Maj Ejaz Nahri’s Memories
Maj Ejaz Nahri served with me for his first year of service in the Army when I was CO in high altitude area of Arunachal Pradesh in 2001. He was a SS officer and quit Army to work in the field of IT. We remain in touch. He has shared his experience of service with 23 PUNJAB here.
Start of my Career
It was on 3rd of March 2001 at close to 8.30 AM when I passed the Final Step on drill square of Officers Training Academy marking completion of my training and commissioning as an officer.
I was commissioned in Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers and was given attachment in 23 PUNJAB, of “Border” movie fame. I was excited to meet the officers of this great battalion.
Post my leave I joined 23 PUNJAB at Tawang. That day was the beginning of my life as an officer and beginning of a journey to be a great soldier and ardent leader. The Commanding Officer of the battalion was Col M M Nehru and adjutant was Capt N Bhatia.
My entry at the adjutant’s office was full of excitement and hope. I was greeted with warmth by this officer who later was more than a brother to me. He gave me affection, love, care and strength to behave in a manner most befitting of an officer of this great battalion. He informed me that I would be meeting the CO directly at dining in as CO was in a meeting at the Brigade Head Quarters.
I was escorted to my room by Capt Bhatia who enquired about the journey and if I needed anything for making my stay comfortable. I was not expecting this warmth, rather I had prepared myself for a rough ride.
Dining in was in the Officers Mess. Few families were also staying in the premises of the unit though it was a field station. Hence, I was greeted by officers and ladies on my first official dinner.
I was received by my senior subaltern Capt R Jamwal. He informed me that I would be taken directly to the CO and I must wish him and the first lady loudly. I was nervous to meet Col Nehru as I was told that he was a very strict and no-nonsense leader. But the moment I saw him, my fear vanished. He was a pleasant looking, slim and smiling leader who enjoyed the respect of all.
I wished them like this:
“Good evening Sir, I am Lieutenant Nehru, oh sorry, Nahri”. My nervousness was so evident that it made every one laugh out loud.
He extended his hand to shake with me with a pleasing smile. This was enough to calm me down. Then I was introduced to other officers and ladies. The process of dining in was long as I was being motivated to drink alcohol which I decided not to give in to. Hence the party got extended for a long time. Finally, I approached Mrs Nehru, who was not only the wife of the CO, but also a mother figure for all the youngsters. I said, “Maam, if it would be your son, would you allow them to be so perseverant on him”. She smiled and gave them 5 minutes to wrap up the same and to move on for dinner.
This was my first demand to the lady and the wish was granted. My entire stay in the unit was under her shelter and my wife found a beautiful and perfect mentor in her. She was our family there on.
Second day I was having my first interaction with the CO in his office and I was very tense. My fear was of my own creation as when I was in his office he was so composed and warm. He asked me to sit and introduce myself, my education and family background. He was happy to know that my father was also an infantryman. He then dwelled a little on my educational background and asked me if I could use my knowledge in computers to train men. He said, that as I was on attachment, I would not continue in the unit for more than one year and if my skills were left unharnessed then the unit may not gain the benefit of my knowledge and education.
He was a man with vision and was a true leader. He worked out a plan for me to understand in details the work of an infantry officer as well as impart the knowledge I had to the men of the unit to empower them in the field of computers.
Acclimatisation at 9000 Ft
My acclimatisation period at unit base was utilised in using my computer skills for making presentations for war game. This time I also used for repairing the computers in the unit which were not in service due to minor software issues. Here, it is mandatory to notice how the skills were used for the benefit of the unit along with imparting of knowledge on tactics and war readiness.
Deployment at 12000 Ft
I was deployed in Lungro GG (a transit location), a post which required 4 days of walk to reach. This was the toughest physical assignment entrusted on me. I was on this post for 1 month and led the men for patrols on alternate days. The patrols involved walking in the snow-clad mountains at around 12-14,000 ft for 5-7 hours starting at 4:00 AM. Here I developed a good bonding with the troops, whose spirit was infectious and they were tough. I experienced air sorties and also how the intelligence was collected during our patrols.
