Way back in 1972 I was a 2nd Lieutenant (This rank no longer exists in the Indian Army, as officer cadets are commissioned as Lieutenant now). Our Regiment had just returned to its permanent location in Central India after 1971 operations. Besides my combat duties, I was also assigned the duty of ‘House member’ ( looks after upkeep and maintenance ) of the Officer’s Mess. Colonel Tom K…… (name changed) was the Commanding Officer (CO) of the unit. He was a very energetic person and though a Punjabi spoke English with a British accent. His wife Rita K…… (name changed) was a very smart, sophisticated and dynamic lady who quite often dominated her husband.
Once Tom K visited the Officer’s Mess and threw a look at the paintings hung on the walls. There were paintings of various sorts like war scenarios, lovers, birds, flowers etc. Colonel Tom addressed me, “Guchi, I do not like the layout of the way these paintings are hung. That painting of ‘Soldiers charging the enemy position’ is next to the painting of ‘Lovers Heer Ranjha’ (Ancient Indian Lovers). War can never be alongside Love, it is always its opposite. So get going and put the paintings of the Lovers on the opposite wall to that of the Soldiers. Time now is One Seven O O hours (1700Hr or 5PM) and I shall come back at One Nine O O hours (1900 Hr or 7 PM), ensure that you sort the things out. The remaining paintings should also be arranged like that.”
I called the Mess NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) and told him to get the tools so that the paintings could be rearranged; we got down to business. By 1800 Hr (6 PM) we had rearranged all the paintings as per CO’s desire and were about to finish the job when CO’s wife Rita entered the Officer’s Mess and threw a glance at the paintings. She called me and blurted out, ” Guchi, why have you done the rearranging of paintings? This layout looks horrible. Do not you have any artistic sense?” I then narrated her the instructions of Col Tom K…….., She smiled and said, “Oh, Tom is a naughty boy, Do not worry, rearrange the layout, War and Love always come alongside and are part of life; these cannot be opposite.” She gave me a long sermon on art and went off. Now we were left with only 45 minutes to rearrange the layout and hurriedly we did the job by 5 minutes to 7 PM. Bang at 1900 Hr came Col Tom and inspected the paintings which had been reverted to their original position. He exploded on me, ” Guchi, you are a stupid fellow. You have disobeyed my orders rather lawful military command; How dare you not act upon my instructions? I shall have you court martialed, you pip squeak.”
I was terrified, somehow I mustered the courage and told him that I had indeed carried out his orders but his wife had visited the Officer’s Mess and the layout of the paintings was reversed to their original position on her instructions. This cooled him instantly and he said, “Oh, that girl Rita had come… Hmmm…. She is smart and she knows a lot about the art. Yes I see it now, the layout looks beautiful. Well done Guchi, Keep it up.” With this he stormed out of the Officer’s Mess.