Thursday, January 20, 2011

Professional Artists : Good Guys - Bad Guys

Twenty seven years later, I wonder why I let myself be appointed as Member of the Students Union Council of St Stephen's College, when I entered my MSc Class. After having fooled around for three years it should have been high time that I settled down and did the MSc course some justice. But that's not the story here...

The highlight of any Students' Unions' tenure was the organization of the winter festival or "Winterfest" We decided to present to the College and to the University, the best College festival organized yet. As part of the cultural programs we decided to invite Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia the renowned flautist, accompanied by Ustaad Zakir Hussain on Tabla. For another evening - and this was a first for the College and for Delhi University - the most popular semi classical artists on the scene at that time - Jagjit and Chitra Singh.

Those were old times. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain very kindly agreed to a fees of Rs 25000 which was split between the two of them, with Rs 5000 only, paid to Zakir Hussain. Both agreed to a payment after the concert was concluded.

Jagjit and Chitra Singh on the other hand demanded Rs 50,000 and 100% advance, with not scope for negotiation.

There was little concern as we had good sponsors who are committed to cover these expenses. Hence both were signed up.

It only seemed too good to be true however. One day before Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain flew in from Mumbai for the concert, one major sponsor backed out. Now, all of a sudden there was little money, certainly not enough to pay for both programs. Jagjit Singh had to be paid prior to his departure from Mumbai. Without payment, there would be no concert !

It was all left to the possibility of Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain agreeing to reduce their fees despite an earlier agreement. In a last minute crisis management meeting of the Student's Union, it was decided that these two artists would be met upon arrival at the airport, and the problem explained to them, with a plea to allow the College Union to go back on their word !

Chaurasia's and Zakir Hussain were welcomed to Delhi, and the bad news conveyed to them. Imagine their reaction, when, the first news given on arrival (a trip made exclusively for this concert), was  that there wasn't enough money to pay, and could they please reduce the amount of the fees originally agreed upon?

Chaurasia was disappointed to say the least. But he recovered and took my colleague aside, at a safe distance from Zakir Hussain. His suggestion to us was this - pay Zakir his full Rs 5000, and pay me Rs 10,000 instead of the promised Rs 20,000. It took the man 5 minutes to take the decision, to get us students out of a major predicament, and at much loss to himself. That we were grateful and appreciative of the magnanimity of this man's character, was an understatement.

That evening, Pt. Hariparasad Chaurasia's concert commenced at 7 pm, in the College auditorium, packed with his fans who had travelled from far across the City to the University campus, to listen to him. And the concert ended at 3 am the next morning !
It remains one of the most memorable performances in Delhi of this great duo.

Jagjit Singh's payment was made in full, upon his arrival. Rumors were afloat that in absence of the money, he would walk out from the stage. And the consequences would be disastrous for the Union. Apart from a colossal disaster, a ruined reputation, there was danger of physical harm from the bad elements who were part of the audience. For non members of the College, there was a gate fee levied too.

Jagjit Singh's concert was successful, as expected. On stage as well as in the 'Green Room' he came across as an extremely arrogant man, often scolding his musicians in full view of the audience, for not being in tune or in beat. The concert ended late in the evening, the audience left, and we said our Goodbyes to Mr. and Mrs. Jagjit Singh. 

But hang on - this wasn't the end of the story. The man called out to me, and wanted to meet the 'treasurer' of the Union. Since the 'treasurer' was not around, I offered to help. Jagjit Singh then informed me that he was waiting for taxi fare to be givent to him in cash, for him to return to his Hotel. The fare was Rs 110 !

Still recovering from this 'shock' I proceeded to inform other Union members of this demand. This prompted off a debate on whether he should be given the Rs 110 or just 'shown the door' One half of the team took a harder stand. The concert had finished and there was no harm Jagjit Singh could do. The other half had a more moderate view - and according to them, Jagjit Singh was capable of 'bad mouthing' the College.
This debate carried on for 30 minutes. And all this while, Mr and Mrs Singh waited at the College entrance, refusing to get into their taxi and drive off without the Rs 110!

The moderate view prevailed, and Jagjit Singh was handed over Rs 110.

