Monday, 17 September 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 9, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Mujhse ek kavita kaa vaadaa hai milegee mujhko
(I have the word of a poem, it'd be there for me)                                                                                       

The evenings are growing chilly. This darned September... stuck here since who knows when... was refusing completely to make its exit. It seemed the month had become so enamoured of these sky-kissing heights of thirteen thousand feet that it would not give way to October. But in the end October did arrive... breathing hard from the slope far down ...shoving September away. At times it feels as if I've been here, encamped here on this mountain... for aeons. Did I ever exist anywhere else before this? Or is it that I've been here since the beginning of creation ? Who do I ask ? There are times when even this enormous family of twelve hundred jawans and fifteen to sixteen officers seems to fall short in filling up this vast loneliness stretched all around. There is perhaps no job more lonesome than leading a large family ! Each phone call coming from the bunkers, each message received on the radio set, unless it begins with an 'all okay' ... invariably makes the heart miss a beat at first. What if, in this utter desolation, this damned, anxiety ridden heart stops beating ! What a futile death would it be ! This clammy death-smell clings so close to the body during the month of September! The month has become a little too saddening in the past eight years... extending the desolation more and more with each year.

It was a moment that the gloom had struck... it is the load of a century that lies sprawled. Eight years have passed already since bidding farewell to Suresh. Yes...eight years ! Suresh... Suresh Suri... Major Suresh Suri ... whose very existence defined valour in motion... but whose exit had been pre-ordained somewhere in it's list by destiny in order for me to exist. Everything becomes so easy, doesn't it, when we assume that it had been so written... destiny ! And death, when it occurs, is complete destiny in itself. The other day when captain Rakesh, at the mention of Suresh, had asked me, "how does it feel sir, in those last moments of death"... I'd almost laughed. Last moment of death ? How can any moment of death be its last ? Life... it is life that has a last moment . Death has just that one moment, isn't it... whether its first or its last.

All the officers had wanted that day to hear from me the story of that September of eight years ago. I had again put it off and in lieu, had been lobbed that poser... how does it feel in the last moments of death ! It had almost evoked laughter, but it had disappeared in a blink - the laughter... alarmed that it had dared to appear when it was Suresh who was being discussed ! In these past eight years he comes alive almost daily, courting death again and again on the cruel canvas of memory. Mulling the thousands and thousands of options such as - had that happened,  this wouldn't have happened or had this not been done, it wouldn't have come to that - the mind brings Suresh to life each time and then kills him again. There was probably no moment for him that could be called his last...whether of life or even of death.  That last moment eventually has remained stuck only to my 'self'... as my destiny. When I think of Rakesh's question now, I recall the nature and number of thoughts assailing the blood-soaked body on the day. The first being that Suresh is alive... everything will be fine in a moment...that this is a mere nightmare and will disappear immediately on waking up. And the second about how my Chhutki - my ilittle girl - would grow up without her papa in case I did not survive ! And some other pointless thoughts... the anger on this unexpected turn of an absolutely well planned operation... anger on the blood drops dripping from the body... anger on the about-to-run-out bullets. In those last seconds, perhaps only anger was the foremost emotion. Something like life flashing before eyes in the fashion of a moving reel ... ha ! Perhaps that happens only in films .

Would it be poetic or realistic... to say that the bullets that are stuck in the body do not give as much pain as do the bullets being extracted from that same body by the doctors' scissors despite the administration of anaesthesia...? This dialogue had made all the officers laugh for a long time that day and this laughter of theirs had brought, for the first time, solace even in the month of September . May be... it just may be that the pain is finally accepting the might of destiny ! Many a time I feel like calling up Suresh's place... to have a long talk with aunty... tell her of all these realistic or poetic thoughts assailing my mind. She perhaps is the one person on this earth who may be able to reach to the bottom of all this turmoil. But then I can't muster the courage ! Something begins to pound deep down the chest... somewhat like the pounding rising in the chest on the day when bullets had begun to boom suddenly from all directions.

