Jogi – The One & Only

Jogi – The One & Only

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Jogi – The One & Only

“They say that in the Army, the life is mighty fine,

But how the Hell would I know, Jogi’s wasn’t mine ” ??

My first posting in ’71, was in Gangtok. Then a foreign country.

By

Maj Gen VK Singh

The year was 1966, or perhaps 1967. The place was Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, which was then a protectorate of India. The ruler was known as the Chogyal (Maharaja), while his spouse was called the Gylamo (Maharani). Gangtok was also the headquarters of the Army’s 17th Division, then being commanded by the intrepid Major General Sagat Singh, who later earned laurels as the ‘real’ victor of the Bangladesh war in 1971. At that time, Gangtok was a small town, with just a few dozen odd motor cars, which belonged either to the Chogyal or the Politcal Officer, an important personage akin to an ambassador. Of course, the Army had its own transport. There was one cinema hall and one hotel – the Norkhill. All the shops in the market were owned by Marwaris, who also controlled the state’s finances and ran the only bank in the town.

It was about 4 pm in the afternoon, and we were watching a hockey match between officers of two units in the town’s only ground, below the Norkhill hotel, which also served as a race track for local pony races. Soon, there was crowd of onlookers, most of whom had never set eyes on a hockey stick before. Many of the hotel’s guests were also watching the game, seated on chairs in front of the hotel, which overlooked the ground. When the GOC arrived, he asked his ADC, Captain Ahin Dev, “Who are those pretty ladies? I have never seen them before”. When he was informed that they were film stars, who were in Gangtok for the shooting of “Jewel Thief”, he asked his ADC to give them his compliments and ask them to join us for a cup of tea.

Very soon, we were joined by Dev Anand, Vijay Anand, Vijayantimala, and Anju Mahendru, among others. During the small talk during tea, the GOC came to know that Anju Mahendru was engaged to Garfield Sobers, the West Indies cricketer. He asked her: “Why? Don’t you find Indian boys good enough?” She blushed and said something non committal. Sagat was himself a strapping six footer, who was known as a ladies’ man. When the celebs were leaving, he asked them how long they intended to stay in Gangtok. ON being told that they would be here for almost a month, he extended them a standing invitation to the Black Cat Institute or BKI, as the Officers’ Institute was known. After they left, he called Jogi, who was loitering nearby. “Jogi, you are relieved of all duties for the next one month. Your assignment is one that concerns national pride. You have to change Miss Mahendru’s mind about marrying Sobers.”

For the next one month, Jogi became almost a part of the film unit, going with them on shoots, shopping and sightseeing. With his local contacts and the GOC’s blessings, he was able to solve many problems and the film crew welcomed him in their team. With nothing much to do in Gangtok, evenings were invariably spent in the BKI, where music and dancing was laid on, in addition to drinks and food for the guests. When the unit left Gangtok, Jogi bid them adieu with a heavy heart. Ultimately the Sobers – Mahendru marriage did not come off, but it is not known if Jogi had a hand in it. However, he did succeed in another mission – one of the starlets in the team became ‘friendly’ with him. Jogi did not reveal the details, but it was said that she had invited him to stay with her when he visited Bombay next.

Before someone asks “Who is Jogi?” I think it is time to introduce him to the reader. Jogi is not his real name, which is just as well. Apart from the obvious risk of beatings by fathers of his numerous girl friends, he could have been even killed by some jealous husbands. His exploits at the NDA, IMA and in the various units he served are the stuff of legends. Jogi has been compared, variously, to a glass of champagne, a surf-topped breaker, a million-watt bulb, a Chopin sonata, even a misguided missile. One of his instructors at the NDA once remarked that he was ‘intelligent to the point of insanity’.

I first met Jogi on 12th July 1961, the day we joined the NDA. It was also the day that the Kharakvasla dam broke, flooding half of Poona City. Ever since then our course is called the ‘Dam Busters’, with Jogi living up to the name more than anyone else. His name being a twenty-five letter, triple-barrelled, tongue-twisting monstrosity, he was promptly christened Jogi, as he is known even today. Being in the same squadron, we soon became friends. Jogi was a quiet sort of chap, who liked, in his own words, to stay out of trouble. This, I found after the first six months, was not only difficult but well nigh impossible. Jogi has never, for all his good intentions, managed to stay out of trouble for any length of time, except when he was laid up in hospital for a fractured collar-bone or measles, both afflictions to which he seemed particularly prone.

 I remember, vividly, the case of the ‘missing horse’. For a bet – he never gambled, but was an incorrigible wagerer – Jogi stole a horse from the NDA stables, rode it all the way to Poona, let it loose on the race course, and was back under his blanket before reveille. The stallion was found on the third day, and Jogi was eventually caught after one of the riding instructors remembered having seen him feeding sugar cubes to that horse. There was hell to pay, not only because of Jogi’s irresponsible behaviour, but also that of the horse – as a result of the escapade, a mare in the Poona stables became unfit to ride for the coming season. There was a touch of romance to the story, but the owner of the mare did not see it that way – it had cost him the Western India Derby, he complained bitterly.

Jogi was also, I think, the World’s first ‘streaker’. Long before the sport was born or the term coined, Jogi, again for a bet, streaked from his cabin to the mess, a distance of some two hundred yards. The feat was performed on a Sunday afternoon. It resulted in a minor accident (a motorist was so fascinated by the sight that he did not see the scooter approaching) and an old lady visiting her grandson swooned and fainted. Jogi won a treat in the café and fourteen days restrictions.

Jogi’s master stroke at the NDA was the affair of the truck. We were returning from Poona after a movie on a Sunday evening, when we spotted a three-ton truck (or 3-Tonner, as it is known in the Army) standing on the road side. It was one of our vehicles, so we thought we might get a lift back. The driver was missing – he had gone for a packet of cigarettes, we learned later – but had left the ignition key, dangling very temptingly. Jogi reached a quick decision, got into the driver’s seat, pulled me inside, and before I knew what was happening, we were hurtling along at 50 miles an hour. As the distance to the Academy decreased, my fears increased. Jogi brushed aside my suggestion to by-pass the check post and enter the campus from another route. Driving right up to the check post, he stopped the truck, got out and went straight to the telephone. He asked for the Adjutant, and then I heard him saying: “Good evening, Sir. This is Cadet …….. I found one of our trucks lying unattended in the town. There was a large crowd of civilians around it, and I am not too sure there hasn’t been some pilferage also. I thought the best thing would be to bring it back. …..Thank you, Sir, I was only doing my duty. Good Night, Sir.” Next morning, the Squadron Commander called Jogi and gave him a pat on the back. As for the hapless driver, we learned later that the poor man had been given twenty eight days for negligence.

Another time, while we were on camp, I lost my jungle hat. The Commandant was to visit us next day so I was a little worried. When I expressed my fears to Jogi, he told me not to worry. Sometime during the night he slipped away, returning after fifteen minutes with a brand new jungle hat. It had an unmistakable resemblance to the one worn by one of our instructors, but Jogi refused to divulge its origin. But he did make sure that I sprinkled a fair amount of dirt on it, to make it look old and grimy enough to pass for a cadet’s jungle hat. The next morning we were surprised to find that our instructor was absent – we were told that he had reported sick.

When we were both commissioned into Signals, no one was more surprised than Jogi. He had always been mortally afraid of mathematics and we wondered how he was going to survive in a technical Arm. But Jogi soon adapted himself to his new calling and did creditably on the YO’s course at the School of Signals. At the end of the course, Jogi was posted to Gangtok and I to a neighbouring unit of Signals in Kalimpong. As young officers we were often on duty at the same time in the signal centre, and had long chats at night after the messages were cleared. Each day, he would give me commentary of the day’s events and update me about Gangtok, especially his latest conquests. He soon became an expert on Sikkim and its history.

It was from Jogi that I learned that Darjeeling had once been part of Sikkim and was gifted by the ruler to the British in 1835. After India became independent in 1947 she signed treaty with Sikkim according her the status of a Protectorate with the Chogyal, Tashi Namgyal recognised as the monarch. After his death in 1963, his son Palden Thondup Namgyal became the Chogyal. He married Hope Cooke, an American by birth, who became the Gylamo. She tried her best to look, dress and talk like a Tibetan noblewoman. Many people said that she worked for the CIA and her marriage was ‘arranged’ by the American intelligence agency. According to Jogi, the Chogyal was in the habit of making a couple of trips each year to North Sikkim, where custom decreed that a local damsel be offered to him every night. There was fierce competition for the honour, as having shared the Chogyal’s bed increased the girl’s stock in the marriage market. Sadly, the new Gyalmo put a stop to it when she came to know about it.

At that time Lieutenant General Sam Manekshaw was the GOC-in-C Eastern Command in Calcutta. Unlike other Army dignitaries, he usually stayed in the Palace when he visited Gangtok. The first time Jogi went to the Palace to oversee the installation of a telephone for the Army Commander, he was almost thrown out. As part of good ‘signalmanship, he ordered the linemen to clip the wires to the wall, which had wainscoting of very old teak wood. When the caretaker heard the nails being hammered, he ran into the room, shouting at the top of his voice. “The Gylamo will be very angry when she sees what you have done”, he said. Hearing the commotion, the Gyalmo soon entered the room. After the initial frown, she soon broke into a smile and told Jogi not to look so glum. After this, Jogi became her most ardent admirer.

Apart from his duties in the Signal Centre, Jogi was also second officer in the Line Section, which was commanded by Captain Thomas. During most of the day, Thomas was out with the line party, repairing or maintaining lines. Everyone in the unit talked about his devotion to duty and commitment to his job. Once, when Thomas was on leave, Jogi decided to accompany the line party. Carrying lunch in their haversacks, they set off at about nine in the morning. After climbing uphill for about a kilometre, they reached the Zero Pole, from where lines diverted to various brigades. The Havildar asked Jogi to wait there, while the rest of them went ahead. He said they would be back around lunch time. Jogi was surprised, but the Havildar told him that this is what Thomas did when he accompanied them. Not wanting to break the standard procedure instituted by Thomas, Jogi agreed, and stretched out for a nap.

He had hardly settled down when he heard a foot fall. Soon, a pretty young girl arrived on the scene. Finding Jogi near the pole, she asked him why Thomas had not come. She was the Jailor’s daughter, and the reason behind Thomas’s ‘devotion to duty’. Jogi told her that Thomas had gone on leave, but had given him the task of looking after her until he returned. After hesitating a bit, she sat down beside him. When the line party returned, she was still there. The Havildar told him that they were going to have lunch under a tree about a hundred yards away, and would be ready to move back after an hour or so. Next morning, Jogi again accompanied the line party. Since he was the only officer in the Line Section, he was relieved of duties in the Signal Centre. The procedure continued for the next two weeks, until Thomas returned from leave. On his first day out with the line party, Thomas returned earlier than he usually did, complaining of a headache. Of course, he made sure that Jogi got little time to sleep for the next couple of weeks. Everyone commiserated with Jogi, but he had committed what was just below what is regarded in the Army as the cardinal sin – stealing the affections of a brother officer’s wife.

For a subaltern, Gangtok had few attractions. One could go for a movie in the town’s only cinema hall, where the balcony was reserved for officers (and their companions) and tickets were delivered in your seat. When the GOC wanted to see a movie, it started only when he arrived. Usually, the entire front row in the balcony was left for him and his staff. The Chogyal and Gyalmo had their own box, and if they happened to be present, the Chogyal would walk down to the balcony and request the GOC to join him. Once in a while there would be film troupe to entertain troops in forward areas, the most well known being led by Sunil Dutt, who had recently got married to Nargis. After a late night party in the BKI, the GOC rang up Jogi, who was on duty in the signal centre, and told him to get a call for Sunil Dutt who wanted to talk to his wife in Bombay. At that time, all exchanges were manual and trunk circuits were on physical lines. Using all his persuasive skills, Jogi got the call via Siliguri, Calcutta, Delhi and Poona. After going through five exchanges, the speech was very faint, as expected. Jogi, who was himself sitting on the switchboard, volunteered to act as a relay. For the next ten minutes or so, he did exactly that. Sunil Dutt thanked him profusely and the GOC gave him a pat on the back. Everyone wanted to know what exactly had been spoken between the two famous film stars, but Jogi refused to tell.

Jogi’s CO had a passion for bridge. After lunch, the CO, 2iC and two other officers regularly played bridge, and the sessions sometimes lasted till late evening. On Sundays, they started playing after breakfast and finished only near dinner time. Once, when the regulars were on leave, they fell short of a fourth hand. Jogi was asked if he knew how to play bridge and he confessed that he did not. The Quartermaster was given the task of teaching the game to all the subalterns within a week. They were given a book by Cuthberton and told to go through it. Classes were held for about two hours every day, after which the Quartermaster announced that they had picked up the game. But Jogi had other ideas. He realised that once he became a part of the foursome, it would be the end of his visits to the cinema, not to speak of trysts with the Jailor’s daughter. When the game started and he was asked to bid, he said “Three no trumps.” The CO gave a quizzical look and then asked him show his cards. After seeing his hand the CO said, “This chap can never play bridge.” Jogi was unceremoniously ejected and another officer took his place. Looking suitably crestfallen, Jogi left the room, his smile returning as soon as he was out of sight.

A couple of miles down the road to North Sikkim, there was a small palace where the dowager Maharani (the Chogyal’s mother) lived. It was said that she had been banished from the palace by her husband, the previous Chogyal, after she returned from a pilgrimage to Tibet and gave birth to a girl. The nobleman who accompanied her was suitably punished, and the Maharani was sent in exile. It was only after the arrival of Hope Cooke that she was allowed to enter Gangtok again. The girl, who was known as the Chogyal’s half-sister, was a permanent invitee to all parties in Gangtok. Understandably, she was Jogi’s favourite dancing partner.

One day, information was received that a senior officer was coming for a visit to the unit. The 2iC recommended that Jogi should be the liaison officer (LO). In view of Jogi’s age and inexperience, the CO was hesitant, but later agreed. Jogi tied up all arrangements, even finding out what the visitor liked to eat and drink. Just a day before, he told the 2iC that one of his good friends who had been his ADC had informed him that the general – he was a former Commandant of the Staff College – liked to smoke a particular brand of cigars that were made especially for that institution. There was a flurry of telephone calls, as far afield as Delhi, but the cigars could not be procured. However, Jogi told the 2iC not to worry.

When the visiting general officer arrived, he was pleasantly surprised to find a framed photograph of his wife on the table next to his bed. “Where did you get this from,” he asked. “It is nothing, Sir”, replied Jogi. When the general went to the mess for dinner, and sipped his drink, there was a frown on his face. “What whiskey is this, he asked.” When he was told that it was Glenfiddich, he broke into a smile. “I never thought you will have this here,” he said. “The canteen does not stock it, and I have to get my quota from my friends in the Foreign Service.” However, the piece de resistance was yet to come. After dinner, brandy and cigars were served. When he picked up a cigar and saw the Staff College label on the wrapper, he broke into a wide grin. ‘Where in the world did you get this? If you don’t mind I’ll take two,” he said, putting one in his pocket and lighting the other. When he was told that the whiskey and cigar had both been procured by Jogi, the general was effusive in praise, saying that he must be a wizard.

After the general had said good night, the 2iC cornered Jogi and asked him how he had managed the photograph of the general’s wife, the whiskey and the cigars. Shrugging nonchalantly, Jogi told him that he had heard that the lady had once won a beauty contest in Mhow, and asked one of his friends to get the photograph from the Guerra, the official photographer at that time. As to the whiskey, Jogi’s friend (the former ADC) had told him of the general’s fondness for the single malt, and Jogi had managed to borrow a bottle from the Palace cellar.

“And what about the cigars? Where did you get those?”

“Oh, the cigars. Actually I pinched them from the general’s suitcase, while he was having a bath. Don’t worry, Sir, I am sure he will not miss them.’

After spending three years in our respective units, Jogi and I were sent for the degree course at the College of Military Engineering in Poona. There was wide speculation whether he would ever manage to complete it, but Jogi had no such worries. In fact he enjoyed the course, and made sure that others did too. He was an inveterate prankster and had ample opportunity to display his talents in the CME. During a function in the club, Jogi asked a couple of us to step outside. Within a matter of minutes, we had changed the panels of all the Lambretta scooters parked outside. At the end of it, each scooter had panels of a different colour on the two sides. Having done the needful, we walked inside, the pictures of innocence. After the function, everyone left, without noticing anything amiss in the darkness. Next morning, there was utter confusion, with everyone looking for someone with whom he could exchange his panel. It took a week to sort out the mess, after all scooters were ordered to be brought to the car park in the mess, the panels removed and kept at one place, and everyone asked to pick up two that matched the rest of his scooter. The story was the talk of the town in Poona for several months, but the culprit was never identified.

