Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Special memories of Soldiers on Kargil Vijay Diwas

 New Delhi, July 26 (ANI): Memories can fade quickly. But in this age of 24X7 news media and social media, it is hard to forget special days. This was the case even today, in fact yesterday night, when I realised that today was the Kargil Vijay Diwas.
It would have passed as just another day, but from a message I got from a friend today morning. "On Vijay Diwas, thank you for what you have done", it said.
I really didn't expect it and didn't even know how to respond to it. "I was posted elsewhere. Nothing of note that I did during the Kargil War. Undeserving of that message but thank you for the kind words."
That is true. My unit had come down after a tough counter-insurgency tenure to a peace posting in Western India. And, I was on a long training course, when the Kargil War broke out. As no general mobilisation was ordered, the army continued with its routine activities elsewhere. A part of my unit moved closer to the International Border in the Western theatre as part of the regular operational deployment.
This was unlike what happened during Operation Parakram in 2001 (the military deployment after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament), when training courses were cancelled or suspended and people sent back to their units.
Getting back to that conversation, that friend is also relentless. "For years that you spent protecting the country", the reply came.
I ended the conversation with some polite words of thanks but, it set me thinking. 

It may not have happened during Operation Vijay, but I did see enough action in uniform. India in the 1990s was infested with insurgencies and the army was in the thick of them. The Line of Control with Pakistan was also active and the Pakistan Army had enough artillery shells, mortars or machine gun ammunition to remind you of every Indian wicket that Wasim Akram took, or every four that Saeed Anwar hit.
Friends died, in Kargil and elsewhere. Your own buddies lost limbs and eyesights. There were some close shaves where you survived just because you were lucky. A centimeter here and your leg would have been blown by a mine, or a minute longer, and the shell would have hit exactly where you were standing with a glass of tea in your hand. Is that bravery? Is that courage? I don't know.
Why did we do what we did? When we went out for an operation, it wasn't surely for protecting the idea of India. At least, not directly, or at the top of our minds. I can't speak of others, but, I and most of my friends didn't even know that there was a phrase called the Idea of India. I'm not sure that Sunil Khilnani hadn't written the book by then. That should absolve us of any blame of ignorance or illiteracy.
But one thing is certain. We did what we did out of a sense of duty. There was a sense of idealism which drove people to undertake acts which would otherwise get them medically certified as lunatics.
During the Kargil War, a young artillery officer had gone with an infantry column for attack. He was supposed to direct own artillery fire on the enemy soldiers. But the situation so arose that the two sides were in hand-to-hand combat and the enemy seemed to have the momentum. Seeing no way out, that officer gave his own position to direct his own artillery guns to bring fire upon himself. The tide of the battle turned with that crazy action and he was lucky to survive to tell the story. How does one even explain this?
Then there were other intangibles driving friends and colleagues. Words like pride, honour and camaraderie --- old-fashioned, which hold little meaning today outside the armed forces. 

Pride in self, pride in unit, pride in uniform, pride in being a professional, it all got reflected in various actions. Like pride, honour was something never stated explicitly but everyone understood it.

Much has been written about pride and honour, but little is understood of camaraderie. There would scarcely be a unit in the Indian Army where a bachelor officer hasn't volunteered to go for the most dangerous mission on his own because the other officer was married. It may sound ridiculous here, but truth is often stranger than fiction.
There were other mundane reasons for people to act. In one particularly amusing incident, a very dear friend, a young Second Lieutenant --- yes, we had that rank in those days ---was attached with divisional headquarters in an operational area for some staff duties. Staff duties meant he was office bound and was not going for operations. One day it so happened that two foreign terrorists occupied a building in the village close to the divisional headquarters. An encounter ensued and the building was on fire, but the terrorists were holding out as evening drew closer.
With a high probability that these terrorists will escape in the garb of darkness, the divisional commander was looking for ideas. This young Second Lieutenant suggested blowing up the house by placing explosives there. But then the question of who will do it in the terrorists' line of fire, and do it then itself? The young officer volunteered. And the scene was described by others present there. Firing on from both sides. A young officer lights the fuse on two packets of seven kgs of explosives each, runs amidst the hail of bullets, places the packets and runs back. Barely had he started running back, the bombs went off, building demolished, terrorists dead and bodies found in the rubble.
He was an officer from my unit. I met him the next day and asked what happened? His reply was unforgettable. "Sir, you guys have all the action here. Every day you are doing operations. [Expletive], I am caught there in office work. I was disgusted with the routine and had a drink too many at lunch. I didn't even know what I was volunteering for. I just wanted to be part of some action." How do you explain that?
Let me get back to the question which triggered these thoughts. Didn't we merely do what we were supposed to do? Do we deserve any special gratitude from the country? We surely can't ask for any special gratitude as a matter of right, but it is always nice to be appreciated. It would be even nicer if it goes beyond words of appreciation.
Our countrymen and women should comprehend that soldiers are not special but they do what they are supposed to do. If you do the right things, things will automatically go right. If each one of us can do what he or she is supposed to do---from the janitor keeping the street clean to the bureaucrat formulating national policies---that would be the real tribute to all the fallen soldiers of this great country.
As you look at the images of the War Memorial at Drass today, please make that pledge to yourself: to do what you are supposed to do. Happy Kargil Vijay Diwas, everyone!
The writer spent a better part of his youth in uniform and wishes to remain anonymous. (ANI)

1 comment:

  1. I commend all the actions described in the post above. But I have always felt that our army is relying too heavily on the sheer bravado of young officers. While it is welcome and saluted, the critical reliance of an organisation on it, is not.
    I have 28 years service in Inf, with command of an RR bn. So, I should know what happens in CI areas.
    In most cases, our JCOs are not leading their platoons in combat- even 5 men must be led by an officer! Our officers with 12 years service and above are too promotion oriented. This leaves us with practically no resource other than youngsters to help us deliver in combat.
    The result is that there are are just too many casualties of youngsters. This could be an acceptable way out in a situation wherein action takes place once in 6 months. Or in a mini war of the Kargil type.
    But what will happen in a relatively long drawn war across all sectors? And why is no action being taken to ensure that we demand professional delivery at all levels, rather than rely on the dare-devilry of youngsters? That seems selfish.
    Let us seek a professional army without getting too impressed by positive comments of civilians. All they want is their kids getting pulled out of borewells and their families rescued. They won't support any justified needs of the army. But we are professionals and should demand battle efficiency, rather than 'emergency efficiency'.