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!
Last night informed ‘Lady of the House’ (LOH plagiarised curtsy Col CL Proudfoot) of my mission to venture out of the apartment today morning! She was aghast! Her looks pierced through me as if asking, “Old man! Who do you think you are?” “What makes you think you can cross the ‘Laxman Rekha’ laid down by the Prime Minister himself?” “I know you never cared about me and even now it’s just the same!” “Exposing yourself to the ever lurking ‘Virus’ outside that just sticks??!!” Yes, one look asked all these questions……” ‘Main umar bhar na koi de saka jawab who ek nazar mein itne sawaalat kar gaye!’ (Not mine -plagiarised!!)
It’s not how things used to be! No more have the liberty to walk out at will….. yah! those were the days my friend! To answer LOH in words would have been blasphemy, took her hand and walked to the two bins of wet and dry garbage, pointed at them and looked into her eyes to both offer an explanation of my proposed outrageous adventure and seek her permission! She answered with a shrug of her shoulders and an “OK!” Permission granted to take out the garbage and dispose it off in the bins placed in the basement of our Tower!
The world has changed……its post Covid-19 world!
Mission ‘Take out Garbage’ had a clear aim, “To take out garbage from the apartment to the basement of the Tower and dispose it off as per laid down instructions on March 26, 2020 before 1030 hours (time specified by the board of management of the society).”
One was transported back to my days in Uniform. Mission had to go through with preparatory, execution and post-action analysis stages just like the military operations. It was yesterday once more!
Preparations included deciding on timing, route out, route in, laying down sequence of action, maintaining surprise and post mission actions. Preparations were discussed with LOH. Her perceptive mind was once again at work. She directed, “Leave the door open while going out so that you don’t touch the knobs on return.” As always, one was had nothing but admiration for her! The dry and wet garbage bags were to be secured lest any tell tail sign were left on the route out. The timing of the mission was set at 0730 hours. It was carefully selected being low density movement period to avoid any company that might threaten the safety of the executioner. Rubber slippers had to be worn so that these could also be sanitized along with clothes worn for the mission.
Now the execution. At the appointed time, the bags were removed from the bins and secured. The door of the apartment was opened using the ‘non-dominant hand’ and left ajar (no threat of any intrusion due to lockdown). The route out was through the stair case avoiding the lift to maintain surprise and safety.
On reaching the basement no dash was made to the bins but a quick scan of the area was done to preclude presence of any other human in the close vicinity (strictly practicing social-distancing). The bins were approached stealthily! Disposing off the wet garbage into the green bin was as planned. Absence of Blue Bin and presence of unexpected Red Bin presented a situation that had not been wargamed! It needed quick thinking and change in plan! The presence of a few other similar looking packages neatly stacked next to the Red Bin were used as clue for executing the modified plan. Dry waste was placed in the stack and quick retreat was made.
While on route in care was taken to avoid any human contact as it could jeopardize safety. The route in was again through the stair case till the ground floor. The ever-smiling guard was on duty. He was approached maintaining stipulated social distance. Both hands were stretched to full extent to enable the guard to pour generous quantity of hand-sanitizer. The liquid was rubbed to clean hands from both sides. It was realised, that its not possible to rub hands for twenty seconds as in case of hand wash using soap! Then the lift was used to go up to eighth floor ensuring minimum contact with steel.
Entry into the apartment was uneventful. No attempt was made to close the entrance door. The LOH was informed on way to the bathroom to close it. The pre-heated water geyser and bucket with detergent was ready as planned. The clothes worn during the mission were removed and put in bucket and boiling water poured over them. After a generous soap bath and dressing, reported ‘Mission Accomplished!’
Of course, the LOH debriefed and made a valuable suggestion that for future such missions instead of wearing Tee and shorts, full sleeves shirt and trousers or ‘kurta pajamas’ should be worn for added safety!
Its difficult to step out…..too much effort……. Far easier to stay at home!
Stay safe! If in emergency got to go out practice social distancing! Maintain hand hygiene!
Years ago, read a poem by Sahir Ludhianvi, ‘Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai Kaun Mara’. He had penned it in 1946 to honour the Sailors who participated and some of whom were killed in the Naval uprising against the British. The tone and fervor were patriotic. The poet both questioned and served an ultimatum to the colonial masters. It’s an awe-inspiring poem! Vividly recall reading and reciting with much enthusiasm!
