Sometimes I feel that I am a really lucky fellow. One is then reminded of that old song, “Some years are good, some are bad…” Well 1971 was such a good year for me.
June saw me passing out from the IMA, barely managing to do so after I was put up for relegation for lack of OLQ. The Divisional Officer and Company Commander bought it from the Battalion Commander, but the damage was done when I passed out very low on merit. That was a dampener to my aspiration to become the Army Chief. But putting that blemish behind me, off I went to the School of Artillery, determined to break all records there. That I escaped with a Charlie, was attributed to the impending war, and my football skills.
And so it was, that I entered the war zone in the Eastern sector, where the unit was doing undercover operations and training the Mukti Bahini on our old 3.7 inch howitzers. The war was a blitzkrieg of sorts, and we were in Dacca before one could yell “Yahya Khan”
The surrender was the most amazing occurrence in contemporary military history, the fallout of which is still being felt by the bloodied Pakistan. Our Regiment settled into life at Dacca for nearly a month, and we were the custodians of the main military armoury of East Pakistan, which was based within the cavernous insides of the National Assembly. The architecture of the outside of this Assembly was such that it was like a pyramid with steps on all sides. This was an ideal place to conduct an open air talk. And it was there that Gen Manekshaw arrived to give a talk to 73 Mountain Brigade.
“Maine khol di…” was the stunning opening sentence of the General. After a pregnant silence he concluded that with “…chutti.” And that was received with thunderous applause.
After a vibrant speech, he came up the steps to meet and have a word with every jawan, JCO and officer. When he came in front of me, Brig Tuli (the Infantry Brigade Commander) told him, “Sir, he is the baby of the Brigade.”
He looked at me quizzically with that charming smile that he sported, then put his arm around me, and said, “Come Son.”
Then he led me right up the steps which ended in a square space. He walked me around and said, “Look all around you. This is a country that YOU helped conquer.”
He then stopped, looked at me, and said, ”Do you know how bloody lucky you are ?” I was silent, at a loss for words.
He continued, “There are fellows in the Army who have spent 15 years and more, and haven’t seen any conflict, not even a skirmish. And you, YOU have helped conquer a nation with just 6 months service. Do you know how bloody lucky you are ?” He posed the question again.
Awe struck, I could only whisper, “Yes Sir. I am very lucky.” He then escorted me back and continued with meeting the others. Need I say, that I savour that moment even now, and consider it as one of those high points of my life, and of my stint in the Army.
Col KJ Samuel is a veteran Gunner who took part in the Liberation War.