Retired life, especially after a very active career, gives one a lot of time to recollect and relive the memories. Only a handful attempt to write it all down. Even fewer are the ones who take the effort to publish the jottings into a book. Commandant (retd) Mathew Olikara is one such, having come up with a book, titled Soldierly Wisdom and Wits.
Published by Paridhi, the book is a compilation of 14 episodes based on real-life incidents, written much after retirement. Written in a layman’s language, the anecdotes are just for light reading. It would leave a smile on the reader’s face for quite sometime.
Most of the anecdotes in the collection were published in an abridged form in the Weekend supplement of The New Indian Express in the ‘Share a Laugh’ column in the years 2005 and 2006. Mathew Olikara was born to Joseph Olikara and Annamma Joseph in the year 1941 at Thottakad (Kottayam). He was educated in M T Seminary Kottayam, UC College Aluva and MA College Kothamangalam.
Mathew Olikara got commissioned into the Indian Army in 1963 and actively participated in the 1965 Indo-Pak war with the 14 Rajput Regiment. He has stories right from the warfront, where his commanding officer’s jeep was blown off by a rocket, and with it, his supplies of cigarettes. The junior commissioned officer’s comment on the next blow up - ‘Sabji gadiyonka deepavali ho gaya’ - talks of the sense of humour these men possess even when crouched down in a trench to escape the fire.
Some of the incidents, like finding a Malayali head priest at a temple right in Badrinath, and the way the priest recognised Mathew to be a Malayali even without speaking a word, his treks through the foothills of the Himalayas, his recounting of tales from the peace-time location at Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, are all delightful.
Mathew was permanently transferred to the Assam Rifles in 1969 from where he retired in 1988. While in the Assam Rifles, he did long tenures with its various units and headquarters in Sikkim, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. Quite naturally, we have stories from all these locations.
Leading a retired life now in Thiruvananthapuram, Mathew said there was nothing or no one in particular that inspired him to write the book. “It was all written over a long period of time, and I just wanted to see it in a book form,” he said.