Junglistan General goes to war
At Kallu Vasu's bar, the most popular in Junglistan, it was primetime - the period between 8 pm and midnight. The rooms were full, most had downed at least two drinks, most had shed their inhibitions -- singles had found partners to split their bills, every table had a conversation going.
"Never ask a woman and the Army chief, their age," announced Sai-gal Ram-ankutty, finishing one Large in a gulp. A big Saigal fan, the lawyer imitated the singer to the last note, sang Rafi, Kishore and even Lata songs in Saigal voice. Sai-gal Ram-ankutty, an acclaimed lawyer, was not happy being just that, he wanted to be an accomplished singer too, and had put hyphens in his name, hoping a bit of numerology will bring him the luck he sorely needed.
Everyone on his table, and neighbouring ones too, nodded in agreement, though they did not know what they were agreeing to. So far they had not spoken on the issue at all, fearing they would be doing a great disservice to the forces, surely an anti-national thing to do. After all, even the defence minister was not speaking.
"Frankly, I do not know what they are fighting about," admitted Chikku, the cricket, "Our chief Sher Singh was born in 1981 or 1980 or whenever, how does it matter?"
"A year more in service," Changu, a cab driver explained, "A year's salary. But I never understood why chiefs of PSUs and bureaucrats and now chiefs of armed forces fight for extensions."
"It's not an extension he is asking for," Panku, the donkey, added his bit, "He only wants his date of birth changed in Army records that mention the wrong year. He is ready to quit."
"Then what is the fuss, change it, forget it," Duba Duba suggested.
"If only things were that easy." Lieutenant General 'Kalashnikov' Kichu, who found the jugaadu formula of making Russian rifles locally, had retired from the Junglistan Rifles. The general was overjoyed to find an audience. Earlier he used to regale them with war stories and his exploits in the four wars Junglistan had fought. One the animal republic had won conclusively, two they managed to win, and one they lost thoroughly, but not before Kalashnikov 'conquered' a few sectors before 'strategically retreating' to avoid capture by the enemies.
Kalashnikov took a sip of rum, nodded knowingly, looking from one face to another. All eyes were on him, and like a true performer, he let the suspense fill the air. Another sip, and then another, and then a shake of the head.
"Sir, you were in the Army, surely you know about it," Thathamma, the parrot, implored.
"It's not just about age. It's about honour. We Armymen are very particular about honour," Kalashnikov explained, "When we win, we treat our enemy with honour; when we lose, we lose honourably. For us honour is second to none. Sar kata sakte hain lekin, sar jhuka sakte nahin."
"That's fine. But what does honour have to do with age," Kumaran, the editor of Junglistan Times, asked.
"We Armymen are not like civilians, we don't lie," announced Kalashnikov.
"OK. But you still haven't told us why age is so important?"
"If the Army chief's age is taken as 1981, the entire succession plan will be upset. Right now Sher Singh II is set to become the chief, if the dates are changed some one else gets the job at a later date," the retired lieutenant general explained.
"This guy, Sher Singh II is accused of some fake encounter," Moscow Murali, Junglistan's intellectual, said, "Armymen never lied, I thought."
'These bloody intellectuals, you will find them everywhere,' rued Kalashnikov. "Not at all, at times we are misunderstood."
"But why should the fake killings come into the picture right now," Murali was persistent, "Who alerted the press?"
"Sources," Kumaran said, "Can't reveal. You might not believe me, but we too are somewhat like Armymen. We don't let down our sources."
"I am sure one Sher won't mind another Sher getting the office or continuing in the office," Kuyilamma said, "So what's the big deal, either change the date or not change the date. As it is I am finding it tough to mug up dates of birth of Akbar, Aurangzeb, Asoka, Chandragupta and all of them." She was appearing for a PSC test.
"There is a fundamental difference, one is Sher-e-Rajasthan and the other Sher-e-Punjab," explained Murali.
"I thought the Army was above all this. Doesn't this affect the Army's image?" said Kallu Vasu, serving a plate of karimeen fry to Kalashnikov, he was being treated like a king, one doesn't get a lieutenant general so easily these days, most of them are in TV studios.
"No, not at all," insisted the lieutenant general, "The Junglistan Army's professionalism is envied by forces the world over. All this nonsense can't affect our Army's image."
"How did it come to this?" wondered Pachu, a tortoise, "Why wasn't it resolved till it reached the courts."
"The defence minister, who else," shouted Kalashnikov, banging his fist on the table. He took another swig of rum, "He is a politician but is acting like a bureaucrat. It's there for everyone to see. All the certificates say the chief was born in 1981. This man is so particular about his white kurta, he would not let a stain on it, so he has stopped purchasing weapons for the Army. He just won't take decisions. All the while he has been silent."
"Silence is the virtue of the learned," said Parappanangandi Pappan, a member of the ruling party and a member of the 'A' group, the faction led by the defence minister in the party.
"Now, silence has become the weapon of the idiots," the general retorted, "The resignation letter he keeps in his pocket will be of use once the court rules in our favour."
"You can't blame the minister," Pappan said, "Just see the sequence. Singh's JPSC form mentions 1980 as the year of birth."
"A mistake by a teenager," argued Kalashnikov, "The form was filled in by a clerk."
"Later when he joined the Junglistan Military Academy, again he filled 1980, this time in his own writing."
"Because he was asked to give the same date as in the JPSC form. Every other department in the Army noted the date of birth given in the Class 10 certificate. The chief wanted the correction made then itself, but it wasn't."
"So whose fault? Not our minister's," Pappan smirked, "It wasn't corrected all these years. Even at a later stage, before his promotion, he gave an undertaking accepting 1980 as his year of birth."
"I will explain," Kalashnikov said, "He was forced into accepting the date. He did it because he was threatened he wouldn't be promoted if he didn't."
"See, this man is supposed to be an honest guy," said Kumaran, "He ordered investigations into many scams within the Army, so the others ganged up to ensure he didn't have a long stint. Also it seems they wanted to fix the order of succession. Now the General feels hurt, and doesn't want his enemies within to have the last laugh."
"Scams within the Army, I thought they don't lie, they are only misunderstood," taunted Murali.
"Sometimes they misrepresent facts," Pappan couldn't hide his glee, "Like buying golf carts with money given to buy ambulances."
"What's the message that goes to the juniors?" said Mayilamma, she was totally shattered by the new revelations.
"That you be disciplined and fall in line or you suffer Gen Sher Singh's fate. You retire before your time or don't get promotions," said Murali.
The audience took some time to digest the remark, the fast serves of liquor though helped cushion the shock.
"Years ago I saved the Army from a similar embarrassment when I was in service," said Kalashnikov, he might have lost the argument but was in no mood to let an opportunity at story telling go waste.
"What happened," Mayilamma was all ears.
"An exactly similar case. A major's file came up before me for promotion. The dates of birth didn't match. The file I had mentioned 1950 as year of birth, and the file with the Adjutant General said 1951. The poor fellow wrote to me seeking a correction."
"What did you do?"
"There are times an Armyman should become pragmatic and adopt tricks bureaucrats and politicians play. I informally called an old friend - Jerry -- for help," Kalashnikov looked around to see if his listeners were following, "Jerry of the Tom and Jerry fame. I let him enter the strongroom where we kept all the files of serving soldiers. He had a feast, but my purpose was served. And then I wrote formally to the government requisitioning the services of Tom to get rid of Jerry. The rest you know."
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