A COMMENTATOR’S INTERESTING ANECDOTES
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Pachmarhi, the only hill station in Central India was being decorated like a bride for a wedding the citizens and military personnel stationed there had not witnessed before. President of India, Shri Varahgiri Venkat Giri had kindly condescended to present Regimental Colours to the Army Educational Corps on 21st Feb 2071. The All India Radio, Bhopal had invited me to do a running commentary on major events for their Radio Station that would be relayed by other radio stations in and around the central India. I did not have much experience of the electronic media and yet they had chosen me as I had been doing spot commentaries on army events in that part of our country. I was happy with the decision made by the Station Director of Akashvani Bhopal to select me.
MILITARY IN CENTRAL INDIA
The provinces in Central India, later called Madhya Bharat, were peaceful indeed. The Scindia royal family of Gwalior and the Holkar royal family of Indore had learnt to listen to wise counsel of the Times after the British led forces of the East India Company had broken the back of the Maratha Confederacy and forced the Peshwa to flee to Bithoor, far away from Maharashtra. MHOW near a tiny village Mahu became the Military Headquarters of War and the British Army Officers were monarchs of all they surveyed. With no formidable enemy around, the Army Officers trained a little but played a lot – games of sorts. Going on Shikar in the dense jungles of plateaus and hunting wild boar was fun indeed.
A young British Army Officer Captain Forsythe took time off from his military training schedule and proceeded on a long hunt on horseback accompanied by a retinue commensurate with the rank. A Captain in the 18th and 19th centuries was considered to be a big shot. Capt Forsythe is credited with the discovery of Pachmarhi as a small military station with club facilities where young married wives of subalterns fresh from England could fun and frolic without running into big guns or their stiff- upper- lip burra mem sahibs who generally frequented the summer capital of British India.
I suitably packed interesting information about the discovery of Pachmarhi, its important waterfalls, circular walks, polo grounds that came up many years after Captain Forsythe had sailed home via the Cape of Good Hope and the radio listeners loved the off beat information.
Shri VV Giri, President of India showed interest in Pachmarhi when he went there for presenting Colours to the Army Educational Corps and I took him round the Plateau of Pachmarhi. The natural beauty is just so captivating that one wishes to come again and again to the place and enjoy the serenity of the place situated at an altitude of 3500 ft above sea level. Dhoopgarh is the highest point which one has to climb on foot as there is no road. However, there is a small rest house there with washroom facilities. Sunshine is ever present there as long as the Sun is visible. Indeed the scene of sunset from Dhoopgarh is heavenly and one may enjoy the beauty of setting sun beyond seven ranges of the Satpura hills. It is advisable to carry one’s own water, tea and snacks to rejuvenate, rehydrate one’s self after the fairly steep climb to the highest point in the central India.
Lord Shiva is the presiding deity of the place. Mahadev hills and Chauragarh are pieces of evidence that devotees of Mahadeo came from all over the place to pay obeisance to the deity at many points named after him. Chauragarh is a circular hill top reached after a steep climb of hundreds of natural stone stairs where a climber has to be sure footed to avoid a fall. On reaching the flat circular top a climber comes across innumerable big iron Tridents that worshippers of Lord Shiva carried on their shoulders to place there for the Deity and end their worldly life by jumping hundreds of feet down below into a large abyss. It is said that some men in authority made an attempt to remove the Tridents to an iron factory for melting and moulding but kicked the bucket.
When I saw Pachmarhi first time as a Second Lieutenant in July 1960, it was a sleepy little town with not much to write home about except flora and fauna. The senior most Army officer was a Lieutenant Colonel who was Commandant of the AEC Training Centre and School and also doubled up as the Station Commander. We did not see much of him except at the time of initial introduction. The number of Majors could be counted on finger tips. One of them was fond of wild life and advised me not to be scared of the non-existent tiger. The old timers settled in Pachmarhi Cantonment post retirement did confide in me that in olden days tigers did come to the houses near the jungle to say good morning to early walkers on the chhota chukker of 4 miles. An old resident of a bungalow on the periphery of forest narrated how tigers loved to cross the Lakshman Rekha and enter the human habitat. I made use of these interesting stories in my numerous commentaries on the plateau of Pachmarhi.
Dr Rajendra Prasad was very fond of spending a few weeks in summer months in Pachmarhi to beat the heat of New Delhi. He was asthmatic and Simla hills did not suit him although the Viceroy’s Lodge there was all his as President. He would walk around a small hill and enjoy the scenic beauty and fragrance of flowers. The hillock stands named after him as Rajendra Giri. When I was showing President and Smt Giri around Pachmarhi, I mentioned the name Rajendra Giri. Promptly Smt Giri intervened to say that it is named after two Presidents – Rajendra and Giri. Discretion is the better part of valour, so I kept mum and did not say that Giri here means a hillock. The first President of India reigns supreme in chats and discourses mentioning high dignitaries who loved Pachmarhi
I must make a mention that the Pachmarhi of today is very different from Pachmarhi of 1960s. In 1968 my newly married wife and I went to the civil area for shopping sundries. We walked past a row of tiled hutments but found no shop as such. When my wife and I reached the other end of the inhabited civil area, I asked a passer- by where the market place was. “ Sir, you have just walked past the market”, said the man in amazement. We were more amazed.