A few years later, came across lyrics from a film Dharmputr (1961) in which Sahir had used opening stanza of his 1946 poem ‘Ai Rahabar Mulk-o-qaum Bata, Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai Kaun Mara’. Its vehemence was more intense, its tenor had changed to demand from the rulers of Independent India responses after a communal riot. Lyrics of song are-
Ai Rahabar Mulk-o-qaum Bata, Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai Kaun Mara Yeh jalate huye ghar kiske hai, Yeh katate huye tan kiske hain Taksim ke andhe tufan me, Lutate huye gulshan kiske hain Bad bakt kijaye kiski hain, Barabad nasheman kiske hain Kuchh ham bhi sune hamako bhi suna,
Ai Rahabar Mulk-o-qaum Bata, Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai Kaun Mara
Kis kam ke hain yeh din dharam, Jo sharm kaa daman chak kare Kis tarah ke hain yeh desh bhagat, Jo baste gharo ko kak kare Yeh ruhe kaisi ruhe hain, Jo dharati ko napak kare
Ai Rahabar Mulk-o-qaum Bata, Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai Kaun Mara
Jis Ram ke nam peh khoon bahe, Us Ram ki ijjat kya hogi Jis Din ke hatho laj lute us, Din ki kimat kya hogi Insan ki iss jillat se pare, Shaitan ki jillat kya hogi Yeh ved hata kuran utha.
Ai Rahabar Mulk-o-qaum Bata, Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai Kaun Mara!
Its 2020, and communal riots are still a reality!
Kill, maim, beat up, burn down houses, businesses- all in the name of God!!
Shahir’s poem still beckons answers from leaders of country and communities, ‘Whose blood has spilled? Who died?’
And why?? Why in name of God??
Maybe, time to find answers within!!
Time to contemplate, re-visit beliefs, check premises! Sixty years later we are at the same spot Sahir found himself in in the sixties!
There have been a few incidents along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China that had potential of escalation and spiraling out of control. However, these were successfully diffused by a combination of skillful diplomacy, ‘show of force’ and political statesmanship. Noteworthy among these was the Somdurong Chu incident, sometimes called the Wangdung incident, in 1986-87 in West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh. Post that, politically, a new State of Arunachal Pradesh was created in December 1986 through an act of Parliament to succeed North East Frontier Agency. Diplomatically, a number of deft moves were made to engage China eventually leading to a summit meeting between PM Rajiv Gandhi and Chairman Deng. Militarily, India shifted focus on infrastructure development, logistic management, redeployment of additional resources and construction of defences, helipads as well as activation of Advanced Landing Grounds.
Deployment of forces and construction of defences in an under-developed area devoid of surface communications was a formidable challenge. High altitude, adverse weather conditions for most part of the year, sparse population, total lack of local resources were some of the realities that had to be confronted. The deployments and development of defences had to meet exacting deadlines simultaneous with creating logistics infrastructure with dependence on a single road from foothills to the LAC.
An Infantry Battalion was tasked to occupy defense at Mago some forty kilometers away from the road-head at Jung. Jung was a mufassil small town and its claim to fame was the only bridge that crossed fast flowing River Tawang Chu along the road coming from foothills to Tawang was located just below the town. Jang, thus was the natural and only choice for administrative base to support the unit that was to deploy some two days of walking distance away.
Sparse local population used local ponies and yaks to ferry necessities. There number just sufficed their own needs with very little to spare. Army decided to facilitate the process for locals to get some more ponies by way of tying up with government breeding farm and getting subsidies from the State. But, result of that was to fructify at sometime in future. A company of Army’s mules were deployed to assist the Battalion.
It soon became obvious that the track running along Tawang Chu from Jang to Mago was unfit for Army Mules. Army mules were bulkier and sturdier than local ones and found narrow track difficult to negotiate. A few slipped and fell deep into the gorges along the track and attrition was unacceptably high! Hence, an Engineer company assisted by two platoons of Infantry Pioneers were deployed to improve the track. All these efforts were welcome but were of no use to the Battalion which had to work through the monsoon rains when no ponies or mules could tread and be ready to face the severe winters which would set in soon after the rains tapered off.
The Commanding Officer made a simple no-nonsense plan. “Battalion will carry the loads on person.” That implied carriage of defence stores, rations not only to sustain but to cater for disruptions due to climatic and environmental conditions. Imagine a burly soldier carrying a ten feet long CGI Sheet on his person along a treacherous route that had cliff on one side and fast flowing river on the other for a distance of over forty kilometers! Cement, other construction material and rations made into small bundles all had to be man-carried till the track became fit for movement of mules.
