Monday 3 June 2019

'Diary Of A Soldier- 22' an English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी -२२)

 yeh vidaai hai yaa swaagat...?
(Is this farewell or welcome...?)

Another new year...uff ! Who knows why this darned time is always in such a rush. Only recently, the year two thousand and eighteen had stood here... in all its vastness...just here, by the side! And now, as if in a blink, the year two thousand and nineteen has arrived with its gigantic mouth open wide... a mouth so gigantic, it's as if it will gobble down your whole existence! Trembling with the thought I look out of the peep hole in the bunker and find the layers of snow to have grown more and more if they too are in a competition with the vastness of the new year. Head thrust over the clouds and covered in these thickly layered white sheets of snow, the deep-in-meditation-mountain is as if totally unconcerned with the comings and goings of the years.
From where is one to acquire the deep meditative stance of these Icy mountains ? Shouldn't a fully accomplished soldier also be trained to the extent of becoming so deeply entranced in meditation, as to be completely oblivious of the passing of time ? It is only after reposing all its faith and all its freedom in us that our beloved country, spread all across below the mountain, is today celebrating the arrival of new year with such abandon and  attitude. The dedication of each soldier posted at the border ought to speak the truth dear unwavering, as unfaltering and also as uncaring of the vagaries of the weather as these tall mountains...only then would the sovereignty of this beloved country remain intact for all time to come.   
The country is changing. The people in the country are changing. Only yesterday there was a message on my mobile, from a friend who had attended the last rites of a colleague after his martyrdom ...listen my diary, to what this message sent from the cremation ground says...

...I am confused! Is this a farewell or a welcome!
Should this have been a sorrowful closure or a joyful reception?
There are beautiful banners all over with pictures of smiling soldiers...
The roads are adorned with flowers and rangoli - decorative patterns...
An assembly of over five thousand people, more than a thousand kilograms of flowers, hundreds of policemen and soldiers in their shining uniforms and one dead body...
The bedecked army vehicle arrives, the wrapped-in-the-tricolour-coffin alights and settles on the strong shoulders of the ones in green uniform... with a natural grace.
Each wave in the sea of humanity present there, wishes to touch the coffin, to carry it on its shoulder ... but not everyone has this good fortune.
The green-uniformed shoulders advance slowly in step... the coffin is heavy, the heart heavier.
The crowd is surging. Many have climbed over the high water tank, many others on terraces, a few also on trees.
Such a spectacle had so far only been seen either for a cricket match or a film shooting.
But neither was the case over here...I am confused.
Any number of, there, everywhere...each seeking a better angle. A few relatives stand nearby...stunned. Is this breaking news or a broken family !
I am confused !
The martyr's wife offers flowers and holds on to the coffin for a long a mother holding her newborn...his little daughter comes and gives a salute...a totally tight salute!
My eyes, holding back till now are flooded.
And along with the flood, hundreds of young pairs of eyes flash with the resolution to join the forces. Hundreds of mothers concur silently. What is this - the death of a lion or the birth of hundreds of cubs!
I am confused!
His closest friends stand in a group close to the lit pyre for a this an occasion to mourn or to celebrate?
I am confused.
Everyone is now gradually taking their leave. The darkness of the night has descended. There is a cold breeze. I am standing alone by the pyre-fire. Is this the glow of a sunrise or the simple silence of a sunset?
I am confused!
This may be something strange, but I am feeling completely at peace now. I feel a surge of love for my friends. I am falling in love with people. I am falling in love with my country. Again...over and over again.
Was this a farewell or a welcome!
Tell me my friend if this was an end or a beginning?

Going over the message again... and again... and yet again, I feel the flood released from my friend's eyes has now begun to fill the two eyes peeping out of the hole in this bunker on this mountain standing deep in meditation... holding its head high above the clouds.


Monday 27 May 2019

Diary Of A Soldier -21, an English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी २१)

Barsaat kaa baadal to deevaanaa hai kya jaane.
(the rain cloud is a crazed, how would it know)

"Kaise ho Gurnaam Singh ?" - How are you Gurnaam Singh?
"Kuchh to bolo Gurnaam !" - "Say something Gurnaam !"
"Tumhaaree beewee milne aayee hai tumse Gurnaam !" -"Your wife has come to see you Gurnaam!"

