Centenarian Tracker Ready to Serve Army Again

Banaskantha (Guj)
Centenarian Tracker Ready to Serve Army Again
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

At 108, Ranchhod Desai, a professional footprint tracker, is eager to offer his services to the Indian Army in these troubled times.

Desai, fondly known as pagi (footprint tracker), is a veteran of 1965 and 1971 wars and winner of several medals for his unique skill which helped Indian Army capture Pakistan soldiers and key towns.

The Army and BSF rely on pagis in the times of war as well as peace to track down intruders and movement of enemy troops.

Pagis' skills can help detect number of intruders, the time they came in, their weight and whether they were carrying any luggage in the desert districts of Kutch and Banaskantha bordering Pakistan.

"I am prepared to offer my service and will show you my mettle again. Though I have grown quite old, given a chance, I am set to repeat what I have done in the past," Desai, who lives in Limbala village of Vav taluka, told PTI.

Known as 'the old war camel', Desai had given proof of his tracking skills during the 1971 war when he identified Pakistan soldiers by their footprints in the desert of Kutch.

"Nearly 40 years have passed but it seems as if it had happened yesterday," he said, recalling those eventful days.

His tracking expertise and knowledge of the region had helped Indian soldiers recapture Chharkot in the 1965 war. Again, the centenarian tracker played a key role in capturing of Pali Nagar in the 1971 war.

Desai has received three honours - Sangram Medal, Police Medal and Samar Seva Star - for his role in the 1965 and 1971 wars.

He still remembers the day when Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw gave him a cash prize of Rs 300 for the job he had done in 1971 war, and invited him to Dhaka.

"The General was taken aback when during lunch I took out my `bajra no rotlo' (bread) and an onion. But to my surprise he was delighted after eating it," recalled Desai.

For the people of Limbala, he is a living legend. He has been bestowed the honour of hoisting the national flag on Independence Day at his village every year.

It was at the age of 58 when Desai was introduced to the then Superintendent of Police of Banaskantha Vanrajsinh Jhala, who was on the lookout for a person well acquainted with border areas. After a brief interview, he was selected.

"It was a turning point in my life," said Desai. "Had it not been for this twist of fate I would not have witnessed the unfurling of Indian flag at the captured Pakistani town of Pali Nagar by General Manekshaw."

Banaskantha Collector R J Patel said, "Ranchhod Pagi is a revered person of the district. We have invited him to preside over 'make-desert-green' campaign."

Desai was felicitated by Chief Minister Narendra Modi at the last year's Independence Day function held in Palanpur.

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