The track construction parties worked over time and got the track ready. When the mules started ferrying stores another challenge came to fore. Army mules can move approximately 16 Kms (turn around distance) in a day. By that parameter, a staging area had to be set up eight Kms from the road-head. There the second lot would do the next eight Kms. It was realised that the fodder and other requirements of the mules beyond the first staging were so huge that the animal column could only cater for itself and carry no other useful load beyond that. After many permutations and combinations all came to conclusion that a combination of Army and civil mules could help carry some load. Though the quantity was small but, it was welcome all the same. For mule loads there were caveats. Only those loads that could be packed in sacks and hung perfectly balanced on either side of the mule could be carried. It was most important to ensure that the loads were so packed that under any circumstances during the carry could cause any injury to the animal. All other loads, called ‘awkward loads’ in Army parlance had to be man carried.
Where everything failed Indian Infantryman succeeded! Boys carried everything on their backs and walked those dangerous tracks criss-crossing Tawang Chu every now and then with possibility of near fatal accident lurking for most of the way! Regardless, they did it day after day, month after month without complaining, fear or favour! They not only carried their rations and building material, assisted locals whenever required and were always ready for any operational or environmental emergencies! Following Commanding Officers’ orders, they collectively made a choice to survive on as little rations as was practical and use that spare human capacity to carry loads for habitat and defences.
It was decided to construct a helipad on a hilltop some 14,000 feet high for a large helicopter to land. The task involved, climbing some four odd thousand feet along a mountain trail, blasting rocks on top of a virgin mountain, clearing debris and constructing a helipad aligned to the most suitable approach for the helicopter considering the wind and environment conditions! All this with hand held implements and explosives. As the Sun rises and sets early in the East the hours of work had to be adjusted to get maximum productive time onsite. Rocks were hard and difficult to remove without use of explosives. The challenge while using explosive was that all working hands had to withdraw a couple hundred feet below the site to remain safe from flying debris. This implied the parties doing this movement many times during the course of the day in high altitude area. After blast, the debris had to be cleared manually. Limited space available for the helipad was another constraint. While using explosives, the demolition experts had to ensure that the hillside was not weakened in any way. The job was not of a few days it required months of hard work without respite.
The task was assigned to Major Tej Singh and Company. I was on area familiarisation visit to Mago and had a chance conversation Major Tej Singh. He told me, “I and my men leave every morning at 4.15 AM, reach on to by 5.30 AM and commence work. Our first break is around 7.30 AM for breakfast. Lunch is around 11.30-12.00 and we start back around 2.30 PM to be back by 3.15 or so. This is every day, seven days a week. Boys take a day off to wash clothes and rest in turn.” “What about you?” one asked. He smiled and said, “I go up every day. You know these boys look after me so well on top that can’t afford to miss being there!” What he left unsaid was, that he could not let his men experience difficulties while he rested. He wanted to personally supervise the demolitions to ensure safety of his command and the environment. Left unsaid, but knowing how Infantry Leaders think and understate, the unsaid was obvious to me! I pressed on with my questions, “What kind of breakfast and lunch you all carry and how do you get it heated considering the very high wind conditions up there?” He replied in a matter of fact manner, “We carry some rice and dal. You remember we decided to cut on food varieties so that additional defence stores can be carried. We have that every day. The boys are very resourceful, they light up stove shielded by raincoats to warm food and brew some tea.” “You do that every day? For how long has this been on? Your troops mix of Sikhs and Dogras boys they like rotis. Haven’t they complained?” “No, they never complain. They understand. In fact, the suggestion came from them. They said it will reduce weight and allow more time to work. However, I ensure they get a hot bath and a hearty meal on return…. a small compensation” he chuckled!
Then the D Day arrived. Helipad was ready for trial landing. Everyone enthusiastically awaited the approval of helipad as an acknowledgement of their hard work of days! The helicopter with inspection team arrived and despite strong winds the pilots got down work to measure the surface area, inspect the landing and take-off avenues and the like. All done. There was big rock at one end of the helipad which was not removed. Blasting it ran the risk of entire hillside collapsing. Demolition experts from Engineers who were specially sent to suggest a way out concurred that rock had to be left as it is. It was reduced to the extent it could, but still remained jetting out and technically reduced the surface area. Helipad was couple of feet short. Couldn’t be approved! Helicopter crew were professionals who had a job entrusted to them their indiscretion could cause grave risk for men and machine flying in most trying conditions. They were absolutely justified not to approve the helipad as it existed. The infantrymen were crestfallen! All those days and all that hard work had come to a naught! Major Tej Singh spoke to me on radio and told me what had transpired. I could hear his emotion choked voice saying, “Buddy its all in vain!” I instinctively responded, “Sir, let me see if something can be done.” He said, “Do something boys worked really hard!”