Yangtse: Main Location at 15000 Ft
Post one month, I received instructions to move to Yangtse (above 15,000 ft), where Col Nehru was stationed. Next day he took me with him to visit the tough passes of Mera La and Thang La being guarded, which overlooked the Tibet Region under China. On the way I was able to gain knowledge from his wealth of experience. He was a man of high moral values and commitment. He never slackened and hence the unit was always alert. I later learned that this culture of 4:00 AM patrols and very high level of physical fitness was a defining characteristic of 23 PUNJAB and not the other 3 units of the Brigade. No wonder 23 PUNJAB never suffered a single weather casualty during the entire stay. I realized the meaning of “more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” His leadership style was motivational, and he had personal connect with each soldier. He could remember their names and could also talk about their family. Generally, COs are briefed in advance about the troops and their families and issues but Col Nehru knew it as good as he knew of his family. This ability of a leader gains total commitment of his men. I was lucky to have been under his mentorship and was glad to have started my career serving under a true leader.
Back to Unit Rear (9000 Ft)
I stayed at Yangtse for two days and then I was sent back to Battalion head Quarters at Tawang. My task was to train selected men on computer skills as well as Hardware maintenance.
I started classes for the men. I could train a sizable number of them on MS Office, especially on Power Point and MS Word. These men were also groomed on troubleshooting the computers. The batches which were taken for hardware maintenance underwent detailed training on computer repairs including software upgrades and installation. Detailed training was conducted for repairs of dot matrix printer including printer heads.
This vision which Col Nehru had was well understood by me after I moved to EME and realised that the Computer Repair Centre of EME is located far from the unit location and it makes long breakdown periods of equipment for units. Col Nehru had developed expertise to reduce or eliminate this breakdown period whereby enhancing the efficiency of the unit. I also realized that the state of maintenance of transport and maintenance of generators of the unit was also excellent considering the tough terrain.
I highlight these points because most of the attachment officers are provided with most difficult of infantry tasks which neither benefit the attaché nor the unit. Col Nehru was able to extract the benefits from my knowledge as well as developed my understanding of the issues faced by infantry units deployed in such inhospitable terrains (similar to Kargil). A true leader works with vision and not out of vengeance or prejudice.
Work with Brigade HQ
Col Nehru also gave me the opportunity to work as Staff Captain with Brigade Head Quarters. This was a prized appointment and most of my colleagues wanted to be nominated for this opportunity (there were no 4:00 AM patrols!). My nomination was a surprise to most of them, but Col Nehru had a vision in doing so. I learnt planning of logistics and delivery of rations at remotest of locations. I also got the opportunity to be liaison officer between Army and the Civil authorities. I represented the Brigade for arrangements of Tawang Festival. I developed as an officer as well as a person. I participated in war games as organiser and could assist my unit in preparation for the same.
9 months passed and every day was a learning experience for me.
Marriage-Recall from Leave
In December of 2001, I requested Col Nehru for permission to get married. He gave his blessings and I moved for my wedding to Aurangabad.
This was the time when Indian Parliament suffered terrorist attack and army received orders to mobilize for probable encounter with Pakistani forces on the Western front. I too received telegram to re-join the unit with immediate effect informing me of cancellation of my leave. This day was the day of my wedding. My father didn’t inform me the same on the day of my wedding but asked my wife to be a brave and strong lady and informed this recall to me. I was prepared and happy to have been recalled but my wife was all in tears. I was the first person in her life and family who belonged to the forces and she was terrified by this news. I could calm her down and explained to her that war necessarily does not mean death and if I die that will be as a martyr. She was not still convinced or at peace but could calm down a bit.
My father called up Col Nehru and requested him to grant me a day more with my wife and in turn he will send me by plane whereby effectively making me reach Guwahati on the scheduled time. Col Nehru granted the same and I was able to get one more day with my wife. This attitude of compassion is also a great quality of a leader. He effectively didn’t compromise on duty but still granted me my wish. I still thank him for his magnanimity.
Our unit moved and was stationed at Assam. We took the posts of those who had vacated and moved to the Western front. The movement was called off and we were stationed in Assam for the time being.
Wife Comes to Unit
My wife was always crying on phone and when I mentioned this to Col Nehru, he immediately asked me to call her to the unit location. One month had passed for my marriage and he could see the pain.
He sent me to rear and I received my wife. Fortunately, the unit also moved back the same time. Dining in was organised to receive my wife in the folds of her new family. This decision of Col Nehru made me indebted and if I would have continued with the unit, I would have laid down my life on his instructions. I think this is what is true leadership. A leader who wins over his men and officers to an extent that they are ready to sacrifice themselves with happiness.
He was always a father figure to me even after I moved out of the unit to my parent arm. We enjoyed a bond of love and happiness. Even after 18 years I have happy memories of my stay with 23PUNJAB- my body needs the 4:00 patrols now more than ever! I think Col Nehru would still be starting his day early and be as fit as then!