OLD soldiers don’t die, they just fade away — this oft-repeated adage appears true when I observe that the number of fellow veterans attending annual reunions has started dwindling. The presence of veterans during a military unit’s reunion is a time-tested recipe for boosting the morale of those in uniform because such events recall and highlight the glorious heritage of the unit and the valour of its members in the bygone days.
Emerging out of the shadows, veterans have been attending these get-togethers. One prominent absentee that I noticed was Sansar Chand, our mess havildar in the 1970s. For officers of my generation, the 1970s were the years of our mentorship and learning, when as youngsters we imbibed lessons in military ethos and punctilious adherence to hours for meals and leisure. Those were my early years with my battalion, 18 Punjab, and an enterprising person who immensely impacted our grooming years during those tough tenures in Jammu & Kashmir was Sansar Chand.
On my posting to Dehradun, the Commanding Officer, Col Sarjit Singh Sahota, had given the go-ahead to one person to travel along in my baggage truck. Sansar Chand, having relinquished the job of mess havildar, was assigned this task. On arrival at Dehradun next day, Sansar Chand’s fervent wish for a pilgrimage to nearby Haridwar was realised when I was able to arrange a vehicle for him and others.
Thereafter, he had returned to 18 Punjab and that was the end of our association. Eventually, we lost track of each other. All these years, I did not spot him in any of the reunions either. Perhaps he had faded away, I often wondered with overwhelming sadness.
It was music to my ears when I got a call the other day and the person on the line excitedly yelled out our battalion’s salutation,‘Har maidan fateh’. The caller revealed that he was Capt Sansar Chand. Having obtained my phone number from somewhere, he was contacting me after 44 long years. He rued, ‘Mera taan saara kam ruk gaya, saab ji’ (my life has come to a standstill, sahib).
He explained that his work suffered as he could not move about and needed a wheelchair. He then reminded me how I had provided a vehicle for him to visit Haridwar decades ago. He was banking on me to do an encore of sorts and get a wheelchair for him. Perhaps he was oblivious to the fact that I was now a ‘helpless’ veteran.
Ultimately, a wheelchair was arranged for him and it went all the way from Chandigarh to his village near Ranbir Singh Pura (Jammu), which lies close to the India-Pak border, but only after the promise was elicited from him that he would attend all reunions hereafter.
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