I was surprised at the response I got! Amidst merry laughter, the Company Senior JCO informed me that all of them knew what was in the well and we're wondering all this while if you knew about it!
By Brig Pradeep Sharma (Retd)
Known for their tough life the infantrymen have always proved their mettle in battle against the enemy and environment, be it plains of Punjab, UP or Deserts of Rajasthan, Jungles of Burma or the Mountains in the Himalayas.
Freezing cold where the moisture in your breath forms ice on your moustache or blistering heat where one can fry an egg on a rock, the infantry soldier adapts, adjusts and improvises to survive. At times incidents during such training or operational activities are imprinted in one’s mind due to the flavour of humour ingrained.
I can recall with clarity some such incidents experienced during my service vividly. We were out on training in the hot plains of UP around Jhansi, the month of May saw temperatures rise to 50 °C in the shade. The battalion had to march for several hours, build up against enemy defences and launch an attack after dark. Our Corps Commander was out to test the resilience of the JATs and my company got to face the brunt of it the moment we reached our ‘ firm base’.
The `B echelon’ convoy was declared ‘ destroyed ‘ by enemy aircraft, we were to survive the heat for 24 hours without food or water! Keeping in mind the possibility of such an eventuality, I had got ‘ namak paras’ made for the company and stored them under lock and key in the ‘F Echelon’ truck, they had to be locked to prevent the Jats from eating them!
These would last us for a day, but the problem was water!
We had found a shady mango grove and crawled under the bushes to beat the heat, sweat attracted flies and mosquitoes but it was okay to lie in the shade and last out somehow. One of my men turned out to be more adventurous and went scouting around soon returning to my delight with a ‘ Chaggal’ full of water. I sent out two men from each section to fetch water for their sections and we quenched our thirst, thanking God for his mercy.
Around this time, the farmer walked up to me and with a broad grin on his face he said in Hindi’ “Sahab aapki fauj to bilkul shareef hai, bina halla machaye kuen se pani pee liyo in hon ne, aap se pahale jo aaye the’ ve to kuen mein marra kabutar aur dadoo delkh kar thook ne lagge!”
Not to be believed, I walked up to the well with the farmer to see for myself. Leaning over to look down into the deep well, pigeons fluttered out, on a small shrub growing on the inner wall of the well sat an Owlet, a dead pigeon floated on the water amongst a pair of turtles! Quite a sight I thought, what if the boys got to know?
Quietly slipping two hundred rupees in the farmer’s hands, I asked him not to speak of this with any of my men. We had a glint in our eyes and a sly smile as we looked at each other, turning on his heels he walked away. I was sure we would be off before he ventured back.
The attack went through smoothly, success signal fired and we went into our drill for ‘ reorganising’.
Not a single man fell ill. Once the exercise was over and done with, at the summing up, I complimented my men on the hardy resistance displayed and quietly mentioned about the things I saw in the well.
I was surprised at the response I got! Amidst merry laughter, the Company Senior JCO informed me that all of them knew what was in the well and we’re wondering all this while if you knew about it!
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views are personal.)