3 November 2015

Book Review in E Mail Format. From My Memory Vault : Reflections of a Veteran Soldier

(From My Memory Vault : Reflections of a Veteran Soldier, Lt Gen Baljit Singh (Retd), Alpha edition, 2/19, Ansari Road, Delhi, ISBN 978-81-93142-25-7, Price Rs. 750/-, 204 page)

1. I was posted at HQ Central Command, Lucknow. I came across an article by Lt Gen Baljit Singh on 1962: Face to Face with the PLA available at :http://www.indiandefencereview.com/1962-face-to-face-with-the-pla/. Since it dealt with Barahoti Bowl , the real estate which was always the fulcrum of any discussion in Central Command, I sent the article via e-mail to all the officers of Central Command, as I have been doing in all HQs I served. Army Commanders do read. My Army commander Lt Gen Anil Chait gave me a ring in the intercom and asked me to find out about the author. That is how I came in contact with Lt Gen Baljit Singh. Since the article was about how he took a company of 14 Rajput to establish an Army post at Rim Kim ridge which dominated Bara Hoti Grazing Ground (BGG), I sheepishly asked him, are you from Infantry? Promptly came the answer, Damn it , I am a Gunner. Some of hie papers published in Indian Defence Review can be read at : http://www.indiandefencereview.com/author/ltgenbaljitsingh/
Articles By Lt Gen Baljit Singh

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Issue: Net Edition | Date: 19 Aug , 2015

A non-combatant who witnessed and filmed the first flight to Leh & Battles For Zoji-La and Namka Chhu. “…the fall of Leh will be a strategic blow to India. It has to be...

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Issue: Net Edition | Date: 24 Nov , 2014

We were sixteen and all of us had gathered at the Regimental Gun position (12 Field Regiment), at 1230 hrs sharp, on 03 December, 1971. The occasion was the farewell lunch for one of our Battery...

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Issue: Net Edition | Date: 12 Nov , 2014

“A great Gentleman, a gallant Horseman, a true friend.” 1912. “And the men who have pioneered the way (Sic. to the summit of Everest) deserve in full measure the gratitude of their kind for...

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Date: 16 Aug , 2014

“Ballay-Ballay-Ballay! Faujaan ney taan baadi security khichh chhaddi hay.” (Bravo! You guys have surely thrown a security cordon around yourselves”), said the three tall, well built and...

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Issue: Net Edition | Date: 30 Jul , 2014

What can be surmised from an understanding of the history of warfare in general is that in any form of armed conflict, collateral damage (loss of limb and life) to the populace at large as also of...

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Issue: Net Edition | Date: 30 Jun , 2014

“Nobody can however be sure of the intentions of China…… the best way to face the situation is to be prepared to meet any (Sic. contingency)……. India’s policy is to continue to hold...

By: Lt Gen Baljit Singh| Issue: Net Edition | Date: 12 Jun , 2014

When a friend who was in Lhasa recently, mentioned of the wide range of cars available on rental, my memory at once shifted focus upon Lieutenant Fredrick Travers O’Connor who on 14 November...

2. Since then I am in contact with him and remain amazed by his knowledge of military history, nature and wild life, wisdom, recounting and writing skills. He has been extremely magnanimous to me and shared lot of his articles and experiences. He had sent me a DVD on Liberation of Ladakh made by that famous photographer and painter Sarbjeet Singh. With his permission I uploaded the video in you tube. As on date it has more than 8800 hits. This is available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5nf8wWTcPM&feature=youtu.be. I also made copies and sent to all Comd and Corps HQs and Cat ‘A’ est.

3. The book, all of 195 pages is a delightful reading. The author has divided the book into four parts : Subaltern Years, Flavour of Staff and Command, Bugle Calls and Fluttering Flags and Crossed Swords Back to Scabbards. An officer who was commissioned in 1965 and retired as Chief of staff HQ Central Command, had a chequered carrier with three tenures in Military Operation Directorate. He had taken part in 65 and 71 operations and was with 17 Division on the move during 62 Operations. Apart from the professional achievements, which are many, on which he has hardly written anything but bare minimum, he was a mountaineer of repute, horseman, represented Services in Skeet and Trap shooting, angler, photographer and took a pioneering lead to the nature conservation both within the Indian Army and outside. His love for nature, flora and fauna,wildlife and birds, reading and outdoor activities is infectious and gets manifested in every page of the book.

