During one of Lt Cdr Rou Chou’s breaks in Calcutta pre 1971 4th Dec war days in OP Cactus Lilly, his wife Shiela who had worked as a Senior Secretary in ITC Calcutta briefly wrote to friends that she never asked him questions but that Chou seemed to be enjoying his work whatever it was, but she worried for him after reading the papers. He had left her behind in Calcutta, quite pregnant and there were long stretches when Roy Chou was not heard of.
That grounding and sinking of his ship MV Palash ended Roy Chou’s escapades but it came to light that in the fog of war, instructions like yellow bunting can get fouled up and the message did not reach the IAF Gnat Squadron of the Eastern Air Command at Shillong or at Kharagpur or Hashimara.
Bunting is a typical but lesser understood naval term for rough absorbent cloth woven for naval flags and red and white awnings that civilians call Shamianas, Indian Navy puts up for parties and conferences on deck. This friendly attack by Gnats on friendly Mukti-Navy Forces and Palash was a BLUE ON BLUE And resonates with the story of President John F. Kennedy in World War II and it came true for Roy Chou. Many lawyers call a Divorce case as Blue on Blue !
Kennedy always believed in double checking his minor instructions unlike PM Modi (I dare say as he moves too fast for India thinking its Gujarat) because of a theory Kennedy picked up in command of Patrol Boat PT-109, when it ran aground under his command in World War II. He ordered “Abandon ship” like Roy Chou and Capt Mulla did on INS Khukri and was about to jump overboard assuming that he was the last remaining one on the ship, as is customary. Just then the phone from his engine room rang and his duty machinist reported, “Captain, I think we are aground”. It was then that he uttered the phrase, “Some bastard down there may not get the message. Always double-check”.
Anyway, Roy Chou was brought back alive to relate this tale and how he earned his well deserved Vir Chakra and the heroic actions of Mukti Bahini that enabled this writer to write about Lt Cdr Aku Roy thrashed by 1 Rajput (Guards) JCOs as a Pakistani because he looked like a pathan and then saved, by CO MajorChandrakant VRC who accepted he was an Indian Naval Officer in Mukti Bahini when he related his course mates names from NDA in the Army that Chandrakant knew.
Regrettably, like many others who toiled and risked their all in war, but could not pick up that good boy’s chit called the Annual Confidential Report (ACR), his name did not appear in the list of those promoted to Commander in 1974, unlike this author who did get promoted. Post war, tempers can get frayed and like PM Churchill you can get discarded. Memories are short but abroad books are supported, Radio programmes on the most heard medium the radio on FM are aired and movies are made as reports are released. Not in India. AIR does not permit such on Private FM despite I&B Minister Lt Col Rathore promising to author some 100 officers at USI two years ago after a brilliant lecture on media to look into it ! Later he pleaded Cabinet did not approve.
Roy Chou who was superseded for promotion promptly put pento paper to resign, much against the advice, John Hopwood gave in ‘Laws of the Navy’ on resignation:
“For some shelved and forgotten, With nothing to thank for their fate, Save ‘That’ (on a half-sheet of foolscap), Which a fool “had the honour to state.” In Navy till few years ago all letters big or small began with I have the honour to state, a RN custom old Navy grew up with. Now its Email !.
When this author contacted Roy Chou on the phone at COP’s instigation in 1974 from NHQ booking a call and waiting to withdraw his resignation at Visakhapatnam where he was the Command Gunnery Officer -(CGO)and asked to hang on for the next promotion list as advised by the Chief of Personnel (COP) Vice Admiral MN Batra who had received a call from Admiral Chandy Kuruvilla, Chou replied in a tone which many of his superiors and colleagues had heard as polite, but full of conviction. “Some give up their lives for a thing called pride (As a Rajput I think he meant ). The least I can do is to give up the
service I love for my pride, and what I did in 1971. Do me a favour and get my papers through.”
I tried to assuage him on COP’s insistence who wanted me to convince him to withdraw his resignation. He replied, “Hey, while all you guys were sleepingwith your wives, I was saving your backside.” This author did not have the courage to report that to COP. Such is what brave mavericks are made of, who fight against odds and lead their men in the face of daily death in war or as we see on the border in peace and North East. . It is fortunate the Indian Army and Navy were replete with such officers and men in 1971 and leaders of the time and a General who acted like a CDS. In peace they and even a CDS or Theatre Command are often forgotten, as is the way of the world with soldiers by politicians and lessons are not learnt. This author visited Roy Chou in Lebong in Darjeeling and found him living on his paltry VrC allowance and some savings in a wooden house.
When contacted Lt Gen JFR Jacob the Chief of Staff Eastern Army Command who played a stellar role in the 1971 war and the surrender, to comment on this incidence of Blue on Blue fratricide fire by Gnats, Jacob said the task force Alpha had crossed the Bomb Line and Padma was targeted by Gnats. But surely IAF
pilots are not dumb not to see Yellow and would have taken closer look and seen no one was firing back and yellow buntings were the markers. “Some bastard did not send the message or some bastard did not get the message”, is what Roy Chou told me with no bitterness.
The anonymous poem comes to mind. SHAN NA VARUNA
GOD & the SOLDIER All men adore In time of trouble, And no more; For when war is over And all things righted, God is neglected –
The old soldier slighted