I dialed the Colonel General Staff at the Division Headquarters and told him about the outcome of trail landing. Colonel Mohinder Singh (later Lt Gen, retired as Adjutant General of IA) was a first rate professional and belonged to the same Regiment as the boys at Mago. I couldn’t stop sharing how much hard the boys had worked to get this job done and explained why the helipad was a couple of feet short at 14000 feet. He was quite aware of space constraints on top of the hill feature. He listened patiently and spoke using a mix of English and Punjabi, “Kaka you are a BM and should take an objective view of things. These things happen. Don’t worry. Let me see what can be done about it.” A couple of days later Colonel was on line again, “There will be a trial landing on the helipad day after tomorrow. Air Officer Commanding himself will on board the helicopter. He has agreed to pick you up as a passenger from your Headquarters. It’s up to you to get the helipad approved. This is the all one could do. All the best!”
We landed at the helipad. All parameters were looked at de-novo. All good but dimension were what they were. As the Air Officer sipped piping hot tea from a steel glass at 14000 feet in gushing winds with rotors running, I shouted to be audible. Quickly narrated the story how the helipad was created a little victory mother nature had granted the valiant soldiers and he could not allow all that go in vain! AOC smiled patted on my back, shook hands with Major Tej Singh and told him, ‘I admire you and your team’s dedication! I have to ensure safety of aircraft and also the accomplishment of task for which this has been created. Trust me. I will do what has to be done!” We took off. I got off at our Headquarters but helicopter had to fly off in a hurry as weather was packing up and couldn’t have any further conversation with Air Officer. An hour or so later phone rang. It was A senior Staff Officer from the Division HQ. He informed that helipad stood approved to be used in emergency and during operations for MI 8/17 class and approved for smaller helicopters. One knew it was but a partial accomplishment but it meant a lot still! Instinctively thanked God and gallant men of Pachees PUNJAB led by redoubtable Major Tej Singh! The message was passed around to convey the news.
A few days later one got a chance to speak to Major Tej Singh. He was aware of the conditional approval. He spoke, ‘Thank you! Tomorrow onward we are busy constructing defences at…..” It was another task, another challenge……that’s how these unsung heroes are- seek no glory, wait for no ‘thank-yous’, act selflessly, mission accomplishment above everything else! One task completed but many more to be tackled…… never give up……….they are special! They are ‘The Infantry!’
They come from all parts of
India, speak different languages, practice different religions, have dissimilar
cultural imprint, distinctive eating habits and with lots of baggage of
influence of their environment! And yet, when they become a part of Indian Army,
they all become ‘just soldiers!’ Training changes their orientation – makes
them focussed to accomplish missions, being unselfish, generous, conscious of
their fellow beings and above all proud of their Units and Regiments! A new
culture is imbibed that transforms their thinking to, “One for all and all for
It’s often said in the Armed
Forces, “If you are not in communication, you are not in command.” A lot of
emphasis is laid on communication. Communication is not just string of words
and little punctuation….it is about making connections…being human, making the
recipient absolutely clear of the intent and purpose! For common understanding,
a common vocabulary has been developed. Words have precise meaning and everyone
understands what they mean. This makes
communication easy in uncertain, stressful and volatile situations.
A peep into the world of
Millenniums presents a completely different perspective! GenM’s world is more ‘virtual’ than ‘real.’ GenM
lives comfortably in a maze of internet, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, virtual
reality, cloud computing, analytics, crypto currencies and is moving rapidly
towards artificial intelligence and machine learning driven world! They feel
secure, socially connected, gratified living autonomously in this digital
labyrinth! This living relegates human interaction to some back space! This
back space is ‘virtual’ too and one wonders if it exists at all!!
The environment is pushing all to become high achievers! Individual accomplishment is celebrated! Education system is all about grades and ranks achieved ‘individually’! No team work at all, except a few projects which too are assessed for individual performance rather than that of the team. Exams are written from Class 1 to Masters. The only viva one has to appear is either for admission into nursery or for presenting desertions and thesis for MPhil or PhD. Lo and behold! It changes the moment one steps into world to earn bread, wealth and fame! It’s all about team work and winning together! Communication there is mostly verbal though lots of it is digital also now!
