Rum Gargles : The wonder drug

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 It was the summer of 1976. We were taking part in a high-level Army exercise in Punjab. Some staff officer with a perverse sense of humour had codenamed the exercise 'Summer Holiday'. While there was plenty of summer, but holiday….?
            We occupied a defensive position in freshly harvested acreage of wheat. Children from the nearby village were greatly amused to see us move between our foxholes through the interconnecting crawl trenches. Perhaps it wasn't so much the fear of exposing ourselves to the 'enemy' that kept us on the crouch; it had more to do with the over-zealous umpires deputed to watch and assess our performance.
            As per policy, units co-located with a military hospital in station, did not have a dedicated doctor posted to them. Our battalion was in Jullunder and did not have a medical officer on its rolls. For the duration of the field manoeuvres, a doctor had been attached to us from the military hospital in Chandigarh. 
            As we moved into our new habitat, our daily sick report rose sharply. From a single digit, the number of men who lined up daily before the doctor went up almost tenfold. It was naturally a cause for concern. As the second-in-command it fell on me to identify the problem and take urgent corrective action. Along with the Subedar Major, I set out to check the sanitary conditions of the bivouac. We inspected the cookhouses, the latrines, the bathing points and every other facility that could be the possible source of the problem. We found the conditions generally satisfactory.  Before investigating any further, I decided to have a word with the doctor, to find out the nature of sickness. 
            There was a long queue outside his underground medical inspection-cum-treatment centre and he was busy. I sat on a campstool and watched him function. The first sick man reported a stomach ailment. After a cursory probing of his mid region, the doctor prescribed "RUGA, twice a day." The next man complained of toothache and was given an identical prescription. The third case complained of lack of sleep and appetite and was prescribed "RUGA, once a day." And so, it went on with every sick man being given 'RUGA' in varying doses.
            Though not very knowledgeable on medical subject, I was generally familiar with the drugs for common ailments. I had never heard of RUGA and concluded that it must be a new all-in-one curative medicine. Seeing the men walk away happily with the prescriptions, helped build my respect for the unknown elixir.  I waited for the doctor to finish seeing his many patients and then asked him what RUGA was.
            "It is very effective and popular sir", he said by way of background.  "Actually, it is not a drug", he elaborated,  "RUGA is an acronym for rum gargles."

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