With Colonel Tapan Das Sharma
Retired As: Deputy Commander of an Artillery Brigade
Years in the Army: 30
Medals, Awards and Achievements: Nine medals and the Samar Seva Star, a war medal
How has the role of the Indian Army changed over the years?
The prime purpose of any army is to defend the country's borders from infiltration and attack by external forces. However, over the past few decades, the role of the Indian Army has undergone a change. The Army is now being looked upon as a protector of peace and a respondent to emergencies, be they natural calamities or the war against extremism and terrorist elements.
Tell us about your experiences on the warfront.
I fought two wars, both against Pakistan - one in 1965 and the other in 1971. I was recently commissioned in 1965 and barely 17 years old. But in 1971, I felt like a veteran and knew the risks involved. The spirit of pride and loyalty for my country made me fearless and ready to take on the enemy.
I would like to share one interesting anecdote. I was incommunicado for quite a while as I was caught behind enemy lines and could not reach my side. In the meanwhile, there was another T D Sharma from Akhnoor who had died in battle and the information was put out in the list of deceased in the national newspapers. On reading the name of T D Sharma, my family presumed it was me and went into mourning. Even my school planned a memorial ceremony. When I turned up at home after a tiresome and difficult journey from the Indo-Pak border, the jubilations were indescribable. My most favourite part was when my school principal, Mr Bhupati Ghosh, saw me. He was so happy to see me alive that he called for a drum-full of rasgollas and ordered me to eat them till I dropped dead!
What are your thoughts on the important changes that the Indian defence units have seen over the last 60 years?
Technology has been the turning point on how wars are fought and how the Indian Army has evolved. Today, because of mechanisation and information technology, battles are fought with intellect rather than physical might. The reach and scale of wars today were incomprehensible six decades ago.
Do you think people from the Armed Forces can help in the governance of our country? If yes, what are the changes they can bring about?
We are the world's largest democracy and governance has to be through the electoral process. I have full faith in the Constitution of India, which gives a clear set of rights to our citizens and participating in the political processes is one of our key rights. Yes, the Army can and must provide support to the systems of governance in the country by demonstrating loyalty, courage, integrity and honesty in how it conducts itself.
What, according to you, has changed the face of India?
Education, industrialisation and technological advancements have been the key factors in bringing India to the threshold of becoming a superpower.
Tell us about your interactions with some of the memorable people you have met.
Having left home at the age of 17, I discovered my ideals and my heroes while I was growing up in the Army. My biggest heroes in the Army included Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw. During my time in the Army, I had many opportunities to engage with civilians, both in India as well as when I took a National Cadet Corps (NCC) contingent to Canada to expose our young NCC cadets to community service in Edmonton, Saskatchewan.
My longest engagement with the civilian set up was when I served as the Aide-De-Camp (ADC) to the late Mr L K Jha, the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. I met some great personalities like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and his young bride Sonia Gandhi, Sheikh Abdullah, President Zakir Hussain, ambassadors, bureaucrats, politicians, film stars and even a Musk deer.
This is an interesting anecdote. The baby Musk deer was found ill and injured in the upper reaches of Leh and Kargil and while on a visit to the area with Governor Jha and his most gracious wife, the late Shrimati Mekhla Jha, we brought him to where we were staying. He was immediately nicknamed Sheru and I was instructed to take care of him. After a month of pampering, Sheru recovered. It was decided that he would be presented to the Delhi Zoo. I flew Sheru to Delhi in an aircraft and presented him to the zoo in-charge. The Musk deer is a rare animal as it is largely hunted for kasturi, a much coveted scent that the deer exudes. Sheru was written about in many newspapers and a newspaper called the Statesman printed the story with a caption that read, "The deer who has an ADC." As a mark of gratitude, I was made a life member of the Delhi Zoological Society and till date, I have free entry into the zoo premises.
What are your thoughts on how children can contribute towards a better today and tomorrow?
John F Kennedy, the President of USA, once said, "Ask not what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for the country." If the children of India can be groomed to think like this, we would have only heroes and make India a glorious nation.
What role does discipline play in shaping an individual's future, and thus a nation's future?
It is discipline that shapes our destiny. As Colonel Haathi from ‘The Jungle Book’ would say, "Discipline is the key!"