Old school to which one belongs believes, communicating with humans, working in teams and winning together’ is as much applicable in today’s’ world as it exists as of this moment. Verbal communication made of words and phrases still creates effect beyond imagination! A suave master of this art contextualises words to generate great power, stirs emotions and brings to fore sincerity in communication! Wonder if the language of the GenM is effective enough to connect the way the old school did!!??!! If it is, would be great to learn!
There is much talk about machines
communicating with each other and learning from experiences. Often wonder if
humans still learn through communicating on social media or are, they getting
stymied!!?? Artificial intelligence is making humans interact with BoTs. Chances
of speaking to a human to resolve issues or to even get information are
diminishing through geometrical progression!!
New world! New vocabularies! New way of expressing emotions and exchanging greetings fascinates me as much as it depresses! Humans even use borrowed expressions to say how they feel! In the new language, emojis and GiFs are now more prominent than words in any message! Add to that messages and wishes composed professionally for a fee are sent around to convey something special!!??!! Must confess, the people who compose messages and create images, capture the real spirit of the occasion. Yet for me, it seems odd to outsource ‘expressing one’s feelings!’
Often wonder God makes each human unique but digital world makes them similar even in thoughts and expressions!! Life’s like that!! One stopped judging people and things quite some time ago! Now one just sits by and enjoys things around!
Kupwara was a sleepy small town or better called a hamlet in late 70s with little population and practically no facilities. The only land marks were Sheer Bhavani Temple, local Gurudwara and Mosque. The town had sizable Hindus and Sikhs living in complete harmony with Muslims. Our Battalion was located approximately a Kilometer or so away.
One Thursday evening, our Unit was getting ready to train at night when a message arrived that there was a massive fire in Kupwara main chowk. It took only a couple of minutes for the Officiating Commanding Officer to order mounting a rescue. As if on cue, the fire fighting equipment was collected quickly and the Companies ran to the site of fire. The scene was petrifying with flames quickly engulfing the wooden structures of one of the buildings and spreading to the neighbouring ones.
There was only a small police post in the town and nearest fire engines were either at Baramulla or at Chowkibal, too far and even if they came much would have perished by then! Everything depended on speed of decision and action on part of the group of soldiers. Parties to fight the fire source to control its spread, rescue the people threatened by ever enlarging zone of fire, spraying water on the adjoining buildings to keep them safe from spread of fire, cordoning off the area, setting up a Medical Aid Post under the Regimental Medical personnel were ordered and it was exhilarating to see the ultra-quick and precise response from rank and file. Officers and junior leaders led by example. Minimal orders and maximal response!
As firefighting progressed one found oneself leading a party to put out fire from what appeared the centre from where it was spreading. We climbed up steps to spray water from as close as possible. High temperature and smoke made it difficult to see and move quickly. One was focussed on how to make water reach the centre of fire when suddenly, one was pulled back rather rudely. Even before one could get upset one saw a huge burning beam fall at the spot one was standing a moment ago. My eyes met Naik Dharam Singh’s and everything became clear despite momentary silence. He had saved my life! Must confess was shaken up, he quickly sensed that and moved at the head to continue fighting fire. Dharam Singh rose to become Subedar Major of the Battalion and retired as Honorary Captain! An outstanding sportsman and a through professional. We served long years together including the period one was in Command and never once, he sought to take advantage of the soft corner and gratefulness one had towards him! A Hero indeed!
One saw men coughing due to smoke, putting wet towels around faces moving swiftly back to get the fire under control. One doing a better job than the other! Each one rising to fight the fire as if it threatened something precious to them personally! No orders! Putting themselves to risk to save what little could be! Saw a few senior JCOs comforting locals and assuring them of all help to re-build their lives! Fire was controlled in a couple of hours and saved much greater loss of property!
After the rescue, Unit organised relief by way of sharing next day’s ready to eat meals and also distributed dry rations to the affected to survive for a few days. Military hierarchy worked closely with civil administration to provide rehab resources and monetary support. The locals re-built their lives rather quickly. One saw first-hand, skills of local artisans using local resources to build damaged structures anew within a short period of time! The locals always smiled and waved when any of us crossed the town on foot or in vehicles as never before! It was special! A bond build during an adversary where they saw their ‘fauj’ save property and lives without any consideration to who it belonged without prejudice to religion or creed!