...The ICU chamber of that big army hospital in Udhampur had been echoing the past few days with more or less similar calls. During an encounter in the interior of Kashmir some days ago, a bullet fired from an AK 47 - after brushing past soldier Gurnaam Singh's bullet-proof patkaa - had entered and got wedged inside his brain. The brush with outer edge of the bullet-proof must have slowed down the bullet, the reason why soldier Gurnaam Singh was still alive. The helicopter, arriving immediately, had promptly transported injured Gurnaam to this army hospital in Udhampur. The very sight of a helicopter during all such encounters bolsters manifold the will power of the injured soldiers and the expert team of doctors and nurses on duty twenty four/seven in the military hospital does not delay a second to show their wizardry. After the seemingly unending surgery, the doctors had managed to extract the bullet lost in the mysterious labyrinths in the brain... but Gurnaam had slipped into a coma immediately after.

He had regained his senses a few days back but was neither able to recognize anybody nor say anything yet. His being alive after that fatal encounter was, in itself, nothing short of a miracle... and now his recently regained consciousness was adamant on a miracle too. The constantly-gazing-into-the-vacuum eyes of soldier Gurnaam Singh, who lay on a bed in that ICU surrounded by miscellaneous monitors and instruments, were also waiting in tandem with his consciousness for some miracle to happen. His parents and his new bride, who had arrived from a remote village in Punjab, were too awed by the grandeur of the military hospital and shining uniforms of the doctors and the nurses and feeling too tongue tied to be able to speak much. The thin and slender bride, her head covered with a dupatta, sat quietly by Gurnaam's bed or outside in the corridor... head bent, shedding tears.

Meanwhile, hit by the terrorists' bullets in another encounter two days back and admitted in the same ICU, lieutenant colonel saab, now lying in a bed beside that of Gurnaam's, was fearful that though he had escaped the enemy's bullet, he and all the other soldiers lying in that ICU chamber were sure to drown now and die in the flood of tears raining down the bride's eyes.

It must have been five or six days since Gurnaam Singh had regained his consciousness but not his memory, when one Khanna ji, a childhood friend of lieutenant colonel saab, came to visit. Khanna ji, somewhat short in height, prided himself on his booming laughter and Punjabi culture. Like any other average Indian Khanna ji was more interested in the stories of his friend's neighbours rather than in his friend. Having taken a full account of the injured soldiers lying on all other beds in the ICU chamber, Khanna ji's focus now turned to Gurnaam Singh. The moment he came to know of his details, Khanna ji got carried away and started off in his typical Punjabi...

"Hore bhaya, tera naa kee ai ?" - "So, bro, what's your name ?"

With a few short guffaws Khanna ji carried on...

"Oye, Gurnaame kidda ho? hah hah hah... yaar, tu kuchh bolda kyun nahin... kuchh to bol tu...hah hah hah !" - "Oye Gurnaam, where are you from?... why don't you say anything my pal... say something..."

...and suddenly, to the amazement of everyone present, it was as if a divine voice descended from heaven... as he lay on the bed, Gurnaam Singh's lips moved...

"Mera naa Sipahee Gurnaam Singh hai, te tussee kaun ho...hore kitthon aaye ho ?" - "My name is Sipahee Gurnaam Singh, and who may you be...where are you from ?"

It was as if joy itself had come at the time to that ICU chamber of eight beds to perform cartwheels and somersaults. Lying on his stomach on the adjoining bed, the lieutenant colonel saab screamed in excitement. The feet of all the doctors running from all the wards and corridors of the hospital had, as if, wheels added to them. All paths in that huge hospital led, for the time being, to its only ICU chamber. The hurriedly assembled doctors around Gurnaam, besieged by a mix of joy and amazement were voicing their respective opinions. All of Gurnaam's 'vitals' were perfectly in order. The conclusion that all the doctors reached was that it was the current of his mother tongue that Gurnaam Singh's adamant semi-consciousness, caught in wait of a miracle had actually required.

