In 20 PUNJAB Officer’s Mess, from left Capt Jamwal, Capt I J Singh, self, Capt Shekhawat

In 1987 I was due to attend the Battalion Support Weapons (BSW) Course at Mhow. The course had three legs: 81 mm Mortar, MMG & Rcl.   I also got an opportunity to undergo some kind of pre-course training along with Capt Jamwal [(my immediate junior) Jimmy]. Naik Balak Ram was assigned the responsibility of training us. Our gradings in weapon courses have an assessment of the theory part (A, B, C) & practical part (X, Y, Z). Balak Ram was “AY” in the Mortar Course. He was actually very competent but had not been able to catch above 60% faults in the “fault-finding” test. This test lasts barely 10 min. He told me that I would be able to get an AX(Instructor) grading but had to focus 60 % of my energy on revising all the practical procedures in my mind & visualize where faults could occur. He, of course, gave us hints. I was interested in getting an instructor grading, primarily because I felt that not having any instructor grading in the Young Officer’s Course was a performance far below my potential, at least I should have got an instructor grading in the Commando Course. Balak Ram’s teaching made sense. I followed his advice.

I had some connections in the Brigade HQ and could manage vacancies for Jimmy & self. We were happy to be going together. Jimmy and I were good friends. Jimmy, though junior, was my guide in several things in life and a sharper brain.

 During the course, when in the barracks I used to revise the practical procedures with Jimmy. Jimmy lacked my perseverance and used to tell me to stop it. I used to not bother him further and revise the procedures alone in my mind. I could not afford to annoy Jimmy, because apart from his being a good friend I needed some company for my regular exercising and swims, for which he was the only buddy I had in the entire course.

In the “fault-finding” test I caught 9 faults out of 10 and one more fault which had been committed by the trained NCO instructors inadvertently. Our officer instructor was very competent and fair. He discussed the “inadvertent fault” in front of me with the NCO instructors and acknowledged that I had caught the fault correctly. I think I was the only guy in our course who got 100% in the “fault finding” test.

On the evening of our final exam Jimmy and I were swimming as usual. We were the only two occupants of the pool. An officer instructor, passing by, saw us swimming. He crossed the pool area after approximately an hour. We were still there. He checked whether we remembered that our final exam was due the next morning and we confirmed to him that we knew it. Jimmy was due to get married soon after the course. His considerable focus was on marriage. I accompanied him in his selection of clothes for marriage. I think I have never done this exercise ever again in my life. After our swim we had to go to Indore to collect his stitched clothing. We did that (another 3 hours after the swim). This was our seriousness for the final exam. The final exam was almost entirely about employment of Mortars in operations and practical application. It practically needed no memorizing. Jimmy topped the exam and I probably had one mark less.  I did get my first AX (I) grading. Jimmy got AY. He had caught 5 faults out of 10, just like Balak Ram!

Later I was appointed as the Mortar Platoon Commander for an important competition. Balak Ram, my guide during pre-course, was very much present in the Platoon. In the written test in the course at Mhow I had scored 73% marks, just 3% above the magical figure of 70% required for “A” grade. In his course Balak had scored 93% marks in the written exam. I have not heard of such a high score by anyone. Whenever I took classes for our Platoon and some joint classes for the entire Brigade Platoons, I used to announce that in case there is some doubt about any technical issue, we will take Balak Ram as the final authority.

PS: Balak Ram retired as a Sub & Jimmy as Brig.


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