In 1980, the Battalion moved to
Gurez Sector to be deployed along the Line of Control. It was an underdeveloped
area serviced by a road that could only take jeeps and 1 Ton trucks. The area
remained cut off for six months due to heavy snowfall. The localities close to
the line of control at the peak winter experienced approximately forty feet of
standing snow. Scant local population in the area relied heavily upon the
nearest Unit for all assistance. Come winter and all able-bodied male
population would migrate to plains of North India to make a living as porters
leaving behind women, children and the infirm. The Unit Doctor observed that
village folk stopped taking medicines from August onwards and would hoard those
for sever winters that were to follow. The area was avalanche prone and heavy
snow conditions would make movement treacherous even on the valley floor.
One day in very early in the morning, a message arrived from one of the posts that a local young boy informed them there was a lady in the village was very ill and needed urgent medical attention. The only place she could be evacuated to was the medical aid post at our Battalion Headquarters. Even during summers, it was good two hour’s walk away. In mountains distance is unusually measured in time. It varies depending upon weather, time of the day, snow or rain conditions and the like. It had been snowing for a couple of days and it was perhaps the only day of respite. Weather was expected to go bad again within next twenty-four hours. The Commanding Officer considered pros and cons and ordered a rescue to be mounted immediately. The Doctor could not be sent out lest there was another emergency requiring his presence. A platoon strength under Subedar Prem Singh (finds mention in an earlier post too) with a nursing assistant was ordered out.
The challenges were, how to reach
the patient quickly negotiating fresh snow that would have obliterated all
signs of track, give her first aid for a condition that could only be gauged
after reaching the spot, organise evacuation if required, depending upon her
state i.e. lying or sitting case, what kind of medical equipment needed to be
carried along keeping the requirement of speedy movement and also to ensure
survival of the patient till reaching the doctor. Thus, all planning was to be
done quickly under conditions of ambiguity. It became imperative to plan for
multiple contingencies. Troops had to in any case, carry rations, equipment to
survive prolonged stay as an insurance against weather turning foul. The Doctor
explained to the team, what to be done based on hearsay report that was available.
He assured the party that he would be available on radio throughout to guide
the treatment and rescue. Add to all that was unpredictable life of batteries for
radio sets due to climatic and other reasons that could cause a serious
communication emergency. Preparing as best as they could, the party departed.
Movement in fresh snow requires beating the track by leading two or three persons at a time. It is very tiring and saps a lot of energy. Boys have to be changed every hundred or two hundred meters. It took the platoon good four hours or so to reach the patient. Her condition was relayed to the doctor who guided administering first aid. Doctor thanked God for correctly predicting the possible ailment and condition! It was facilitated thanks to his skills and knowledge of local patients who came up for treatment to him in good weather. He advised immediate evacuation. Considering the condition of the patient and gender issues it was jointly decided by the Doctor and the Team Leader to evacuate her as a lying case. This meant putting her on an improvised sleigh and pulling her without causing her much pain. She was indeed a brave lady and agreed to the method of evacuation. Snugly tucked and tied, the team started pulling the sleigh. There were innumerable challenges. While negotiating slopes uphill or down hill the sleigh had to be controlled at both ends. Pulling it even on the valley floor in fresh snow was extremely tiresome! Party had to rotate the snow beaters, pullers, anchors and the navigators. It virtually meant getting relieved from one tough job and moving on to another perhaps a tougher one! The journey back had to be fast as the weather started packing up again and the nightfall hours away disguised multiplied problems. Subedar Prem Singh sensed that the boys were extremely tiered and somewhat exhausted and it required effort to keep them going. He constantly exhorted them often juggling between giving progress to the Headquarters and relieving one of the boys. He walked up to each one of them and stuffed either a toffee or a fistful of dry fruit into their mouths. Thankfully, toffees and assorted dry-fruits were provided as part of rations! The team trekked along taking breaks more for patient than for themselves! It was well into the night around 8 PM that the team reached the base exhausted, famished but grateful to God for making them save a life! They broke off after settling her in the medical aid post and offering ‘Ardas’ a ritual followed in ‘the Regiment’ by all parties leaving for and arriving after a mission!
The doctor and his team took off from thereon. She was well managed and cured to a large extent. Care provided by his assistants went a long way to help her get back on her feet! Her young son who accompanied was happy being pampered with all the goodies he had never seen!
Unsung heroes – each one of them!
And this is routine, everyday happening
in Indian Army even today!
Our battalion was located at Amritsar- a peace station. The peace tenures are for recouping after a difficult tenure in high mountains, insurgency or line of control, reshaping and honing skills to meet any future eventuality and giving time to troops to spend time with their families. Senior commanders visit Units to see for themselves the fitness for war and administrative preparedness.