Meanwhile, the fear in the lieutenant colonel saab of drowning in a flood had suddenly reached its zenith, for the sobs of that thin and slender new bride, like clouds bottled up fora crazy one long, were now bringing down an incessant torrent of tears.

...and in that fear, the lieutenant colonel saab was reminded of a couplet by Nida Fazli...

"Barsaat kaa baadal to deewaanaaa hai, kyaa jaane
Kis raah se bachnaa hai...kis chhat ko bhigonaa hai”

(The rain-cloud is a crazed one, what would it know
which path to avoid... which terrace to pour down on)

Monday 20 May 2019

Diary Of A Soldier - 20, an English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी -२०)

   Kitnee Srishti mein kitnaa prem...
(So much of love in so much of the world)

So much of distance ! Distance... so distant ! So much of pain that... uff... enough of it for now please ! So much of noise that it turns the voices deaf ...  so much of quiet that it can make the silence voluble ! So much of fatigue that even sleep would fail to fall asleep... ah, so much of sleep that one could forget all the fatigue ! So much of sorrow that all happiness just craves to come into being... so much of happiness that sorrow is nowhere to be seen ! So much hatred...uff, so much of hatred that it becomes difficult to make even a mention of love and so much of love that the very presence of hatred astounds ! So much difficulty that everything seems easy... so much of ease, it's like facing a storm of difficulty ! Such chill that one could embrace the entire sun... such heat that even the Himalayas will not be enough !

A pain-like pain... so much of pain in these burning soles that taking off these heavy boots after a long patrol, one can't figure out whether the soles are still there or have peeled off along with the soggy and wet-for hours socks ! So much of something that seems unsaid that there is no justification of saying anything... so much has been said it's as if nothing now remains unsaid ! So many bullets fired from so many guns that it has riddled the very soul of a nation... so many wandering souls that the guns in the entire world have run out of bullets ! Such a large number of martyrs that that there is a dearth of land for pyres... such large stretches of empty, barren lands that the hunger for martyrdom is never satiated ! So many of coffins that there is no tricolour available now to wrap them up in... so many tricolours being woven, for the coffins do not stop coming! Such valour that there is no sign of fear... so much of fear that it makes valour disappear !

Someone calling out from the opposite bunker across the border... 'have you gone to sleep, sir'... evokes laughter on this side... "Shut up you rascals ! Losing even to Bangla Desh... and you have the cheek to play cricket" and again loud guffaws. The embarrassment in the silence on the other side begins to fill the cold air with a strange warmth. So many words...aha, so many words to weave stories to revel in... so many stories that words begin to play hooky ! The resonance of so many... so many guffaws that the flow of tears loses its sound and so many tears, that the resonance of the guffaws gets drowned !

A guffaw had resonated that day too. Not one but many guffaws... together. In that month of October. The October of nineteen years ago. The war of Kargil had ended two months back for the country. But only for the country... not for its army...

After the formal declaration of victory at the end of July, combing operations were still being carried out from bunkers occupied on high mountains for any remaining enemy till much later. A small search party of dare-devils from a battalion of the Indian army under one such combing operation had reached near a cave in a high mountain following leads. The search party consisted of two officers... one major, the leader of the party and one lieutenant, the second-in-command...along with twelve brave soldiers. They had confirmed intelligence ... the informer had, by pointing towards the cave, announced there were seven to eight enemy hiding inside the cave before them. Having given a once over to each and every detail of the plan to attack for the last time and with the party seated before him, the young major saab, the leader of the party was holding a spirited 'briefing'. Contrary to its name, the 'briefing' was stretching on and on...

'Kaalikaa mata kee jai - victory to mother Kalika ! Love you all ! Let's do this !'