4. Gen Baljit Singh has written about his life in Indian Army is a very lucid manner tinged with humour and narrated number of incidents in his life very briefly. And what a life he has. Just to give some examples. How Lt Ranbir Bakshi who had the honour of bagging the first gallantry award in WW II as a Gunner and later as his Commandant at School of Arty in the investiture ceremony at the Buckingham Palace when King George while pinning the MC enquired , " how did you give the slip to the Japanese so often, Captain?" and with a twinkle in his eyes and a slight flicker of his famously cultivated moustache at a skewed angle, pat came the reply " I ran like hell, Your Majesty" with the two young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in peals of laughter unmindful of the protocol. On completion of three years service he had gone on leave cum furlough to UK and Europe on shoe string budget and how he met in a military tattoo Brig Sir John Smyth, VC, MC in Edinburg. He was feted by a Sikh Brass Band, a mix of 15 Ludhiana and Rattray Sikhs, both the battalions the venerated soldier commanded and how they lifted their erstwhile "CO Sahib Bahadur" on their shoulders and danced a jig with the full throated war cry of " Wah Guruji ki Khalsa , Sri Wah Guruji ki Fateh".The General had written a remarkable article on Brig Sir John Smyth, VC, MC which I am enclosing. Many of the anecdotes mentioned in the book are actually material for full fledged articles some of which have been published in reputed journals. Examples are : his experience as BGG STF ( As he was trained in HMI by none other than Tenzing Norgay), his experience in 71 Operations in 10 Division sector and how two tall, broad chested Sikh peasants in kurta and lungi entered the Gun Position uttering Oh, Bale Bale , making of a home as a Battery Commander by using European Pattern for Indian Postings(EPIP) Tents at Madhepura and subsequently penalizes for misuse of Govt property and paid Rs 800/- those days as rentals, his interactions at various levels with Lt Gen KP Candeth, how Poonchu, a Mompa tribal from interiors of Tawang district with Laddoo Singh from Rajasthan made a a music cabinet for the flag staff house, how Lt Gen Sunderji as Western Army Commander after glancing through Sanctuary Magazine went back to his HQ and sent all General officers and Brigadiers of Western Command a letter enclosing a cheque from training grant equivalent of one year's subscription for the Sanctuary Asia Magazine with the caveat " I expect each one of you to do likewise down to Lt Cols serving under you!", how Gen BC Joshi designated the Land and Works Directorate to Land works and Environment(LWE) Directorate, how three tall well built smiling Sikhs were introduced to the Army Chief Gen Sundarji as Fauz de Sardar at Tashkent, the tiger sighting by Gen Sundarji at Ranthambhore and the personal staff of the General said, " tiger kitna sundar hai!", and many more. Some of his articles I am enclosing with this mail.

5. General Baljit after retirement became Trustee of WWF-India, only service officer to have this honour. Some of us have listened to his talks at DSSC, Wellington in early 90s. He along with J C Daniel authored a remarkable book titled “Natural History and the Indian Army” published by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The book comes as a humble recognition of the service done by the Indian Army towards conservation of India’s fast dwindling wildlife and natural habitats. More of the book later.

6. In his long army life the Gen has traversed all possible Himalayan trekking routes, climbed mountains, did angling in some of the most exquisite locations where only Faujis can go (I am reminded of Man Moi Cho which I was privileged to see but did not do any angling), absorbed natural beauty in all its splendour and abundance, Since in Army one does get a chance to go to many such places as the Gen has gone and I have been fortunate enough to visit many of the places the Gen has described, one feels ashamed why couldn’t I explore all these when I was there!

