Monday, March 23, 2009

Military Special To Trivandrum

Having completed its tenure in Nagaland, our battalion got de-inducted from the insurgency area and was waiting for the orders for next move. Since the battalion had seen a tough posting, we were expecting some good peace station. And what better we could have got than Trivandrum, which the Commanding Officer announced on getting the orders from the higher headquarters. Every one jumped with joy. Trivandrum was possibly the best peace station an Infantry unit could have got. As soon as the Commanding Officer broke the news of the move, the unit went into the mobilisation mode. In the Army, the Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) are laid down for every activity. Each one knows his role. Generally, a wise CO goes into hiding in such circumstances to avoid any jitters. Our CO did the same thing. In no time the unit got packed up and was ready to move to Dimapur railway Station. The rolling stock (railway wagons) was ready. Whenever an Army unit moves, a full train is allotted to it with various classes of compartments, wagons and carriages to accommodate officers, JCO and other ranks in addition to arms, ammunition, vehicles and other equipment. There are also separate wagons having cook houses called military langar to cook hot food for the troops. It is a unique experience to travel in a Military Special -- the term used for such trains. Our train took fifteen days time in reaching Trivandrum Central from Dimapur. Genarally in a normal movement other than the war situation the military specials are given last priority in order not to disrupt the normal traffic of passenger trains. One can imagine traveling in the same compartment (first class coupes for officers and second class sleeper coaches for the other ranks) for fifteen days, so we, the bachelor officers had decorated our respective coupes with our favourite pinups. Our train used to have long halts on important stations to let the normal rail traffic pass as well as to replenish our logistics. The train would be parked in some yard where the jawans would come out and do some brisk physical exercises to straighten their limbs. The officer mess would be established at a suitable open space with a small shamiana thrown up and with pipe band playing in attendance. The food and drinks would be served to officers and ladies there in style (some of of the officers were also joined by their families to enjoy the experience of the travel by a Military Special).

I will narrate a very interesting incident which occurred on our way to Trivandrum. Our train was allotted the route along the eastern coast to avoid interfering with the busy railway traffic of the central route. All the Army or Naval units falling on our route were informed of our move, who had to supply us with necessary dry and fresh rations on the way. A duty officer was deputed out of the younger lot in rotation to see that the move is systematic and things go as planned. I was deputed as duty officer one night. After a continuous run for many hours, our train stopped at a station at midnight. As per the practice i got down and met the Station Master. I was carrying the route chart of our train provided to us by the Railway authorities. When i laid the route chart on his table to tick the station where we had reached, i could not find the same. I asked the station master to have a look at our route chart. After looking at it he started shaking his head from left to right and after a few moments of silence he looked up and gave me a very hopeless look. He told me that we had come on the wrong route. The station that we had reached fell on the central route instead of our scheduled coastal route. The station master explained to me that the traffic control at Asansole (West Bengal) had wrongly put our train on the central route, and that we had come a few hundred kilometers off our route. I immediately informed the CO. He got damn upset over this. We had to pick up our supplies on the coastal route only. He asked me to arrange to take the train back to the bifurcation point, which was left behind hundreds of kilometers as mentioned above. I came back to the station master and told him the same. He was already arguing our case with the control over telephone. The traffic control were not in favour of getting our train back on the original route and we were not prepared to move further on that route for obvious reasons. I gave my piece of mind to the Station Master who obviously was not at fault. But that worked. He shouted into the telephone and told the traffic control, " look the Army Commander is sitting in front of me and is getting damn annoyed. You please take the train back and put it on the original route". I was flabbergasted on hearing him addressing me (I was Second Lieutenant at that time) as Army Commander, may be due to his limited knowledge about the rank structure of the Indian Army. Army Commander is a term used for General Officer Commanding In Chief, one of the five senior most Lieutenant Generals in charge of a Command. After a little more shouting from the Station Master the traffic control relented and our train moved back to travel on its original route. I will never forget the name of that railway station -- SHERGARH, Madhya Pradesh. This incident took place in 1979.

This post also forms part of series on my life journey. To read all the posts in this series, please click here.


Indian Home Maker said...

Army commander :))
And my first thought was commanders are in the navy or army !

But Special trains and dinners in with band in attendance must be such lovely memories!

Loved the incident and the way you have described it. Keenly looking forward to reading the following posts.

Solilo said...

Another interesting read. 15 days in train! that is so tedious. But looks like it was fun for you all.

Such lovely memories!

Indyeah said...

LOL This was such an interesting read sir!
and despite ebing an army brat I know very little about day to day procedures!

but this was hilarious!!:D
LOL@ look the Army Commander is sitting in front of me and is getting damn annoyed. So you please take the train back and put it on the original route". I was flabbergasted on hearing him addressing me (a Second Lieutenant at that time) as Army Commander, may be due to his limited knowledge about the rank structure of the Indian Army''

welcome back Sir:)

Renu said...

v ery interesting read!, I was always fascinated by Fauji lifestyle, and their systematic approach to everything in life and so i wonder why army is not succesfyul, like in pakistan?

Da Eternal Rebel said...

Ha ha ha ... so our Commander Saheb scared the poor station master.

Well I loved this story and the way you have presented it. I have made it a point to visit your blog as soon as you make a new entry, please provide me with a lot of reading material :)

Balvinder Singh said...

IHM, the term commander is used in both Army as well as Navy. In the Indian Navy, Commander is a rank whereas in the Indian Army Commander is an appointment and is used with officers of various ranks depending on the size of the formation that they are commanding.

