Gorkha Sammelan 2008
Varanasi was cold that winter morning on November 26, 2008. As mist was slowly lifting at 8 am in the parade ground, all of us had gathered in front of the Army Memorial, in suits and serving officers in full ceremonious uniform. One side stood buglers of the Gorkha Regiment in their shining uniforms and other side were officers, retired and serving, ready in line to pay floral tributes at the memorial.
On the dot of 8.30 am, the Commandant arrived and with Colonels of the 3rd and 9th Gorkha Regiments, marched in line to the memorial as the buglers played â€˜The Last Postâ€™- the traditional tributes by buglers at every ceremony such as these. Everyone stood to attention as respect to the martyrs of the Regiments. After â€˜the Postâ€™, buglers sounded â€˜Reveilleâ€- the call to arms, as after any tributes, army has to fight.
The commandant and Colonels of the Regiments climbed the steps, saluted smartly and laid the wreath. They were followed by several officers, retired officers and Subedars. This was the starting of the four days of the â€˜Gorkha Sammelanâ€™ which is held every four years at Varanasi Cantonment- the Regimental Centre of the 3rd and 9th Gorkhas.
All retired officers of various Battalions and parents of martyrs, like my wife Geeta, my son Sonam and me were invited. We arrived at the railway station and saw a group of trainee-soldiers standing to attention in front of each compartment. Non-Commissioned officers (NCOs) and Subedars were in charge and in the usual disciplined manner they took us to hotel rooms. Sonam was arriving little later, so I offered to go back to the station as no one will recognise him easily. Subedar refused and insisted on bringing him in. â€˜You may miss him in the crowd, and he may go off to the cityâ€™ â€“ I protested.
A bewildered Subedar replied, â€˜where will he go, we will â€œsealâ€ all exits with his name board, there is more than enough man-power here to catch himâ€™!
The aim of such sammelans is to allow interaction between old and the current officers, and celebrate their association. Retired British officers too participate, sadly now their number is dwindling. After the morning ceremonies the day proceeds like clockwork. Every battalion has their gathering, ours was with the 4th Battalion of the 3rd Gorkhas, and the Battalion Nawang belonged to. As the past commanding officers (CO), current CO and other officers gather, one thing strikes you immediately is that they are close to the men they had commanded. Retired Subedars and soldiers have travelled from Nepal to be present here and there is a lot of bonhomie and laughter between the officers and men. The respect of each other and closeness between them is evident â€“ which I guess comes only by sharing a life and death situations, which they had in field.
Beer, lunches and drinks at evening follow with a programme put by the soldiers. The dances are vigorous and â€˜femalesâ€™ dance more vigorously â€“ as they are always played by men! Various traditional Nepali dances are followed by the â€˜Jhamreâ€™ which would knock your knees off if you are not fit. The Khukri dance with naked blade is for the brave and trained only.
On the last morning a solemn gathering is organised where Colonels of the Regiments address and narrate achievements of their Battalions during last few years. Widows of soldiers who have made supreme sacrifice are awarded and valour of their husbands recalled. Each of them have been invited from their remote villages in Nepal and escorted at expense of the army to Varanasi. Their slow walk to podium and sad eyes make eye of the Generals wet. The respect shown by the top brass of the army to sacrifices of their men is a shining example of their bond.
The Gorkha Band marches on after the ceremony and put up a brilliant show. The last evening a party is held where everyone dances to the tune of a modern band. Party goes on till late in cold wintery night, but the warm bond between them is – as warm as the rum they hold in their glasses. Another four years and another â€˜Gorkha Sammelanâ€™ will fill these glasses again.