Sunday, August 11, 1996

KTWV01-Issue 10: Patriotism

Hi Stephanians,

Were you ever struck by a heavy dose of patriotism when you were in college?

I recall being overwhelmed by it in 1962 - 1963 when the Chinese invaded India. The father of my neigbour in Mukarji Block, a brigadier in the Indian Army was captured by the Chinese and was taken a prisoner of war. We heard endless tales about the heroic efforts of our jawans and our officers and how the Chinese kept marching onwards, shoulder to shoulder, and how all the efforts of our forces to mow them down were totally useless.

In Delhi there was an air of panic as we felt that if they continued their advance at the pace we could determine from the maps which we had strung up in the block, they would be entering the college gates a few days hence.

Suddenly the Chinese stopped their advance and declared a cessation of hostilities. There were cries of "fight" from all around, bold utterances that India would not give up one inch of land, etc. etc. All hot air as we were in no position to do anything.

Ministers and Army Generals were being castigated in public. I do not know whether the expresso coffee machine scandal came up at that time - the accusation being that Krishna Menon had converted our defence factories to produce coffee machines rather than weaponry.

It was indeed a trying time. Panditji happened to visit college one evening - I am not sure what was the occasion, but he looked flushed, red and drawn, and a beaten man. He appeared to me as someone who had been badly betrayed by all around him - the Chinese, not to say the least. I had seen him a short while earlier when Queen Elizabeth had visited India and he had then looked radiant despite his age.

The following Republic Day we were still smarting from the defeat which we had been inflicted, when it came about that the NCC had organsed that all the Stephanians who wanted could take part in the Republic Day Parade and march down from Rashtrapathi Bhavan to India Gate.

My bosom pal, Ajay Verma was in the NCC naval wing and brought me the news. Almost all of us in Mukarji Block, as a solidarity to our soldiers and army officers volunteered to take part in the march.

We assembled very early in the morning in front of the JCR and waited, and waited, and waited, till finally some NCC trucks came and picked us up and deposited us somewhere behind the Rashtrapathi Bhavan.

After another interminable wait we were told to march, and we non-NCC group sauntered down the whole way to India Gate with our few NCC friends trying to keep some semblance of order by marching in step.

Desperately tired at the end of the road, we again had to wait for several hours before being picked up by the trucks and then safely transported back to the college - a feeling of accomplishment passing as a warm glow through all of us.

Ajay did join the army, he fought in the Pakistan war and recalled to me how one evening, while sitting in the bunker, decided to go out for a smoke. He had hardly gone a few steps out of the bunker when a shell landed dead centre on it and destroyed the entire construction. Ajay was the sole survior of that incident and made up his mind to quit as soon as his commission was over.

He married a Danish girl, set up a small Indian boutique in Sweden at Malmo, just across from Copenhagen and had a couple of lovely children, but he still recalled that fateful day as a nightmare when a cigarette save his life. Unfortunately, he has now moved and I have lost touch with him. If anyone knows where he is, please do let me know.


Jacob Matthan

P.S. Seems our New York group is very active and enjoying their reunions. Do keep us all in mind when you are having a great time. I am sure that given the opportunity, we all would love to join you. Are any other groups out there holding similar activities? Do let us know as we love to hear of your reunion dos.

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