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Posted at: May 17, 2018, 12:01 AM; last updated: May 17, 2018, 12:01 AM (IST)

An old soldier’s camaraderie

An old soldier’s camaraderie

Lt Gen (retd.) R S Sujlana

THE mobile rang sharply, an unknown number, somewhere from a foreign land. I wondered who and answered the call. A strong deep voice replied, 'General Sahib Sat-Sri-Akal, I am Nagra calling.' For a moment I was stumped, then my memory struck a bell. Yes, it had to be Ujagar Singh Nagra, an outstanding Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), who as the Subedar Major of 9 Sikh was an institution. He did full justice to his name, Ujagar meaning brightness, a chirag or to make someone wiser, take your pick.

He was all these and much more; he called just to tell me that he will be back in India for a short while and looked forward to meeting me. I first met him just before the 1971 Indo-Pak War. A very impressive personality, at 6 feet 2 inches, ram rod straight, immaculately dressed, a full swift salute and very respectful. During my greenhorn years of soldiering one learnt much from him in our close association. Over almost five years, he carried himself with poise, maintained exacting standards, a strict disciplinarian and lo behold any subordinate who didn't meet his expectations. 

Nagra Sahib was soon in town. True to the military ethos, he rang up to check our convenience so that he could come and pay his respects. The doorbell rang at mid-day, the appointed time, and there was Ujagar Singh with wife. At 84 years, he still stood erect, the salute was as smart as ever. He embraced me and with his first words his feelings erupted, 'What a pleasure to meet our Lieutenant who went on to make a General!’ There was so much to exchange, hours flew by, my sudden reference to my late Father (with whom he had coincidently also served) and the mention that I had kept my Father's memory alive by preserving his uniform duly framed, stoked his interest by decibels and he wanted to see it. As this was displayed on the first floor, climbing would be painful as one knee troubled him. But he didn’t budge. ‘No way, I have to see it.’ Despite his pain, he climbed up, as he stood in front of the framed Uniform, his demeanour changed, a crisp salute followed, silently he bowed his head, evidently very moved, turned around and announced, 'time to leave Sir, now that I have met the father and son whom I respect so much I think I will live for another five years to visit again!’ What feelings. I was grounded!  I started dialling for an Uber, he stopped me and said, “you cannot do this, you cannot pay for the cab.” Now it was my turn. ``'Sahibji, you have come from Canada to Ludhiana and then to especially to Zirakpur to meet me. Why can't I pay for a cab?”

My persistence won, but he struck the winning note. Pulling out two perfumes beautifully packed, he gave a departing shot, “Sir, I agreed for the taxi now you have to agree. I didn’t know about your granddaughters and had nothing for them. So as is customary, I want to give some money to them.” Much as I tried, it was Old Ujagar all the way. As he departed, I remarked, “why only five years?  Sahibji, may you live longer.” Our eyes swelled with mutual respect and emotions, a soldier's camaraderie never ends.

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