JAI NARAIN BHOJ
The Story of Our Regimental Pehalwan
Looking back to my regimental days more than four decades ago, nothing brings a smile to my face as does the still-not-faded picture of Jai Narain Bhoj, the champion wrestler of our regiment. He was a Jat from Haryana, a furious fighter unbeatable in the ring. Normally a quiet and cheerful guy, well-muscled and powerful looking though, he assumed an altogether different persona when he entered the ring. He charged in huffing and puffing like a Spanish fighting bull let loose in the arena slapping his bulging biceps in the traditional pehalwan style. God help the hapless opponent who tried to take him on as Bhoj would have the guy thrown to the ground flat on his back in a stunningly swift tackle and hold him pinned there, all in the matter of a second or two. I never saw an opponent who lasted a full minute against Bhoj.
We had of course had a problem on his progression in the ranks because, while he was eminently capable of all physical activities expected of a soldier, his technical aptitude to learn of the weaponry and equipment was far too inadequate. Indeed ours being an armoured regiment wherein every soldier was expected to possess certain minimum proficiency in two of the 3 trades, driving, gunnery and radio-telephony, this was a huge handicap when it came to his utility in regimental duties and promotion. Ultimately, as it happened with most men who don’t excel in their trades, he ended up in the Adm Troop which handled the logistics part equipped with only ‘B’ vehicles (trucks and other wheeled transport), unlike the sabre troops with tanks which formed the fighting segment.
Bhoj had earned his first stripe, which elevated him from a sowar at entry level to an ALD or Acting Lance Daffadar, by virtue of his wrestling prowess since the regiment had a tradition of honouring men who excel in games and sports with at least one promotion. Nevertheless he needed to pass various trade and promotion tests for his career progression. Unfortunately Bhoj found cerebral activity of any kind none too palatable; and as far he was concerned he was doing his bit by winning every wrestling contest for the regiment and found no reason why he should exert himself to learn the intricacies involved in the functioning of a tank.
This simplistic outlook of his became all too obvious to me while I happened to take his trade test one day. He was a driver / gunner by trade and I was testing his knowledge of the automotive mechanism of a tank. Well aware of his level of technical acumen I chose to restrict myself to elementary questions rather than the difficult ones I was posing to others. I didn’t ask him to climb on to the deck of the tank as I did with others to point out parts in the engine compartment that was kept open for the test. Instead I climbed down and began by pointing my pointer staff at the track and road wheels asking him to name those, which mercifully he did correctly. Then I pointed at the idler wheel at the front end and he had no clue. I let it ride and pointed at the sprocket at the rear end. Once again he was totally lost. I was scratching my head to find a simpler question when I found Bhoj’s shame-faced expression, after being unable to answer two questions in a row, gradually changing to one of anger. The outburst that followed, his voice choking with emotion, was the most hilarious bit I had encountered from one of our men ever that I had to hold my laughter with difficulty. “Kushti jitega to shabash Bhoj, shabash Bhoj bolke saare saab log Bhoj ka mubarak deta hai. Abhi poochtha hai, yeh kya hai, vo kya hai! Yeh kaisa insaf hai Saab?” (When I win wrestling all of you officers congratulate me saying shabash Bhoj, shabash Bhoj. Now you ask me what is this and what is that! What kind of justice is this Sir?)
I told him not to worry and that he is still a winner with two correct answers and quietly closed the test giving him pass marks. Well, it’s all in the family, the regiment being one big family for us. I left the regiment after a while and sometime later heard of another emotional upheaval of Bhoj from a fellow regimental officer, which sounded even more hilarious. It turned out that a Sikh wrestler by the name of Swaran Singh got the better of Bhoj in a regimental bout once. It seems the cunning fellow that Swaran was, evaded the first full-blooded charge of Bhoj and tricked him to a knock out. Bhoj protested furiously that he had been tricked but the officer referring won’t relent. Neither would Bhoj want to live with the shame of his invincibility being challenged. He charged out of the ring in despair almost wailing and ran straight for the rail line that ran by the side of the regimental barracks in a suicide bid, with the whole regiment, including the CO, running after him to stop him. Ultimately an inconsolable Bhoj was brought back after a lot of persuasion, Swaran even offering to forgo the win.
Rustic and innocent, they surely made a lovable bunch in the Regiment!