He had helped Indian Army track enemy footprints during two wars (Feature)

December 29th, 2008 - 12:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Narendra ModiVav (Gujarat), Dec 29 (IANS) He could identify an enemy soldier by just seeing the footprints in the desert sand in Kutch and had played a crucial role in helping the Indian Army capture border areas during the 1965 and 1971 wars. Known as “The old war camel”, Ranchhod Pagi, now 108, is raring to go again.”Yes, I am prepared to fight; give me a gun and I will show you my mettle,” said Pagi, the last of the living legends among professional trackers who played a crucial role in leading the Indian Army into Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars.

“Though I have grown quite old yet I am all set to repeat history if given a chance,” Pagi told IANS.

He is revered in his Limbala village in Vav, a notified border sub district of Banaskantha district of the desert region. Pagi proved that he had immense tracking skills especially during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 when he identified enemy soldiers by their footprints in the desert of Kutch by crossing into enemy territory and helped round them up.

“Nearly 40 years have passed and it is fresh in my memory as if it happened yesterday,” Pagi said about tracking the footprints of enemy soldiers. He knew the region well and contributed largely in the re-capture of Chharkot in the 1965 war when he helped the Indian soldiers. His role in the capture of Pali Nagar in the 1971 war is what people remember him for.

He is a revered person and affectionately called Ranchhod Bappa. He recalled the moment in 1971 when he received a reward of Rs.300 from General Sam Manekshaw. He also sports three medals - the Sangram medal, a police medal and the Samar Seva Star, which was awarded to him for his role in the 1965 and 1971 wars.

The villagers now want to install a bust of Pagi at the school building in his Limbala village. Pagi, who has been bestowed the honour of hoisting the national flag on Independence Day at his village every year, fondly remembers the time when he was invited to Dhaka by General Manekshaw after the fall of East Pakistan.

“The General was taken aback when during lunch I took out my ‘bajra no rotlo’ (millet bread) and an onion. But to my surprise he was delighted after eating it,” says a happy Pagi.

Ironically, this hero of the Indian border villages of Banaskantha district was once a wanted criminal of Pakistan. His life took a decisive turn in 1950, at the age of 45, when he had to flee Gadhada village in Tharparkar district in Pakistan to his cousin’s home in Radhanaseda village across the border after killing a Pakistani Ranger and three soldiers. He had incurred the wrath of the Pakistani Ranger for refusing to part with his sheep. It was then common of the Rangers to snatch sheep from villagers for their daily menu.

Once across the border, Pagi managed to get a job at the taluka panchayat office in nearby Suigam. It was at the age of 58 when he was introduced to the then superintendent of police of Banaskantha district, Vanrajsinh Jhala, who was on the lookout for a person well acquainted with the adjacent area in Pakistan. After a brief interview he selected Pagi.

“It was a real turning point in my life when Jhala took that step,” says Ranchhod Pagi. “Had it not been for this twist of fate I would not have witnessed the unfurling of the Indian flag at the captured Pakistani town of Pali Nagar by General Manekshaw,” he said.

According to the District Collector of Banaskantha, R.J. Patel, “Ranchhod Pagi is a revered person of the district and we have invited him to preside over a ‘Make desert green’ campaign, which is an ambitious plan under the Border Area Development Project.”

Pagi was also felicitated by Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the last Independence Day fete held in Palanpur.

Former superintendent of police of Banaskantha R.D. Jhala (brother of Vanrajsinh Jhala) had more than a year ago felicitated Pagi on behalf of his RD Jhala Charitable Trust in Bhavnagar and had given Rs 20,000. “Ranchhod is a gallant man and a living legend. He will continue to inspire generations to come,” Jhala said.

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