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Posted at: Oct 13, 2019, 7:54 AM; last updated: Oct 13, 2019, 7:54 AM (IST)

The Chambal challenge

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
MILITARY MATTERS
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) 

With the start of the India-China war in 1962, a junior command course at the War College was terminated and every one instructed to forthwith rejoin their units. In my case, there was a signal from the Army Headquarters, which required of me to stay put at Mhow. Two days later, I was handed over my posting order to J&K with immediate effect, giving no joining time.

I had taken my car (Hindustan-14) to Mhow and had no option other than to drive straight back to Punjab, where I could leave the car and proceed to J&K. Since I did not have much time, I decided to drive non-stop to Delhi. The stretch between Gwalior and Agra involved driving through the area of Chambal ravines: better known for its dacoits and lawlessness. In the early Sixties, taking this journey by oneself, even during day, was not without some risk.

Therefore, for me to drive through this section of the road at night was perilous. It was around midnight that on approaching a defile formed by the low hills, I found the road blocked by a tree. I realised that I had run into an ambush and there was no scope to turn back, because the trap had been carefully planned.

As I brought the car to a halt, a number of men with guns and bandoliers, strung across their chests, appeared. Their faces were covered for obvious reasons. They asked me to come out, which I dutifully did. They searched me for cash and removed my watch and wallet. Thereafter, they got down to searching my baggage and the car.

While they were busy rifling through my baggage and taking fancy to the clubs in my golf bag, someone announced that ‘sardar’ had come. Every one pulled back a little and there appeared a sturdy young man with a large mustache. As he drew near, he suddenly sprung to attention and gave me a smart salute: “Sahib ji, tussee ethay ki kar rahey ho?” (Sir, what are you doing here?)

From his voice and his face, latter day mustache notwithstanding, I recognised him. He was my tank gunner and had been discharged after his seven years’ tenure of engagement. I responded to his query and asked him, “Nahar Singh, toon aye ki kam pharya hai?” (Nahar Singh, what is this work you have taken on?) 

He said, “Sahib ji, admi nu kuch na kuch taan karna chahida hai, velay baith kay vi ki karna hai.” (Sir, one must do some work and there is no point sitting idle.)

I told him, “Tenu asi eh kam taan nahi sakhlaya see.” (We did not train you for such an activity.) 

“Sahib ji tohadi ambush laan di sikhlai kum ahh rahi hai. Sadi ambush wich koi nuks hai?” (Sir, your training in laying an ambush is proving useful.)

He then addressed his gang: “Dekheya sadhi regiment de officer kiney dalair hun, ekelay he raat nu is sadak tay chal rahey hun” (See how brave are the officers of our regiment, they travel alone on this road at night). This bit was perhaps to project his own pedigree. 

I asked him if his family (wife) knew what work he was doing. To this, he answered, “Sarian gallaan family nu thodian dassi dian hun. Oh soch di hai kay main police da nal kam kar rehaan han” (You don’t disclose everything to your family. She thinks I am working for the police). At this, one of the men from his gang interjected, “Police vi tey ehhoo kam kardi hai” (police too do this sort of work). This raised much laughter amongst them. Then he told his men to quickly make tea. While we waited for tea, Nahar Singh chatted about his time with the regiment and his old friends.

All my stuff was put back in the car, my watch and wallet returned and the tree shifted for the car to pass. After a cup of tea and much bonhomie and handshaking, I took leave of Nahar Singh and his gang.

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