Lieutenant General Pankaj Shivram Joshi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Indian Army

Lieutenant General Pankaj Shivram Joshi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM

Lt. Gen. Pankaj Joshi was commissioned into the Army in 1965. Joshi, at 24, lost both his legs in a landmine blast. Equipped with artificial limbs and armed with a steely determination, Joshi has become only the second handicapped officer(after Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi) to rise to the rank of Lieutenant General. And the story of this officer's struggle has become an example for others.

After all, it is difficult not to be impressed with one who walks eight km a day, plays golf, swims, cycles, climbs mountains -- all with two artificial limbs. To top it, he has three decorative medals for gallantry - the Vishisht Seva Medal, the Ativishisht Seva Medal and the Param Vishisht Seva Medal.

It takes a lot to get the taciturn Joshi to speak of this long journey, which began on August 1, 1967. A graduate of the National Defence Academy in Pune, Joshi was commissioned as an officer in the 8 Gorkha regiment and posted in the northeastern state of Sikkim. During a landmine clearing operation, he inadvertently stepped on one. While one leg was blown to bits on the spot, the other was amputated ten days later. He was all of 24 then.

Joshi was evacuated to Pune's Artificial Limb Centre. Within eight months and after nine operations he was fitted with the first pair of limbs. Barely a fortnight later Joshi refused to be wheeled to the limb centre, which was a kilometre and a half away from where he was staying, and decided to bike it. Within a month he was on the dance floor.

But his memory of walking on artificial limbs is of sheer pain. "Because the first fit is never correct and when you start walking it is as if one is walking on a pair of stilts. But it was just a matter of time to get used to it."

"Rehabilitation," he says, with a justifiable sense of pride, "was entirely on my own." But friends were a great help. "Everyday someone was there to ensure I am not getting into depression, generally I would not anyway, but still it is good to have friends and support that time."

As he shuttled between the limb centre and his official duties, volunteers were sought for a degree course in Russian in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. Joshi signed up and did a part-time course in Spanish as well. That was 1971.

Around that time Joshi contemplated leaving the army because he felt it would not be possible to serve in the infantry.

"I met somebody who suggested that I should do the Staff College (course, considered a must in the services, particularly the army). That proved to be a turning point because I came back to the mainstream," he says. He subsequently became an instructor in the College of Combat at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh.

In 1978-79 the army changed the rules of medical categorisation. Now the emphasis was not so much on physical condition but physical capability. That was all he needed. Joshi promptly argued his case.

He says, "I said I would like to be physically tested. I was doing all that was considered essential to be considered capable -- such as walking five kilometres, cycling, swimming on a daily basis. There was also a condition requiring you to stand for two hours, but I used to stand for four hours at a stretch while taking classes. So they put me through a special medical board." The surgeon on the board, who incidentally played golf with him regularly, said because of his will power and self-training, Joshi was equal to any job.

Joshi then got the command of an active battalion. Fourteen years had lapsed since his injury and from then onwards there was no looking back. His battalion later became a mechanised infantry, so "one did not have to walk and climb hills like a standard infantry. But even then I have undertaken arduous climbs in Jammu and Kashmir," he says.

Joshi went on to command a brigade, battalion and a core. Not just that, he has taken part in the Himalayan Car Rally in an army vehicle and cycled 42 kilometres in Delhi.

His example has proved to be an inspiration for many others. A commando, who lost a leg, was on the verge of quitting when Joshi boxed his ears. He is now a colonel commanding a regular standard infantry.

On 27th September 2000, Lt. Gen. Pankaj Joshi was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Command at Lucknow. Before the appointment he was Commandant at the College of Combat in Mhow.

On 1st October 2001, Lt. Gen. Pankaj Joshi was appointed as the country's first Chief of Integrated Defence Staff(CIDS). He reports to Army chief Gen. Sundararajan Padmanabhan, the current chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.