A ‘Field Punishment’ Under the Watchful Eye of the Kanchenjunga


Foreword by the editor

Brig Krishnan Nair Harikumar is a well-known name in the Corps of EME. I had the good fortune of serving with him in Sikkim during 1981-82, when he was a Major. Had he recorded his age appropriately, he would have surely retired as a general officer. This is a story of how he began his service and matured with the passage of time. It was almost a metamorphosis!


A ‘Field Punishment’ Under the Watchful Eye of the Kanchenjunga

By Brig K Harikumar (Veteran)

I tasted my first alcoholic beverage at the age of 15, when I was barely out of school, and used to drink once in a while, in the engineering college. During our training at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun we Gentlemen Cadets were not allowed to consume alcohol. I am told that they can have a glass of beer during social occasions now. The following incident occurred when we were on a forward area tour of Sikkim during our course break, in December 1965.

passingout june 1966 

A group photograph of the course taken six months after the Sikkim jaunt. Harikumar is standing fifth from the right in the middle row.

After landing at Siliguri, the rail head, our batch of 20 cadets took off by road in military vehicles towards the Chinese border under the supervision of an instructor, a Major from IMA . After a lunch break at Teesta, we proceeded to Rongli, our night halt for the first day at an altitude of about 3000 feet above the Mean Sea Level. We were accommodated at the Officer’s Mess of an Animal Transport Company. The officer commanding the Company invited us for dinner. It was very cold at night in the peak of winter and, our host wanted to offer us all a drink. He requested our Instructor for permission, who reluctantly permitted us to have half a peg of any alcoholic drink.


While I was grudgingly sipping my rationed drink, a Captain from the host company asked me if I would like to have one more drink. When I said yes he took me to a side room and poured me a large peg of Rum. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and continued drinking with him for more than an hour without our Instructor noticing it. I believe I took several large pegs and was later told that I was intoxicated, throughout the rest of the evening. I started singing loudly and indulged in disgustingly “un- officer like” behaviour. I skipped the dinner since I passed out on top of a ping-pong table. I had to be carried to the tent by my colleagues for the night.


All hell broke loose when we got up in the morning. Our Instructor wanted to take severe action and threatened to have me punished for my misconduct when we got back to the Academy. He told me that I would be relegated to the next batch, losing six months of seniority. The Company Commander of the host unit pleaded with our Instructor against this action and suggested that since this “offence” had been committed in a field area, I may be given a “Field Punishment” there only. He refused to write a letter to the IMA, giving the details of my misconduct. Consequently, I was ordered to march up to the next destination, Padam Chin which was located at an altitude of over 10,000 feet. Another cadet who tried to ‘save’ me by keeping me away from our Instructor, the previous night when questioned about my identity, was ordered to accompany me.


We started after breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed the six hours uphill trek. We bought some musk brandy on the way and reached the destination by late evening. The rest of the squad had reached there, by lunchtime. This episode occurred on the 31st of December and our hosts at Padam Chin, another Army Unit, wanted us to join them for a cocktail and dinner. We confided in the host about the prohibition on our drinking. He told us not to worry. What he did, surprised us for its sheer ingenuity.  He got our instructor drunk in his tent, before joining us for dinner. During the cocktail session, we played a game, singing “Nine green bottles hanging on the wall” and each cadet singing would move to the bar and take a drink in turn. Our instructor was present but he was in no condition to check. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed that New Year Eve party. For me and my buddy, it was a special treat, because we had marched a long distance.


The route map. It involved a climb of about 6000 feet.


A picture of the Rongli-Padamchin Road


The Finale

On the following day which was the New Year Day, we were invited for lunch at Kupup, the Tri-Junction just short of the Jelep La pass, by the local Brigade Commander. He ordered beer for all the cadets and when our instructor objected, he told him to keep quiet as he, was in command and he called the shots in his territory.  We graciously raised our glasses and silently waved, ‘Three Cheers’ to the Brigade Commander!


