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Friday, October 16, 2009

Every house in this village boasts of an armyman

MADURAI: If the thought of an armyman typically ratchets up the image of a burly north Indian, a trip down south might take you by surprise.

The playground in Perumalthevanpatti, a hamlet about eight km from Srivilliputtur in the Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu, doesn’t have swings, slides and see-saws; instead boys work out on ropes and bars to build up their bodies, get fit and enter the army. For, most youths in the village dream of entering the Indian army as jawans and working their way up the ranks. Every family in this village has at least one son in the army, and young girls only wish to marry men from the armed forces.

It is said the seeds of patriotism were sown in this little village with just 750 houses by a young man, Perumal, who left home to join the army in 1952. He rose to the rank of a Major and when he came back home in 1962, stories about his travels and experiences spread among his friends, relatives and neighbours, most of whom practised agriculture and reared cattle. The joy of serving the country soon spread. Since then, say villagers, at least four young men have been joining the army every year.

Perumal’s son, Major P Thirumal, too, is now serving on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir. Men from here have served in various regiments in the Kargil war and were part of the peace-keeping force sent to Sri Lanka, says ex-serviceman Parasuram, who lost his left leg and hand when he stepped on a mine in Sri Lanka. At present, 375 people from this village are serving in the army. And there are 522 ex-servicemen, who are working as watchmen and drivers in the government transport service.

Most youngsters have just one aim—to enroll in the army after class X. "It’s not that we don’t want to become scholars, doctors and engineers, but the thought that we should serve the nation from the front is engraved in our minds and that is what we want to do," says B Gokulkannan (37), who has a brother and an uncle in the army and dreams of joining up himself.

Young girls too regard men serving in the armed forces as the most eligible for marriage. "That is the only condition we lay down before marriage," says 22-year-old Lakshmi Meenal. Kavitha (32) who married R Balaji three months ago is awaiting his return from the J&K border.

As soon as aggression or hostilities break out in any part of the country, the women queue up outside the Arulmigu Mariamman temple in the village and offer prayers. "We place holy ash in a small piece of cloth and tie it up. The knot is undone when the men return home," says Rajammal (70).

Many of the elderly are war veterans who have harrowing, hair-raising stories to tell. Like 71-year-old R Gopal who fought in the Indo-China and the Pakistan and Bangladesh wars. "Towards the end of the Chinese war, we were told to try and escape, so 19 of us trekked up and down the Himalayas for 10 days surviving only on tea," he says. Only seven finally reached the military camp in Ladakh, and three of them had to have their legs amputated due to extreme cold weather. He is a recipient of the long service award as he served in the military for 21 years from 1956 to 1977.

But despite the courage and patriotism, the government has turned a blind eye on these villagers. "Children have to go to till Srivilliputtur or Rajapalayam for school and pensioners make a 10-km journey for their pension. If we had a good school, our children could go for higher education," says Gokulkannan.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Every-house-in-this-village-boasts-of-an-armyman/articleshow/5129511.cms

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