In June 1977, 2nd Lieutenant K J Singh was received by his Senior Subaltern, Manbir Hundal, and others at the Ambala railway station, which was the young officer’s first posting. As the tradition in the Army goes, Lt Hundal was to receive him in a ‘unique and innovative way,’ which he did by offering him some beer at a public place, at a time when the Morarji Desai government was pushing for prohibition. As his Senior Subaltern, Hundal’s task was to guide, groom and mentor the new officer in his initial days in the regiment.
Thirty seven years later, K J Singh, now a Lieutenant General, was surprised to see the now retired Colonel Hundal present at the airport here to receive him on Thursday, when K J arrived here to take over the reins as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Command.
“It was an emotional moment for both of us, and the air was instantly filled with nostalgia. Both K J and his wife were pleasantly surprised to see me, as they did not know I would be there, and I was swelled with pride on seeing him in his new position. We hugged and cracked jokes on each other, just the way we did all those years ago,” said Col Hundal while talking to Newsline.
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Col Hundal, who was posted at Ambala in the 63 Cavalry Regiment in 1977, was assigned as the Senior Subaltern to K J, which means it was his duty to help K J adapt to the ‘ethos and culture’ of the regiment, and to train him in all practical and professional aspects, right from teaching him the regiment’s history to guiding him in his conduct in the mess.
“I always knew K J would make it big since he was exceptionally bright. I distinctly remember that he had a photogenic memory, and grasped things quickly. He was mentally sharp, and physically active and it’s no surprise to me that he is now on one of the most coveted positions in the Army. He could merely look at a page and reproduce the content verbatim,” said Col Hundal.
They stayed posted in Ambala for several years, where they ‘worked hard, played hard and partied hard,’ before Hundal was transferred to another regiment. “This assignment of guiding a junior is an institution in itself, and unique to the Army, where a new officer is comfortably made to adapt into a culture,” he said.
Later, they stayed posted together in Pune in 1983 and in Patiala in 1992. Before Thursday, Col Hundal last met K J at his son’s wedding in Delhi last year.
“On Friday, he invited me to dinner, and introduced me to the others. Both of us are glad that we are now in the same town again,” said Col Hundal.
Responding to the gesture by his former Subaltern, Gen K J Singh said, “Col Manbir Singh Hundal was my Senior Subaltern who mentored me with the right mix of strictness and affection. We served together in 63 Cavalry, have attended courses and been posted together. Col Manbir has been an excellent soldier and a sportsman. This institution of the Senior Subaltern which is unique to the Indian Army creates a lasting bond and camaraderie worth cherishing and is not found in any other organisation.”