Harikumar was commissioned in 1966, and this is how he looked, then



A Sequel to the Above Episode (inserted by the Editor)

Gentleman Cadet Krishnan Nair Harikumar, whom we fondly called ‘Hari’ to save time, got away lightly in December 1965. He was duly commissioned along with his course-mates and was appointed OC of the high altitude workshop in the same area in 1980. After successfully commanding the unit, he took over the post of 2nd in command of the Battalion, and that is when I joined the unit, in Dec 1981. Soon after I assumed command, there was an incident which I remember till this day. On a fateful evening, two young officers who had no more than two lunar months of service got into a scuffle in the bar. They carried their quarrel to the next morning and came to blows out in the open; where the men were working, The Senior JCO came running to me to tell me that the scene which they had created was very bad for the unit because it would send wrong signals to the men. I called Hari and asked him to institute a court of inquiry and to proceed against the belligerent officers. Hari went out and returned after about 15 minutes. He suggested an unorthodox solution. He proposed that we order them to climb a difficult post to inspect the weapons and equipment. The post chosen was ‘Untdhar’ just next to ‘Nathu La’ He drafted the instruction, and they were required to leave the unit before 3 AM and return the same day. It was a stiff three-hour climb and the return journey was equally hazardous because the mule track was quite slippery. They were required to carry their weapons and also some test equipment. Indeed they were not allowed to take any soldier with them.

Having sent them, I kept my fingers crossed, fearing for their safety, because the mule track was slippery, due to some fresh snow. It was a great relief, when they returned, with a written report signed by the OC of the piquet confirming, that all was well on the post.

major hari

This is how Major Harikumar looked when I met him in 1981.

The Tailpiece

Sikkim is truly a Himalayan dream, blessed with natural beauty and resources in abundance. The crown jewels of the state are the revered mountain peaks and Mt Khangchendzonga is considered the guardian deity of the Sikkimese people. Standing tall at 8,586 metres, Khangchendzonga literally translates to ‘khang’ – snow; ‘chen’ – great; ‘dze’ -treasures and ‘nga’ – five or treasures of five great snows.

The hallowed mountain did, for sure, protect Hari and those two young officers. It made sure that no harm came to them, as long as they were prepared to respect the slopes and March on them with grace and courage! And as far as the Sikkim liquor is concerned, it has a flavor which is completely unmatched.

And, indeed, this piece would be incomplete, if one does not remember the immortal lines of a ghazal rendered by Ghulam Ali, which says:

हंगामा है क्यों बरपा, थोड़ी सी जो पी ली है

डाका तो नहीं डाला चोरी तो नहीं की है

ना तज़ुर्बाकारी से, वाइज़ की ये बातें है

इस रंग को क्या जाने, पूछो तो कभी पी है

हंगामा है क्यों बरपा.. 

In English, it means: “Why all this din when I have only consumed a sip of wine? I have neither looted anyone, nor even embezzled or stolen. The Priest is saying all these silly things because he has never experienced this ecstasy. Just ask him, has he ever tasted this elixir? We end this story by inserting another picture of the Kanchenjunga sent in by Joseph Thomas



Post Script

As I was going to post this piece on the website, I was reminded of a small incident, which is related to both of these incidents.

Around sixty years ago, we were celebrating the first birthday of our niece, whom wall Nuri. On the cake, we lit a candle and our parents stood up to say a prayer. Nuri was fascinated by the flame and wanted to touch it. Every time, she moved towards the candle, her mother pulled her back with due alacrity. And the infant headed back towards it with similar eagerness. My brother, the late Brig Surinder Singh found a different solution. He picked up the child, caught her little finger, and took it close to the glow. When the infant sensed the heat, she said, “Ooyee…” and pulled her hand back. She had learnt a lesson, for the rest of her life.

I find that young men are made like that. In the NDA there was a very strict ban on smoking, but Cadets found ingenious methods of violating the embargo. In the IMA, there was no such restriction. We observed that on the average ex-NDA cadets smoked more than their direct entry course-mates. It is a time tested fact that the law cannot effectively ban drinking or smoking.