Actually, the major saab -pointing towards the haunt of the enemy - was becoming a bit emotional. They didn't have an exact idea of the number of the enemy and the mission had to be completed before darkness descended. For some reason, major saab had this premonition that some of the members of the party going with him on the attack may not make it back in one piece after the mission and therefore his emotions were  surging up again and again in sentences like 'I-love-you-all' during this briefing of the action of the mission.
The second-in-command of the team, a little younger than young lieutenant, was now becoming a little exasperated with this long stretching 'briefing' of the major.  He wanted only to advance now, explode on the enemy hide-out and return to his base-camp. One more of 'I-love-you-all' from the major robbed the young lieutenant of all his patience and before exploding at the enemy hide-out he exploded at his own team commander...

"Arre, be done with it sir ! What will happen at the most... either those bastards will die or we will ! If they die we'll go, have beer in our camp... and in case we die, one or the other road will be named after us !"

Along with the rock-melting resonance of the laughter of all the team- members, the shout of 'victory- to- mother- Kalika' became engraved on the mountain for centuries.

"kitnee srishti mein kitnaa prem
ki kehnaa na pade
mujhe prem hai tumse
aur kitnaa prem 
ki karne ko poorie umra bhee kum ho jaise !

kitnaa main 
ki tum aao
kitnee tum
ki main na rahoon !"

(so much of love in so much of the world
that there is no need to say
I love you
and  love you so much
that an entire life would seem short
to fulfill it !

so much of me
that you should come
so much of you
that I no longer remain.)

Monday 13 May 2019

Diary Of A Soldier - 19, an English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's Fauji ki Diary (फ़ौजी की डायरी - १९)

Dard thaa diyaa gayaa ki har dukhee ko pyar doon
(I was given pain so I would give love to each one in distress)

Winter is beginning to make its presence felt on these high mountains. The days still have the comfort of the cover of an angelic balmy warmth, the evenings however are gradually falling under the terror of the ghouls of cold. If all goes well this winter would be the last for this battalion on these merciless mountains. The impatient wait for the next summer may make this winter somewhat easier, for having completed its tenure, the platoon would have left by this time next year for some city in the centre of the country. Meanwhile these mountains have handed over to us a pile of countless stories...such strange stories that will take a life time to be told to the civilization spread under these pre-historic mountains, and even if told - who is going to believe them dear diary !

The commanding officer of the neighbouring battalion told an extremely interesting story over the phone yesterday...

...pushing and shoving out the month of August, September has somehow made its advent. One of the many important tasks allotted to the battalion is to keep the main roads of Kashmir used by Army convoys safe. It is normal for the terrorists to stealthily put mines under these roads... this is something you are well aware of diary mine. Of all the main roads, the most important is the one that leads to Leh and has maximum traffic of army convoys. The task is performed by various companies of the battalion by dividing the road in many segments. Each segment of the road is kept secure by one company of the battalion by dividing it further into small pickets. Each such picket is manned generally by four to six jawans. Each company usually establishes, on the roadside at a fixed distance, fifteen to twenty such pickets named Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta etc. according to the English alphabet. The story is about picket Charlie.
The daily, long convoy of army vehicles going from Shrinagar to Leh had just crossed the stretch of twenty five kilometres of the road allotted to one company of the battalion to enter the area of its neighbouring company. The moment this news was confirmed on the wireless, the company commander - a not-so-tall but decidedly dark and handsome captain - had heaved a sigh of relief. Having instructed all his jawans posted at each picket in that stretch of twenty five kilometres to stay watchful, he was about to return to his company base when an anxious message coming over the wireless touched not just his entire being but seemingly also the air around with a thousand watt current.

"Charlie picket for Tiger, over ! ...come soon otherwise Kehar Singh will kill this woman...over!"
Coming down his ears, the anxiety in the voice of the wireless operator had begun to course through the Captain's veins when he ordered his driver to turn the Gypsy back towards picket Charlie. Picket Charlie was hardly ten minutes away and during these ten minutes Captain saab ran Havaldaar Kehar Singh's entire bio-data tens of times in his mind. Plain and simple, totally disciplined, father to two children, a little on the heavier side but totally fit physically... what crisis could he have brought about ? The Captain's anxiety was as if racing against the speed of the Gypsy on the winding, meandering road.

