Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Indian army, Artillery, oldest mountain batteries

30 May, 2011

My Army Days

Coming back to Indian Mountain Artillery once again as promised in  my  previous blogs, it is interesting to know the historical back ground under which these oldest five Mountain  Batteries were  raised and deployed.

As we know, the frontier area in the extreme West side of the then undivided India was - and still is - the home of mixed tribes who always believed in their own rules and tribal ways of administration. They never reconciled to the Mughal rule over their territory and kept asserting for independence. In the years after the Mughal rule, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, using his Zum Zum guns and cavalry, established control over the whole of the Frontier area. His empire thus included not only Punjab but also what today is Pakistan, POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir), and Jammu & Kashmir.

Later, when the British Raj took root in India, their Governor General Dalhousie, could not resist the temptation to extend British control further West. Taking into account that Ranjit Singh was already crippled by two paralytic strokes, Dalhousie, in October 1848, declared war against the Maharaja. By March 1849, after a series of battles, the Sikh Army finally surrendered and Punjab Empire was annexed outright by the British.

Soon after the annexation,  the British Army  raised four new Mountain Artillery Batteries in which most of the Indian Gunners from the disbanded Artillery units of Ranjit Singh were re-recruited. These  four Batteries were initially known as Punjab Frontier Force (PFF) Batteries & designated as:-

Ist Kohat Mountain Battery (PFF).
2nd Derajat Mountain Battery (PFF)
3rd Peshawar Mountain Battery (PFF) and
4th Hazara Mountain Battery (PFF)  

Incidentally, the 5th Bombay Mountain Battery had been raised much earlier in 1827 as the Bombay Foot Artillery as is the oldest Indian Mountain Battery. It was however, never part of PFF.

A brief account of each battery to follow in my subsequent blog posts.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dehradun,India,Bollywood,villains, Indian religions

23 May,2011-05-23
Villains in Bollywood

Last Wednesday evening, we visited the DSOI club (Defence Services Officers Institute) Dehradun as usual. The club is located in the cantonment area, just a kilometre away from my residence.

The vast open area around the club includes the golf course, helipads, etc, as well as the panoramic view of the great Himalayas.  The lights of Mussoorie twinkling in the distance provide a fascinating touch to the place at night.

We often go there to enjoy the serene environment and spend time with old friends and colleagues, discussing everything on the earth, from our youthful days in the Army to the old age aliments.  

Wednesdays, however, are special, particularly for families and children since a movie is shown on that day.  Movie-watching at the club is casual, homely and absolutely relaxed, with regular flow of people between the hall where films are shown and the bar/food counters located in the near-by rooms. In summers, food counters and bar are moved to the lawn outside the hall to cater for larger gatherings.

                                   (View of Himaliyan mountains from the DSOI club, Dehradun)

                                            (A closure view of picture one above)

This last Wednesday, we went to watch the movie of the week.  I do not remember the name but it was one of those Bollywood  films where a powerful, rich, but cruel village headman carries out atrocities on the poor villagers, and in the end (as expected) is killed by the hero (with the help of the village belle).

After the film, we came home but some how the name of the villain kept returning to my thoughts. His name was “some…Singh.” While I lay in bed, I kept recollecting the names of various villains in movies I have seen over the past 60 years. Astonishingly the majority of names that I could recollect bore the surname Singh, the most famous of course being Gabbar Singh of Sholay.

I wonder why Bollywood is so obsessed with the surname Singh, and why it chooses to mostly give it to the bad guys?

Historically, of course, the surname Singh has been synonymous with Kshatriyas, who have, since time immemorial, bravely fought and sacrificed their lives for defending and preserving the state and/or kingdom, and protecting the people.

I suppose the irony is that while Bollywood projects the Singhs as villains, it does not realise that all major Indian religions were started by Kshatriyas:

Lord Ram, a Kshatriya king of Ayodhya, is revered by all Hindus;
Siddharth, a Kshatriya prince of Kapilvastu (just 30-40 kms north of district Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh) started Buddhism;
Mahavir, another Kshatriya laid the foundation of Jainism in Bihar;
Even Guru Nanak Devji who started Sikhism was also a Kshatriya.

Friday, 20 May 2011

More on My Artillery Days

20 May.2011
My Army days.

Hi folks, One most amazing advantage of serving in the Army is that you are required to  perform some duties which actually are your hobbies. For example, playing polo is one of them. As a young officer we always performed such duties very enthusiastically.