This was an experience and a learning no one was likely to forget in a hurry. Two professionals - equal in their stature, yet one so humane, considerate and helpful, and for whom the 'raagas' his flute and the tabla produced was nothing short of a prayer, and whose attitude while performing was nothing short of complete and total devotion to the Almighty. And the other - a cut throat professional, whose only religion was money.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Won The Battle of Longewala for India?

There’s hardly anyone who hasn’t seen the famous Bollywood blockbuster “Border” released in 1997, set to the story of the Battle of Longewala. Thanks to the movie it is now one of the most well known battles of the 1971 Indo Pak war. It was at Longewala that the enemy made his biggest armoured thrust with a view to capture a large chunk of the Indian territory. The Pakistani thrust was completely and comprehensively blunted.

Upto here, we all know the story.

But who was responsible for blunting the Pakistani attack? This is where there are differences in versions….

In the movie “Border” it was Major Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri and his small force of 120 brave men, who resisted the Pakistani onslaught throughout the night by fighting fiercely, till the Air Force arrived at first light the next morning, to assist them.

The Air Force however, has a different story to tell. Here is the story – told by none other than Air Marshal MS Bawa – PVSM, AVSM, VM (Retd.), who was the Base Commander of the Jaisalmer Airbase during the War.

In the early hours of December 5, 1971 the third day of the war, the Air base at Jaisalmer got a frantic message from the Commander 12 Division. His voice was grave with anxiety.

The GOC – Major General Khambatta – told the Air base commander that he suspected that an enemy armoured column was making rapid headway for Ramgarh. The Indian Army post at Longewala had heard tank noises throughout the night and seen tanks go past it with full headlights towards Ramgarh. General Khambatta wanted Wing Commander Bawa and his pilots to “investigate as early as possible."

While the aircrew were being put into the picture, the situation at Longewala was fast deteriorating. Enemy tanks carrying infantry elements had placed a ring around the post and had begun shelling it. The post was manned by a Company of the 23rd Punjab Regiment and the Company Commander at the post was Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri.

Faced with this situation and being severely outnumbered and up against an armoured assault, he could at best appraise the Division of the magnitude of threat & clamour for help. He was advised to await the friendly Air Force at first light. Chandpuri kept low in his trench; a thin veil of darkness lay separating life from the death for all the besieged at this lonely outpost in the dark desert.

When the first two Hunters (of the total of four, based at Jaisalmer) of the IAF arrived on the scene at first light next morning, the enemy was still shelling the post but had not be able to damage anything worthwhile. The Hunters came low, piloted by Flt. Lt. D.K. Dass and Fig. Off. R.C. Gosain. With their with eyes peeled on the ground and also very ably guided by guided by an Air Observation Post aircraft piloted by Major Atma Ram, found the enemy's T-59 tanks. The fight between the IAF and the Pakistani armour began.

Within a matter of minutes the two pilots were able to seek and completely destroy two enemy tanks. Even as the first two Hunters were turning towards home, yet another pair of aircraft flown by Bali and Yadav was on its way to the target area. The first pair claimed two tanks destroyed and five others damaged. The second mission engaged those menacing monsters on ground and continued till it had exhausted all its war loads. The pilots claimed two tanks destroyed and six damaged.

Every pilot in the squadron got his turn to fly to Longewala and unleash a volley of rockets and bombs at the Pakistani tanks.

By the time the last mission over Longewala had completed its attack, the enemy force lay in shambles. The enemy's morale had evidently been completely shattered. There was no dispute that every single piece of armour and supporting vehicle which lay destroyed, crippled, burned or shattered were purely the result of air action.

At the end of the day the air ops and the Company at Longewala confirmed that 20 tanks and a large number of vehicles had been destroyed or damaged by the Air Force. The performance of a handful of gallant pilots had saved the day. The gratitude was most aptly worded in the message received at base from the Divisional Commander, Major General R.F. Khambatta at 10:00 P.M. on 05 December 71.

The battle of Longewala in fact was over. Longewala in this district of Jaisalmer of Rajasthan became the graveyard of Pakistani armour.

The above is the version of the Air Force. What we saw in “Border” was the Army glorified in its supposed action that night.

Finally, a war diary kept at the BSF post at Longewala gives a vivid account of the battle and sums up by saying that the BSF repulsed the armoured thrust with little support from the air force!

