Friday, July 31, 2009


By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM

Acting Stupidly is no one’s prerogative. Your position in politics or society does not grant you an amnesty either. President of the United States of America, the most powerful man on earth, acted stupidly by describing an act of a Sergeant of Cambridge, Mass, police “acted stupidly”. The white Sergeant had arrested a black professor of Harvard for disorderly behaviour in front of his own house. The entire police department of Cambridge, Mass, was up in arms and their union asked the President to apologise. Indeed the professor had acted stupidly by arguing with the police officer and calling him a racist. The acting stupidly episode was in the process of snow balling and exploding into a racial confrontation between blacks and whites when sanity prevailed on all concerned. President Barrack Obama invited both Prof Gates and the white Police Sergeant to the White House and have a glass of beer with him. The two contending parties have accepted the invitation and the “acted stupidly” episode will blow over. Just a suggestion is made how to end the controversy for good. Instead of burying the hatchet or drowning it in beer tankards
, it would be a good idea to cremate the ghost of an unpleasant episode to prevent it from rising again.

A quarter of a century ago while preparing for commentary on the Golden Jubilee Parade of the Indian Military Academy I came across some interesting but little known facts and figures about well known generals when they were Gentlemen Cadets in the first course of IMA in 1932. The distinguished assembly of spectators at the Chetwode drill square had enjoyed listening to it. How does one act stupidly in youth is crystal clear here. A young gentleman cadet overstayed the weekend leave in Mussoorie much against the advice of his mentors. It is Just not done at the beginning of a career. But he over stayed regardless of the advice. He was suitably punished for infringement of rules but he earned a place in the book of records for being the first ever of the First Forty cadets of the first course to receive punishment for over staying the sanctioned period of leave. The gentleman cadet who acted stupidly was none other than the celebrity named Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. By the way, for acting stupidly time and again, Sam could not remain a cadet appointment for long and passed out in 1934 as a plain gentleman cadet. He did very well later in life and won a war against Pakistan in 1971.

In an interview on the Akashvani in 1973 on his promotion to the rank of Field Marshal, he talked about his gallantry medal, Military Cross. As a young officer he acted stupidly by charging at the Japanese defences in utter disregard of teaching of tactics at the Academy. He confessed that courage is a bye-product of acting stupidly in battle. In that battle of Sittang bridge the enemy was taken aback but fought bravely. So did jawans of Sam. In the hand to hand fight Sam succeeded in capturing the objective by dislodging the Japanese. In the heat of the battle Sam received NINE carbine bullets in his stomach. The divisional commander honoured Sam by pinning his own Military Cross on Sam’s chest because no one thought he would survive his courageous stupidity. He did. A Military Cross is awarded to a living soldier only and not given posthumously.

In 1971 war with Pakistan on the western front the Charlie company of the Grenadiers sat cheek by jowl with the Charlie company of a regiment of the Pakistan army whole night. It was pitch dark and under orders complete silence was observed. Radio silence was also enforced. Both the Indians and Pakistanis knew by whisper that the Charlie company was lying in wait at the Forming Up Place to launch an attack at the crack of dawn. At the first light, wisdom dawned on both C companies and hell broke loose. A perfect example of close-quarter battle it was, well generated by acts of stupidity of guides the previous night. The Indian Charlie company led by Major Hoshiar Singh carried the day and won laurels. Old Hoshiar was honoured with a Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry award. So, acting stupidly brings honours and awards too in its wake.

Acting stupidly is not the prerogative of the political persons or military men alone. There are people of that tribe in other walks of life too. Let us take a look at the Media, especially the electronic one. An experienced senior commentator took pride in not attending rehearsals of any event, national or local. He just went by the script issued by the organisers as backgrounders. At the presentation of the president’s banner, an event of tattoo was dropped but the script remained unaltered. The tattoo event comprised a mass P.T. with torches in hands of performers. The ace commentator went ahead with his commentary on the non-existent item much to the chagrin of organisers and media managers. Here acting stupidly did not bring laurels but only brickbats.

Look before you leap – that is the advice given to the PT enthusiasts in the army who do acrobatics on the high horse. It is a kind of Trojan horse of wood. Many an aspiring fellow met his Waterloo there because in sheer misplaced enthusiasm of doing a perfect jump and equally perfect landing, the assessment of time and space goes haywire. Over enthusiasm with an eye on achieving a good grade may be termed as a stupidity. It is a kind of thinking stupidly that is followed by acting stupidly. Of course, a Gentleman Cadet is discouraged by his seniors not to think but to act. The moment a junior cadet comes up with an excuse for not completing a task and says “I thought....”he is sharply cut mid-sentence by an age-old admonishment “stop thoughting”. Queen may not be pleased with a bad deal to her English language but cadets actually stop thinking thereafter – the question of stupidity or otherwise just does not arise. Be that as it may, the baton is thus passed on from generation to generation and there has been no occasion where a Chief had to invite those compatriots in uniform for beer whom he chastised for acting stupidly.

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