And the best part of being a Mountain gunner was that one could always find some patch of land even in the operational areas in the hills to practice polo. The picture below was taken in 1965, just before the move of our Battery from one forward location to the other on the Western front (up in the mountains) to participate in the Indo-Pakistan war.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Hi folks,
In old days, horses were the only mode of transport for the Mountain Artillery officers.Hence we all used to look after our chargers well.. The picture above is  of the writer while pampering his horse taken some where in operational area in 1963-64.

My Mountain Artillery Days: A Royal Wedding Army Style

The British royal wedding on 29 April 2011 was indeed an extraordinary event, being the costliest nuptial ceremony in the world. Of course, I was not in London to join the crowds of uninvited guests to watch the proceedings but instead watched the show on TV.  It was more fun to watch while relaxing on my sofa with a mug of chilled beer and two dogs sleeping next to my feet instead of standing on a crowded London street.

My keenness to watch the ceremony had no particular reason. It was not because I have any personal equation with William or Kate,  or was enthusiastic to know how a wedding takes place (I have been married for the last 44 years & live happily with my better half).  But I like to see people happy and making merry at the slightest given opportunity. And I like smiling faces and bright eyes.

The best part of the ceremony for me was when the royal couple drove to the Buckingham palace in a four horse driven carriage, guarded by mounted horsemen. I did cheer (with a bottoms up of my beer mug) when I saw William in his full Air Force ceremonial uniform, prominently displaying the medals and the pilot wings on his chest. My instant thought: I wish one would see some children of Indian Ex-Royals, politicians and industrialists wearing the military uniform and serving tenure at places like Saichen glacier or the Rajasthan desert.

Watching the horse and carriage parade, the royal wedding also reminded me of my Mountain Artillery days:

The year was 1963 and our Mountain Artillery Regiment had just returned to a peace station after taking part in the 1962 Indo-China war in Arunachal Pradesh, then known as North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).

The Regiment (Regt) was allotted a large open area on the outskirts of the Cantonment (Cantt), which in itself was located beyond the main township. The offices, Quarter guard and the Officers mess were set up close to a dirt road that led to the Cantt area and to the town beyond, while the Regimental Hqrs. and the four Batteries were allotted areas further inside the perimeter where soldiers, horses, mules, guns, saddles and other equipments etc. were soon established. There was no constructed accommodation in the area and therefore every thing was under tents and large tarpaulin sheds erected by the troops.

Regular peace time routine of the unit soon started.  It is essential to clarify here that unlike other branches of the Army, where the day starts with PT (Physical Training), followed by Drill with & without arms etc, the Mountain Artillery starts the day with horse/mule riding, cleaning and feeding of the animals, followed by vigorous gun drills etc. Accordingly, the officers got in to the routine of riding around the cantonment on their respective chargers (horse allotted to a particular officer is known as his charger). The other units in the Cantonment soon felt our presence as we often trotted by, passing others units’ PT squads, waving and exchanging greetings.

Months passed and we settled down in our routine. The senior officers of the Regiment were soon joined by their families as they were senior enough to be allotted family accommodations at a peace station. The rest of young bachelor officers joined the local Defence club and in due course virtually took it over for regular evening parties - drinking, singing and dancing, in short, enjoying all the benefits of a peace station. Our friend circle, both amongst the civilians and local Army units, also swelled gradually.

The days passed and winter approached. Then one evening, Major Raghu Nath Kapoor of a nearby Signals Battalion came to our Officers’ Mess and invited us all to attend his wedding, which was due to take place next month. After few more meetings, Major Kapoor, one day, made a request to our Commanding Officer (CO).  He asked if some of us could come to the wedding reception on horseback as it would add more glamour and uniqueness to his party and impress the bride and her family. He also told us that the bridegroom’s party would be assembling at a guest- house hardly three kilometres from our Unit lines and located only about 400 meters from the bride’s house.  The proposition looked simple enough and accordingly, on our CO’s nod, it was decided that we would all go to the guest-house on horseback, join the rest of the marriage party, and lead the procession up to bride’s house for the grand arrival of the baraat.

From there, we would quickly gallop back to our Officer’s Mess. Since our batmen (a soldier is attached to each officer who looks after his administrative requirements) would keep our dress clothes ready, we would quickly change into suits and tie, hop into a one-ton vehicle and re-join the wedding party at the bride’s house for the rest of the function. The timings for the whole procession were worked out by the senior captains who estimated that the whole operation would just take 30-35 minutes at the most and no-one would notice our short absence at the function.

