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Ablaze in a Blizzard

Ablaze in a Blizzard - Col.(Retd.) P. Ganesan

College of Military Engineering

The prime institution of Corps of Engineers of the Army

The College of Military engineering in short CME is the prime institution of the corps of Engineers of the Army. It had four wings spread over 20 thousand acres near Pune called Dapodi on the Pune-Bombay highway. It had Civil, Electrical-Mechanical Diploma and the prestigious Combat Engineering wings. Administrative wing was separate. Corps of Engineers of all ranks kept coming here for short and long courses. Officers of Corps Engineers, Corps of Signals and Corps of Electrical-Mechanical Engineers those who were not Engineering Graduates came here for three years B.Tech. Course. The Signals and EME after one and half years training here would return to their parent training centre for another 1.1/2 years training. There would be about 2000-3000 corps of all ranks studying at a time here.

I was very happy to meet many of my friends after a gap of 6-7 years here. The rest of the year 1970 passed off peacefully with my younger brother got married on 03rd Dec 1970. I was basically a sports person and already a diploma holder was very happily spending my days and was standing first amongst Civil Engineering students.

Year 1971 dawned for greater challenges.

Life at CME

I was enjoying life at CME. Army provides excellent opportunities to all ranks provided they were physically, mentally and psychologically fit for Army life.

Since I did not have any such thing like riding two horses, I was really enjoying life at CME. Life started from morning 06.30 with physical training for half an hour, followed by breakfast in officers mess (about 600-700 bachelors officers were dining), then 08.15 to 13.30hrs in Class room, then broke for lunch and then it was time for games on your choice and own in the evening. Many officers did not play or not shown interests in games and they went outing like picture, visiting friends etc. I was very much interested in games. I would play almost all games and reasonably well. So I dedicated my time from 15.30hrs to 18.00 hrs as Sports time. Rarely I would see movie and used to spend all other spare time in the library. I would go through all magazines of entire Army (about 20 Arms and services and all infantry units sent their magazines as well).

The library was equipped with world best books and magazines of International level from all countries of Army publications. So it was like a treasure for me and spent whole day there like Sundays and holidays.

So it was like heaven for me and was also good in academics.

Unexpected turn of events

The life at CME was going on smoothly. The college was conducting winter and summer sports in both group and individual events. I as an individual and a team member of my class was taking part in almost all games.

In early 1971 East Pakistan conducted general election in that country and Awami league party of Sheik Mujubur Rahman of East Pakistan won with a thumping majority. Pakistan was getting more income from East Pakistan but development works in East was not much. Because of this displeasure East people formed separate political party called Awami League and fought the election. Population of East wing being more, they had won the election. But the martial law administrator of Pakistan General Yahya khan was not keen to hand over power to Mujibur Rahman. Instead of that the General started mass arrest in East. So Mujib declared Sonar Bangla on 26th March 1971 and started mass disobedience movement. The Law and order was totally failed in East Pakistan and mass movements of refugees started crossing the border to India.

The general situation along India and Pakistan relationship strained and tension escalated to mount pressure along the border. The East Pakistan was a riverine terrain and if war had to be fought there, plenty of river crossings were required. Corps of Engineers was the specialised troops in that warfare.

On one fine morning in Nov 1971 the news came that all courses of CME were suspended.

The Tension Mounts

In Nov 1971 I was writing a semester examination and a circular came that all officers were to assemble at assembly hall after the examination. The moment that news was announced everyone knew what would be the message and hence did not continue in the examination hall and left. But I did not leave the hall, patiently wrote the complete exam and went to the Assembly hall later. All degree course officers of Engineers, Signals and EME totalling to about 700 persons were there. The Commandant came and addressed "Gentlemen! We were all aware of the National situation. In order to keep ourselves fit to face any challenges Army HQ had taken the decision to suspend all Degree courses and post officers to Field units. Should there be a war we would be the luckiest lot to give a fitting reply to the enemy. The administrative officer announced the postings and other administrative arrangements. Wishing us all success to protect the Safety, Honour and Integrity of this great Country"

There was lot of noise and discussions. The posting order was announced and I was posted to 4 Engineer Regiment. All married officers were given the options either to retain or vacate the quarters and dispose their families. Bachelor officers were given their options to keep their heavy luggage under the centralised arrangements and ordered to move with light luggage. Married officers were given 10 days leave to settle and then would move according to their postings. Single officers were to move immediately as CME would ensure train reservations in all the trains and in all directions.

I went to the officer's mess for lunch and saw the Bar was open to all and officers were gulping the drink of their choice. There was absolute gloom on married officer's face as they were to take a hard decision.

I came to my room after lunch and quietly started packing things. I decided to leave my 3.5 Bullet Motor cycle with a civilian Family and rest of the heavy boxes under CME's care. In both the places I left a cover to be opened in case I would not return. In that letter I wrote that my brother P. Ramamurthy should take decision as he deemed fit to disburse my belongings and Bank balances.

I boarded Deccan queen train towards Bombay with just a suit case and the train moved.......

Re collection

At this point of time readers must know some of the developments happened.

After I left 4Engineer Regiment at Rangya in 1968, and moved to Chandigarh under an Engineer Brigade, I became an expert in then introduced "Krupman Bridging" Equipment. After that period got over there, they again ordered me to move to Rangapara, Assam under 4 Core in mid-1971. But because of the uncertainty of the location I was given warrant to Guwahati only.

In the family front, my younger brother got married in Dec 1970 and after I moved to CME my brothers made some sincere attempts to get me married. I went to Madras once or twice to see suitable girls. Generally in south especially in Madras, People had very low opinion about Army Officers and in their opinion, only unsuitable and rejected lots of civil appointments would go to Army. Even in matrimonial market only rejected and over aged girls would be willing to marry Army officers as a last resort. Because of this I decided that I would not take any hasty step and wait for a suitable family who respect Army. I also felt that suitable exposure was not there even to my brothers because of it, they were not able to find suitable bride for me. After my mother's death I felt that the relationship amongst my brothers and sisters were also breaking up.

Because of such disturbed state in personal front, I did not know to whom I should keep informed about the developments in my life. So I did not inform anybody about suspension of Degree courses and the subsequent move out of CME. I felt that my life was like a cordless kite, free to fly anywhere in the direction of wind as it blew. At the same time I understood that I was a responsible officer and could not bring any insult to uniform.

Such thought process was going on in my mind as the train Deccan Queen speeding towards Bombay. I knew that I had to go Eastern Sector up to Guwahati and then locate my Regiment. Another Army officer & I went and saw PATTON an English movie at Bombay. George Patton of the US Army was one of the finest officers of 2nd World war, about whom I had read a lot. So I enjoyed the movie and with that mental satisfaction I boarded Assam mail at Bombay Central.


CME was a great institution having wonderful sports facilities, country's best library equipped with world best academic and military books.

If one was very healthy, had high patriotic sense and was willing to sacrifice the life at any time when the country demands, then there could not be any regret for joining the Army. If one had personal commitments like dependent parents demanding brother-sisters etc. then the Army life would be like riding two horses.

When there were no games to play I would go on a 20 km run on my own and in case of rainy days I would play indoor games like squash, Badminton etc.

Readers might re-collect that I was awarded best sports man award at the time of my officer training and was awarded "Athletics Blue." Here at CME I was awarded Best Swimmer award and was awarded "Swimming Blue."