Right now...right at this instant, sounds of fire coming from far afar out in the space are as if providing a  background music of drum beats to these sad memories making a march ! 'Sad'... 'Suresh'... 'September'... why do all these begin with an 'S' ? September, the 'sadist'... ha ! what a cliché !!
Brings to mind a verse by Gulzar...

Maut tu ek kavita hai
Mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko

Doobati nabzon mein jab dard ko neend aane lage
Zard saa cheraa liye jab chaand ufak tak pahunche
Din abhi paani mein ho, raat kinare ke qareeb
Naa andhera naa ujaalaa ho, naa abhi raat naa din
jism jab khatm ho aur rooh ko jab saans aaye
mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko  

(Death, thou art a poem
A poem has given me word, it'd be there for me

When in the sinking pulse, the pain begins to slip into sleep
When the moon, with its pale face, makes its way to the horizon
When the day is still in the water, the night, nigh the shore
Its neither dark nor light, neither day nor night
when the body ceases to be and the soul begins to breathe
A poem has given me word, it'd be there for me)

September 2017


Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 8, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Ik Rasta Hai Zindagi, Jo Thum Gaye To Kuchh Nahin
(Life is a path, in case we stop it comes to nought)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Far from this bunker built with cold and damp stones, beyond the butt of this lifeless AK 47, some place away from the piercing winds on this high mountain... I wish to get distributed between a few big and small phrases jotted up and down in some disorderly lines, free from all bindings, let loose, rid of my wits... so that I could sweep together in my poetry... papa's deteriorating health, the wrinkles on ma's worried brow, the smell of gun powder, all these sandbagged barricades, Deepika padukone's smiling eyes, forgotten names of a few girls, The pealing laughter of my only little girl and lots... lots and lots of leave of absence... all of this at one go.
It is so difficult to explain to everyone... anyone, that to a soldier standing on duty, it often appears like a sin  to even think about taking leave ...

...that moving was implicit in even my pause, and all you saw was, how still I was...

...that the gut wrenching wails of moments you wouldn't want to hear even in your dreams, I was destined to live through and you heard not my scream... but the squeals of destiny...

...that the fingers, broken while writing new definitions of commitment, are unable to write down answers to accusations hidden in your questions...

...that the truth is that this has no meaning... this watching, this hearing, this raising of questions...

...when my valour, my devotion has no place even in my father's gradually dying out memories... what still has a place there however, is the unjustified  uselessness of my justified absences !

And thinking of papa while on apprehensive night vigils on these stretched out borders, I am reminded of the story of Yayaati.  As a result of the curse coming from the wrath of Guru Shukracharya - his own father-in-law and the guru of the daityas - Yayaati, in ancient times, grown old before his time had, under some mental aberration, requested his five sons to lend him a slice of their youth. What I remember of the story read in childhood is that perhaps only Puru, the youngest of the five sons, had been willing to fulfil his father's wish. And the story gives rise to a wayward thought... a wish that science had some such mechanism in these amazing technical times... a wish that a son could, like blood and organs, donate a slice of his own youth to his father... ! Ah, too many of 'wishes' !!!

The spell of these night vigils weaves a number of such bizzare 'wishes' !

Meanwhile, it has come to knowledge... that the grey, sprawled out stone... had kept sneezing till late last night . Yes, that same stone... that largish one, the one that, owing  to its size and greyness, seems absolutely  different even from afar on the descent of the slope, whereafter begin rows of the pines and the cedars and a little after that comes the root of all the false and imaginary disputes - that line called the border. Yes, that very stone whereon sits either a wearied 'noon' or a tired out 'evening' each time on return from a patrol to take a breather and light up a tiny, eighty four millimetre long cigarette stick before it embarks upon the steep, two and a half hour long climb.

