The Sqn Cdr posted me along with a troop of armoured cars to Agartala. We were attached to the Arty Bde headquarters situated there. There was nothing much to do except long training drives to train the drivers and maintenance of the cars. I had a group of civilian friends residing in the town, who I met, off and on. The town was reasonably far off from the army area. For transportation of stores and personnel I had a princely 1ton vehicle at my disposal. One morning, I was to visit the Bde headquarter for a conference, I decided to drive the 1ton as another officer was travelling with me to the Bde headquarter. There, when I parked the 1ton I found the BM of the Bde standing nearby. He called for me and asked, “Why were you driving the 1ton?” I jokingly replied, “To improve my driving skills, sir!” The BM Maj Iqbal Singh didn’t find it funny and said, “You know the orders are that no officer will drive, there have been too many accidents!” I replied, “Sir that’s exactly what I wish to bring home. Unless the officers drive, how will they learn.” This was the last straw and he thundered at me and said, “Your 1ton is impounded, you can walk back.” I walked back but all the while I was thinking of how would I manage to pull off the evening’s programme where I had to pick up my friends en-route to a movie show in the town. I thought I would have been better off had I followed the old maxim “Subalterns are supposed to be seen and not heard.” I tried to arrange for a vehicle but nothing worked. By 5, it gets dark in Agartala during the winters, so I came up with an ingenious plan. I pulled out one of the armoured cars and told the driver to drive me to town and pick up my friends en-route. On hearing this my driver, Mange Ram’s, jaw dropped but he dutifully brought out the armoured car. He advised me to take a clandestine route through the family quarters. We drove to the cinema hall, picking up my friends on the way. All along, people on the road looked at us wide-eyed. When I came out during the interval of the movie, I found a huge crowd near the car curious to take a look. I reached the car and stood by its side feeling like Rommell standing by one of his Panzers but the feeling was short-lived. The Bde cdr’s driver arrived on the scene out of nowhere and said, “Cdr saab aap ko bula rahe hain”. I said “Kahan hain?” He said, “Sadak par, gaadi mein.”
With heavy footsteps and a pounding heart I reached the road. Brig Sandhu had a very stern look on his face and he said, “Why have you brought the armoured car?” I was half inclined to say ask your BM but I confidentally said, “Sir, I wanted to check if the armoured car could negotiate the roads in town were these to be deployed in an emergency.” On hearing this the face grew sterner, “You see me in the office tomorrow,” was his last bellow and off he went.
I doubled back, changed into my formals and reached the Bde mess where the party was in progress. The Bde Cdr’s wife was from Chandigarh and her niece had studied in my class in the University there, so I took the opportunity, spoke to her and related my woeful story and appealed for help. It worked! Next morning when I reached the Bde cdrs office, he gave a moral lecture and let me off. That was a last ride I took on the armoured car into Agartala town and perhaps the last time the residents of Agartala town saw an armoured car in their midst. — The author is an ex-Cavalry Major and a former member of the Haryana Legislature