For the bachelors, this was the first major civilian function where we were invited after arriving at a peace station. Hence, our preparations were also soon in full - if discreet - swing. Some of the senior officers, who had been able to replenish their wardrobes with civilian clothes, took out their suits, shirts and ties for drycleaning. But most of us, who had nothing except our army uniforms, had to rush into town to get new suits made.  The troops in charge of the animals were specifically instructed to ensure extra grooming and care of our respective horses. Saddles had to be cleaned and brass items polished extra bright. The young officers were extra-enthusiastic, as on such occasions, female turnout was expected in reasonably good numbers, and no doubt there would be opportunities to develop new friendships.

The month period passed quickly and on D-Day, we were all ready, in our well-ironed breeches, riding boots, blazers with Regimental scarves and pith hats by 6:30 pm.  Our horses had already been brought to the Officers Mess from our respective Batteries. Once ready, we eight officers proceeded towards the first venue, the guesthouse, on horseback, followed four soldiers (horsemen) on their mounts who were assigned to take care of all the horses once we dismounted.

The scene at the guest house was jubilant and festive.  The building was well decorated, and lit with coloured lights and flowers.  Most of the guests had already arrived. A local army brass band from an Infantry Regimental Centre was already in attendance, playing some old favourite tunes.  Children, of various age groups in their bright new outfits, were running here and there, playing, shouting, singing as is usually their wont.

Major Kapoor was in his ceremonial wedding attire, sitting in the veranda, surrounded by his family members and friends.  A white (although in equestrian terminology, it is grey), ill fed mare was also standing by with her attendant. She was the hired mare from the town, exclusively trained and used for carrying bridegrooms in the wedding processions.  These mares are trained not to exert themselves and just amble along in the procession, halting every 10-15 steps. Thus they are considered very safe and docile and can be ridden by anyone.

Around 7:30, there was an announcement made by some one (probably by the bridegroom’s father) that the wedding procession was ready to march to the bride’s house. At that very moment, Major Kapoor and some of his friend and relatives decided that it would be good idea if the groom also rode a better-looking horse instead of the poor, locally hired, mare; it would be a better style for a bridegroom who was an army officer!  

For us, it was again a simple enough request and, within no time, one of our soldier- horsemen was told to dismount and Major Kapoor mounted on his horse. (Mind you, though the request looked very simple but it was so since Kapoor too was an army officer. We could not have agreed to a similar request from a civilian as it would have amounted to misuse of defence property by unauthorised person. Hahahaha!)  

The procession started, with Major Kapoor surrounded by us, all on horseback. The procession reached the bride’s house, covering the 400 metres in about half an hour, with the people singing and dancing all along the route, and soon the initial religious welcoming ceremonies started.

This was the moment when our senior Captain winked at us, and as per plan, we all jumped on our horses and galloped off for our unit lines, to quickly change and return.  Within fifteen minutes we were back at our mess, and were rushing to our tents for a quick wash & change when some noise and commotion were heard. 

Stepping out, we saw: what a catastrophe!  

The horse that Major Kapoor was riding had fled the venue too, bringing the rider with him!

Being a horseholder’s mount, it was trained to follow the leader and neither dared to lead the herd nor part with it. So it had taken off after us before Major Kapoor could dismount, but had trailed behind with the result we had not seen it during our charge back to the mess.  Major Kapoor was glued to the saddle by all his fours limbs, like a baby monkey clinging to its mother. He was pale and speechless.  (Too bad Fevicol was not around then, as it would make the perfect ad!)

We all realised that something had to be done immediately, not withstanding that we could not decide whether to laugh or cry at the situation.

The senior captain quickly assessed the situation and took control of the operation. He instructed that the Major Sahib be taken off the horse and be put in the anteroom of the Officer’s Mess comfortably with some drinks to cool his nerves. (The Mess anteroom was in a large tent while another large tent attached to it functioned as the bar-cum-dining area.)

Meanwhile, the junior most subaltern, who was detailed as the “Duty Officer of the Day” was summoned and instructed to ride to the bride’s house and inform about the major’s well being.  Meanwhile, we all quickly changed into our suits and soon everyone, including Major Kapoor, hopped into the waiting one-ton truck and sped off to the wedding.

There was a sigh of great relief when Major Kapoor arrive without harm, and the dictum of   “All is well that ends well” prevailed!