COMMENTATOR BECOMES FAMOUS
I QUITE REMEMBER HOW DISAAPOINTED WAS THE ORGANISOR OF A MEGA SPORT EVENT WHEN THE Guest of Honour expressed a desire to meet the man at the mike at the end of the event. I was asked by the Deputy Commandant to go to the VIP enclosure for a little chat with the big man. The Guest of Honour asked me a number of questions about how do I handle Words at the Mike because my commentary makes even a dull event so lively. I thanked him profusely and returned to mingle with my folks. I just overheard the brother officer lamenting loud about being ignored despite putting in hard work for months. The man at the mike puts in an appearance for just couple of days and wins laurels. I shall leave it at that since self praise is no recommendation.
I had the honour and privilege of being posted to New Delhi from Pachmarhi. What a miraculous change it brought to our lives. Akashvani invited me to do the running commentary on the Republic Day Parade from the Presidential Enclosure for the distinguished guests. It was a spot commentary not carried on the Air. Nevertheless it was a precursor to doing commentary on the Air for AIR and it catapulted me to the national scene. I must mention that the game changer was an interview that I had with Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw. He was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal on 1st January 1973 in recognition of his contribution to the victory of the Indian Army over the Pakistan Army that dismembered Pakistan and Bangladesh was born.
My interview with Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw created a Tehelka in the Media World. The Statesman, the paper that Englishmen read, said that it was hilarious and also Free Frank and Fearless. No holds were barred. I asked and he answered. I asked about his bravery on battlefield in Burma in the Second World War and he said that he was young, he displayed courage and bravery above the call of duty by snatching territory from the brave Japanese Army in the battle of Sittang Bridge. Of course, the Japanese had the better of Sam and pumped NINE bullets into his stomach. He lost a lot of blood and people around thought that Sam would breathe his last. Sir Cowans, General Officer Commanding the Division rushed to Sam’s side and learning of his brave feats, pulled his own Military Cross from the chest and pinned it on Sam’s chest.
Military Cross is won by a living man and is not awarded to a dead man. That explains why the General did that. Of course, an interesting incident followed winning of MC. Sam was evacuated to Madras Military Hospital but his condition was rather bad. The Governor of Madras Presidency came over to see the brave officer, Sam Manekshaw. As a gesture of courtesy the Governor asked Sam if he could do anything for the brave man. Yes Sir, you can do a lot. “ Sir, you may tell the CO of Military Hospital to give me two pegs of whiskey every evening.”.On Co nodding assent, the Governor gave the green signal and Sam had two pegs of whisky that evening after a long gap. Next morning the Commanding Officer of the Military Hospital found Sam’s condition much better and ask Sam what the reason was. With a glint in the eye, Sam said – Whiskey made the difference, Sir. The top medical man then prescribed two large pegs of whiskey every evening. Sam recovered from battle wounds to march on for higher goals.
Notwithstanding my burning the midnight oil and preparing hard for doing my share of the commentary, a co-commentator made pitfalls for me so that I fall flat. He would take lion’s share and lively events leaving the dull ones for me. After doing his part of the commentary, he would walk out of commentator’s box and leave the door ajar letting in unwanted noise and mike blaring words of the spot commentary. I had to raise my voice to be heard by the listeners and did not draw an adverse comment. I chose not to report the incident to the administrative officers and maintained loyalty to a colleague-commentator.
The Silver Jubilee Parade of the 1971 war victory was held in the Rashtriya Stadium. Some civilian babus holding high positions in Ministries that mattered had opposed the proposal of holding a celebration of Silver Jubilee as it would annoy Pakistan. The Indian Army put its foot down and insisted on holding the Parade to boost the morale of our Jawans. In a nutshell, the Parade was held but on a low key and I was one of the commentators for the Doordarshan. The co-commentator was a lady and implored of me to take lion’s share since she had no military background. I acceded to her request. The Doordarshan Producer and his senior officers were happy about this arrangement.
Lo and behold! The TV cameras focussed on a man sitting in the midst of a crowd of people who mattered little. He was none other than Rajesh Pilot, a Union Minister who had participated actively in the Eastern Theatre of war where he flew a bomber. The computer in my brain brought out a real story of that bombing episode. When Rajesh Pilot flew his bomber from the base, a call sign was given to him to call in distress. The Pakistan’s Intelligence found it out. The call sign in distress was “ I am your Wife”. When Rajesh Pilot was flying over the East Pakistan air base to bomb it, the anti-aircraft artillery wanted to shoot him down but found his elevation beyond their guns’ range. The enemy used the call sign and said : I am your wife, come down lower to bomb accurately. The Indian Air Force base also heard it and wanted to warn Rajesh Pilot not to descend. The Indian Air Base said “ This is your REAL wife. Do not descend lest you are shot down.” Rajesh Pilot did not descend and bombed from where he was and thus destroyed the runway of the East Pakistan Air Base.
Well, dear listeners and readers, i should bid adieu now, Interesting experiences and anecdotes are too many to be recounted in an article. I shall keep coming to you every now and then. May Ishwar bless you.
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