Guts, Grit and Glory | A Soldier Like No Other

Blinded by Cobra missile splinters sustained during the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the unassuming Cavalry officer, Jojo, devoted his life to empowering the disabled

Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta (retd)Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta (retd)

Whenever I speak about Jojo — I do that pretty often — Erich Segal’s poignant and irreverent, coming-of-age book, Love Story, rushes into my mind-space. I was in Pune on 31 August 2013 morning for a motivational talk when I learnt that Jojo had moved on.

I had no idea he was suffering from terminal cancer; that he knew his time was up. I learnt from his family later that he had smilingly insisted with Command Hospital Pune doctors that he be shifted from ‘No Visitors’ intensive care to an Officers Ward room so that he could be with family and friends when the bells tolled.

The Regimental officer I had longed to meet in person for many years but could not, now lay eternally asleep on his hospital bed with his trademark gentle smile and his dark glasses on. He looked serene, his wife, daughters, son and spouses composed. I saluted him with them, doctors and nursing officers joining me. Face-to-face with him, I did not feel sorry for never having met him in life. Jojo wouldn’t have approved.

In 1974, I had called him up as Adjutant 16 Light Cavalry just to say a first-time hello to an amazing, battle-scarred Regimental officer. “Did you say Raj Mehta?” he asked me with his razor-sharp recall. “Yes sir”, I said, mystified. “Wait a second”, he said from distant Siliguri. “You are Shammi’s brother, right?” Men rarely show emotion but I admit I was sorely tempted. Shammi is my elder brother and was his NDA buddy; both later ‘Silver Centurion’ toppers at the Young Cavalry Officers course at Ahmadnagar. “Your voice matches, Raj, I connect voices”, he said.

Shammi (he retired as Army Commander Western Command), himself a Pune-ite, was then abroad when I informed him. There was respectful silence. Cutting his visit short, he drove to Jojo’s home from the airport because Jojo commanded that kind of respect. Similarly, the dignified funeral had hundreds of veterans and wives present. There were no tears; just heartfelt, abiding respect for a gifted humane officer and gentleman of rare pedigree who set standards in all he did.

Soldier-turned-entrepreneur-cum-social-worker Capt. J.K. ‘Chotu’ Sengupta (affectionately called ‘Jojo’ at home; ‘Chotu’ by peers) became ‘profoundly blind’ after a Cobra missile hit his Centurion tank turret during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. Hundred per cent blinded, Jojo turned that crippling handicap by grit and courage of the kind Ernest Hemingway termed as grace under pressure’ to empower thousands of handicapped young lives through selfless social activism.

Born 17 October 1942, Chotu was the second son of corporate executive Amar Prashad and Namita Sengupta. His genius flowered at the elite Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehradun, where he passed out as ‘Best Cadet’ besides standing 1st in the all-India UPSC order of merit for NDA. He won the Gold Medal for 22nd course NDA and again for the IMA’s 31st course. Commissioned into India’s oldest Cavalry Regiment, the 16th Light Cavalry, in December 1962, Chotu was awarded the Silver Centurion for best Young Officer.

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