One day, a message arrived warning us of impending visit by the Commanding General. General officers normally get to visit a Unit once or maybe twice during their tenure. Hence, this becomes a huge opportunity to demonstrate operational preparedness, administrative prowess, welfare measures and the like.
normally starts from Quarter Guard. Quarter Guard houses Units’ armoury and the
treasure chest. The Regimental Colours, which are presented by the President of
India, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to a few selected Units for their
outstanding performance in battles, are prominently displayed there. Roll of Honour of those who laid down their
lives in service to the nation and boards displaying gallantry awards won by
the Unit personnel are showcased. It is said, ‘that the standard of a Unit can
be judged by the standard of the Quarter Guard.’
As young Adjutant, it was my responsibility to fashion a ‘splendid first impression and make it a lasting one!’ Along with Subedar Prem Singh, JCO Adjutant and a small team of men we got down to accomplishing the mission. We worked tirelessly for a couple of days and at the end of it one thought had done ‘a jolly good work!’
On the afternoon before the visit, The Commanding Officer came for his inspection. He moved around and didn’t seem too impressed. He gave out a long list of points to be attended to. It virtually meant re-doing in next few hours what was accomplished over days! I thought, “How unappreciative of him? How can we finish all that has been listed in such a short time?” These thoughts must have reflected in my demeanour, the Commanding Officer noticed but ignored and gave his directions, “I want everything done well in time.” One remained quiet. Subedar Prem Singh replied in Punjabi, “Sir, we have understood what is expected and it will be done. We will break off only after the task is completed.”
After the Commanding Officer left, gave piece of my mind to Subedar Prem Singh and asked him how could it all this be re-done now? He sensed my state said, “Sir, you been here all day, why don’t you take a break. Perhaps go to town and get back later.” I stomped out making obvious my displeasure. In my room in the Officers’ Mess many thoughts kept bothering me – job is still not done, men are at work and I am not with them, its unit’s prestige at stake and many more’. My ego pitted against ‘Code Olive Green’ lost this round and I returned to the site in less than hour or so.
There was a new
vigour and urgency in activity. More boys had joined in and everyone was
executing something according to precise direction issued by the JCO
Adjutant. Enthused, I too joined the
fun. Finally, by the wee hours of the morning we had achieved something plus of
what was expected of us!
On the morning of the visit the Quarter Guard looked gorgeous! The guard looked absolutely stunning and ready to showcase their precise movements! The Commanding Officer came in just couple of minutes before the General and had a cursory look. It was awesome to hear the General compliment the Commanding Officer of very high standard of everything he saw!
This left a lasting impact on me and taught me some useful lessons.
First, I had given in to my fears– what if we cannot deliver in time; what will my team think of me? Let my ego come in way of achieving excellence and achievement of task.
Second, The Commanding Officer having delegated the responsibility did not lose control. He stepped in with resources and time still at hand to apply correction and yet deliver absolutely first class standards! He understood capacity of the team even better than they did and had faith in their ability to deliver expected standards in time.
Third, the team rose to the occasion led by a very competent JCO, inspired by the task and prestige of the Unit (Izzat). They worked in small teams to execute precise tasks, fully aware of the big picture.
From that day on wards, never again did one allow ‘me’ come in way of achieving excellence! It became a way of life!
Once, during my time as Commander of an Infantry Brigade operating close the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir we experienced particularly hostile weather for days. After a particularly stormy night and freezing temperatures, I ventured out to spend time with troops. At one company base, the Commanding Officer of the Unit introduced me to a dashing Lieutenant. He was much of twenty something and full of exuberance and his demeanor exhibited a certain air of confidence about himself! I shook his hand and said, “Welcome to the party! How was last night?” He looked straight in my eye and replied, “Sir, my buddy and I held onto the bivouac pole and were successful in not letting it fly off despite getting drenched and numb due to cold.” “Compliments on winning your first battle! And what’s the plan for tonight”, I asked. “Sir am getting ready to lay an ambush with my team tonight. Had my two nights of rest and am ready to move out.” “Why don’t you take another night off to dry up and recoup before venturing out”, I probed. “Sir, others from my Platoon got drenched to their bones as they lay in ambush while we were at the Base resting. They need to dry up and rest more than I do.” Could do nothing but smile and give him a pat before moving on.
