Goa, The Army, and migration

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cover-bashonregardlessThis book comes from a prominent retired Armyman, “one of our Army’s foremost battlefield commanders”, and a soldier with his roots in Goa. It was for the last reason that I chose to borrow this book from the Central Library, when one happened to chance upon it.

We’re told on the back cover: “Lieutenant General W.A.G. Pinto’s experiences as a wartime divisional commander during the 1971 Indo-Pak war form the pivot of these memoirs….” Pune-based Pinto served the Indian Army during the not-so-peaceful times of 1943 to 1982, and retired as the General Officer Commanding in Chief, Central Command.

As one could expect, the story is often told in military (or militaristic) terms: “thrust into Pakistani terrotiry… the epic Battle of Basantar… decimated the opposition… knocked out one infantry and one armoured brigade…” (p. vii)

If you’re wondering where the title of the book comes from, we’re told early on, in the foreword itself, that Indian soldiers entering “captured Pakistani territory” were faced by “eye-catching signboards”. One said: “You are entering Pakistan. No passports required. Bash on Regardless.” Another read: “Pak Mines Only. Bash On Regardless.”

At the start of the book, Pinto talks about his Goan connect. His father was from the Gustavo Pinto branch of the Pintos of Santa Cruz, Goa. Like all Goan migration stories, Walter Anthony Gustavo’s sister was born in Pakistan, he had another brother (Major General Sydney Alexander) in the Army, and the loss of property back home forms a crucial part of the narrative.

He writes: “In the distant past, one of my early ancestors was a Hindu of the Nayak caste or class. All the property from Campal, Santa Inez, Mira Mir, Gaspar Dias, Caranzalem, Donna (sic) Paula, Vanganim, Taleigaon, Santa Cruz, Bambolim was all his, a mighty fortune and also a misfortune. What happened to it all and how did it happen?”

Pinto says says a receipt for Rs 20 shows his father sold his share of the Vanganim property to his brother. “The starred Hotel Cidade-de-Goa on the high ground overlooking the beautiful lagoon is now located on the property,” he writes.

It is tougher to believe that “the land on which the old Goa Medical College stands today was donated by one of my grand or great-grand parents”. (Didn’t the government simply acquire land of the politically uninfluential for such purposes?) But more amusing is the story his father’s lease of his share of the property called Mira Mar, where the estuary of the Mandovi River meets the Arabian Sea, “to a Portuguese gentleman, who put up a hotel called Hotel Mira Mar”.

Turns out that the place later turned out to be notorious “as a house of ill repute”. When General Sam Manekshaw, who spent his honeymoon there, was at parties at which either of the Pintos were present “he always said that he was proud of his army; he had two Generals, both brothers, who were running a brothel in Goa”! (p. 2)

Pinto complains about the loss of family property to “legalised land-grabbing”, specially in the form of the law of “adverse possession”.

In his story, many Goans names crop up. He studied at Bangalore, Pune and Jabalpur, before the family settled at Pune, the “pensioner’s paradise” in his parents’ time in the 1950s. Summer meant holidays in Goa, the ancestral home at Santa Cruz, and short excursions to Calangute and Caranzalem beaches, Old Goa and Chandor.

But Pinto’s story is primarily about the Army. He takes us from joining the World War II-time training at Lahore, then in pre-Partitioned India. Those were times of the British Cadet Wing and Indian Infantry Divisions. War meant a compressed syllabus, and then chapters on fighting on the British side in Burma, Siam (today’s Thailand), and even an occasional love story en route.

India and Partition is next. But not before a Carnival-time visit to Goa, where he says at his “aunt’s insistence” he requested the Governor General’s wife for a dance (p.21)! Depending on what one’s interest is, you might rush through certain sections, or read others more closely.

In the line of duty, Pinto had lunch with Governor General C. Rajagopalachari (treated as a member of his personal staff), and visited Chandigarh when it was still “an open and scrubby area and had a large camping ground”. They called Gen. Cariappa “Currypapa”!

Pinto goes through the Indian Army slots, then in the building stage or in the process of being handed over from the Brits — Shillong, the Wellington Staff College, the Regimental Centre in the erstwhile small princely state of Kota, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, the Cabinet Secretatiat, the 66 Mountain Brigade, among others.

But the heart of the story is Gen. Pinto’s narration of his role in the 1971 war with Pakistan. In between the lines, one can read about differences of opinion — over matters like the diet of military training schools, or recognition for valour in war.

In times when military-linked corruption and controversy keeps coming up, Gen Pinto

Bash on Regardless
Lt. Gen. WAG Pinto, PVSM (Retd)
Pune, March 2011.
Rs 300. Pp 146


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