PS: Next day at the Regimental Hqrs., we all were marched in to our CO where we were asked to narrate the whole episode to him in detail. The Second-in-Command of the Regiment carried out a thorough postmortem of the operation, and the following orders were issued for implementation with immediate effect:

(a)    No outsider (including defence personnel) would be allowed to ride Regimental horses without exclusive permission of the CO;

(b)   Cantonment Board was to be approached to get a temporary telephone line laid between the Unit Telephone Exchange and the Civil Telephone Exchange for urgent operational needs. (This was done since the Duty Officer was unable to get his call through to the wedding as he had to get the connection via our unit exchange to the central Military exchange and then to the civil Exchange and eventually to the required number. There were no mobile sets then);

(c)    An extra Ration Allowance for purchase of one kilogram of jaggery (Gur) for one week sanctioned to the horse (ridden by Major Kapoor) for its exemplary performance of duty in accordance with the training manual.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Mountain batteries, Artillery, India & Pakistan

Well, as I mentioned in my previous blog about the 4th Hazara Mountain batteries Frontier Force raised at Abbottabad by Major James Abbott, I must briefly  mention the names of other four Frontier Force Batteries.
After all, as a Gunner, I should take some liberty and vent out the old nostalgic memories of the Artillery days.
So folks, the other Batteries were_
(a) 1st Kohat Mountain Bty (FF) - After partition, the Battery went to Pakistan.
(b) 2nd Derajat Mountain Bty (FF)- (My first Unit), Continue to be with Indian Army.
(c) 3rd Peshawar Mountain Bty(FF)- With Pakistan Army.
(d) 5th Bombay Mountain Bty (FF) -With Indian Army and the became the nucleus of a newly raised Field Regiment in 1963.
(4th Hazara too is a Field Bty and part of a newly raised Regiment)
(All these FF Batteries, raised in 18th century) have fascinating history and battle records.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Abbottabad, Pakistan

Hi folks, Sorry to bring you back on the topic of my Pakistan days. Since in my last article I had mentioned briefly about Abbottabad, where Osama was recently eliminated by Obama's troops,I thought I will share some interesting but historical  information about this beautiful cantonment with you.
As I had mentioned, this cantonment was established by a British Artillery officer named James Abbott, some time in 1849-50 when he was appointed the first deputy Commissioner of Hazara District. This Gunner officer also had the distinction of raising an old Mountain Battery there in 1851 known as the 4th Hazara Mountain Battery Frontier Force.The Battery (Bty) was trained by him in order to help defend the Hazara district of North West Frontier (NWF).
Like the three other frontier Force batys (to be discussed later), the 4th Hazara soon saw actions in numerous small campaign on the North West Frontier. In 1878, with the help of this Bty, the British Army  led by Sir Sam Browne, was able to take the great Khyber Fort of Ali Musjid and later Kabul.The Bty remained at Kabul as part of the garrison and helped British Officer Roberts take over Kandhar.
From 1885-87, the Bty took part in Burma. In 1895, it was back fighting on Frontier as part of the Chitral Relief Force.
During the Great War, the 4th Hazara left India in 1917 for East Africa where it remained until Armistice. Between the wars, the Bty also took part in the third Afghan war of 1919, the Red Shirt and Afridi Disterbances of 1930-31, the mohmand campaign of 1933 and operations against the Fakir of Ipi in Waziristan in the late 1930s.
After India's independence in 1947, the Bty formed the part of the 22 Mountain Regiment and later as nuclues of another newly raised Artillery Regiment.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Khyber Pass journey concluded.

May8, 2011
The Khyber Pass

Hi folks, Enough of Pakistan & Khyber Pass. So I am just attaching below the last photo of the journey. It has been taken from the road side, just few yards short of the Pak-Afghanistan border. The inhabited area in the photo is Afghanistan.

During those days, the Khyber area was almost barren with very thin population; just few hutments scattered here and there en-route. The war against Russians in Afghanistan had just started but the refugee’s migration from Afghanistan into Pakistan had not yet commenced.

Bin Laden had not yet arrived in the area. General Zia-ul Haque (Zia) was the President, Chief of Staff and Marshal Law Administrator ( all three positions rolled in one) of Pakistan. Poor Zulfy (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) had been behind bars and killed. Islamic Shariat was law introduced and Nizame–Mustafa put in place. The new dress code of Shalwar (loose Pajama) and Kurta for men and covering of heads by women was made compulsory. Every one had to perform prayer (Namaaz) five times a day. Amusingly, even my five year old daughter who was studying in preparatory class in a English medium school in Islamabad, was made to learn and recite Namaaz. We, of course, never minded it as it only helped her to widen her knowledge.  

The strict imposition of Islamisation also had its impact on the civil society of the Pakistan, besides effecting Indo-Pak relation in a peculiar way.

The society further got  divided between rich & poor, have & have-not, and Army & civilians, because the restrictions imposed under the Nizame-Mustafa were enforced on poor only. The defence personnel, bureaucrats, rich land-lords and industrialists enjoyed all the luxuries of the world without any such restrictions. Their ladies never covered their heads and were much more fashion-conscious than even some top models of the world. Scotch was available freely and served with no hesitation.  

