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Why That Soldier Cried

About ColNarinder Singh Malhan

Colonel Narinder Singh Malhan was commissioned from Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun. On having served for almost four decades in Indian Army, he loves to share his experiences through his writings. In his opinion, every life has a lot to unfold. Each life is unique and is an historical document with its own identity. He strongly feels, real discovery is through introspection by looking back in own time. He believes, sharing own experiences are like revisiting life's milestones with more intensity. He thoroughly enjoyed his journey in uniform.

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It was 1999 and I was posted to a unit in Kashmir valley. In that duration, one heart touching interaction with a soldier on his superannuation has always remained fresh on my mind. I clearly remember that soldier for many reasons. He had a prominent young profile. Age-wise, he was around thirty seven years or so. His striking military bearing would draw attention. He was more than six feet tall, with an ideal weight. He belonged to the state of Rajasthan. His qualities clearly defined the discipline in his personal life.

As soon as he entered my office, he burst into tears. On being asked, what was troubling him, he replied that as a father or husband or son, many questions were disturbing him. He was finding no answers to those questions. He had two children and both of them were between ten to twelve years. He had no house of his own. There were no substantial savings. Pay was inadequate and didn’t allow much savings during the service period. There was no other source of income. He owned no agriculture land. He was worried, as to how he was going to meet his two ends meet and bear other responsibilities?

Life’s major responsibilities were yet to come his way. His carry-home pension was likely to be around rupees three thousand only. He was confronted with a stark and harsh reality of a soldier, retiring young.

This incident was a grave reminder of macro situation at large. This was the situation, where a soldier had to pay a huge cost personally by retiring young, to ensure youth-profile of the organization was retained. Its implications were well realized till 1973 when soldiers drew seventy percent of their last drawn salary as pension. Implementation of the third pay commission findings laid foundation of agony and gloom for soldiers retiring at young age, when their pensions were reduced to fifty percent and aligned with civilian’s pensioners.

In front of the soldier, I had no other option except asking him to be brave and face the situation head on. I assured him that everything would fall at the right place. Notwithstanding above, it was an issue, encompassing the template of human resources in Indian Army. I was trying to discover, who made that soldier cry? Was it a story of one individual or it represented emotions at large? Probably, it was the management of invisible tears, which I could feel throughout my long service. In the instant case, I could touch the feelings of a soldier. He had the courage to express himself through outburst of his long held feelings. I wished him my best in his lonely and not that easy journey.

Who was he, who could bring smile to that soldier? It was an issue of disconnect between a decision maker and a warrior. Probably, the answer is known. But it is an issue of owning up, that needs courage. As I continue to look at it, ambiguity appears seamless and endless.

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