7. Army is so full of history. When he took a Company of 14 Rajput from Lucknow to Barahoti Bowl the Company Commander who arranged everything at Lucknow was Maj Jagat Singh, father of ex Chief Gen VK Singh. He has mentioned of Lt Col KM Pandalai and Capt RS Taragi of 14 Rajput. I have a sneaking suspicion that Brig Taragi of Rajput Regt who was BGS (Ops) in HQ Northern Command in 2007 when I was posted there, is the son of the then Capt Taragi so is Gen Pandalai of Rajput Regt is the son of the then Lt Col Pandalai. However, I maybe wrong, i have not checked.

8. An avid photographer that the author is, it is no surprise there are some wonderful photographs.

9. Kahlil Gibran, Rudyard Kipling, Manohar Mulgaonkar keep popping up throughout the book. Some of the quotes are so apt that one cannot but repeat it here. Here is one from Mark Twain on writing his autobiography : “I hit upon the right way to do an autobiography : start it at no particular time of your life; wonder at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing……… Also, make the narrative a combined Diary and autobiography. In this way you have the vivid things of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the past and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own…..”

10. There is a common thread through out the book. It is his beloved wife Chappu. Their courtship and thereafter Gen Baljit has written so lovingly and affectionately. In 2013 Mrs Simren Kaur or Chappu published her memoir titled FIN FEATHER AND FIELD and states in the opening chapter " We got on like a house on fire. We still do after half a century." I entirely agree with the author when he observes happy marriages are indeed made in heaven. I cannot refrain from quoting their quotes : On Chappu's first birthday after marriage Baljit sends her Rudyard Kipling's Kim after writing on the blank space on the title page an ancient Chinese poem from Lin Yu Tang's book " The Importance of Living" ; 
Twist you and me, there is too much emotion.
That is the reason why there is such a commotion!
Take a lump of clay, wet it, pat it,
And make an image of me and an image of you.
Then smash them, crash them, and add a little water.
Break them and remake them into an image of you, 
And an image of me.
Then in my clay, there is little of you.
And in your clay, there is little of me. And nothing ever, shall us sever;
Living, we will sleep in the same quilt, 
And dead, we will be buried together."

And promptly Chappu gifted the latest edition of Huge Whistler's Popular Hand Book of Indian Birds with a verse in her own hand from Kahlil Gibran's book" The Prophet" on Baljit's birthday :

"Love has no other desires but to fulfil itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love."


To wake at dawn with a winged hart and give thanks

For another day of loving
One cannot but agree with Gen Baljit when he writes : I often shared with Chappu the dedication Field Marshal William Slim had penned in his epic narrative" Defeat Into Victory", viz "To Aileen, a soldier's wife who followed the drum and from mud-walled huts or Government House, made a home."

What a couple.

11. Mrs Simren Kaur's book FIN FEATHER AND FIELD is complimentary to Gen Baljit's book. Whereas in this book Gen Baljit gives all the credit to Chappu, in Chappu’s book she portrays her husband as a hero. One feels, should I say, envious on learning how great a life the couple has lived. I have only come across one such book (in three parts) by Maj Gen Monty Palit who was instrumental in sending Baljit as STF Commander to Barahoti Bowl when Monty was Director Military Operations and later Monty crossed sword with Baljit and he writes to me : I had the privilege of competing with him at the Army Horse Show, Delhi in 1967/68.Of course he was GOC 23 and I was cutting my teeth as Instructor at Deolali but he was gracious to complement my skill. 

I wonder how many of us have read Monty’s book. The details are as under ;
Musings & Memories: Vol (I),II and III published at his own cost by Vanity Books. 

Lancer Publishers, 2004   659 pages

Autobiographical reminiscences of an Indian military officer.


12. Since the book was written in a hurry, two months flat, there are some typos and mistakes which I am sure will get corrected in the next edition. In one place the name of Ex Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor has been wrongly spelled. In the later parts sometime the continuity has been missing and incidents of later parts have come before. Though the trekking routes may be known to the author as the back of his hands, for the layman it would have been better if some sketches of those routes/places could be included in the places where these were described. But these are minor in nature but overall a thoroughly engrossing reading and I enjoyed every word of it.

