle leaving us at the station. So
much was left unsaid. There was no further attempt to express
affectionate feelings for each other. There was no need to. It
was all there on our faces. Suddenly, I tried to find my
voice. Stuttering, I uttered a few words of praise for my
regiment for making our stay so comfortable and for looking
after us so well. Even these feelings were not adequate. My
inner self told me that there was only one way I could have
felt ! What was it ? I asked myself looking out of the train
window for a long, nostalgic moment trying to remember
something. Yes, I got it now! My true feelings surfaced. I had
come back home!
Back in my house, in my half asleep
state I shouted to Lama to bring me my bed tea. I wondered why
he was so late in bringing it. Instead, my better half brought
me back to realities. "Have you gone crazy or something ?
There is no more Officers Mess and no more Lama here.
Remember, you had retired a long time ago. Get up fast and
prepare tea. Bring one cup for me also. Lie back in bed again,
that’s bed tea for a retired soldier!"
- Lt Col B S Sahore