People by and large, were hospitable and fond of Indian goods. They loved Indian betel-leaves (Paan), cassettes of Indian music (no CD/DVD at that time), Bollywood films etc. But these were all banned in Pakistan, resulting in many fold increase in smuggling. As a result of this, though Indian goods were still available and in almost all the towns and cities, these were sold underhand. There was a popular saying in Pakistan that all Bollywood movies first landed at President’s house and then got circulated in the towns. Both  Zia & his wife were reportedly very fond of Indian films and Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, was a craze. No one wanted to miss any of his movies.

In fact, when film Lawaaris casting Amitabh Bachchan was released in India and a print was smuggled in Pakistan, a popular joke was in circulation in Islamabad was:-

“ Zia to his wife after seeing the movie- “Dear, don’t you think my eyes resembles that of Amitabh Bachchan?”

Mrs Zia – “ Darling, your two eyes do not even resemble each other, what to talk of Amitabh Bachchan”

And since the thought of writing on Pakistan was triggered because of “Osama’s elimination by Obama” episode, let me conclude by mentioning that :-

(a)    Abbottabad (where Osama was killed), is an Army Cantonment. It was established in 1849-50 by an Artillery Officer of British Army (Sorry for having a soft corner for Gunners). His name was James Abbott – the first appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Hazara district.

(b)   Abbottabad, besides having the Army’s officers training Academy, is also Centre of the Army Medical Corps. (After all Osama needed regular medical assistance)

(c)    The  Baloch Regimental Centre and Frontier Force Regimental Centre are also located in Abbottabad which happens to be the parent units of the present Army Chief, General Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha.

Draw your own conclusions..

Friday, 6 May 2011

Khybar Pass journey continues..

6 May, 2011
Khyber Pass journey
As one drives along the Khyber, there is another fort en-route, named Baghai... (See picture below.) One can see only the boundary wall in the back ground.

One interesting aspect I must mention here. During my stay in Pakistan. I was on their 24 hour/360 days watch. The Pakistan Counter Intelligence had pitched a permanent tent across the road, in front of my residence. The team was equipped with walkie-talkie sets (there was no mobile phones then).

Also they had assigned 1-2 motor bikes and cars (all imported since the country hardly manufactured any thing, except some textiles goods). The team members would follow me and my other family members every where, even when going to local market or children going to schools. Interestingly, the surveillance was always overt, aggressive and at times intimidating. Their Foreign Office had also imposed a restriction where one had to obtain a written permission from them a week in advance for visiting any place out side Islamabad. It was understandable as they needed some time to organise mobile surveillance team to follow my car.

Another notable aspect of the surveillance was that while in Punjab State, it used to be very close, rather bumper to bumper, but comparatively more relaxed in other states, as in Sindh, Baluchistan & NWFP. The most congenial surveillance used to be after crossing Peshawar into the FATA area, as by and large, the local tribes had a soft corner for the Indians and hated the Punjabis. Thus, while travelling in their area, the team acted more like a tourist guide than a watch team.

Conclusively, one could say that majority of the people of states of Sind, Baluchistan, NWFP and FATA held similar sentiments towards Punjab state that the East Pakistanis (new Bangladesh) had held prior to their independence.

To continue....

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pakistan days...

5th May, 2011
Recent elimination of Osama by Obama on May 2nd brought back the thrilling but sweet memories of my stay in Pakistan. from 1980 to 85. It was unusually a very long period of stay in a hostile country by any standard. (you know what I mean if one has to work under cover). But it was fruitful & satisfying.

I was much younger then and was always keen to explore the country, driving long distances. The picture below was taken on 21 Oct.1981, during one of the trips to the Khyber Pass in the west of Pakistan. The pass lies between Peshawar and Landi-kotal from where one enters Afghanistan. Jamrood fort is just few kms. from Peshawar and can be spotted on the left of the bus.

The area all along the Khyber Pass which stretches between 30-40 Kms is rocky, dry with hardly any vegetation and water. If one remembers the ancient history of India correctly, this was the route followed by most of the invaders, of whom many perished or had to abandon their journey as the pass provided a natural barrier on India’s western flank.

The area came to be known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) once the British Raj came in to power. However, it always remained a partially independent area, run and administered by the local tribes according to their own customs & traditions.  The main source of income, since time immemorial, continues to be from sales of drugs and locally manufactured fire arms. Durra village, the main arms manufacturing centre in FATA, is worth a visit for their workmanship.

(To continue...)