It is my firm belief that Hari and his friends would not have misbehaved if their tour leader was more mature. Rebellion is an inherent feature of youth because there is a ‘child’ hidden in them, who wants to experiment!

  1. Dr Harmeet Khurana says:

    Dr.Harmeet Khurana
    Sun, Jul 11, 3:45 PM
    to me

    Very interesting piece Uncle. I have always thoroughly enjoyed all the anecdotes that I have heard from you since childhood. So glad to receive your mails. Thank you Uncle
    Please convey my regards to Surinder Aunty. Hope both of you are doing well.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Thanks for the kind words.
      This particular piece is written by one of my erstwhile colleagues. It depicts how soldiers live. Physical life is tough, but the soldiers are able to take it in their stride.
      Surjit Uncle

  2. Sitendra Kumar says:

    Sitendra Kumar
    8:05 AM (2 hours ago)
    to me

    Dear Sir,

    A really interesting story.
    What a marvellous experience these veterans as young officers had.
    Absolutely unmatchable.
    Only in Army one can have such an adventure.
    Kudos to them.

    Sitendra Kumar

  3. Col IP Singh says:

    Thanks, and with warm regards
    Col IP Singh

  4. Gulu Hora says:

    Gulu Hora

    to me

    Thanks, sir very interesting and enjoyable. Wonderful reading Gen Hasnain’s as well. Compliments to both of you unfortunately am not savvy enough to post my comments am not on Facebook or Twitter. Cheers
    Gulu Hora.

  5. Brig SL Vashisht says:

    sl vash

    to me

    Surjit Sir,
    Liked Brig Hari Kumar’s & your lucid narration.
    Those were the days cautious yet carefree.
    Brig Surender Vashisht
    27 NDA / 36 Regular passed out in Dec 65
    My Regt, 8 Fd Regt, was part of 17 Mtn Div from 1980 till 1984 & we were located at Sevoke Rd
    We should have met during Op Alerts / SMDs held during Gen VN Sharma & later Gen Hanut’s time.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Vashisht,
      Indeed, we must have met.
      Bur Sevoke Road officers were a bit removed from the rest of us, and therefore, you all did not join us at the BCI functions, where we met socially.
      Be that as it may, I am glad to ‘meet’ you now, on the Internet!

  6. Brig PT Gangadharan says:

    Forwarded to all my friends


  7. Col Arun Joshi says:

    arun joshi

    to me

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.
    Col Arun Joshi(Retired)

  8. Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh says:

    Harbhajan Singh

    to me

    Thank you, Surjit Ji. Very interesting indeed.

    How about compiling all such write-ups in a book!!

    Best wishes and regards.

    Harbhajan Singh

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Gen,

      Thanks a lot for the encouraging words.

      I think it is a good idea. I will ask my friends to identify readable pieces, and then arrange them in a suitable sequence.
      Publishing is not a problem, in the digital world!


  9. Anuraj Dua says:

    Anuraj Dua

    to me

    HI Surjit uncle – greatly enjoyed this piece, thank you


    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Anuraj,

      Good to hear from you!

      How about writing a piece based on your long association with the Army?

      I think you should write the biography of Rajesh. I would be glad to contribute to it.

      With best wishes,


  10. Satish Kumar Bhandari says:

    satish bhandari

    to me


  11. Vivek Bopiah says:

    Vivek Bopiah
    Sat, Jul 3, 7:32 PM (15 hours ago)
    to me

    I loved the piece.
    Thank you for sending it to me.
    Warm regards


  12. Raj Mehta says:

    A wonderful and interesting read.

  13. Cdr Prem P Batra says:

    PremParkash Batra
    Sat, Jul 3, 2:54 PM (20 hours ago)
    to Prakash, harpreet, RabjitBRai, Commodore, saigal, saral.saksena, vinodkhanna, Vasu, TP, raj, Maj


    Cdr Prem P Batra Retd

  14. Dhiraj Mullick says:

    A wonderful read. Thank you sir!

    Such field punishments invariably prove to be more effective and help in building positiveness towards stronger camaraderie in the forces.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      You are right. When those two belligerent youngsters returned from ‘Oontdhar’ post they were already good friends. Suffering together strengthens the friendship bond!

