The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 1, 2001

Buddha: The saviour
G. K. Sharma

IT was the morning of November 2, 1963. I was in Saigon when the military coup, led by General "Big" Minh, took place. President Ngo Binh Diem of South Vietnam had been toppled and murdered. The whole city of Saigon was agog with rumours. In an adventurous mood, I, along with a friend, entered the presidential palace — the scene of the army coup — to find out things first hand, and to satisfy our curiosity!

I was residing in Continental Hotel in Saigon. The Presidential Palace — the ornate yellow building behind high, wrought-iron gates — was walking distance away. National Assembly was opposite our hotel. Hari Mehta, the Chief Financial Controller of the International Commissions in Indo-China, and I ventured to reach the palace, soon after this event. It was a sort of a probing mission to inform our Ambassador soonest possible and through him our government in New Delhi.

We had tip-toed to a stationary army tank which seemed to be abandoned. But suddenly, we spotted an officer standing nearby, and took shelter in a pit near the belly of the tank. Then the tank roared to life! We thought we were dead meat. The tank enginenoise, however, soon died down and the soldier who was hiding ostrich-like in the cockpit, jumped out and asked our identity. When told we were Indians, he spared us saying, "Ando Buddha’ (Indians are Buddhists — meaning peaceful). Then, forgetting us, he joined the chorus of the troops milling around outside: "We have won!" We thanked our stars and ran for safety, thinking that it was enough adventure for one day. Ambassador Govardhan, chairman of the commission, did get some authentic on-the spot news! (But the cost would have been exorbitant if the tank had mowed us while we were lying hidden near its belly).


Little did I realise that it was out of the frying pan into the fire! As soon as I had reached my hotel room, panting, and bolted the door from the inside to catch my breath, I heard a sharp knock on the door. I wished and prayed it was not the Military Police following my tracks. Then my hunch told me that it must be my room boy, as the knock was typically his.

When I opened the door, Ho (short name of the Vietnamese room boy) was standing there and making unintelligible sounds while entering. This quiet, greying, obsequious old man, who spoke hilariously ungrammatical English, had always intrigued me — particularly his version of Saigon news. This time, Ho gave no news, but blurted out, "I today shall kill five foreigners. We have won. The Red Army and Comrade Ho Chi Minh have won. I must celebrate our victory by beheading five foreigners!"

He did not have any dagger or a gun; but he was violently thrusting the second finger of his right hand towards me. A chill went down my spine, and I shivered involuntarily. Totally scared, I almost fainted ... till, suddenly, He smiled, and with folded hands said: " Ando Buddha" — assuring me that I was not on his ‘hit list’. Later in the evening, I came to know that Ho did kill five American officers near the GI wing of our hotel, and escaped to jungle terrain to join some guerrilla bands.

Why Ho had spared me, has always intrigued me. As an Indian, I would have been as easy target. So, probably, my identity as "Ando Buddha" was the saving grace! Buddha had saved me — both from the ‘charge’ of a roaring armoured tank, as well as from a furious and delirious Ho. And now, about 40 years later, I wonder and thank ‘Buddha’ for His grace to save us from this close encounter.

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