...and somehow or the other, each time immediately after the patrol ends, one or the other voice - nervous and concerned -  calls out from the rest of the patrol coming from behind, "It's not advisable to sit there for so long saab, that stone is within the range of the enemy snipers and those nuts are not to be trusted." Hmm...the concerned voices are right. But there is some sort of a trust on that stone... on the grey stop-over on that stone, on the few minutes of laid back sittings... on the 'devtakaaar' - godly (not 'daityakaar') heights of those pines and cedars and on the little smoke-spewing stick. How does one explain this to those nervous and concerned voices ! So, with a nothing-happens-you-know smile, the wearied 'noon' or the tired out 'evening' begins to think that the next time it would certainly leave written on that sprawled out greyish bosom of the stone, either a couplet by Ghalib or a verse by Gulzar. You never  know when a crackpot of a or evening from the other side may come patrolling and leave something written in reply...!!!
Many a page
must have been buried
in the vast bosom of the stone

Let me look for a verse
or find myself a song
one page at least be mine...

...and last 'evening', was bathed in rain as it returned from patrol. And the two and a half hour long climb had slipped many times under the 'evening's feet, pleading each time as it slipped for the 'evening' to make a stop for the night around the stone. Making a stop was difficult for the evening, however that minutes long stop-over did get stretched... for the thin and tiny Wills classic stick, dampened by rain drops, took a very long time to light up and irked by the delay, the wet socks in the water-filled boots became very adamant...  demanding to come out of the boots to lie awhile on the sprawled out stone to soak in its warmth. Grape wine has it that there was also a lengthy exchange of verses between the socks and the stone. The socks had dried up... that supine looking stone had stayed wet.

...and that stone had sneezed through last night... splayed out, greyish sneezes !

A song in the voice of Naik Mahesh, standing guard at a far off barricade, comes floating in...

Jaate huye raahee ke saaye mein simatana kyaa 
ik pal ke musafir ke daaman mein lipatana kya
aate hue kadamon se, jaate hue kadamon se
bharee rahegee rahguzar, jo hum gaye to kuchh naheen
ik raastaa hai zindagee jo thum gaye to kuchh naheen...

(Why shrink into the shadow of a voyager going away
why cling to a traveller, here for a moment's stay
steps that come in, steps that go out
shall keep the road abustle, our leaving matters not
life is a path, in case we stop it comes to nought


August 2017

Monday, 18 June 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 7. English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Duniya mein chand log hote hain Jaadugar !
Some In The World Happen To Be Magicians !                                                                                                                                           
The world on the border... the world where the inhabitants live  either in bunkers or at the front... is a weird and wondrous world. The attitude in the laughter here warms the veins of the ice-cold winds. The green-brown prints on uniforms of the inhabitants here makes even the leafs, gone dry in the freezing conditions, go green. Keeping away from the crazed 'What's App' and 'Face book' practices, the people here write letters on inlands and envelops and receive letters from their beloveds in sacks full too.  the inhabitants here keep themselves well informed on week-old newspapers and without getting a glimpse of fresh veggies for months together the blood of the inhabitants here keeps on the boil each moment.

The haphazard kisses blown towards God by the inhabitants here make the stars fall, and wishes are made on these very falling stars by people of the rest of the world in lower plains
Sadness does not get a permanent visa to this world on the border. This is a world of loud guffaws... and  ingrained in these guffaws -- guts and glory have become permanent, full-fledged residents of this place. Often ignoring all these facts however conspiracies to humiliate each moment these permanent, full-fledged residents of this world are hatched constantly. When the story of such a conspiracy came to light a few days back, even surprise sat back astounded for all time to come... was a lazed out morning dawdling under a slack sun. An ordinary morning in Kashmir which by the time it culminated into afternoon was going to turn into an infamous one. Just as he did on any other morning that young major had, immediately upon waking, assumed command of the seemingly indomitable tower-post situated bang in the centre of the city... ignorant completely of what destiny had in store for the morning. The tower-post was a very special one... its architecture, its location at the main crossing of the city and its windows presenting an open, all-round view... all of it together gave it the status of an unassailable and extremely strong army-post. The location of the Tower-post at that place provided a reassuring atmosphere of sorts to the movement of army convoys and other military activities. But it was because of all these specialities and salient points  that the tower had also become an eyesore for a certain section of local people.
 A rumour, that a local girl had been molested by an army man, was doing the rounds since the past afternoon.  Later, when the girl praised the army man in her statement, the rumour itself had revealed itself to have been a concocted one. But that was later... at the moment the major was a little disturbed because of the rumour. Even in his disturbed state, he was somewhere looking for some solace for he believed in the power of the truth. The only purpose behind all these rumours was to... incite the local people and distort the image of the army... the major was thinking ... the initial phase of terrorism has certainly witnessed some soldiers misbehave... no such misdeed however, by any soldier during the past ten or fifteen years comes to mind. In the years gone by the army has improved its image and learning from its mistakes made in the former half of the nineties, has dealt strictly with army personnel involved in any misbehaviour. The major was deliberating silently over all this in the context of the recently floated rumour when suddenly his thoughts went into a tizzy. The crowd of local  people assembling on the road leading directly to the tower post had at once put the laid back morning on an alert mode.

