During the early days of my service, I was in a border post. Our link to other posts and the outside world was the ruggedised field telephone which came to life after its cranking handle was robustly cranked a few times to activate an operator sitting at a manual exchange somewhere else.
The operator was demigod to us. Demigod not only put us through to civilisation but, before connecting you to a senior officer also offered a weather report. “Your Commanding Officer (CO) is in a foul mood,” or “Commander sahib is sounding happy today”. Our duty clerk had a taste of Murphy’s Law when an operator could barely hear him in spite of several repetitions and having to shout. But when he muttered under his breath that the operator was deaf, it was promptly heard and he got a mouthful from demigod.
Few weeks later I was at the corps headquarters attending a briefing to the Corps Commander on operational preparedness. When he was told that all the posts were well integrated on the communication grid, he expressed his desire to talk to the post commander of one of the farthest posts. He told the CO of the Signal regiment “Put me through to the post commander directly. Don’t tell him who is on the line”. There was a labyrinth of exchanges to go through but it was a very proud CO Signals who handed over the handset to the Corps Commander, call duly connected, within two minutes.
Corps Commander identifies himself to the post commander. The connection is so good that even we can hear the Major. Hearty laughter from the other side. “You are the Corps Commander? Ha! Ha! Ha! Then I am the Army Commander here. C’mon you joker, who the hell are you.”
The slurring of the speech also indicated that the Major had already had a drink too many. There was absolute silence in the room. The Corps Commander disconnected the call. He complimented the CO Signals for excellent communications. It is a different matter that another set of wheels was put into motion to inquire into the Major’s drunkenness.
HS was my serious and hard-working colleague, always the butt of jokes due to his sloppiness and ability to mess up even simple things. One day, on seeing his poorly worn turban, our company commander asked him, “HS, did somebody tie that turban for you or did you tie it yourself?” HS was quick to answer, “Sir, I tied it yourself.”
HS and I were sharing a tent during an exercise. The telephone was placed equidistant between our cots. One morning, we were hurriedly having breakfast in our tent when the telephone rang. HS pounced on the instrument, pulled it towards himself and contrived to take the handset off the cradle and placed it under his left ear. Now picture this. An excited (and confused) HS, with the unfinished toast in his right hand. The base of the telephone in his left hand and the handset somewhere below his left ear duly supported by the raised left shoulder. But there was a minor problem. The earphone was to his mouth and the mouthpiece to his ear. Understandably, neither he nor our company commander who had called up could hear each other properly. The company commander shouted at the top of his voice, “HS, I think you are holding it wrongly, it should be the other way round.” HS’s attention promptly went not to the handset, but the base of the telephone which was in his left hand which he turned upside down and yelled, “Done, Sir”. The company commander disconnected.
Years later, mobilisation was ordered on the nineteenth of a month. All personnel away from the unit were required to rejoin within five days. As the CO of my regiment, I directed my Adjutant to personally contact the officers on leave and to tell them to return forthwith. Captain PP was on leave till the third of the following month. The Adjutant got through to him and told him to report forthwith. PP was overjoyed. “Thank you Sir. I will certainly report by fourth-fifth.”
Colonel K Thammayya Udupa (Retired) is from the Corps of Engineers. He commanded a RAPID Engineer Regiment. He took premature retirement in April 2007. Post retirement he served in the Indian Institute of Management Indore. He is settled in Udupi-Manipal. This article was first published in The Tribune, 14 May 2019.