the bend, and jawans jumped out, rifles in firing positions. And then I heard a comforting, familiar voice, “Oye yeh toh Shekhar hai, tere saare baal hi jhad gaye teen saal Northeast mein (Oh this is Shekhar, you’ve lost all your hair in three years in the Northeast)?” It was my friend and next-door neighbour from my bachelor annexe in Chandigarh’s Sector 33, Amarjeet Dhesi. A major in 12 Guards (anti-tank missiles), he played serious hockey, a game I loved watching. Further, he was a nephew of Balbir Singh Sr, India’s triple Olympic gold medalist, now listed by the IOC among the 16 greatest Olympic athletes ever, along with the likes of Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. He introduced me also to another fellow major, tall, strapping, with a missile badge on his chest, along with his name, Tejinder. He is Lieutenant General Tejinder Singh, who resurfaced in our lives two years ago when the outgoing army chief accused him of trying to bribe him and he responded by suing him for libel. I caught up with Col Dhesi, who now lives in California, last winter, where else but in Chandigarh, at his uncle Balbir Singh’s home as I went to record a Walk the Talk interview with that greatest living Indian sportsman, now a lively 91, and one who should have got the Bharat Ratna before many others, even if one of them is called Sachin.
If you are still not convinced that people keep coming back in reporters’ lives, usually more importantly than before, and that we need to preserve our notebooks and memory, think about a Kingfisher flight from Delhi to Mumbai about five years ago. There was only one other passenger in the front cabin sitting across the aisle from me, and I thought he looked familiar. He had a weather-beaten face, tough, firm, broad-shouldered demeanour and soldierly countenance, even as he pored over what looked like a sheaf of Excel sheets. We exchanged some where-have-I-met-you-before glances and then he broke the ice. “I bet you won’t remember me, but I haven’t forgotten,” he said.
He asked me if I recalled that in 1981, in Aizawl, I was bitten by awful dim-dam flies and a CRPF patrol had taken me to their company sickbay for treatment. His name is Balwan Singh Gahlawat, and he commanded that company. Then he asked if I remembered unauthorisedly hanging out at a camouflaged and fortified medium machine-gun nest on the top of a building in Amritsar’s Braham Buta Akhara, overlooking the Golden Temple during Blue Star. He was now the commandant of that CRPF battalion providing the assault troops covering fire. “And you must be wondering what am I doing sitting here on this plane,” he asked, with a smile.
He said his sons had set up a business in Mumbai and he goes there often to help them out, particularly as they also have large property developments.
“What business do your sons run?”
“India Bulls,” he said.
Of the many days spent on the pickets continued…