We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
“It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times. It was the Age of Darkness, it was the Age of Light”. That was how Charles Dickens began his Tale of Two Cities. This is a Tale of Two People: one of us and a classmate nick-named Basil, so it will be told in the first person, even though it has been written by both of us, as usual.
Long before the 15th of August dawned in 1947,our principal in St George’s College, Mussoorie, had anticipated the problems of tell-tale names. Basil was one of those who had their names changed by the brothers, as a precaution. So, the Imams became the Irelands, the Khans became the Kennedys, the Wisaluddins became the Williams. The matrons removed the real surnames from their clothes, the bearers stripped their actual names from their luggage and stuck on their new ones, and we were ordered to call them by their assumed names at all times under the threat of cuts or even benders. Those were the days when physical punishments were expected and taken: perhaps we were a tougher breed then.
That wasn’t our information-heavy digital age but we knew what was happening. We knew what could happen to some boys on their end-or-the-year, chaperoned, train ‘parties’ while returning home. But this was the 15th of August, and we were jubilant. We, the senior boys of St George’s, dressed in white shirts and trousers, and black ammunition boots, and under the command of Sergeant Hearsey, marched smartly past the Picture Palace, down the Mall, to the flag pole erected in front of the Mussoorie Library. There, drenched by the drizzle, but aflame with pride, we saluted the Tricolour hoisted for the first time, in Mussoorie.
The years flip by. I have been commissioned as an Indian Naval Officer, proudly wearing the single gold combatant curl on my shoulders, serving in INS Rajput, anchored in Trincomalee Bay in Ceylon. Around us are ships of Britain’s Royal Navy, the Pakistan Navy and Ceylon’s HMCyS Vijaya. We are part of the Joint Exercises Trincomalee. Joint exercises give the armed forces of the participating countries an opportunity to co-operate, assess and get to know the other servicemen. When the lists of the officers of the foreign naval ships were pinned on our wardroom mess board, I was delighted to find that my former classmate, Basil, was also a sub-lieutenant on a Pakistani ship anchored in Trincomalee. I got permission from my Captain to invite him for dinner. It was going to be a private affair, just him and me, on the secluded B Gun Deck. My signal, RPC (Request the Pleasure of your Company) was flashed to his ship. I was overjoyed to receive his reply VMT (Very Many Thanks) WMP (With Much Pleasure). I received him when he stepped on the quarterdeck. Our uniforms were identical: the semi-formal Red Sea Rig. Our stripes were identical. The only differences were the crests of our two navies.
We got along wonderfully, reminiscing over our days in Manor House, exchanging news about our mutual friends. He drank a Horse’s Neck, an innocuous looking brandy and ginger cocktail. I had my usual scotch and soda and that might have relaxed me too much. I said, “Basil why can’t our governments be as friendly as we are, and settle Kashmir?” The change that came over him was instantaneous and dramatic. He went ballistic, almost venomous. He ranted about “You people stole Kashmir!” and “You’re killing our brothers!” fumed about “One Pakistani is worth two of you shopkeepers!” and threatened “We’ll wipe you out, Inshallah!” I was taken aback. I wanted to hit him but if I had done that it would have been blown up into an international incident. He stopped, took a gulp of his drink, dabbed his lips and said “Sorry! I’m sorry, Hugh. Got carried away!” There was not much to say after that. I saw him off as he boarded his boat and lost contact with him.
Today, a few days after we have wiped the abrasively discriminatory Article 370, off the slate of our histories, I feel vindicated. So do We, the Government.