‘TALL STANDS THE SOLDIER’ by Brig Jasbir Singh, SM (Retd) Featured

15 March 2016 by Blog 966 Views
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The history of RIMC is replete with accounts of heroic Rimcollians and their acts of valour in many a war. Many personalities like Ambassador & Col Niranjan Singh Gill, Gen KS Thimayya, DSO, Lt Gen K Bahadur Singh, MBE, Lt Gen Prem Bhagat, VC, Maj Somnath Sharma, PVC and so many others have proudly donned the ‘Three Ostrich/Peacock Feathers’ Lion’ badges on their uniforms. However, this article is about a unique Rimcollian and his remarkable story of perseverance and courage. I have been witness to it all, as we were classmates in RIMC and a colleague in the army.

 

My recollections begin during a rainy day in August 1962 at RIMC, Dehra Dun. A slim young lad extended his hand and told me we were from the same Section – Ranjit, and so would be friends. As a fresher, I could never have realized the handshake would herald a lasting friendship for nearly half a century. The long years of knowing my friend have allowed me to be a witness to his extraordinary courage of conviction and perseverance. This story is about a wonderful human being Maj Gen (Rtd) Naginder Singh. When I recently told him over the phone, I was going to write about him, I could literally imagine him shaking his head. With great humility he told me to write about something else, as he did not deserve to appear in any article! It was so typical of him to try and hide in the shadows after a spectacular deed. Well, this story is not about a ‘flash in the pan’ kind of performance, but rather highlights, the perseverance and courage he has displayed all through his 48 years in uniform (1962 to 2010) – it is akin to a well run Cross Country Race or a Cadet’s supreme efforts during a Polo-Post Race[1]!

 

Being in the same Section at RIMC, allowed me to be with Naginder during numerous friendly misdemeanors like ‘Cutting Bounds’, ‘Ganna Raids’, ‘lifting birds from Chicken Coops in Master’s houses and cooking them in the thickly wooded premises of Rifle Range’ etc. I remember concealing bread slices and oval shaped vegetable cutlets during our dinner and taking them out of the Mess to our dormitory.

 

We would, then, crush the cutlets between the slices to rig up improvised sandwiches for our early morning snacks. We would be up at 2.30 AM and quietly sneak out to the Squash Court¸ with our squash rackets, precious squash ball and sandwiches. After switching ‘on’ the powerful lights we would play on till we were exhausted. Then, we would eat our ‘crushed cutlet sandwiches’, return to our dormitory and have our morning tea and biscuits and run to the Parade Ground for the PT class.

 

During the term break we would travel together by train to Pathankot, which was the railhead at the time. Often, Anil Bhalla[2] would also accompany us up to Jammu. At Pathankot, we would board the Officer’s Bus and proceed into J&K. Naginder would travel to Jammu, where his father was posted, and I would go on to Srinagar where my own father, an army officer, was then stationed. As we travelled together, we would dissect all happenings in school and make great plans for the next term. Studies were never discussed and we concentrated on topics like adventure activities, games and some ‘mischievous stuff’ like cutting bounds and various raids.

 

We were fortunate to qualify in both the written exam for admission to NDA and Services Selection Board Tests. Finally, school days were over and we reached NDA, Khadakwasla. I am not aware of more details as we were in different Squadrons, but one day I was shocked to hear that Naginder was withdrawn from NDA, for some petty and silly misdemeanor by an overzealous Divisional Officer. He left NDA immediately before I had a chance to meet him.