    • Brig KN Harikumar says:

      Harikumar Krishnannair

      to Dhiraj, Joseph, me

      Thank you, Dhiraj. It was not really the liquid spirit that triggered the action on that cold winter night but the urge to defy a restriction imposed by the DS when an opportunity presented itself. Maybe an early sign of leadership trait – taking a calculated risk in a hostile environment.

      You know very well I am a social drinker and NOT an addict. I think a disclaimer is in order.
      Warm regards

  15. Maj Gen Kul Prakash Deswal says:

    Talking of drinking I remember in our final term close to our passing out we made a trip to Indiana Hotel in the town and late IPS Dhillon suggested we have a tot of rum.The modus operandii was that the liquor was served in a tea pot and we drank from the cups.As luck would have it the Commandant Gen Nanavati popped up and greeted all of us. When he came to our table he said hope you are enjoying your tea. Promptly Dhillon asked the Commandant if he would like to join us.All of froze waiting for the hell to be let loose. Fortunately he declined and we gave hell to Dhillon for his suggestion

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear General,
      I passed out exactly one year after you. And tea-pots and tea-cups continued to be used in our times also.
      We used to call it ‘concealment’.

  16. PM Bambawale says:

    Really enjoyed the episode.
    Though a civilian, I always worked directly under very professional & matured EME officers.
    All the good habits , I picked from them.These are useful to me even at the age of
    73.Almost all these officers have eventually retired as Maj. Gen.Some are no more.
    Whoever are there, I am in regular contact with them. My only regret is that I could
    not become a service officer.{ Though I was equivalent to offg to Lt.col at the time
    of my retirement 13 yrs back.}
    I thoroughly enjoy your articles.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Bambawale,
      DGI (now called DGQA) was actually a brainchild of the Corps of EME, since the inspection was an EME responsibility. For a long time, the organization was headed by EME officers.
      Tell us an anecdote, if you wish to share a story.

  17. Lt Gen Ata Hasnain says:

    Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
    2:08 PM (3 hours ago)
    to me


    Thoroughly enjoyed the story which is written in your typical free wheeling style; very simple narration and very earthy.

    Let me send you a story which you too may enjoy. It’s from my Facebook page. It is about Cadet days too.

    Best wishes


  18. Lt Gen Kapil Aggarwal (Retd) says:

    Sir, it was a fascinating little narrative of a GC’s “Tryst with Rum” and typical consequences in the Army. It also triggered a bout of nostalgia as I was OIC AWD in Rongli in the year 1980 as a young 2nd Lt. For about a month, every morning I used to lead the cross country team up the slope from Rongli towards Padamchinh and back covering about 20 Kms. I was never much of a runner but being the youngest, it was my privilege in the unit. And what a tough task it was to prove equal to the 10 men specifically selected for their athleticism. I reckon I achieved my lifetime peak of physical fitness there, even surpassing the academy days.

    • Surjit Singh says:


      That is a very appropriate use of the word, ‘tryst’ (It is a secret place for meeting of lovers) In fact Pandit Nehru stretched it a bit in his historic speech on the 15 Aug 1947.

      Tell me, despite the antics of the likes of Hari, how did you remain ‘dry’?

      God bless.

  19. Jasdev says:

    Sikkim brings one of the best postings and tenures of our ‘Army life” and continues to hold a special place in our hearts .
    these stories make the whole experience of army life and the Sikkim posting come alive once again.
    we must continue to experiment but within the confines of social graces and with some luck ( like the brigade commander in Brig Hari Kumar’s case ) who have the maturity to take a balanced view of the situation .

    loved it !

    • Surjit Singh says:


      Indeed. Sikkim was the high point in our service life. The memories of that period are indelible. And colleagues like Hari, Simeon, Dhiraj and Khera made life a pleasure. Indeed, we must never forget Dhan Singh Thapa, PVC who brought a cake for your birthday, which he baked in his own unit!
      God bless them all.

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