The training of so many years and the experience of this terror infested area... the two together warn the young major's sixth sense. He has seen too many times how the mob here can grow horribly and turn violent in a blink. The local police who, against all his notions formed by watching films, arrives on time on being informed and fires the first round of tear-gas on the by now almost unruly mob. The destiny of the morning... the empty shell of the round falls on the head of a man in the crowd, who dies. the man's corpse turns the mob's frenzy towards the tower-post. The major watches wide-eyed a bottle filled with burning petrol come flying from the crowd and fall on his post followed by a hail of stones. A corner of the tower-post has caught fire... the major cannot see another petrol bomb come that side. When the mob's frenzy does not seem to abate despite three warnings on the loudspeaker and a second petrol bomb falls and explodes nearby in a fraction of a second, the major, pointing to the man leading the mob, orders one of his soldiers to fire once at his feet. The destiny of the morning... the man, stumbling  in the crowd panicking at the sound of fire takes the bullet on his head instead of his feet.

The major weighs all the options present before him. Should he, at the cost of the death of some more in the firing or at the risk of being torched alive along with his colleagues continue to defend the tower post or... he makes no delay in reaching a decision. The young major, abandoning the tower-post,  enters along with his soldiers the safe boundary-wall of his base-camp a little behind the tower-post... praying all the while that somebody has made a video of the entire development.

Believing he'd be tried for murder, he was preparing himself to face the questions of the enquiry-committee and praying that the one to judge his character may be anyone but those who, sitting pretty in the confines of their homes, have taken to this fad of posing as a judge on facebook and whatsapp. He wanted to avoid seeing himself in the truth-twisting, frustration-spewing headlines of the next day. This much is certain... the young major thinks... that  the headline  'Two Dead In Army Firing' would any time sound better than the headline 'One Officer and Five Jawans Of The Army' Torched Alive By An Angry Mob !'

... And whenever I get to hear such a story, I find that young major and each such soldier nothing short of a magician...

Kehti hai ye nazar
kub kya ho kya khabar
Duniya mein chand log hote hain jaadugar!                                                                                                                                                               
(What this glance tells is
that you never can tell-the what and the when of a thing to happen
for some people in the world happen to be magicians !)
July 2017     

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 6, An English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

In Compassion, There Is Always A Personal History

The nights have, as if, got a thing these days about not coming to an end... the blasted snow - as it melted - has, as if, stretched the nights taut while making its exit. The nights are so long that they seem to take a lifetime to reach morning ! "Romeo Charlie for Tiger... all okay ! Over !" This melody  of "all okay" feels more soothing than even Gulzar's verse or Ghalib' couplets. A speck or two of snow, clinging still to the laces of the long, white snow-boots languishing sadly in a corner of the bunker can be heard having their storytelling sessions in whispers... telling stories of those calm, icy nights when the spectres of jihad also had felt cold.

...And the conversation during these long, stretched out nights is often only with the ever-altering moon. But why does this scoundrel of a moon scurry so hurriedly to Amaavas- the darkness of a a new-moon night ? Now that the snow has melted, the thing required most to maintain  an alert vigil on the border is the light of this shifty moon. Why can't the rogue forget the celestial order of shifting its phase till the season of these long nights lasts ? 

