Know your men
Colonel (Retd) Anil A Athale (who was then a captain) and six soldiers of the 9 Gorkhas were captured by Pakistani forces while on a reconnaissance patrol on the Punjab border December 1971, days after the two nations officially declared war.
They were declared missing in action and presumed dead, until a Red Cross official confirmed their presence in Pakistani prisons almost a month later, after the war had ended. They were finally freed almost a year later, and returned home to a hero's welcome.
This article is the first of special series on our unsung heroes. People in uniform who have pledged their lives and limbs to defend our nation. Or, as Colonel Athale says, ordinary people, with an extraordinary sense of duty.
Rampant cynicism and pessimism pervades the national scene as we celebrate our 61st Independence Day, essentially due to the leadership vacuum at the top.
We watch in horror the unedifying spectacle of the Empress of India, the Crown Prince and Princess accompanied by the entire brood, representing a country of 1 billion at Olympics, while the Prime Minister and others make feeble attempts to douse the flames in Jammu and Kashmir.
At times like these, it is easy to lose heart.
Except for the fact that luckily for us, there are countless unsung heroes who continue to do their duty, day in and day out.
More than a personal recollection and nostalgia, this article is an attempt to dispel the national gloom.
Nearly 40 years ago, when I joined the 1st Batallion of the 9 Gorkha Rifles, I was taught that knowing your men was the first important step of leadership. But there was a major problem here.
Like the Sher Singhs who dominate the Sikh regiments, and Shivajis and Tanajis in the Marathas, the Gorkhas have, in each battalion, dozens of Sher Bahadurs or Bhim Bahadurs. Remembering jawans by name was thus an impossibility. The Gorkhas found a unique solution to this problem. Not just the Jawans, but even their wives refer to their husbands with the last two digits of their army number.
All pictures courtesy Anil Athale. (Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited)