The doorbell rang. My mother looked through the eye hole and exclaimed “The nutcase! Tell him I’m not at home “
But the stranger insisted on coming in and chatting with us over a cup of tea.
When he entered the drawing room to our extreme surprise we saw our mother quickly ducking behind the sofa to avoid being caught out of the fib that she’s not at home. The young stranger explained that he was our mother’s cousin and had recently been discharged from the army due to an injury sustained in the high altitude post in the Himalayas.
His story fascinated us. While he regaled us with his stories on army life and how he was rescued after a fall into a crevasse where he barely survived the freezing cold and finally was discharged due to disability from frostbite, my mother couldn’t emerge from behind the sofa. After he left she was furious with us for detaining him for such a long time.
Anyway he became popular with us kids although the grownups shunned him as he wasn’t a respectable professional or executive or even well to do like the rest of the extended family. He was happy with his army disability pension and not having gone to college was working as a mechanic come driver in an electrical engineering company with the skills he learned in the army.
He even married out of caste and to a charming lady from a modest socioeconomic background and like him without a college degree. This was inexcusable in the snobbish family circles and earned him the title of nutcase
However this actually increased his hero status amongst the children and his fund of stories from his army life were a huge hit.
He described how he was caught behind the enemy lines and narrow escape in the 72 war
One day he shared his life story of how he took this unusual step unlike his brothers who were successful citizens who were educated abroad and were pillars of the Indian immigrants’ society in the United States and married to rich Indian debutantes there.
It all began with his dad, the prosperous landowner and feudal patriarch who ruled his children with iron discipline and didn’t believe in sparing the rod. The children studied in a boarding school nearby. Our hero was a high spirited boy not very amenable to discipline. On one occasion he had taken leave from the principal on the pretext that he had to visit his father who was critically ill all of a sudden and had gone to see the latest blockbuster film in the nearby town. As luck would have it his father had been visiting the area for a court matter and decided to drop in on his son. His principal expressed surprise at his speedy recovery. The patriarch covered up for his son and made some excuse about miscommunications.
At the end of term when he returned home big daddy was waiting with his stout walking stick. The thrashing that followed was of epic proportions. Even feigning to have lost consciousness didn’t stop the onslaught.
When the old man was out of breath and took a break, the boy suddenly found mobility and leaping up ran outside the house
He ran all the way to the railway station and jumped onto a moving train.
Next morning, famished and exhausted, he got off at an unfamiliar station as he saw a temple distributing food to the needy.
He noticed that he was in a different state and people spoke another language. As he left the temple he came across an army recruitment centre that had set up camp for a special drive and he promptly joined the queue.
As he had no documentation except his school identity card and was underage it was lucky that the 65 war was imminent and rules were relaxed even for those lax days. All he required was an affidavit and his father to be present.
He convinced a roadside cobbler to be his dad for the day in promise for future money and even borrowed from him to get the affidavit. The authorities ignored the obvious discrepancies and his army career was born
His re connection with his family also happened by accident when one of the Bengali officers of his unit came across a Bengali newspaper carrying his missing person notice. Confronted, he confessed but was given an opportunity to avoid court marshal and dishonourable discharge followed by jail time if he could bring his real father and regularize his appointment.
He was by then a popular soldier and vital part of the unit’s football team which was on the verge of winning a championship. His commanding officer spoke to the patriarch and brought about a reconciliation.
The gentleman did accept him back but the relationship remained cold.
This was the unlikely story of my disreputable uncle’s entry into the army as told by him. I don’t know if it is true but it did seem to fit the character and anyway it was a rocking good tale and part of the family legend.