There was a quite a crowd collected over there when the captain arrived. He could see from afar through the windscreen of the Gypsy four jawans surrounded by local Kashmiris from a settlement next to the picket. Full of apprehension, when the Captain stepped down preparing himself to face the worst, he saw everyone from the settlement giggling and laughing and Kehar Singh - sitting with a Kashmiri doll of about ten years on his lap - feeding her puris from the packed lunch in his Tiffin. The way the story unfolded, the Captain - who had feared the worst - couldn't stop laughing out loudly...

...the mother of that Kashmiri doll was thrashing her black and blue in rage over goodness knows what reason and the little girl's wailing was reminding Havaldaar Kehar - standing on duty nearby - of his own daughter. He pleaded three or four times with the woman to leave the girl alone and when she did not pay heed the enraged avatar of Kehar Singh first pushed the woman aside and then picked up the little girl in his arms. As the furious woman lunged at him, things went beyond his capacity to control. The people from the settlement told Captain Saab how havaldaar saab, carrying the little girl in his arms, had brought down an unending shower of blows. Amongst the group from the settlement, the first to  support havaldaar saab was the father-dear of the girl, saying the insolent woman deserved what she got... this was what she did to the children every day... she would now come to her senses.

Making his return after a moment, the Captain saab had an interesting story to share with his life-partner over the mobile that evening and I am reminded of a verse from a famous song written by late poet Neeraj...
"Haath the mile ki zulf chaand kee sanwaar doon
honth the khule ki har bahaar ko pukaar doon
dard thaa diyaa gayaa ki har dukhee ko pyaar doon
Aur saans yoon ki swarg bhoomi par utaar doon"

(I was given hands so I could smooth out the locks of the moon
my lips opened so I would call out to each blossom and bloom
I was given pain so I would give love to each one in distress
and breath so I should bring the heaven down to this earth)


Wednesday 24 April 2019

Diary Of A Soldier-18 an English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji kI Diary' ('फ़ौजी की डायरी- १८)

Bhay ko dekhna ho nat-mastak...
(to see fear with its head bowed...)

Just a few days back I received from a reader - entangled in a very disorderly page of the diary - an extremely orderly call. I talked to him at length but his list of queries related to the pages of the diary was so long that eventually I had to tell him that answering all his questions was like scaling the vertical climb of this high, snow-clad mountain. His laughter, coming in fragments from the other end of the mobile,brought  some solace too that these disordered pages of the diary were, more or less,  getting their meaning across properly. There was one question in particular - asked generally also by friends and family - which kept lingering for long in my mind. A question that has brought back with it a flood of so many indescribable memories.

As they make their way towards a certain death, how do soldiers feel ?

To tell you the truth dear diary I do not have words apt enough to enable me to weave even one  proper sentence in reply !  I am reminded of that battle of nineteen years ago. A mission... ere embarking on which the commanding officer of the battalion had made each member of our chosen team write a brief letter addressed to our families in case we didn't return safe and sound ... ! It's another matter that the letters were never despatched... the entire team had been called back from midway as cease fire had been declared. There were countless such letters however, that did reach so many homes in the country... to grieving, wailing families. Many of these letters reached home along with the bodies of the martyred soldier. In fact there is an old tradition of making soldiers write a letter to their families before leaving on a dangerous mission during war. how does it feel moving towards a certain death?

Come dear diary, let me - in answer to this question - read to you the last letter of a brave soldier. Had that war of nineteen years ago not happened on those icy heights of Kargil, Nimbu saab would have turned twenty-five that July Of nineteen years back. Nimbu Saab... Captain Neikehakuo Kenguruse of the Rajputana Rifles... honoured posthumously with Mahavir Chakra... who, bare foot and holding a rocket launcher, climbed a height of sixteen thousand feet to free a cliff captured by the enemy, was well aware of his destined death. The letter written by Nimbu Saab before leaving on that last mission has the capacity to melt the driest of sensibilities...

