Honoring and Felicitation by Army FraternityMrs Kamla Das recounts her days in the Army
By Brig (Dr) Bhagat Khanna and Dr Nina Khanna
We have known Mrs Kamla Das, wife of Late Major General CN Das, OBE since 1966, being from the same battalion, 5th Battalion, The Rajputana Rifles, also called Napiers Rifles. Mrs Kamla Das turned 100 years on 03 September 2020, with no old age ailment, whatsoever, despite breaking her hip last year and getting it repaired, to the surprise of even the operating surgeon. Besides the family celebrating the milestone event of her life , there were felicitations from the Rajputana fraternity, Napier’s veterans (retired officers) and families, serving officers, ladies and jawans of Napiers Rifles, the unit which Gen CN Das joined as 2nd Lt in 1934 at Rajmak, NWFP(now in Pakistan) and her social circle friends in India and abroad. Napier’s Rifles is one of the oldest infantry unit, having completed 200 years this May and Rajputana Rifles is the senior most rifle regiment of Indian Army. Whole house of Kamla Das was lit up and the celebrations last two days.
Born in Sakkar (undivided India) on 03 Sep 1920, she did her schooling in Sacred Heart Convent, Lahore and graduated from Kinnaird College, Lahare (one of the first in the family to do B.A.) When the proposal of marrying then Acting Major Chand Narain Das, was put across to her by her parents, she thought a Major would be an old man and was a little hesitant to say ‘YES’. But saying ‘NO’ to parents was not the ‘IN’ thing then. She was however not disappointed on seeing Maj Das in person. General Das was trained in Royal Military College, Sandhurst, UK and was commissioned as King Commissioned Indian Officer (KCIO) in 1933. As was the practice in those times, he was attached to Lancashire Fusiliers, British Army unit for a year before joining Napier’s Rifles in 1934. Mrs Kamla Das has vivid memories of her first posting in Staff College, Quetta (now in Pakistan).where Maj Das was doing Staff triaining. When Maj Das threw a party of his marriage in the Officers Mess, as was the custom in those days, there was a traditional western dance. She was asked to join in, but she did not know how to dance. It was one of the close friend of Maj Das who came to her rescue, took her out, showed her a few steps and she was able to join in the dance with Major Das on the dance floor. First dance had to be with the husband!
Major CN Das soon left for fighting in World War II, in Italy and Greece, as Commanding Officer of newly raised Machine Gun Battalion. This two years separation was the most difficult period of her life. There was anxiety and fear of unknown for his safe return. He came back with an OBE and his father who was in Scotland Yard, threw a grand party inviting all the military officers , civilian dignitaries in the station and of course men of the unit his son commanded in war.
She led a full life as a true infantry officer’s wife. She participated in a number of activities which related to fund raising events for the welfare of jawans and their families. There were no elaborate central welfare activities for the wellbeing of men and their families then. In those days, families often had to fall back to the homes of their parents or in-laws, whenever the husbands left for war or numerous field areas. There was no separated family accommodation then. Gen Das’s father was very strict and though Kamla Das was considered well educated, she was not allowed to go out of house. She disliked it at that time but could not expresss it. We are talking of period 1941-1950.
There are a number of incidents which she fondly remembers. One was getting dressed for a party and going pillion ride with Maj Chand peddling 7-8 km from home to the Mess, every time before they bought a car. Riding cycle is fun when you are young! Another amusing incident was when Brig CN Das was posted as Brigade Commander in Jamnagar. As Commander’s wife, she visited the Welfare Centre. While waiting she suddenly noticed a big mosquito net approaching her. At a close look she saw that the four corners of the net had been held by four wives of jawans and the rest of them were inside the net. They were in the ‘purdah’ and considered this as most convenient. This was indeed a rare sight. Another incident was when a cricket match was played between ladies and officers of the Brigade. Ladies got hold of an officer who was good cricket player and agreed to wear a saree and made the ladies win the match. It was quite hilarious. Gen Das was posted to Cambodia as Chairman of the International Commission for Supervision and Control, Indochina, which was required to monitor the demobilization and reintegration of KRF in-to Cambodian society before the planned elections. Mrs Kamla Das joined him later with children. They witnessed most unusual coronation when father succeeded the son to the throne which was because Norodon Sihanouk (son) did not want to be a figure head ruler. Gen Das was commanding Bombay Area when China-India War 1962 took place. After the war a train load of troops who had lost their limbs were passing through Bombay, on their way to Artifcial Limb Cenre, Poona. To cheer them up , Mrs Das with Army wives in station prepared homemade snacks and tea and personally distributed to the men at the Railway Station, alongwith presents for each. This showed how much interest ladies took to motivate the jawans to forget the pain and tell them that the Army was proud of their sacrifices.
For Mrs Das 65 years as Army officer’s wife has been a momentous period. Giving the choice, she would love to be Army Officer’s wife again in her next birth. Mrs Kamla Das has been always attached to the Regiment and after Maj Gen CN Das passed away on 30 May 2006, she has been attending most of the Regimental functions as Army is a family of close knit society with no distinction of caste, creed or religion. Religion of the men is the religion of the officers and even their families. It is common to see Muslim officers and ladies attending mandir function and a Christian officer doing the namaz with men and Hindu officers chanting carols by candlelight’s.
Army looks after the widows of officers and men in a befitting and satisfying manner. It is like an extended family as can be seen in the case of 100th birthday celebrations of Mrs Kamla Das. Not only her family and friends, but the whole Rajputana Rifles fraternity, retired officers of the unit and their families and serving officers, JCOs and Jawans and their families joined in the celebrations to make them a memorable one.
Long live the camaraderie (Bhaichara) in the Indian Army.