Our unit was located in the Cantonment area at Trivandrum, popularly known as Pangode Camp. Though, normally, the cantonments are located away from the main city and most of the times the civilians are not allowed to enter that area, unless for a specific purpose, but in this case a very busy city road passed through Pangode. Our Battalion Headquarters and the Unit Quarter Guard were located bang on that road opposite each other. There is a tradition in the Army that whenever an officer passes in front of the quarter guard on foot, on a two wheeler or in a vehicle, the guard commander brings the guard to attention by shouting the word of command in a loud voice (as heard during the Republic Day Parade). This is to pay respect to the officer, regardless of the unit that he may belong to.
During our initial days at Trivandrum while the unit was still in the process of settling down, we realized that our guard commander was shouting the word of command and was bringing the guard to attention a little too frequently during the day. One of our officers went out to check the reason and came back laughing from ear to ear. When he explained to us the reason for the same, we all were in splits. The reason was actually amusing. The officers are identified by the guard commander by the pips that they wear on the shoulders when they are in uniform. But when they are in their games rig which is half sleeves white shirt/tea shirt and white shorts with PT shoes and white socks, they are recognized from the same dress. In the southern India the men generally wear half sleeves shirt and a dhoti and whenever they are seated on a two wheeler their dhoti remains folded above thigh level. In case the shirt and the dhoti are white, the same look like white shirt and shorts from a distance. Well for our Dogra soldiers, who had come to the southern part of the country for the first time, it was natural to mistake the white shirt and the dhoti of a civilian riding a two wheeler for an officer's games rig. Hence they came to attention every time that someone passed in front of our quarter guard wearing that attire. It was only after all the jawans were familiarized with the dress of the locals that the frequent saluting stopped in our quarter guard.
Another very interesting incident that I wish to share here is when I once accompanied Major Dongre, our battalion Second –In - Command to visit a patient in a local hospital. After entering the hospital we enquired about the direction to the special ward that the patient was admitted to. To our utter disappointment everyone that we met, spoke such chaste Malyalam that we could not make any head and tail of the directions that he or she gave to us for reaching the ward and we kept moving in circles in that big multi storied hospital before we could locate the correct ward.
Major Dongre had also to visit the collector’s office for some work. After entering the collectorate building we went to the concerned section. Having been bitten once by the lingua franca of Trivandrum, we asked an official sitting on a desk that if we could converse with someone who could speak English. Hearing this, the whole section stood up in protest. One of them probably a union leader, took us around the section and introduced us to each and every employee spelling out his or her educational qualifications. Most of them were holding masters degrees. It was only after we explained to the gentleman about our experience in the hospital that we had visited in the morning, that he let us go but not before we apologized for the faux pas.
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