When my husband’s elder brother (known to family and friends as Monty) had to choose a job, he opted for a career in the Army. This was when India was under the British Raj. But while he was busy ‘soldiering,’ Monty had another interest. And this was writing. So, when he was still a Major, he published a book, Essentials of Military Knowledge. By and by, this book became an accepted textbook for some military colleges in India and abroad.

When the British left India and our country got independence, an unfortunate by-product was Partition. So far, the Army had been a unified force consisting of British and Indian officers and jawans who came from different parts of the sub-continent. The Army had always been one big brotherhood and one of my brother-in-law’s close friends was a Muslim. When Partition came, this friend opted to join Pakistan and the two friends lost touch with each other.

The first conflict between the two newly formed countries was over Kashmir. My brother-in-law was asked to lead a campaign in the war, during which he was so badly wounded that he had to spend several months in hospital (later he was awarded the Veer Chakra for bravery). Soon after his discharge from the hospital, he went to London. There he ran into an old friend from the British/Indian army. His friend greeted him cordially and asked him to come over to his house the next evening as he was having a get-together of officers he had known in India and who happened to be in London at the time. Of course, the invitation was happily accepted.

At the party, my brother-in-law was surprised to see his old Muslim friend, who overjoyed and gave Monty a big bear hug. “How lovely to see you again,” he said. “Hold it,” Monty replied. “You are hurting me. I was badly wounded in the Kashmir campaign and am not yet fully recovered.” His friend stood back. “You were in the Kashmir campaign? What exactly was your part there?” My brother-in-law said he was defending X hill. “You were defending that hill…but I was the one who was attacking it.” The two friends were completely taken aback. “You blighter, you almost killed me,” Monty said. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” his friend replied. “How was I to know that you were in command there,” he said and he embraced him again. Their British host was aghast at the sight of the two friends, who had come close to killing each other because their country had been partitioned by their foreign rulers.

After my brother-in-law retired from the Army as Major-General he had another strange encounter. Monty devoted himself full-time to writing about military affairs, and apart from his contributions to newspapers and journals, he wrote some books. One day, he got a strange call from Libya. It was the personal secretary of Colonel Qadhafi, who had just taken over as head of the state. The caller said Colonel Qadhafi had seen Essentials of Military Knowledge and wanted it translated into Arabic. He wanted General Palit to come to Libya as his guest and oversee the translation. Since my brother-in-law was retired from the Army, he accepted the invitation and went to Libya where he met Qadhafi.

The translation proceeded, with the translator asking Monty to clarify certain points in the book from time to time. Then, one day, Qadhafi’s ADC came to my brother-in-law and said the Colonel wanted to know how General Palit wanted to spend his spare time. Monty said that he was fond of playing polo and he’d be grateful if a couple of polo ponies could be arranged for him. In less than a week, two polo ponies were placed at his disposal.

Monty spent his spare time just riding the ponies or hitting polo balls on the grounds, if there was no one to play with him. When the time for his departure arrived, the ADC came and asked what he should do with the ponies. “I don’t need them any more so you can have them back” was the reply. “But Colonel Qadhafi wants you to take them with you,” the ADC insisted. “He specially had them imported from Italy for you.” Monty was taken aback. “I can’t land up in India with two polo ponies,” he said. “What will my government say? Please thank Colonel Qadhafi for his offer, but tell him that I am unable to accept it.”

That was the end of Monty’s adventure in Libya. Qadhafi was killed in the recent insurrection in the country, and the Arabic copies of my brother-in-law’s book must have gone up in flames, like much else in Libya.

(spalit_2007@rediffmail. com)

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