As one walked along, Company Commander who was leading us on a very slippery slope, sensing that the encounter with the young officer had touched a chord with me turned back and said, “Sir, must share something that happened with me a couple of days ago”. One welcomed the interlude to catch my breath, the guy walked fast without any consideration to the ground conditions and my age! ‘Go on”, one said. “Was leading a small team and as we moved, the team sensed danger; it appeared fire-fight was a distinct possibility. The team started advancing stealthily, taking care to scan areas around continuously for any impending danger. All of sudden a young soldier with less than a year of service overtook me. He had one glace back, fixed my position and continued to move ahead scanning bushes, tree tops and looking for suspected insurgents. The young soldier had realised I was exposed to danger from front and without any orders from anyone he chose to put himself in harm’s way to cover me! No words were spoken but everyone understood!”
During 1965 Indo-Pak War in the Poonch Sector an operation to link Poonch with Uri was underway. There was this formidable Pakistani piquet called ‘Raja’ by us and “Chand’ by the other side. Its capture was crucial for the success of operations progressing from Poonch. An Infantry Battalion was tasked to capture but unfortunately the attack failed. Yes, attacks do fail in operations! A couple of days later, it was decided to make another attempt to capture ‘Raja.’ Commanding Officer 2 SIKH, Lt Col NN Khanna offered to undertake the task. Col Khanna assured the Commander that he was confident to deliver the objective with his Unit. The attack commenced as planned. Initial progress was slow and soon the enemy fire became more intense and the unit suffered casualties. The attack appeared to be stalling. The time was running out and soon it would be dawn and then it would become more difficult to accomplish the mission. The Commanding Officer decided to lead the attack himself. He got up, tied his jersey around his neck and exhorted the men to advance. The men seeing their Commanding Officer in lead were now fully charged up and the assault stared with renewed vigour. Pakistanis faced the ferocity of Sikh soldiers. In the mean while Col Khanna was hit and started bleeding profusely. He started losing consciousness but would keep asking for the progress. After day broke success signal came indicating 2 SIKH had captured Raja. Col Khanna was given the news. A faint smile crossed his face and he was no more.
The SIKH Regiment lore describes the battle as, ‘Raja litta, Raja ditta’ implying Raja was captured but Emperor was lost to the cause! Lt Col NN Khanna was awarded Maha Vir Chakra Posthumously!
These three instances of two young men one officer and other a Sepoy, both barely into twenties, not blooded just out of training institutions and a Commanding Officer with over 14 years of service all eager to confront danger, protect comrades ensure accomplishment of mission even at the cost of their lives are samples of what the Army experiences every day!
This group cohesion and pride in Units and the Army is the bedrock on which the entire edifice is built on! Units and sub-units are living entities. They take care of people and their concerns! The bonding is not restricted to soldiers it extends to their families, children, veterans like me, our children and grandchildren…. It personifies selfless commitment that signifies ethos of ‘winning together’, sharing sorrows and happiness! The environment stimulates competence. For competent and skilled individuals contribute to teams’ ability to accomplish missions!
Almost two decades ago, sitting on a post along the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, a yearning to pen my thoughts made me start writing them down two to three times a week under the heading ‘State of My nation’. One got hold of a few bits of paper and started my first blog. Must admit didn’t know then ‘the word blog’ or the format or if its concept existed!
Transistor was the link to the happenings in the hinterland and elsewhere in the world. This reliance or love affair with transistor started as one joined our Battalion to become a part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka a year or so earlier. Newspapers from India arrived days after they were published and by the time one had a looked at them even their relic value had substantially diminished. Every soldier of the Indian contingent on theIsland relied upon the BBC Hindi or Urdu service for news. Indian media honestly, had a credibility problem at least with those around me. One did hope and pray that someday we too would have news that could be trustworthy!
One hung to bits of paper of ‘State of my Nation’ for quite sometime till the time and my repeated revisits to read and relive my thoughts withered them. One has continued to write. Most of my writings never reached a reader except myself. One wrote because it allowed me to express without being judged. Yes, there are a few writings that are in public domain written on various portals and journals dedicated to National security, Skill Development and the like.
Years have tempered my exuberance and greyed my hair. Have started taking a detached view of happenings around perhaps to shy away from expressing strong views on issues. ‘A Fistful of Logic’ is both a tribute to and continuation of ‘State of My Nation’ by a saner (sic) me. This endeavour is to share experiences and opinions on some questions that stir considerable of perplexity in my mind!
If my views find resonance with or rankle you, please do share your views.
This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.
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