Dear Mummy-Papa                                                                                                              20 June 1999

I had never thought I would ever have the need to write this letter. But it appears necessary today to share my last message with you.
The Pakistanis had captured some of our region by infiltrating and we have therefore had to move to the Drass and Batalik sector of Kashmir. I know that I have God on my side and that he will protect me... but if God wills a supreme sacrifice by me then I may not have another opportunity to address you.
I am feeling very sad. Just the thought that I may never see you again is so hurtful. My dear mummy and papa, I love you a lot. I have always tried my best to provide good care for you and have always wished you happiness. But perhaps I have failed in my purpose in this short span of my life.
I know I have embarrassed you many times and caused you trouble. Please forgive me my mistakes. You two have given me so much love and have taught me so much that I have remained a good leader to the last moments of my life. I am so grateful. Thank you very much.
My dear papa, thinking about my young siblings I want to cry. Please guide them well to become good human beings. Tell them that I loved them a lot. Tell Grandpa and Grandma also that I loved them a lot. Give my regards to all my friends and family and ask them to forgive me if I have ever hurt them. 
Even if I ask you not to cry when I am no more, I know you will because you love me so much. But please be happy thinking I will live on in your memories. Write to all my friends whose addresses are there in my diary.
Papa-mummy, I want to share something very personal with you. I have a girlfriend... and you also know her. The two of you may not like her. But I love her very much and she loves me a lot too. When I'd come last on vacation in May, I had asked for her hand and she was willing to get married to me. In case I do not return, please look after her also. She's a true friend of mine. We used to share all our problems with each other. I know she loves me truly. Do something for her if I fail to make it back. This is my humble request to you both.
May God always bless you. I wish you both good health and peace.
Your loving son
Neibu" how does it feel moving towards a certain death ? No, I do not have an answer. A fear... a subdued, head-bowed fear...of parting...of not being able to see one's loved ones again... and also, amid all this a hidden 'guilt' that one has not been able to do enough for life... for one's people. It if everything is getting left behind ! An excerpt from a poem by Neel Kamal comes to mind...

"Bhay ko dekhna ho
natmastak, kar baddh
to dekho us aamee kee aankhon mein
jise maloom hai
zindagi kee ultee gintee"

"To see fear
with its head bowed, hands folded
look into the eyes of a man
who is aware of the count-down of his life"       


Saturday 6 April 2019

'Diary Of A Soldier' -17, an English tranaslation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary (फ़ौजी की डायरी-१७)

Toofan se ladne mein mazaa aur hee kuchh hai
(fighting a storm has a thrill of its own)