 

Thereafter, my life went on vigorously in NDA and afterwards in IMA. Naginder slowly receded from memory. I was commissioned into 4 Kumaon on 20 Dec 1970. The war clouds soon appeared, my Battalion was deployed in the East and by the time I was 20, with less than a year of commissioned service, I had fought and won a war. Immediately after that war, my Battalion moved to Nagaland where we were called upon to fight another kind of battle, one with Naga insurgents. Naginder completely went off my radar screen till 1976 when I was posted to IMA, back in Dehra Dun. One of my first duties in IMA was to oversee issue of clothing to new Gentleman Cadets (GCs). I was pleasantly surprised to find a familiar face with a ‘mess-tin hair cut’, wearing grossly ill fitting shorts and standing in line with new GCs. Of all the people I could have imagined, it was my old friend Naginder. I was then a Captain and he was a GC, my student ! After the happy meeting, we sat down together for a while and exchanged notes.

 

I learnt that immediately after leaving NDA, Naginder roamed about a bit, foot lose. The thought about soldiering would not leave him. He tried for a short service commission, but that avenue was closed to him due to displeasure from NDA. He could foresee a war on the horizon. He knew his contemporaries would be fighting in that war and the thought made him crest fallen. As a true Rimcollian he had to be part of that, he felt. Since all avenues of soldiering (except one) was closed to him, he chose the unthinkable path. He went and enrolled himself in 13 Kumaon as a ‘Jawan’. After accelerated weapon training, he was sent with his Battalion to the western front to fight with Pakistan in the same 71 War. His Battalion went into action immediately on deployment. Naginder was part of a Platoon that faced incessant heavy calibre arty fire and repeated attacks by infantry backed by tanks. But they stood firm, Naginder right in front, giving no quarter, with a resolve to fight to the last man and to the last bullet. As one could expect, he was wounded in action, with a gunshot wound in the head, but he continued to fight and refused evacuation. At that time the Adjutant of 13 Kumaon was a Rimcollian named Capt (later Col) PV Singh who had known us as youngsters in RIMC. PV Singh had noted the exceptional valour displayed by Naginder. As a fellow Rimcolian, PV Singh decided that it was time to change Naginder’s destiny and to give him another chance. After Naginder miraculously recovered from the head injury, PV Singh helped to send him to Army Cadet College (ACC) at Poona. Naginder had learnt his lesson well, to walk the righteous path. He resolutely underwent the tough training qualifying from ACC at the top of his class. Afterwards he was sent to IMA for commissioning into the Army – that is where I bumped into him after almost 8 yrs. Naginder was soon commissioned as 2nd Lt in Armoured Corps, once again on the basis of merit.

 

He went through his service career as an outstanding officer and excelled in every field of activity. In later years, because of his sound professional and technical knowledge, he was seconded to Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). He did yeoman service in DRDO, endearing himself to the scientists with as much zest as the tank-men that he commanded in several deployments and action. Naginder finally retired as a Major General, a rank which very few of us in our class ever achieved. Anyone else may have given up on the way or lost his fighting spirit. But, not Naginder! He is not one who will ever give-up. From a cadet in RIMC, and NDA, he had the moral courage to start his life once again as a Jawan and render yeoman service to rise like a phoenix to the lofty stature of a two star General officer in Indian Army. If there is ever an inspiring story, this is it. A story peppered with ceaseless pursuit to excellence, tenacity, resilience, perseverance and moral courage, to start one’s life all over again in the pits, and the human endeavour to attain the heights that anyone who dons a Service uniform aspires to achieve during his military career. With extraordinary grit, Naginder proved to one and all that a dedicated soldier can rise to any lofty heights with the spirit ‘never give up’ or say ‘die’. ‘Itch Dien’ all the way.

 

May young men from RIMC and other walks of life as well, look up to this soft spoken hero and emulate his courageous ways for etterment of their lives and careers.

 

‘Three cheers for a great hero from RIMC, Maj Gen Naginder Singh’.

 

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Foot Notes

 

[1] ‘Polo-Post’ was the abbreviated form of ‘Polo-Ground & Post – Office’. The name of the gruelling cross country route for senior cadets in RIMC.

 

[1] Anil Bhalla was commissioned in 4 Gorkha Rifles. During India-Pakistan War in 1971, he was wounded and lost a leg. He is now settled in Calcutta where he runs a successful and large transport business.