OF CORPORALS, CAPTAINS AND GENERALS

OLD HOMETOWN NEWSPAPERS

 During my boyhood in Trivandrum in the sixties, Kerala Kaumudi was the most circulated and widely read newspaper in the capital. The Calicut based Mathrubhoomy, thanks to the formidably highbrow stuff published in its Weekly, was considered a bit too posh. Kottayam’s Malayala Manorama was yet another product from Madras Rubber Factory, a flavour it manages to carry, to this date. In those days of manual typesetting and composing, Kerala Kaumudi had the distinct advantage of having its press and other facilities in the city. Trivandrum, though the capital of Kerala, was not considered a major market by the newspapers from the north. Commercial newspapers need an atmosphere of entrepreneurship and fund backed adventurism in the local markets to thrive. For the Fourth Estate, unfortunately Trivandrum in those pre political-mafia days was very small-time. In simple language, there was little advertisement revenue in the city of ‘Sarkari Babus’*.

One of my clearest Trivandrum memories is that of our King. Every morning, His Highness Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was chauffeur driven in his Studebaker Commander from his palace at Kowdiar to pray before the family deity at the Padmanabha Swamy temple. I distinctly remember that the registration number of the old straight-six car was KLT 1. Despite the car being American, it was a right hand drive model and His Highness used to sit on the kerbside of the back seat. Though he was a king without a kingdom, he was deeply loved and respected for his humility, austerity and simplicity. His hands were locked together in an eternal and honest Namaste to his Lord and his People, a gesture never sincerely copied by any politician since.

The freshly poisoned communist recruits were the only lot that turned their noses up at the harmless King. As champions of the poor, they masqueraded as the brave warriors who had ousted the King from power. Now, having ruled for about three decades collectively, the Communists have turned his once lovely kingdom into a showpiece of chaos, nepotism and corruption. The top leftist leaders are seriously involved in building an opulent Communist Empire and wear invisible crowns. They even maintain court jesters and courtesans in their proletarian Barnum and Bailey show.

In the 1960s and early 70s, Trivandrum was mostly a city of pompous but very middle class officials, government clerks and a few well grounded socialist intellectuals. The original well-to-do natives were conservative to the extent of being stuffy and aloof.  Those who visited the city briefly and the deeply sarcastic settlers from north Kerala were seldom admitted into the circles of Trivandrum’s upper middleclass and aristocracy. So the only Trivandrumites they ever met were the likes of domestic servants, fisherwomen and market vendors. They had every reason to believe that all Trivandrum folk spoke like Suraj Venjaramood.

Sorry for going off at a tangent, after I started with newspapers. Yes. Those days Kerala Kaumudi was still a free newspaper and was not remote controlled by communal undertones. The style or personality of a newspaper slowly grows on you. Even in the seventies and eighties, when Kerala Kaumudi was widely criticised as the mouthpiece of a particular community, my dad continued loyally with his old paper. Perhaps it had something to do with his deep friendship with K Balakrishnan, the editor of Kaumudi Weekly, which though a namesake, was a different entity. Today, Kerala Kaumudi probably holds the third spot in Trivandrum’s circulation charts. From the remoteness of my small Sussex town, it is still a favoured paper for me since it is the only Malayalam Daily that makes available its full edition as a PDF file online, totally free of cost. Recently it has also made its old editions available online in the archives section. I usually save the pages with interesting articles for a later leisurely read.

 AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

 

Captain Raju Daniel

Today, with a little spare time on hand, I was going through a saved page dated 15/01/2010. It carries a piece written by Kovalam Sathishkumar about a chat he had with senior Malayalam screen actor, Captain Raju. Raju was indeed a Captain in the Indian Army before he joined the movie scene. Though he usually appears in negative roles, he is known to be one of the few gentlemen in the industry. Many years ago I have had the opportunity to work with his younger brother and I conclude that uprightness runs in the family. Lalu Alex is another known good soul and curiously, he too is a villain.

In the narrative, the Captain speaks about his experience of serving at the lines of conflict along the northern borders. He modestly discloses quite a few ground realities of army life, motivation and patriotism. He also has the wisdom and maturity to acknowledge that the enemies across the border are nothing but ordinary men like us.

What brings me to write this post is a comment which appears towards the end of the article. Here, there is a remark that if he had not left the army to act in the movies, he would have been a Lieutenant General by now. I am not sure if this comment came from the interviewer or from the Captain himself. Whatever be the source, I would like to dispute this little claim, without casting a slur on the good Captain’s name.

Commissioned officers in the Indian army come from two sources. The first lot are officers who join on a Permanent Commission after graduating from the army’s own colleges. The others are graduates who come from the main stream. The latter group is offered a short service commission of about five years or so. Based on their demonstrated capabilities, the army may offer them a permanent commission at the end of their contracted period. A friend of mine, a Colonel with the Artillery, tells me that less than twenty percent of Short Service chaps make it to a permanent commission. Also, the direct Commissioned Officers hold a few advantages over the Short Service chaps. They are usually a bit younger when they get the Commission and are considered more blue eyed, by virtue of their longer association and training with the army.

Most Short Service Commission officers are happy to leave the force at the end of the contracted period. There are many lucrative opportunities for them in the public and private sectors. They are very much in demand as well trained and disciplined recruitment material for top security and administrative jobs. Most of them make more money in their later civilian careers than they would have ever made in the army.

As for the Short Service officers that stay on, very few of them make it to Brigadier level. Usually, the upward climb ends at Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel. It is a known fact in the Indian Army that if you do not make it to full Colonel in your early forties, the real top brass posts are out of reach. In this context, I assume that Captain Raju was allowed to leave after five years of service because he was on a Short Service Commission.

History tells us of a vertically challenged Corporal who went on to become a formidable General and an Emperor. A handful of officers from Short Service cadre have indeed become Lieutenant Generals under exceptional conditions. I have no doubt that Captain Raju was an exceptional officer and always, a perfect gentleman. Cheers.

Notes:

1. ‘Sarkari Babu’ – Hindi for Government Clerk 2. Captain Raju’s picture- courtesy Kerala Kaumudi

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