Iwent on a posting to Leh about 50 years ago. It was a quiet place, and except on the LAC, you seldom saw a Chinese, leave alone one carrying a club wrapped in barbed wire. I arrived in early March. It was freezing at -27°C. I was driven to a small bungalow. I rushed to the loo, and horror of horrors, I saw an enamel wash basin, a jug, a small pot on a stool and two thunderboxes (TBs)! I summoned Chawla, head of the engineering section. He said since there was no piped water, there were no flush systems in Leh.
That evening, I had a eureka moment! I sent for Chawla and said put a tank on the roof, pump the water up and let it flow into the bathroom! ‘There is only an hour of power twice a week, we can’t use the pump,’ he said. ‘Build a staircase to the roof and fill the tank manually,’ I said. He made one last attempt by exclaiming that in winter, the water would freeze. I was having none of that, saying we would decide when winter came.
Having set the project in motion, I pushed off to Delhi to attend a conference and get married. A month later, we arrived in Leh. We went home and saw a gleaming modern bathroom. I flushed the toilet and it worked!
A couple of days later, I invited the GOC for dinner to celebrate my marriage. On the appointed day, he arrived, looking spiffy in his uniform. After introductions, he settled down with a glass to talk to my wife about her father, who was in the Army, and his postings. He was in an expansive mood and we enjoyed his company. Just before dinner, he went to the loo, and came out looking dejected. ‘You have a flush system.’ My wife proudly said it was the only one in Ladakh. His engineers had told him that it was not possible to have one. I explained that I was able to show my engineers how to do it. The dinner was shot to pieces. The snow trout, hill pheasant, chocolate mousse might as well have been sawdust. He spurned the offer of an after-dinner Cognac, and left.
Early morning, I was woken up by the thumping of boots and loud whispers. ‘Sir, I am Lt Col JP Thapliyal. The General wanted to know how a junior officer with limited resources had a proper toilet, and he, the senior-most officer in the station, did not. We need to inspect your bathroom.’ The Colonel observed the setup that was so simply conceived but it worked because it was only the engineers who complicated things.
A week later, the General invited me for a drink. He was in great spirits. The next day, he invited me to become an honorary member of 3 Division and presented me with a tie.
It was a matter of time before the flush system was introduced everywhere.
Today, 3 Division is at the forefront of the face-off against China at the LAC. My thoughts are with these officers and men, with whom I spent happy days so long ago. I wish them the very best.
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