This is about something that dates back not hundreds or thousands of years ... but only one year. The August of last year, proud of and pleased at its own existence but somewhat piqued at the same time for it was at the peak of this month some seventy-one years ago that the independence of a great nation... as also the birth of a new nation had been declared. The same new nation which was to become a thorn in the side of this great nation... the same new nation whose coming into existence compels the likes of us to stay put on these high, icy mountains, away from home, family and all civilization.
Ah well, the story is of the August of the year gone by. River Kishanganga was fully swollen... the same river Kishanganga that flows meandering below this snowy mountain of ours and is called river Neelam  by those across the border. The snow from these same mountains, after melting, was charging up the veins of the river. Making an angle of about sixty to sixty-five degrees on the southern, that is on our side of the river bank, this mountain rises up to approximately thirteen thousand feet and, housing enemy-bunkers on the lower three-fourth and our own soldiers' bunkers on the upper one-fourth of its slope, has been - with its hands on ears - quietly thrashing its own head... who is to say since when... why, of course since that August seventy to seventy-one years ago ! In fact its ears, rotted completely from hearing the daily steeped-in-insults war-of-words, are virtually on the verge of dropping off into the depths of the Kishanganga. it's been a dozen years since ceasefire was declared in this section of the border, so instead of bullets, insults are exchanged full-on between the residents of bunkers situated a stone-throw away from each other. Janmaashtamee that year was perhaps in August. When, on this pious occasion of the birth celebrations of our deity, the representatives of bunkers across the border had teased the representatives of bunkers on our side saying, "Sir, you take rest tonight, celebrate your festival, we shall stand duty... " the barrage of the choicest of expletives from bunkers at our end had kept tickling the Kishanganga flowing below us for long.
As the thin and wiry major, the boss of the bunkers on our side celebrated Janmaashtamee - the birthday of Muralidharee Krishna  on the thirteenth of August that year, he had himself arrived on the twenty eighth rung of his age. The major, as per rule, shouldn't even have been there on those bunker on that height. One of the bullets received during an encounter in the jungles in Assam during his previous field posting was still hurting... craving frequently for shots of pain-killer injections. Overlooking orders by the Doctors, the thin and wiry Major had come here as he was... what is it that they say... yes, head over heels in love with his battalion. He had received a surprise from his commanding officer late in the evening of that thirteenth of August in the form of a five pounder Black Forest cake ordered from the famous 'Mughal Darbaaar' bakery in Srinagar... with special instructions to "remain extra alert today, as it is the fourteenth of August tomorrow."
Putting each other to test in a war-of-words as always the night, of course, went by somehow... but the next morning arrived bringing with it a very interesting spectacle. As the brilliant rays of Sun-god - having wrapped themselves around the Kishanganga - moved up to embrace the highest peak of the mountain, the thin and wiry major saab, getting up to prepare for sleep after staying awake through the night, witnessed those in the bunkers on the other side - resplendent in their uniforms - busy in preparations for their independence day celebrations. Postponing his sleep for a while the major paused and watched as the green flag with the white strip and its undulating moon and star went up the tall pole and began its flirtations with the wind. The major took a deep yawn and was about to turn his back when his sharp eyes sent a message to his brain that something was amiss... turning again he stared at the white moon and star on the green flag... the crescent moon with the star in its curve was definitely facing downwards. The flag was flying up-side-down.                   
"Oye Kameeno - you rascals - at least today you should be flying your flag the right way... or should we come over and fly ours." Laughing loudly, the major shouted out to those in the bunkers across the line. The other side of the border was as if rocked with an earthquake of sorts. The choicest of insults which the boss of those in the bunkers across the border - one havaldaar saab - (The officers in the army on the opposite side do not, as a custom, live at the border) used to throw at us were now directed at his subordinates. After the flag was taken down, straightened and flown again, the havaldaar sahib from the other side, approaching the major on this side, thanked him in an extremely sweet voice along with the appeal...janaab - sir - please do not report it anywhere...
A silence of sorts prevailed in the bunkers on the other side for a long while after this. The newly invented barbs, phrases and slurs thrown from this end with an intention to provoke and incite went unanswered for months on end. The Kishanganga carried on with its tickling as per practice... the river Neelam however, stayed a little dispirited those days.
A famous couplet comes to mind...

"Saahil ke sukoon se kise inkaar hai, lekin
toofan se ladne mein mazaa aur hee kuchh hai"

(no one's saying no to the solace in the shore, but
fighting a storm holds a thrill of its own)


Sunday 10 February 2019

Diary Of A Soldier - 16 English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

khoon se lathpath haree vardee naye shringaar se...
(the coated-with-blood green uniform... was adorned anew)

The summer arrives, at last, on this high mountain. The snow has melted and a convoy of vehicles has arrived only yesterday with fresh vegetables and packets of milk. This actually is a proper halleujah moment for the taste buds in one's tongue, living in terror of frozen potatoes and canned peas for the past seven momths..

Beyond this joy however are memories that turn back repeatedly to look towards that bleak summer... it feels like centuries have passed. The season of summer that year was bent upon breaking all its records of heat. The winter, lurking still  in some such remote, northern corner of the country, had been  startled by the sudden boom of explosions. The summer, beginning in mid-May, seemed to have resolved to bring on by the end of July, a rain of blood - not of sweat. The small patrolling party of the Jat regiment, led by Captain Saurabh Kalia was surrounded on that fifteenth of May by the enemy in large numbers... and its tragic outcome was to keep the days to come all shaken up for centuries...  the summer of that year was... is... to be remembered in the history of the Indian army as the most fierce one.

The Bofors guns posted at the border had opened its powerful jaws !

Nineteen years ago... the year nineteen hundred and ninety nine... the summer of ninety nine !