13. I recommend every unit and HQ must have this book along with Simren Kaur’s book FIN FEATHER AND FIELD. If by reading this book even one  officer per unit/HQ choose to lead a life remotely close to that of Baljis' it will be worth the effort.

14.  I have one request to make. When we meet at Valhalla whenever destiny decides, I would request Gen Baljit to take me under his wings to explore the biodiversity there!

          -- Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

PS. I also request DGMT to recommend these books for unit/HQ libraries. Today units/HQ/Cat A and B Ests get adequate funds for library and often look for recommended books for purchasing and often end up procuring James Hadley Chase! I may sound pessimistic but I find the process of recommending books by DGMT quite archaic. Often one is made to feel (I hope I am drastically wrong) that one has got some vested interest in getting recommendations. Damn it, at 80 years + nobody writes to get some money. In any case it will be pittance. It is that people want others to read their experiences.

I am also enclosing details of the cover page and and front and back cover flag. And also some e mail exchanges with Gen Baljit and me.

I shall be enclosing details of the book by Simran Kaur wife of Lt Baljit Singh FIN FEATHER AND FIELD and some excerpts from her book in a sepearate e mail. Not many books of this natures has come out from the wives of armed forces officers. I am sure you will enjoy reading this book also


Let me take this opportunity to reproduce a book review from Indian Express on the book

Natural History and the Indian Army by J.C. Daniel & Lieut General Baljit Singh (Retd.)

Sales price: 500,00 ₨

In line with its glorious tradition of excellence and dedication on the battlefield and during peacetime 
rescue operations, the Indian Army has been doing commendable work in research and conservation of nature in the many cantonments as well as the remote corners of India where it operates in the middle of natural surroundings.
Many of us would remember the lush green premises of the armed forces in stark contrast to the often degraded barren stretches of land in the countryside. Along with the greenery, lands belonging to the Army are also often safe havens
to myriad forms of wildlife of every description.
Moreover, the remote borders of India from the
trans-Himalayan highlands of Ladakh and the forested slopes of Kashmir to the rain forests of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the presence of the Army invariably overlaps with wildlife rich areas.

The latest coffee table book from BNHS, the 4th in the series till now, titled “Natural History and the Indian Army” beautifully depicts this lesser known achievement of the Indian Army. Coedited by J C Daniel and Lt. Gen. Baljit Singh (Retd.) and published by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the book comes as a humble recognition of the service done by the Indian Army towards conservation of India’s fast dwindling wildlife and natural habitats.

The 260-page book, which is a compilation of writings by Indian Army officers over the past 225 years that had appeared in the Journals of BNHS called JBNHS, starts off from the days of the British Raj and continues to the post-independence era up to the present. It also has many beautiful colour plates of paintings of flora and fauna, as well as photographs from the past and the present.

The officers of the British India Army were very often avid nature enthusiasts and for them the vastness and diversity of the Indian sub-continent with its myriad habitats ranging from tropical to temperate to alpine, were a treasure of natural history to be explored. While describing the transformation that India’s wilderness brought upon the British officers, John Keay, present day writer of travel and history notes, “The men who discovered India came as amateurs; by profession they were soldiers and administrators. But they returned home as giants of scholarships.” And although a lot of destruction of nature happened during the years of foreign rule, the contribution of men from the Army towards study and conservation of India’s wildlife is noteworthy.

The book contains a treasure trove of research papers and observations from the field by officers from British India Army like Maj. Gen. Thomas Hardwicke, Lieut. Col. S. R. Tickell, Surgeon Maj.T. C. Jerdon, Lieut. Col. K. R. Kirtikar and Lieut. Gen. R. K. Gaur. Several army men have been instrumental in scientific discoveries and documentation of various bird species in India. Many of them had extensive collections of specimens, eggs, nests and skins. For instance, the book talks about the first specimen of White-crested Laughing Thrush that was collected by Maj. Gen. Hardwicke. Similarly, Lieut. Col. Tickell had to his credit 11 first descriptions of Indian birds in eastern India, including Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher. Maj. Jerdon discovered several species of birds in southern India including Jerdon’s Courser and Jerdon’s Nightjar and also various reptiles and mammals.

