|A Soldier's Diary||
Sunday, December 6, 1998
By K.S. Bajwa
MY father told me: "Son, go and find yourself work, which you enjoy doing. Never again will you ever have to work throughout your life." (Abraham Lincoln). It took me many years of knocking about to discover the true meaning of what he meant. The ethos of a work I liked and which (if pursued with dedication) invariably generated achievement. This would add a positive impulse and a feeling of no sweat doing this work.
My upbringing in a land-owning, feudal environment had not fitted me out for sustained hard work. Our disposition as sporting country gentlemen did help us to gather our physical resources with only as much of the mind as was needed to master the skills that went with this lifestyle. In consequence, the better part of our mental capabilities were neither tapped adequately nor integrated with the physical for a cutting edge. Childhood was pampered and school as well as college were a lark. Education was neither focused on a specific goal, nor channeled into a direction.
Passing examinations held no challenges. By early 1945 when the far boundary of college learning was touched, the prospect of an officer and a gentleman in uniform was held out. Training in the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, was not very far off the feudal alley. The primary challenge was to successfully earn a commission with some degree of distinction amongst my peers.
After becoming an officer, the creed of soldiering was a distant goal often obscured by the here and now of an attractive social whirl. Then I hit a bad patch. A combination of my naivete, a few thoughtless but innocent excesses and a disapproving senior echelon chose to knock me around a bit. Adversity threatened to drag me down. But I had learnt much and chose to take on fresh challenges.
In the first step, I turned my back upon the Engineers, the arm of the Army chosen by me for a career. My request for a transfer to the armoured corps was denied and I was instead sent to the infantry. I had an awful feeling of being pushed into limbo.
When I joined 3 Jat at Cooch Behar in April 1951, I found the working and living environment in the infantry battalion very restrictive and even, in some regards, suffocating. To top it all, the senior command echelon comprised entirely of Jat officers hailing from the same areas as the men. The few non-Jat officers mainly in the junior ranks remained on the periphery of the inner executive circle of the battalion.
We had to, therefore, apply ourselves with diligence to find a secure place in the unit. With an eager effort, we turned to the basic medium in which to set down our leadership roots our soldiers. It was here that the credo learnt in the Indian Military Academy, that after the pre-eminence of the nation, the safety, welfare and comfort of the men we lead, transcended all else, was truly followed. Our genuine interest and concern for our men, opened the doors of effective leadership. It was then that I discovered the place deep down in the hearts of the men I commanded. Its here that leaders are accepted and followed come hell or high water. A mutual bonding and an emotional romance took hold of me which was to last the whole span of my service of nearly 35 years. My simple and dour Jats taught me more of human care and devotion than all the training I had undergone.
My soldiers had made it possible for me to find the work I enjoyed or rather loved. I had discovered my relevance in soldiering. Then followed the knowledge of what was needed to sustain my standing in the minds and hearts of the men I led. The first building block was professional competence. I had to know my job so well that my men looked upto me. The second anchor was my own personal conduct, which would always set the tone and provide a role model for my men.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that the projection of a good soldier leader is almost that of a demigod who can do no wrong. Next is the ability to effectively communicate with your men. While a word of mouth is the most often used means, a subtle conveyance by a personal example draws a lasting response.
Perhaps the most enduring leadership qualities is a genuine interest in the care and welfare of the men. All these attributes combine to invest the leader with the mystique of charisma.
Acceptance by the men you lead is a giant step forward in the successful exercise of leadership especially in battle. Equally important, is a good working relationship with the other end of the equation, the boss. Committed hard work is the major key that opens many doors of understanding and acceptance. This reality was something which grew with my passage in service. There were occasions when it was brought home forcefully. After the successful completion of a year-long course at the Defence Services Staff College, I was posted as a Brigade Major to an independent artillery brigade, located at Nasirabad, Rajasthan. Most of my colleagues commisserated with me. The commander of the brigade had a reputation of being a tough and hard mouthed taskmaster with whom hardly any staff officer lasted long. At Delhi, the litany of woes of my predecessor left me even more apprehensive. When I joined the brigade headquarters at Nasirabad, the Brigadier was away on a conference. This opportunity to feel my way around my new job and the working environment, did not reassure me.
I was given the draft of a tactical exercise without troops, prepared by a regimental commander. The exercise was to be conducted at Alwar for officers of the Delhi and Rajasthan area. This is a training exercise in which troops do not participate and syndicates of officers examine and discuss tactical poblems in a particular operational, terrain and situational setting.
The training medium is designed to train officer leaders to evolve sound and workable plans to operational problems in the field. The draft exercise struck me as rather poor in concept and content. Since I did not know the parameters given by the Brigadier or the depth of the relationship of the regimental commander with the Brigadier, I thought it prudent to refrain from making any comment on the paper. The Brigadier blew his top when he went through the exercise papers, especially since we were to go to Alwar the next morning to relate the exercise on the ground chosen.
When asked for my opinion, I once again chose prudence as the better part of valour. Instead, I requested the Brigadier to tell me what he had in mind and I would have a fresh draft ready before we left at 6 a.m. the next morning. He was rather sceptical but nevertheless outlined the task for me. As my wife had not joined me in the new station, I called a typist to my room in the officers mess. Over endless cups of coffee, we worked throughout the night. By 5 a.m., a 100-page draft exercise, complete with guideline notes, for conducting the discussions was ready. At 6 a.m. I picked up the Brigadier to catch the train at Ajmer.
During the journey the exercise was discussed and approved. At Alwar it was harmonised on the ground. It was subsequently successfully conducted as per the planned schedule. Night-long hard work had opened the door towards building trust and confidence between me and my new brigade commander. Happily, I completed my full tenure under him. The essential truth of the saying with which I started had fruitfully come round full circle..
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