Recently an Army Commander-designate cycled from Delhi to Jaipur to take over his post. The General deserves kudos for setting a unique example of fitness and determination. To begin his tenure, he has literally hit the ground running. Since the well-publicised event would have been widely watched by his command, it would surely motivate the rank and file to remain in top physical form.
The event evoked memories. While commanding the Corps at Mathura, I used to cycle to my daily game of squash. However, since my staff kept the contraption well-oiled, the extra calories required in pedalling a rusty cycle — the type I had in school — did not get consumed. But it did inspire other players to avoid using motorised transport. But squash being essentially an officers’ game, the message had limited circulation. I was struck by another idea.
Going beyond merely physical, I decided to achieve an aim plus, in keeping with the Army’s ethos. I started taking a round of the cantonment after dark. As an added precaution, I would wear an unmarked golf cap, with its visor pulled low to avoid identification. The venture gave me first-hand knowledge and a good feel of the habitat. I would change routes to know the condition of roads. I could also see the efficacy of security lighting. While routinely interacting with the staff, I could point out the exact pole where a bulb was fused. On occasions when the Garrison Engineer challenged my observations, I would simply say my information was authentic, and it was found so. I, of course, never disclosed the source of my inputs.
Once when I was entering a jawans’ family complex, the sentry at the gate stopped me and asked for identity papers. I confidently took out a blank piece of paper from my pocket. Without even checking, the sentry let me go. This became an important input to apply correctives and improve the security in the cantonment.
One has heard of how Sita was banished from the kingdom after Lord Ram heard a disparaging remark from a dhobi during his incognito round. Luckily, I did not confront any such situation. But the excursions had their side moments.
One evening as I was cycling back after my round of the barracks, a rucksack-carrying uniformed soldier signalled me to stop. As I halted, he asked me if I could drop him at a chauraha. Even before I could respond, he had made ready to sit on the carrier in the rear. The need for maintaining mission secrecy required that I give him a lift. And I did. The exertion of pulling a 13-stone-plus load for over a kilometre was the best physical exercise I recall during my tenure. But I was amply rewarded with the grateful soldier’s parting remark, ‘Bahut dhanyawaad bhai saheb’.
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