This story is all about courage, selflessness, reliability and clarity of thought in an ambiguous and volatile situation!
We were operating as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. My Company was deployed in midst of Vavuniya Jungles. Leave parties came in and went out using bi-weekly helicopter sorties. In one such sortie Lance Havildar Bhajan Singh arrived from leave. He was a Services athlete having competed in 400 and 800 meter races with distinction! He met me after lunch for an interview. Interview is a norm that all outgoing and incoming personnel of the sub unit meet the Company Commander for an interaction. It allows the commander to check out any needs or developments on the personal front that might have taken place during the absence or if the soldier is carrying any worries back from home. It connects the leader and the led, strengthens human bonds and allows the commander to address any concern the soldier might have.
During our chat Bhajan told me his story of getting wounded in an ambush, months of treatment, sick leave, recovery and return to the sub-unit. One was aware of this ambush which had taken place just prior to my joining the unit from a staff assignment. He narrated his story in a matter of fact manner. Here was a man who faced bullets, got wounded, survived, treated in chain of military hospitals, given sick leave, on termination of that leave appeared before a medical board and volunteered to join back his sub unit in the same environment! Wow!
I asked him if he would share his experiences with the sub unit to which he agreed. He was a simple man and narrated the events without padding and with a straight face. While describing graphic details of the events he said, “We were tricked and fired upon from very close range. The volume of fire was intense. I retaliated and fired a couple of rounds, my weapon was hit and it got jammed, I then realised one was hit as blood soaked my uniform. There was mayhem. Havildar Mohinder Singh, a Services Marathon runner of yesteryears was close to me. He too had been hit and was bleeding profusely. Havildar Mohinder Singh looked at him and spoke, “I am badly hit and am not likely to pull through. You are not too badly wounded and have a chance. Try and get away while you still can, get help and I will cover you with fire.” Bhajan Singh sensing the gravity of the situation ran in short stretches, tumbling and from one cover to another despite gunshot wounds he went on. “Mohinder covered me as long as he could.” The reinforcement arrived but many had perished including Havildar Mohinder Singh. Bhajan Singh had got away to safety. He was attended to and air evacuated in time, underwent lifesaving surgery and lived to tell his story.
We got de-inducted from Sri Lanka and landed in J & K in January 1990. The situation in Kashmir had begun to boil. We got into the business of manning the Line of control and fighting the insurgency that was still in its infancy. It was combat all the way. As an exception, we were asked to send a few talented athletes for selection trails. Bhajan was one of them. He stood first in his favourite event just over one year from the day he was wounded! Another hero who inspires me even today!
Courage is often understood as a physical quality. Looking deeper, it is essentially a moral quality. Havildar Mohinder Singh took a moral decision in his dying moments to cover his comrade to let him get away while he still could to get help! Bhajan Singh took that decision despite being hit, to run throug the hail of bullets to ‘tell it all and get help!’
Courageous acts manifest as acts of physical courage but deep down they stem from strong character, values and ethos of group cohesion.
Most people encounter such situations, though in much different circumstances that might or might not be life threatening but could end a career or cause loss of fortune or even loss of credibility in one’s own eyes. At theses times one finds oneself standing alone with one’s convictions and runs the risk of losing everything! I wish and pray that person has the character and conviction to make the right decisions! Just like Mohinder and Bhajan did!