'Nonsense File by the Colonel' review: A delightful and captivating read

The book is also Vallikkappan's tribute to the many people who enriched his life


Can one find humour in a stressful, morbid and strict military life? Lt Colonel (retired) Jose Vallikappan could. In oodles. Not the dark and sardonic type, but delightful ones.

Try this: As a Second Lieutenant in the 1960s, Colonel Vallikappan recalls being given the task of looking after a General and his wife who were visiting his unit. The enthusiastic novice he was, young Vallikappan jumped at the task. But, he had a rather challenging chore at hand: "Finding a loo for the fussy lady."

In his hallmark deadpan style, Colonel Vallikappan recounts the rigour with which he went about his task, arranging a 'thunder box' type lavatory and a team of scavengers to clear the night soil. He narrates in detail the clockwork precision he adopted to avoid the "embarrassing encounter between the depositor and the drawee", which impressed the General's wife. Thanks to his work, Vallikappan became a hero overnight.

He wryly puts it: "I was the uncrowned king in toilet training".

Such hilarious vignettes from his military days make Colonel Vallikappan's book 'Nonsense File by the Colonel' a delightful and captivating read. A proud Army veteran with an exceptional career, Colonel Vallikappan's innate sense of humour and impeccable writing skills have created an impressive page-turner.

Most of it may be set in the military barracks, but 'Nonsense File by the Colonel' comes with a disclaimer. The author says his only aim is to offer sober entertainment and no lofty ideas. Nevertheless, remarkable characters, like Major Joshy, the cantankerous official who is a stickler for military discipline, and General Jacob, a short and stocky war hero, vow the reader with their might.

Colonel Vallikappan's encounter with Major Joshy starts on a bad note after the latter lambasts the Second Lieutenant for his "not-so-smart salute". The duo later strikes a good friendship after Vallikappan bravely asks for his shaving set. Through their funny encounters, the author paints an admirable picture of the Major, whose formidable reputation and dedication make him a hero.

The Colonel also recalls funny moments involving his colleagues. Like the story of Lieutenant Kuldip and his second-in-command Risaldar Sohan Singh, nicknamed Kat Kata Singh. Kat Kata wasn't a popular officer among his troops, thanks to his bossy nature. During a patrol mission led by Havildar Balbir Singh in Wagah, the men found a huge pitcher of ghee. Lieutenant Kuldip ordered his men not to eat the ghee as it could have been poisoned by Pakistanis. The order was adhered to until a week later when Lieutenant Kuldip found his dal floating in ghee! When queried, the Havildar replied: "Sahibji, it is not poisoned."

"What makes you think that it is not poisoned?" Kuldip asked.

Promptly came the reply: "Sahibji, we have been over-feeding Kat Kata Singh with this ghee for one whole week, and he is still alive and kicking."

Rather than blast at the reply, the Lieutenant appreciated the sense of humour.

A veteran with a decades-long career which also saw him take part in the 1965 and 1971 wars, Colonel Vallikappan's account of his encounter with the famous General Cariappa, too, leaves us impressed. Vallikappan was riding horseback at Ahmednagar cantonment when he saw the illustrious General taking an evening walk. He promptly saluted the General and introduced himself. The General acknowledged his gesture, only after lavishing his attention on the horse. Interestingly, General Cariappa spoke to Vallikappan in Malayalam. The General deducted that Vallikappan was a Malayali from his accent and appearance.

'Nonsense File by the Colonel' is, however, more than just military stories. The author takes us through his boisterous childhood days in Teekoy in Kerala's Kottayam, rebellious college days and even his post-army life with Malayala Manorama and THE WEEK—he was a columnist for 15 years in the newsweekly.

His admiration for his family, especially his wife, is reflected in his words as he pays tribute to admirable women he met in his life.

As much as 'Nonsense File by the Colonel' is a book of funny anecdotes, this is also Colonel Vallikkappan's tribute to the many people who enriched his life.

Nonsense File by the Colonel

By Jose Vallikappan

Publisher: Manorama Books

Price: Rs 290

Pages: 183

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