Yes the beauty of the Indian Army is that they can make any deserted place look like a lively festive joint with little effort and minimum resources. The term making 'Jungle mein mangal' truly applies to them.

Yes the account of the life journey will continue in my future posts too. tahnks for the comliments.

Solio, thanks, yes it was a great fun. I also traveled in the train engine for long spells and came to know various procedures which the two drivers adopt for the safety of the running of the train.

Abhilasha, so you have missed travelling by the military special. it is a unique experience. Thanks.

Renu thanks, yes different Armies have diiferent stadards, so their successes depend all on the standards established by the stalwarts.

Da Eternal Rebel, yes keep reading my posts. You will get lots of material to read. Thanks for the appreciation.

RJ said...

Once again,an awsome post Sir.. It feels good to be going through yoour blog and getting to know about the Fauji life.
Looking forward for your post about experiences in Trivandrum..

Soul Searcher said...

Boss, I do not blame the staion master at all. Aadhi Raat ko Vardi vale ke parakop se acche acchon ki patloon dheeli ho jaati hai

J P Joshi said...

Welcome back. A nostalgic post. Special trains are always special..specially army ones.... in every which way.. including the shamiana bit...cheers...I have moved only once from Ghaziabad to New Jalpaiguri by a special train in the month of May... the worst rakes, no electricity when the train halted, as the batteries were all dead. I was the train adjutant and had a really tough time... the AF is not organised for this sort of move. However, this was the first time I got exposed to the operational staff of the railways and changed my opinion about Indian Railways from a corrupt organisation to a very efficient mover of people over a large and vast country like India.

We too were sent on the wrong route...sorted out the same way...except that we had an electric engine... and our route required diesel electrification. At Gaya, they got a diesel from 200 kms away and put us on track to Kishanganj. Total journey time 5 days. Looks like child's play when compared to your journey of 15 days.

Waiting for the next episode..........

Balvinder Singh said...

RJ, thanks for following my blog regularly. Yes i will continue narrating few selected incidents at each place of my stay and still a long way to go.

Soul Searcher, you are absolutely right. It is only the fear of the uniform in our country which makes things move and if the uniform happens to be Olive Green, things not only move but run.

JP, so you also experinced the f-ups that railways cause.

But certainly the Indian Railway is the world's largest and busiest net work and it is to their credit that millions of passengers and tons of goods move over our vast country.

In fact our train also ran our of electricity and water many times during our long journey and at one of the stations when i approached the station master and asked him to replenish water in our train, you know what he said, "waater for waater sirra" giving me a dirty grin. He was obviously refering to getting some fauji liqour from us in turn for filling up water in our train. It was only after i watered him down in full public view on the platform, that he topped up the train tanks.

Yes next post shortly. Thanks for the company.

Pinku said...

hey that sounds like an awesome they still do it this way though??? doesnt it mean a huge delay and expense...

Balvinder Singh said...

Yes Pinku, the independent units when transfered from one place to the other or when going for the war games move as one entity as there is a large amount of special equipment which has to be moved under proper guard and care. Yes, it may look like waste of time and resources but in peace time whatever the Army does is as a matter of fact part of training for war only, albiet, in slow motion.

Anand said...

Ohh my Balvinder Singhji...
really.. I'm not so deserving. But thanks a ton really.
That's a huge huge compliment. I feel honoured.

roop said...

welcome back, sir!

interesting read. i felt that i was in that train travelin with y'all. mention of food however has made me hungry as always and im headed to kitchen. :)))

good to have u back.

LazyKing said...

Another great story from you. I'm waiting for the next post

M G Suresh said...

Sir, I’ve been chasing on this blog for the next post since long, Thank you Sir for the wonderful post I really enjoyed reading it and anxiously waiting for the story to continue.

Balvinder Singh said...

Anand, you are welcome, yes you desrved that compliment.

Roop, good that my post also worked as an appetiser for you. thanks for good words.

Lazy King, yes next post shortly.

MG Suresh, thanks for showing interest. Yes i will continue writing.

Ashwani Saini said...

Hi Sir, ..a very timely post when you must be planning your mov from the Eastern sector to the Western sector !
Best of luck for the same.

Reflections said...

Interesting read.......following ur journey very keenly;-))

How do we know said...

oh wow! its a pleasure and a privilege to be able to read these..

Mampi said...

Hmm Shergarh !!! Obviously, it had to be something like shergarh, or cheetahgarh or singhgarh!!! Obviously, because thats where the lion had his way !!!
your narration is so lucid,,, YOU WERE right, I so love this trip down your memory lane.

Balvinder Singh said...

Sorry for the late response friends. I had gone on a visit across Sikkim.

Ashwani, yes you will be finding another number on the map of my journey accross India after i move out of this place shortly.

Nancy, thanks for the company.

HDWK, thanks

Manpreet, ha ha ha, but i will put it another way that it was supposed to be the Garh of the Sher (station master) who had a brief ecounter with the strayed lions. So he was quick and wise enough to put us back on our track.
Thanks for the compliments and the metaphor.

LazyKing said...


Andy said...

Salute !!
Wot experinces. Ur story cud easily be converted into a grt book. Think about it.

U know me. :-)

Balvinder Singh said...

Your highness 'The Lazy King' sorry for the delay in putting the next post. In fact i was in transit on a visit accross Sikkim.

Thanks Anand, i am overwhelmed by your compliments. I think it will need a self sacrificing publisher to publish my book.

Swaram said...

Interesting read! Getting to know so many new things. Thank u:)

Balvinder Singh said...

Swaram, thanks for the visit and the compliments.