Contribution of army men to mammal discovery includes Maj. Gen. Hardwicke describing Goral and Indian Gerbil, Capt. W. H. Sykes describing Chinkara and Indian Wild Dog and Lieut. Col. A. S. G. Jayakar discovering Arabian Tahr in Oman. Study of snakes by men in uniform has also been covered in the book. For instance, Maj. Jerdon made new discoveries and collected many specimens in India, while Lieut. Col. K. G. Gharpurey worked in western India and even in Africa and Persia and published six papers in JBNHS.

Bird photography has also been extensively covered in the book. Col. R. S. P. Bates published 17 papers on bird behaviour and published a series “Bird nesting with a camera” in JBNHS and a book “Bird life in India”.

Major contributors to the Botany in India in British era as documented in the book include
medicos from the army like Lieut. Col. Kirtikar. He was on the forefront with his studies in western India and vast botanical collection and published a book “Poisonous plants of Bombay” and “Indian medicinal plants”. Col. Sir. R. N. Chopra was a patriot who worked towards using India’s botanical wealth to make the country self-reliant in pharma drugs.

The book talks about study of fishes in British India. For example, Maj. Jerdon wrote the first
scientific paper titled “On the freshwater fish of south India”. Others who worked on the topic
include Lieut. Col. Arthur MacDonald, Capt. C. W. W. Conway and Col. John Masters. Study of butterflies was done by men like Swinhoe, Yerbury and Bingham.

In the British era there were some officers who played a major role in wildlife conservation. The first one to sound alarm was Lieut. Col. L. L. Fenton, while Lieut. Col. R. W. Burton furthered the cause.

Post-independence era saw renewed efforts of conservation by the Indian Army, despite the
pressure on the borders due to wars and other external aggression. The task of documenting and preserving wildlife in the frontier areas continued unabated. The practice of shooting ducks annually in Bharatpur by the Commander-in-Chief was discontinued in 1964. Gen. P. P. Kumaramangalam was a keen naturalist and a visionary for preserving India’s green cover, who brought forth the idea of Indian Territorial Army Ecological Battalions and also encouraged shikar clubs to become Nature Clubs. Lieut. Gen. K. Sundarji held the first Army Nature Awareness Workshop and when he became Chief of Army Staff, he created an Environment Cell in the Army. 

Gen. B. C. Joshi formally defined the Army’s role in conservation and restoration and made a tripartite agreement with WWF and CEE. Lieut. Gen. Baljit Singh has personally taken initiative in rescuing Nilgai, protecting Hare in Punjab, conserving Narcondam Hornbill / Black-necked Crane with BNHS and in preparing a blueprint for MoEF for radio tracking tigers.

The book will be of interest to nature lovers, professional naturalists, bureaucrats, people from the armed forces, policy makers, teachers, students and lay people.
Army is green

Author: N Kalyani

Published Date: Jul 31, 2010  
Last Updated: May 16, 2012  

When Major-General Thomas Hardwicke took the steamer back to England in 1835, he had with him a treasure — the largest collection of drawings of Indian animals ever formed by an individual. Hardwicke, who arrived in India in 1778 as a cadet in the Bengal artillery, was the first to pursue a “scientific investigation of India’s natural history”.

An aspect that is quite unsung, unfortunately, is the kind of engagement the Indian Army has had with natural history and conservation. A comprehensive pictorial, glossy, coffee table book titled Natural History and the Indian Army, published jointly by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Oxford University Press, addresses this shortcoming. And it does it well.

The book brings together articles written by army officers who were naturalists, photographers and sportsmen, that were published in the issues of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS) from 1886, when the first issue of the Journal was brought out, 3 years after the BNHS was formed.

This treasure trove has been edited by J C  Daniel, a keen naturalist, author and former honorary secretary of the BNHS, and Lt Gen Baljit Singh (Retd.), who played a role in promoting an interest in wildlife and conservation in the army. Singh was also a trustee of the WWF-India. One wonders whether this publication really falls in the coffee-table category, for the text is thorough and at the same time, exceptionally engaging.

