When we joined the Forces, in 1987, the ‘Shaktimans’ were a common sight in a cantonment. They were the most widely used cargo vehicles in the Indian Army since their inception in the late 60s. Modeled on the original design of ‘MAN’ of Germany, this vehicle had a comparatively smaller driver cabin and a larger body over the chassis. Inexplicably, the driver had a very small and an ineffective rear view mirror that did not serve the purpose that it was meant to . The rear huge body of the vehicle came in the middle, and the driver was blind to the traffic in the rear. Since manpower was not much of a problem, the army had adopted its own measure to counter the challenge.
Those familiar with the Army parlance would understand the term ‘Dandaman’. For the uninitiated, a little explanation is called for. ‘Dandaman’ was a term used for a soldier, responsible to sit at the tail end of of this Shaktiman vehicle with a wooden stick (danda). His only responsibility was to look out for approaching vehicles from rear, asking for a pass to overtake. On spotting one, the ‘Dandaman’ was required to strike the tailboard with danda thus making sound to draw attention of the driver to give pass to the vehicle coming form the rear.
The system worked well for a couple of decades till such time the army started feeling the pinch of wasting so much manpower for such seemingly “trivial yet inescapable” duty. Brainstorming sessions, across military stations, yielded no concrete solutions till one day when a ‘smart senior officer’ suggested modifying the rear view mirror so as to extend it half a foot outside the driver cabin and also replace a small rear view mirror with a bigger rear view mirror! That was a ‘eureka moment’ and the orders were issued to all the commanders to carryout the modification, on a war footing.
The ‘senior officer’ who had conceived such a contraption was eventually awarded a VSM ( Vishist Seva Medal ), not for the new ‘idea’ that he gave, but for saving the manpower on such a large scale!
The ‘dandaman’ in a ‘Shaktiman’ was finally gone. However, the Shaktiman continued to contribute till it finally breathed its last a decade ago. Sadly, the production line of Shaktiman was dismantled in the year 2003 and a whole lot of new generation vehicles finally replaced the old horse that had served ‘beyond the call of duty’ for over half a century!
Well, it may well have had a minor defect, but it was very much a part of all the major wars that an independent India had fought. Whether it was 1962, 1965, 1971 or 1999, the Shaktiman was a logistician’s delight: It delivered the right thing, at the right place, at the right time and in right quantity!!
For its services, it undoubtedly deserved an AVSM ( Ati Vishist Seva Medal), albeit posthumously!