Jogi and I shared a room at the CME. Of course, we were regular visitors to the Tambola and dance sessions at RSI on Saturday evenings. Both of us had scooters and in the beginning we went together, one driving and the other riding pillion. After a couple of months Jogi suggested that both of us take our own scooters. I soon found out the reason. By this time Jogi had a number of girl friends, who he said liked to go for a drive afterwards. These ‘drives’ took quite a while, and he often returned in the early hours of the morning. In April, the CME had the famous ‘River Dance’, where the dance floor was on a raft in the middle of a river. It was one of the highlights of Poona’s social calendar. Each officer was permitted to invite one guest, and there was keen competition among the damsels in the city for an invitation. Of course, Jogi invited the girl who was his current favourite and prevailed on me to invite one of her friends. Mid way through the party, he asked me for the keys to our room – he said his girl friend wanted to freshen up. When the duo returned after an hour, I told them that they had missed the best part of the show. They gave each other a knowing look, before Jogi said, “That depends on what you think is best.”

After spending a year and a half at Poona, we went to Mhow for the second leg of the course at the Military College of Telecommunications (MCTE), as the School of Signals had been renamed by then. Compared to Poona, Mhow had very few attractions. But Jogi was not deterred and joined a ‘dance school’, where he soon made many friends. He was also a shameless flatterer, and complimented every lady he met, for her looks, her dress, her complexion or her cooking. His favourite lines – “I mistook you for your daughter”, or “You look hardly out of college” – never failed to hit the target. As a result, he got many dinner invitations and rarely dined in the mess on weekends.

Jogi had an aversion to anything compulsory, such as dinner nights and fire practices. ‘Waste of time”, he used to say, and never attended these parades. Of course, his absences fetched his extra duties, and he soon became well known to all the chowkidars and was frequent visitor to the college quarter guard. It was during this time that we met a certain officer who gave us a very interesting piece of advice. He told us that if one wanted to have a good time in the unit, he should make sure that he mucked up the first important assignment that was given to him. “You will never be given any job after that”, he asserted.

Most of us shrugged it off as a joke but not Jogi. After the course he was posted to the armoured divisional signal regiment in Jhansi, where he resolved to try out the scheme. Soon he had his chance. It was the first of the month and Jogi was detailed by the Second-in-Command (2iC) to draw the cash from the bank for payment to the men. At about eleven in the morning, Jogi drove off in Jeep, with a guard of one and two and a cheque for forty two thousand rupees (in the sixties, that was enough to pay the whole unit). When an hour had elapsed and Jogi had not returned, the 2iC telephoned the bank manager, who told him that the money had still not been drawn. Getting worried, he sent an officer to see if Jogi’s vehicle had broken down. At about one o’clock this officer returned and reported that he could not find Jogi or his jeep.

A worried 2iC walked up to the CO, who was about to leave his office – he was due to tee off at two in the afternoon. When he was told that Jogi was missing, he was visibly annoyed. Jhansi was a dacoit infested area, and the guard with Jogi was carrying rifles, a very attractive commodity in that part of the country. “My God,” he exclaimed. “I hope they haven’t been kidnapped”. Needless to say, he decided to skip his golf, and started giving instructions. The Military Police was informed and so was the Divisional Headquarters. Parties were despatched in all directions and the local authorities and police stations were requested to block all roads leading out of the city. In the meanwhile, all work in the unit was suspended. The CO remained in his office, fuming, and all officers missed their lunch.

At about four o‘clock, Jogi drove up in his jeep, along with the guard (he had been seeing a movie, he told me afterwards). The 2iC pounced on him like wounded tiger. “Where were you all this time? And why have you not drawn the money?” he asked. Jogi’s reply was classic. With a sheepish grin, he answered, “I could not find the bank, Sir.”

The 2iC almost had a stroke, and had to be helped out of his chair. The CO, when he was told, was so wild with rage that he could hardly talk. Of course, Jogi was the unit orderly officer for the next one month, but thereafter he lived in sublime bliss. He was never troubled by courts of inquiry, audit boards, courts martial and such other demons that plague officers during their regimental service. Whenever someone who was not aware of Jogi’s exploits happened to suggest his name, the 2iC would groan. “Not him, for God’s sake. I want to retire, not to be cashiered.”

With each passing year, Jogi matured and so did his technique. Many old matrons in Gangtok, Poona, Dehradun, Mhow and Wellington still get a glow in the eyes when they talk about him. His exploits in the several units he served in would fill a whole book. Perhaps, some day someone will come out with his biography – he is too modest to write his own story. Among the Dam Busters, and his circle of friends and admirers, he is already a legend and there is a view that sharing his accomplishments with others may not exactly please him.