December 1973

Originally posted on 12 April 2010 :

No. There is nothing very historic about the date or the year. All that happened was that I was allotted C-535 Defense Colony(FF), in New Delhi as a house hired under the defense pool.  The accommodation consisted of three bedrooms on the first floor and a servant quarter as a ‘barsati’ on the second floor. I was then posted in the Army Headquarters and had been desperately waiting for a roof over our head. My wife was expecting our second child and we needed a place near the Military Hospital. This was the closest which the military could give to us, and so we accepted it for want of choice. I am impelled to recount the following memories:

·       A few weeks before we shifted there was the infamous ‘oil crises’ and the petrol prices went up sharply. We found it difficult to run our scooters to the office. Consequently, I made a ‘pool’ with Maj Nandu Barve and so we shared our conveyance.

·       There was no difficulty whatsoever in parking cars, since it was easy to own a car, but difficult to run it.

·       We could easily walk to the market in the South Extension which was about a mile away with our two year old child and choose our first black-and-white Television set and that was our proudest possession, for a long time.

·       As is our habit, we tried to befriend our neighbors. We called on the ‘gentlemen’ who lived on the two sides of our house. They were friendly people, but even though they lived in the “defense” colony, they had nothing to do with the military. Even their distant relatives had never worn uniforms.

·       Economically, we were several notches below them. We did not feel the difference during the winter, but when the summer set in, I noticed that their world was different. When the sun began to shine, their air-conditioners began to purr.

And that is the time when I discovered what it is to live in a prosperous “civilian”  colony. The air conditioners provided cool comfort to our neighbors. For us, it was plain misery. We got the hot air which they puffed out, and the noise. As if these two irritants were not enough, we discovered that to overcome the power shortage, a ‘thermal plant’ had been set up in our vicinity to generate the energy needed for the air conditioning load. It spewed out tones of coal soot and since we slept on the open terrace (with the regulation mosquito nets) to beat the heat, we got up with a layer of coal dust each morning.

Our social calls on the neighbors were duly reciprocated. One evening, our very kind neighbor dropped in. They asked us whether we had chosen a good nursing home for the arrival of our child, due in early May 1974. He then wanted to know which air conditioners we had installed in the rooms. When I gave the obvious answer, the lady said,

“Are you not being cruel to the child who is arriving at this time of the year in India with no air conditioning?”

* The next morning I made a fervent request to be allotted a dwelling, even if it was a tented accommodation, in the cantonment. I had learnt a lesson which I have never forgotten,

          “If you want to feel poor and be miserable, live in a rich neighborhood.”

Soon, we were given shelter in a newly built flat on the SP Marg, and were able to live and bring up our children without an air conditioner. In fact, we never had the luxury of having an air conditioner, until I retired from service in 1997.



    Uncle Jeya (88 yrs) an ex-Group Captain, who shifted to Air India was my father’s course mate as RAF cadet before Independence in UK ….. not that he couldn’t afford it, but out of the sheer habit of living a simple life, just as my father did not get an aircooler even and was comfortable, till I shifted back to Sector-8 to stay with him after my mother’s death and got an AC fitted in his room. I used to feel guilty switching on our AC and he sleeping just with the fan, but he would seldom use it, only if his friends would come over and sit in his bedroom …… Mahavir —————————————————————————————–

    Dear Sheru,

    We installed an air conditioner in our flat in 2008 when auntie underwent surgery for a broken thigh bone.

    It was rather hot and my daughter Dolly who visited us from Seychelles insisted. We had it installed. After 3 hours we had to switch it off as the room became intolerably cold. We covered ourselves tried to adjust the temperature. Now we use the a/c only on very hot summer afternoons. When our grand children visit us it is a different story.

    Love to you, Bubbles and Simran.

  2. Billoo Brar says:

    Who says that india and its soldiers have not progressed all these years ? We may still not come in comparision with our civilian counterparts, but our standard is not as bad as it was once upon a time. N0?

    Best of luck. Be happy and cheerful always. We all love u a lot.

    Cheeeeeeeeers………………………….God bless.


    Dear Gen Surjit,
    it is always a delight to go through your e mails, specially your personal anecdotes , as they convey very sincere gut
    feelings. We all have gone through such experiences but do not pick up enough courage or feel too shy to share them with our friends.
    Thank you for the warmth that you are spreading and please keep it up.

  4. Nithya Subramanian says:

    This made for really interesting reading, Uncle. We don’t seem to realise at all how big an impact we are having on the environment, by thoughtlessly using air conditioners, driving cars, not recycling… People lived in India, happily, long before air conditioners were ever invented. It would be interesting to know how.

  5. Jasjit Talwar says:

    it is indeed a great delight to keep receiving
    your e mails regularly.Frankly it keeps the wheels of life moving.I
    regret not having remained in touch with you for a long time.Also,I
    never saw you in the Generals Club gatherings.In fact I have NOT been
    there myself for over six months.I hope that both of you are keeping
    2.Whenever you come this side it will be a pleasure if you visit
    us.Like wise,we will also visit you whenever we come that side.With
    warm and affectionate



    Very well written Sir. I being from services background know how tough life was. Have not seen my mother and father being posted together since 1965-1977 …. when they united after taking premature retirement from Airforce and AMC …… my father spent half his life in tents establishing the air force units etc……. we did not have an aircooler, what to talk of airconditioner.



  7. Priti Shankar says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you on the quote
    All of us who have live in Army cantonemnts, in run-down barracks but
    with the richness of nature around (the Army has set an example by
    preserving this)
    know exactly what you mean.

  8. Bhavneet Singh says:

    Very right

    Well written

    Very intresting

    Bhavneet Singh

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