John F. Kennedy once said - "Victory has hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan!"


1."SAGA OF LONGEWALA" - by Air Marshal (retd.) M.S. Bawa, PVSM, AVSM, VM

From the Indian Air Force Journal, 1997

2. (Copyright © BHARAT RAKSHAK)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lt. General Prem Bhagat - A soldiers' General..

Physical and moral courage are seldom found in abundant measure, in the same person. Yet Lt. General Bhagat was an example of this. For the former, he won the Victoria Cross during the Second World War. For the second, it is said that there are innumerable instances to recount.

P.S. Bhagat was born in 1918, and joined the 10th course at IMA in 1937.

Although he was not able to attain the highest rank – that of the Army Chief, and retired as Army Commander, there is little doubt in Army circles even today, that if there was an officer deserving of this position, it was Prem Bhagat.

Apart from a truly courageous soldier and and officer, both mentally and physically, Prem Bhagat was known to be a true soldier’s general. There are numerous instances that prove this – sometimes his behaviour extending to what may be termed as ‘carrying it a bit too far…’

In 1970 Prem Bhagat was GOC 11 Corps at Jullundar. One young Captain who as posted in the same Station, and who was newly married, was not able to bring his wife to live with him, due to acute shortage of married officers’ accommodation. The Captains’ CO advised him to seek an appointment with the GOC. When two other Captains got to know of this, they too followed suit.

When the applications reached Prem Bhagat, he invited all three for tea, to his Office. He also had his ADC call the Station Commander and the Brigadier in charge of administration, to his Office. He enquired from them whether they had official accommodation. When they replied in the affirmative, Prem wanted to know, why the Captains did not have houses. He then told the senior officers “When there is a war it is these officers who will go to fight and die, while you and me will sit here and twiddle our thumbs. I am not interested in your excuses. If you do not have MES accommodation, hire it from the civilians. If these young officers do not have houses by next week, I will ask you to vacate yours and allot it to them”

Needless to state, the Captains got their accommodations, and their brides were only too happy to join them.

Once, when on a visit to a Battalion, he enquired from a jawan, as to what time he got up in the morning. Prem was surprised to hear the answer. “Three o’ clock” he was told. Prem wanted to know why the jawans got up so early, when the PT parade was at 6 am.

The jawan was hesitant to explain but he did. The men had to spend a long time waiting to use the lavatory. Prem requested to be led to the lavatories. He found that there were 20 lavatories for about 800 men. He then went to speak to the CO and asked him whether he had ever visited the lavatories. When the CO replied in the negative, Prem blew him up. “No wonder you don’t know what’s happening in your battalion! Well, I want you to not only visit the lavatory, but to use it tomorrow morning. And then confirm to me on phone!”

The hapless Commanding Officer had to get up early next morning to use the lavatory, and then reported to Prem. The battalion, of course got additional lavatories within a month.

When Prem was Army Commander Central Command, he once visited Mhow. A large number of Officers were posted there, doing long courses at the Infantry School and the Millitary College of Telecommunciations and Engineering. Due to acute shortage of married accommodation, they were not allowed to bring their families. When Prem got to know of this, he was angry. By he was told, that married accommodation was cost a lot and would take years to build.

“If we cannot give them proper houses, at least give them tents". A plan was made out and sanctioned on the spot by Prem, to build 80 houses which had concrete walls with tent roofs. Prem promised to come back for inspection after three months, when these would be ready.

He was back as promised. The tents had been occupied. He asked one Officer’s wife whether she was comfortable living in her house. The lady was bold enough to tell the General, that it was too hot, and she had to literally sit under a tree the whole day. Prem apologised to the lady, and called for the Garrison Engineer, who explained that the ceiling was too low to install ceiling fans in the tent houses. “Who’s talking about ceiling fans?” he thundered.

“Get two table fans for each tent. I want a completion report before I leave !”

That day, all table fans were bought out in Mhow, but they still did not add up to 160. Additional fans were purchased from nearby Indore later that day. The next morning each of the 80 households had two brand new table fans, thanks to that bold officer’s wife.

Many would say - this was carrying it too far. But there is a lesson Prem Bhagat reminded to all those he commanded " The safety and welfare of the men you lead, is of foremost importance, only next to the safety and welfare of your Country"