Chandigarh: The room reverberated with talk of Tongpeng La, Raja Hill, Burki, OP Hill, Poonchh, Siramani and Tiger Hill 1999 – battles long ago emblazoned on the Sikh Regiment’s glorious history. Keeping them and other laurels fresh in our minds were the regiment’s veterans with their tales of honour and glory. The occasion was this year’s Baisakhi Lunch organised by the Sikh Regiment as an annual get-together of its veterans, serving officers and other associates of the regiment. Not just battle honours and gallantry awards, the regiment’s history is a saga of achievements whether in sports or professional competitions.
How did the regiment achieve these commanding heights? No doubt the legends of the regiment, commanders like Harbaksh Singh, Dewan Ranjit Rai, Satinder Singh, NN Khanna, Trevor Morlin, Prem Vadhera and others handed down the tradition of excellence that has sustained it. A command style of ‘Follow Me’, leadership by example and a passion for superiority are what they bequeathed to their worthy successors. One could well ask, how’s the Sikh Regiment different, the officers of all the regiments do that? In this case, the regiment’s commanders channelised the natural characteristics of the men they commanded – positivism, a ‘can do’ attitude and spirited exuberance into a battle-winning factor. The Sikh Regiment brings this reaching for the stars into everything that they do.
India’s most highly decorated infantry regiment always does things in great style befitting a great regiment, whether advancing on the battlefield in the face of tremendous odds or organising a reunion of old comrades. In keeping with the regiment’s traditions, the function ended with a rousing Jaikara raised by the Colonel of the Regiment, General Sumer Singh, which would’ve been the envy of any Jathedar in Punjab!
A soldier and his charitable work
Soldiers despite their preoccupation with war and destruction have a strong sense of compassion and empathy for less fortunate human beings. Lieutenant General JL Malhotra was commissioned into the Sikh Regiment in 1957, served with 5 Sikh on counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland and in defending Chhamb in 1971 and commanded 1st Sikh. Later, while commanding 7 Division in Punjab, he initiated the successful induction of his troops into combating terrorism which eventually bought about peace. The experiences in counterinsurgency in both places, including helping the local population, left him thoughtful. Should he continue to enjoy God’s bounty while others less fortunate were denied it? He resolved to do his best for the world’s deprived.
After retiring in 1994, he came in contact with Colonel DS Vohra whose Prosthetic Centre at Zirakpur, near Chandigarh, was able to help a large number of people live a normal life. Malhotra decided to help a dozen people every year with prosthetics using his life savings. As the word about his philanthropy spread, others came forward to help him. In about five years’ time, he was able to help some 360 people with artificial limbs, wheelchairs and other aids by acting as a link between them and prospective donors. This gave him tremendous fulfilment.
A new phase of his charity work started in 2002 when he was approached by a poor woman to help educate her daughter in an English medium school. This set the underpinning for the Society for Meritorious Students with the help of other like-minded generous people keen to give back to society. The dedicated team members identify meritorious but needy students and sponsor their entire education including training in personality development and life skills. Their pragmatic approach ensures that the students get good placements and are set for life. So far, the organisation has helped 1,200 students realise their dreams.
Malloo, as he is popularly known in the Army, is a satisfied man having lived a life of accomplishment but as a good soldier wants to do more to give back to society what he got from it.