That year... the summer had as if got caught on the snowy summits of Kargil, Drass and Batalik. The rogue was refusing to leave. Before the final decision for declaration of war was taken in the corridors of power in Delhi... war had started already for the soldiers a fortnight back.

Captain Amit Bhardwaj, another young officer of the Jat regiment had gone out with his team to look for the missing patrolling party led by Captain Saurabh Kalia. After the end of Kargil war, people remember the names of just a select few heroes... whereas many bravehearts such as Amit, Vishwanathan, Nimbalkar and Adhikari have remained hidden behind these talked-about names. Amit had returned just that April... having completed his training from the commando school in Belgaum. He had been with me... in my team... during that training. The way he used to walk alongside during the drenched-in-sweat route-marches of the long, unending nights and requested to hum together songs by Kishor Kumar is still wedged like an ache beneath the layers in my chest. His most favourite song was - ye naina, ye kajal, ye zulfe, ye aanchal. I'd had no inkling then that I would never meet him after the training. It was perhaps on the seventeenth or the eighteenth of May when Amit and his radio operator had the last contact with their battalion. Later... much...much later.. after the formal declaration of the end of war, the badly mutilated bodies of Amit and his radio-operator were found... with marks of bullets fired from close range on their faces and chests.

During that freezing summer....lurking still on those high mountains, Indian soldiers were, as if, in a contest to set new examples of bravery. When, in the beginning of June, the Prime minister eventually admitted in his formal statement that there was a "war-like situation" in Kargil, the word "like" had forced thousands and thousands of soldier to burst into laughter. Beyond that laughter however, towered the Tololing and and Tiger hills with their heads held high at sixteen thousand feet, mocking as a difficult 'challenge'. It was necessary that the mountains be freed from enemy-occupation, also because the peaks of these mountains looked over the Srinagar-Leh national highway and this road was extremely important for the movement of the army's own convoys.

The story of Vikram Batra and the Tiger hill has become very famous. But the truth about Tololing is as much a matter of honour as it is of pain. It was perhaps for the first time after twenty eight years... after nineteen seventy one... when the Indian Army was making a planned attack on the enemy. The last night in the month of May and the first two-three nights in the month of June of nineteen years ago, were about to join the list of the most dangerous of challenges in all the wars in history. As per a pre-decided plan, the grenadiers and a team of soldiers from the Naga battalion began to make a concentrated attack. Sitting behind large rocks and in dug-out bunkers, the enemy was not an easy target. Due to heavy army firing, it became very difficult to advance after reaching as close as thirty meters. Teams led by Major Rajesh Adhikari and captain Nimbalkar had taken position behind a huge wall of snow.

Captain Nimbalkar (now colonel) narrates the story of those three-four nights in a very interesting way. In between the exchange of fire with the enemy, there was also a full and free exchange of expletives. The cannon-shots from the bofors guns positioned below were as fatal for our own soldiers as they were for the enemy. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Vishwanathan, second-in-command of the grenadier regiment was leaving out nothing in attacking the foe despite being injured. When, in the process of evacuating the  injured soldiers, Lieutenant Colonel Vishwanathan realized that his return would be futile as his death was imminent, he ordered for the less injured soldiers to be evacuated first. How valiant of him was this ! A number of enemy bunkers were destroyed and the Indian army had lost over sixty of its warriors including Lieutenant Colonel Vishwanathan, Major Adhikari, Subedar Randhir, havaldar Madanlal, havaldar Ram and Captain Ashok. The month of June was not yet half over and the target of Tololing was still far away. It was to be achieved only at the end of that summer, the story of which will be told another time, dear diary. Such valiant warriors and their unbelievable stories ! I had written something once...

"Cheed kay jungle khade thay... dekhte laachaar se
golian chaltee raheen... is paar se, us paar se
jism to chhalnee gira dhartee pe, lekin saj uthee
khoon se lathpath haree vardee naye shringaar se"

(The Pine forests stood... watching helplessly
as from this end and that... the bullets flew
the body, riddled, fell on the ground... but
the coated-with-blood green uniform... was adorned anew)