An Officer and Gentleman: The Life in the Army


An article by Col (Retd) Abhay Gupta.

I was all of 48 yrs when I was superseded in my present rank. At a social-do, I was asked by this pretty girl, ‘Just 48, and the end of the road for you! What has Army really given you? You’ve never been paid well in the Army. And see what they have done to you now!’

I appraised her from top to bottom. I must confess she was a pretty sight. What I told her was this.

Army, my dear, is a way of life. It is not about making a living. As far as supersession is concerned, lady, that is way of army life. You can’t complain just because your personal interest, as you perceive it, has not been looked after. Army has wonderful, time-tested evolved systems. You don’t fight personal battles for the heck of it. And it is about selfishness, dear – Service Before Self is our motto.

Remember it is a Service (seva). There are no expectations of rewards in Seva, for Seva is considered its own reward. ‘What has Army given me?’, you asked. It has given me a glimpse and understanding of dimensions you, in the civil sector, can only wonder and feel over-awed about. Have you any idea of camaraderie?

When you see a soldier brave the shower of artillery shrapnel to rush to rescue his bleeding colleague just wounded in the shelling you KNOW the meaning of the word ‘camaraderie’. When you are lying in a hospital on a DI List, and there are 20 blood donors of your blood-group spending the cold night in the verandah of the hospital, just so that any emergency call for blood to save your life may be attended to, that is camaraderie. Camaraderie implies selfless help and support to someone who is not necessarily a friend.

You have to cross Banihal, my dear, to understand all this.

Do you know the holy significance of the word ‘command’? It is a sacred word. And who can know the meaning of it other than a person in uniform? Even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company can’t comprehend the significance of this sacred word. When you are in ‘command’ you are God. Can you comprehend what being God can be like? It is not about the authority, it is about responsibility. The authority comes into play after you have rendered your part of the deal of unflinching loyalty displayed towards your subordinates.

Now when you signal him – not ask him or tell him or order him – to dash-down-crawl- observe- fire, and in the process subject himself to imminent death, he does so without a second thought. This is when you REALIZE what is so sacred about command. Even before you can move your hand to the door of the car/ gypsy, the driver jumps from his seat and beats you to the door, your door, is what command gets you. Such are the rewards of command.

Do you know the meaning of ‘being a gentleman’? In the last thirty years in uniform one has witnessed a proliferation of designations in the civil environment. There have been Executive Officers, and there have been Managers – General Managers, Assistant Managers, and a whole spectrum of them. There are CEOs and Vice Presidents. In the Army we have only ‘Officers’. Some are General Officers and some just Company Officers. Even at the induction level we have Young Officers. What it means to be an ‘Officer’ is something you can’t comprehend. Hollywood tried to bring about a differentiation, calling the phenomenon, ‘An Officer and a Gentleman, little knowing that being a gentleman is inherent when you are an OFFICER.

Being a gentleman is his primary nature, not second-nature. His behavior is bhadra – i.e. kalyan-kaarak swabhav, guna, aur karma. Army imbibes this peculiar quality in us when we are as young as 17 to 20 years only. I’ll explain with an example. An officer once held the door open for a particular lady. She, trying to be smartly polite said, ‘You don’t have to hold the door open for me just because I’m a lady.’ He replied, ‘Ma’am, I’m not holding it for you because you are a lady, but because I’m a gentleman.’ We may appear to be ruthless egoists, but we are Enlightened Egoists.

In the corporate world have you ever come across the word ‘honour’? In uniform we serve only for honour, not the ‘package’. Naam, Namak, Nishan – are alien words in the corporate world. You know what it means to serve for honour? When a subordinate, who already has a bad ankle, is told of a mission which entails 12 hours of walk in the most rugged terrain; and when he expresses reservation on account of his current physical condition, is told that if we can’t do it, it will be a smudge on the regiment; AND THERE IS NO ONE TO REPLACE HIM. He says he’ll do his bit. He climbs 10 ropes ahead of everyone else only to find that there is no one behind him and the mission is thus called off. He reports from the top, only 5840m (nearly 20000 ft!), that he with two others of his team are on top and no one is in sight, either behind him or ahead (enemy). He comes back to the base two days later – and what an ankle he has! A swollen ankle with 10-inch girth!!!

That is working for the honour.

Army has commanders at every level – langar commander, section commander/ detachment commander, platoon commander/troop commander, and up the chain to Brigade Commanders, and General Officers Commanding in Chief. The General Officers in command of field forces are the best in their league. What is implied by the term ‘commander’? Maybe something you in the corporate world will never get to know. To be a commander implies responsibility, complete responsibility. As a commander you are responsible for every dimension of your command – right from his morning cup of tea, his toilet facilities, his professional training, his mental makeup, his family’ well being and his spiritual requirements. In the Army we first train young boys, and now even young girls like you, to be an Officer and then to be a Commander, in that order. Can you get an idea, even an iota of it, Lady? Can you get a feel of why we feel distinctly proud, and display it, when we say, ‘We in the Army ….’.

Post Script

‘I am already 25 year old. I suppose I can’t get enrolled to be an officer. What can I do now?, she asked me at a later get-together. ‘The best option for you now is to become an Army Wife!’, I suggested. Two years later this girl married a young Major. Now I only hope and pray that the Army Officers of the future do not belittle this young Army Wife’s perception of our Army as I experienced during ‘my times’. ************ ****************

About Shiv Rana

Retirement life is series of transition: from Olive Green to civvies, being woken up a buddy to fetching morning milk from the milk booth. And now trying to adjust with new-normal due to pandemic - CORONA.
This entry was posted in My years in Olive Green popularly kmown as OG and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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