The book opens with a detailed account of the Indian Army’s contribution over the two and one quarter centuries, from 1778 to 2002, penned by Lt Gen Baljit Singh. He chronicles the work of these illustrious army officer-naturalists in India.

The list of army men who followed Hardwicke is illustrious: Capt Sykes, Col RW Burton and his brother Brig Gen RG Burton, Col Fenton, Lt Col ASG Jayakar, Surgeon Major TC Jerdon, whose work on birds and mammals is stupendous, Lt Col AH Mosse, Col Kirtikar, Lt Col SR Tickell, Col Swinhoe, Brig Evans, Col Bingham, Col Sir RN Chopra, who was the only Indian in the army to have been knighted for his work in natural history, Col RSP Bates and Lt Col KG Gharpurey, besides others.

It contains excellent pictures that include paintings taken from T C Jerdon’s 1846 book, “Illustrations of Indian Ornithology”, illustrations such as that from “Indian Serpents”, an 1801 published book by Patrick Russell, and photographs, both black and white and in colour, including those taken by present day naturalists/wildlife photographers.

The first article featured in this collection is by Lt Col K R Kirtikar on the Strychnine tree. A highly poisonous tree, it has its supposed uses as a purgative, and as a curative in fever and even snake bites.

Lt Col L L Fenton, a keen sportsman (shikari), writes on all aspects of the Kathiawar lion. Even in 1909, when this article was penned, the lion’s home was limited to the Gir forest. The article describes how the home of the species dwindled due to human-related factors and others, like famine.

A quarter of the 24 articles contained in the book are by Lt Col Richard. W Burton. A fearless sportsman, he wrote over 200 articles on various aspects of natural history. “A History of Shikar in India” traces the sport right from the pre Mughal period to contemporary times, both species-wise and area-wise. Here, in this book are also featured his article on the wild dog and another on his experiences fishing for the mahseer.

Of great significance is his article “Wild Life Preservation: India’s Vanishing Asset” (1948). He was “the first naturalist to campaign for the preservation of Indian wildlife”, and this article here was actually a pamphlet prepared by the army on “the dire need for the conservation of the wildlife of the country” and was sent to the Indian government.

An insightful and comprehensive article authored by Brig WH Evans is on the butterflies of India. In this 1922 article he writes about collecting butterflies, an activity that has, of course, since been prohibited by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Lt Col AHE Mosse’s article on the leopard, the panther, is on the methods of sighting it. He also gives graphic descriptions of his personal experiences. The ‘sitting up’ method refers to ‘sitting up’ for the animal over either a kill or a live bait. “The most usual site for a machan is a leafy tree, though a sheltered rock or a thick bush with a bank behind will sometimes afford an excellent position,” he points out.

Bird photographer Lt Col RSP Bates (1942) made quite a pioneering contribution to bird photography in India. He gives an account of the birds he encounters in the Kazinag Range in Kashmir in June of 1942. Slaty-headed paroquets, yellow-billed magpies, Kashmir rollers, Indian red-breasted flycatchers, and Jerdon’s hedge-sparrows are only some of those birds.

“To Col Frank Wall we are indebted more than to any other man for our knowledge of the Indian snakes,” write the book’s editors. The colonel’s articles on the cobra (1913) from his book, “A Popular Treatise on the Common Indian Snakes” and the golden-tree snake (1908) are exhaustive, to say the least.

Now for that one article that made for very captivating reading, even sweet at times. It was, for this reviewer, “The Asian Elephant” by Lt Col J H Williams, (Elephant Bill, also the eponymous title of the book he authored).

And just to let you into what the article is about, without telling you too much, the author draws the similarity between the elephant and man. I fell in love with this story!

It is an engrossing and inspiring book. When I turned the last page, I wanted to see and converse with the writers. And hear of their passion, the thrill, direct, first hand. I highly recommended this book.

Copyright © 2012 The New Indian Express. All rights reserved. 

No comments: