Sexually Repressed Military Police: LOC 1973
Preamble. LOC Kashmir will offer autobiographical short fiction in one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, the 740 kilometer Line of Control dividing the Pakistani and Indian parts of Kashmir. Approximately 500,000 Indian and 300,000 Pakistani armed and battle-hardened troops face each other across their gun-sights. Both sides indulge in infiltration and aggressive patrolling. Exchanges of fire occur with regular frequency. This is where and how I spent my late teens, as a young officer in the wake of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, before having to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. I wish to see peace in beautiful Kashmir during my lifetime, even though I am not very hopeful.
Leaving over two hundred thousand rupees of the battalion’s monthly payroll in the care of my three-striper havildar and two privates, I strode light-heartedly down the bazaar in Gujrat, Pakistan’s 18th largest city with a population the size of Houston packed into Pasadena, 173km southeast of Islamabad, between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab. Gujrat was one of the transit points for getting to the Line of Control between Pakistani and Indian troops deployed in Kashmir. It took an hour’s drive on a pot-holed dirt road, visibility obscured by khaki dust kicked up by a vehicle’s passage.
That day, and at that time in Gujrat, I wasn’t thinking of the dust cloud. I had had something better to think of.
The paper bag filled with just-bought Old Spice after shave and deodorant would please Dolly nicely, I thought. Not old Eden Roc from Mirpur, that backwater 97 kilometers north-west of Gujrat, known as Little England from where much of its population, displaced by the Mangla Dam (9th largest in the world), had migrated to Britain so that the poor Brits could lay off their boiled-to-hell three-veg and overcooked meat for the pleasures of sizzling Balti gosht and heavenly table nan, leaving nothing behind in Mirpur for a young warrior to slake his desires.
I only went to Mirpur because I had to. That’s where the State Bank of Pakistan and the Pakistan Army, in their uncontested wisdom, had decided that my battalion should receive the monthly payroll. So I had been ordered to go there in an open jeep with an escort of a three-striper havildar and two privates to draw out the battalion’s payroll in cash. Pakistan Army troops liked their salary up front, handed out by their officers in command. Besides which, they didn’t have bank accounts either. Not many Pakistanis did, in those days, without a recommendation from some sort of a self-inflated VIP!
The armed escort was not to protect against bandits – I alone could have handled that, though looking at me one might be skeptical of that disability. Those battle-tested warriors accompanied me to ensure against the Indians ambushing a pay party on the back tracks. On occasions — typically to pay off a high-level informant — the intelligence services of both countries decided that they needed their enemy’s ‘real’ rather than the usual counterfeit currency with which they financed their clandestine operations. Natural law being unjust to the weak, it was usually a keen young Lieutenant who had the honor of either leading an ambush party or being the victim of one.
But in Gujrat, as on the metalled roads cutting through fields devoid of cover or broken ground, there was no risk of ambush. So I could leave the jeep and nip into the bazaar, which is what I did.
I breathed deeply and enviously — being assailed from either flank by the sensory explosion of centuries old spices from tantalizing pyramids of palaas and biryaanees in paraat dishes and a variety of hard-coal grilled meat – tikkas, tikkies, and those indecently enticing seekh kebabs! The gestures of moustached kareegar chefsand their assistant shagirds danced in my peripheral vision — glowing coals releasing primeval impulses. Gritting my teeth, I rained silent curses on my gastronomically illiterate Batallion Commanding Officer who’s competence stopped at the mess entrance but authority continued unabated. Having whipped our unit into shape, he was convinced that it was in the best interests of his officers to eat blander than the British: chillies, spices and ghee were considered more lethal than the Indian army! My mommy was upset for me.
And then another scene loomed in my vision, jerking me back to the harsh reality of border duty. At the chownk crossing, my three-striper havildar was standing to shun outside the jeep getting a rocket from a Military Police (MP) Major. The two jawans guarded the monthly pay in the jeep, eyes stroking the Major, waiting for orders to cut him down if necessary. I inserted myself in the Major’s vision, came to shun, gave him my smartest salute, and introduced myself in English.
He turned his full glare on me.
“Who the hell are you? Where’s your rank? I’ll arrest you for impersonation!”
“Sir, I took my pips off to go to the bazaar. Can’t buy Old Spice in Chamb sector! And Dolly likes it!”
“Don’t be cheeky and irrelevant! You took your pips off to visit a bloody brothel! And left your battalion’s payroll unattended in the jeep. ****ing negligence!”
“Sir, we’ve been taught that walking around in a bazaar displaying rank cheapens it! We’re also trained to trust our men. And they’re worth it!”
We stared at each other, neither of us backing down.
The Major drove off with his two MP stooges, promising retribution.
The sexually repressed MP Officer was from Corps Headquarters, Kharian, and sent a report about the incident to my anti-chillies-masala-ghee Commanding Officer (CO). Returning to the unit, I had immediately reported the incident to him. He fired a short verbal rocket up my what’s-it, then a long interrogatory one that left me twitching. However, in reply to the MP’s charge, he wrote that having full confidence in my integrity he was certain I had not sneaked off to a brothel to slake my lust.
Had the MP Major kept his nose out of my sex life, the CO might have put me on adverse report, or at least demanded a written explanation.
The major and my CO, whose sterling leadership qualities fizzled out in the officer’s mess, both got their comeuppance.
It was rumored later that the major had been caught in flagrante delicto with a lady of pleasure while his wife was having labor pains. Imagine. And eventually, the CO of unchallenged professional integrity, was weaned off his gastronomical perversions by a busty mistress who made superb — but absolutely superb — lamb korma and potato parathas.