Oppressive temperatures within the sultry plains of northern Gujarat ceded floor to a cool setting as we lumbered up the winding highway in the direction of Mount Abu, a verdant oasis on the trailing fringe of the Aravallis in Rajasthan, in April 2018. An enthusiastic mixture of 40-odd septuagenarians and sexagenarians, travelling in two buses, craned their necks in anticipation of a view of the brainery that that they had joined four-and-a-half a long time earlier. Not sharing the keenness of their spouses, the accompanying wives and widows of three fallen colleagues remained unmoved by the wondrous portal of the hallowed establishment that had remodeled their husbands from naïve lads into strapping law enforcement officials.
This six-hour transit to Mount Abu was nothing like our 36-hour peregrination from Nagpur to Abu Road within the winter of 1973. From the fecund Vidarbha, recognized for oranges and sugarcane, our unrushed prepare took us to famine-stricken Nandurbar; parched fields bore testimony to the distress confronting the bulk Bhil tribal inhabitants. Having traversed that tragedy-hit stretch, we coursed right into a affluent Gujarat culminating in Ahmedabad, seat then of the broad gauge-metre gauge conflux.
The connecting steam locomotive-powered prepare pulled out on schedule however its gradual pace and stops at obscure railway stations made for halting progress. A touch to the top of the prepare at one among such halts revealed a delight — Bill Brady, the engine driver in his mid-fifties. An Anglo-Indian settled in Gujarat, he appeared each bit an Irishman like his forefather. Bearded and wearing impeccable white with a peak cap to match, he was a formidable determine. Invited into the engine driver’s open cabin, two of us had been spared the smoke and coal particles being blown backwards onto the passenger compartments. And so we rode with the unabashed Bill, who would sometimes escape into an previous English quantity senseless of the corporate and the evident lack of ability of the fireman to grasp what was being intoned.
Dedicated to the purpose of being reverent, Bill’s alertness didn’t flag; he would dutifully lean out at intermediate stations with the prepare at full clip to throw the ball-shaped ‘signalling token’ onto the platform and to gather the following one together with his forearm from the Station Master holding a hoop aloft. A bundle of power, Bill outdid his fireman in shovelling coal from the tender into the firebox. The sight of males in white garments and brightly-coloured turbans continuing for work within the fields and girls in a smorgasbord of vibrant and swirling attire with brass pots on their heads made a memorable impression, which is but to lose its authentic depth and vibrancy.
Determined we had been to savour each second of our quick keep and to indicate our wives what we had endured over a interval of 12 months. Home to the Central Police Training College (CPTC) since 1950, two years after Sardar Patel had fostered the formation of the All India Services, the Abu Lawrence School, in-built 1849, had not modified. Nor had the parade floor. Only the gymnasium had been was an indoor chamber, which we used for an occasion to pay homage to our fallen colleagues.
Our digs within the Rajputana Hotel Estate, not too far-off, had sadly deteriorated. It had been run as a lodge for Rajasthan royals and well-heeled Europeans fairly profitably for 45 years by the Merwanjis since 1905. Peeved on the authorities resolution (1950) to requisition the premises for housing IPS officer trainees, at a lease not even approximating the lodge’s income potential, the Merwanjis allowed it to degenerate. Cash-strapped, the CPTC, rechristened because the National Police Academy in 1967, couldn’t put up satisfactory cash for passable upkeep. And so it decayed, till the Academy moved to Hyderabad in 1975, leaving the campus to the CRPF for its Internal Security Academy.
Barracks that CPTC trainees had initially occupied (1948-1950) had reverted to the Army. The Sirmoor Rifles, the primary Gurkha unit raised by the East India Company in 1824, which grew to become 5/8 Gorkha Rifles after Independence, was the incumbent in our time. The then CO, Lt Col Jasbir Pal Singh Randhawa’s commanding presence, dedication to excessive requirements and skill to do higher than most of his youthful colleagues was a supply of inspiration. No marvel, reporting on the Chhamb battle in 1971, veteran broadcaster Melville de Mellow had portrayed him as “an officer with enough ‘josh’ to set the (river) Tawi on fire”.
Visits to Guru Shikhar, Dilwara temples, Nakki lake and Sunset Point, for acquainting the wives with the sights, had been disappointing with vacationers in important numbers thronging each venue. Fortunately, the sport sanctuary constructed by Col GH Trevor, an engineer who wrote “Rhymes of Rajputana” in regards to the chieftains and main households in Rajputana on the flip of the 20th century, appeared unscarred by guests. The important crocodile inhabitants within the lake central to this wildlife habitat might need been the deterrent.
Trevor likewise constructed the Oval, a stadium used for our parades and superior ranges of equestrian coaching. Bystanders would enjoy our humiliation as we tumbled off our steeds amidst bids to leap over fences with stirrups crossed. Artless efforts by not sure riders to feed jaggery to the horses earlier than the session did nothing to ingratiate the mounts. While conducting our wives round what’s now Barkatullah Stadium, we selected to not reveal the ignominy heaped on us by the driving ustad at any time when we bit the mud.
As the sojourn concluded, we departed with refreshed recollections of comfortable occasions spent collectively, deepened bonds and a silent prayer on our lips for our 17 fallen colleagues.