Picnic spots to battle spots

Picnic spots to battle spots

Brig IJ Singh (retd)

In 1984, a soldier with monk-like looks, a controlled smile, bestowed with the wisdom of articulating the Art of War, was my Commander — the late Brig Ranjit Singh from Garhwal Rifles. Getting posted as the Brigade Major to the famous brigade of Darbukh (Tangtse) in eastern Ladakh that gave two Chiefs to the Army — Gen TN Raina and Gen KV Krishna Rao — was indeed an honour.

The first meeting with the Commander, who also had been a senior instructor in the commando wing of Infantry School, was eventful. He said I, being a gunner and also an aviator, would have to work hard and prove myself on the ‘physical fitness’ front. According to him, a good soldier was one who was as agile as a snow leopard, as tough as an ibex, as watchful as a pair of black-neck cranes, and as fast as a kiang (wild ass).

He hated tourists with inner-line permits and would often say that picnic spots around Pangong Tso would one day turn into battle spots. I had the privilege of his company in climbing the Magar Hill, Chushul Heights, Thakung and Rezangla features. I saw emotions and fire in his eyes, standing at the Chushul advance landing ground, and remember his words that that piece of ground would one day become operational to support our forces in the area. His directions to make all officers climb every hill feature in the brigade sector was with a clear motive that one day some of them would become formation commanders, and thus would not be found wanting on account of

ground knowledge.

Whenever a new battalion was inducted into the brigade sector, the ‘commando Commander’ was at his best in delivering quotes of wisdom — ‘don’t advance uphill against the enemy’, ‘never oppose him when he comes downhill, ‘make your way by unexpected routes by occupying unguarded highest spots in the area of operations’. The Fingers area, in the news now, was often mentioned by him during operational briefing — ‘Fingers area should be on your fingertips.’

He often said that unlike past wars and skirmishes, the future conflict with China would have elements of air and mechanised forces playing an important role. He often visited Rezangla spot. It was his way of going on ‘pilgrimage’ and remembering the soldiers martyred in 1962.

His final shot at me while proceeding on posting to the Army Headquarters deserves a mention. ‘Unlike gunners, you proved yourself mentally and physically tough,’ he said. I remarked, ‘Sir, the gunners are as fit as infantry men and the mule-pack gunners are a shade better!’

I obeyed his order to not take chopper rides during my entire tenure under him. Later, every visit of mine to the brigade sector was like an obituary of the diehard infantry soldier.

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