The little larger than half-moon - its chin held up - had remained poised for long last night over the roof of the tiny bunker built on that hillock across the border. Last night was a weird and wondrous night... the bands of clouds swirling around from morning till late evening vanished suddenly the moment the night grew young. Was it only a spell cast by that a-little-larger-than half moon or had the clouds, laden and weighed down through the day, become weary of the autocracy of the sky... whatever it was, all of it together was creating a corny contrast.  ...A contrast? Yes, surely, a contrast -- that this bunker built on the hillock on the other side stares continuously with steely eyes during the day, rifle barrels trained in this direction, and now, in the dark of the night and from above the roof of the same bunker, this rogue of a moon is staring this way. Not just staring... but the rogue is also reminding acutely of a certain disc-shaped face...

I had thought ... yes, I had thought I would tell her when she called, that her memory - like an ache - had stabbed sharply on seeing that moon poised, with its chin held up, above the roof of that bunker across the border. The fatigue from patrolling however, had risen from the burning soles to reach up to the tongue and I could say absolutely nothing.... Now I am thinking if I see the rogue staring as before...I'll pick it and bring it over from there to keep under my burning soles inside the sleeping bag. In case that disc-faced dame called now I would ask if her memory, that shot up like an acute ache on seeing the moon was a  blasphemy, since that rascal moon had crossed over and taken residence in the enemy camp?
...And only goodness knows why these eyes have misted over !

For the past thousand...ten thousand years, ever since this green uniform has become a part of this body, these eyes have devised some strange systems for shedding tears. These eyes that used to cry on reading a beautiful poem, mist over while reading stories and novels, well up when watching an emotional film scene, become wet to hear in this remote corner of the country the beloved, living far off, talk on the phone... do not, surprisingly, shed tears over a death.  They did not cry even when just a week back, that young major down in the forest with thirteen bullets embedded in his chest was martyred because he was concerned more with trying to save his fallen soldier than himself. When, after pressing the trigger, the bullet, expelled from the barrel of AK 47 and travelling at a speed of two thousand three hundred and fifty feet per second, penetrates the body, the body gets no inkling of it and by the time it does, it's too late. Bravery, in fact, is not in the shooting or in getting shot, bravery is  in the intent that does not waver even when fully aware of the death lurking around and goes in that very direction to take it fully on.

Bravery has taken on a new name for itself... the name of Major Satish. An absolutely ordinary young man -- like someone living at a turning in the neighbourhood -- standing at the twenty seventh rung of age... the only difference being that whereas his friends were trying to get into IITs, medical colleges and CAT, he made up his mind to don the green uniform for his country. And when this country of his was grieving the defeat of its cricket team playing seven seas across, this brave was fighting a nameless battle without any cheering. On the next Independence day, all this country of his will do, is hand him a medal. The irony of this country is that you are not considered brave until you become a martyr. This word - 'martyr' - for some reason seems, for the past many days, to be pulling faces at me...!!!

Standing silent in the jungles of Rajwad and Hafaruda under high, snow clad mountains in central Kashmir, the pine and the cedar trees are witness to an umpteen number of unseen-unheard tales of bravery...tales of the countless Major Satishes in the Indian army. The fallen leaves and the broken branches of these pine and cedar trees that stand amid the expanse of the white spread-out sheet of snow have, in the time span of more than three decades, cradled in their laps any number of bloodied bodies of soldiers like Major Satish.  These silent trees of pine and cedar watch also when the residents of villages adjacent to the jungle offer their food and their daughters, who have no voice, to entertain the deranged ones who cross over from the other side to their village in the name of jehad... the crumbling down of the morsels of their food are not seen by their Khuda and the mention of their mute and frightened daughters finds no place in the poems and stories by any feminist ! These Satishes however, see everything ! These Satish-like young men can very well continue to sit ensconced in their army-posts watching all the circus, for these Satishes are, in any case going to receive their salaries... however the oath taken by these Satishes before any star came to adorn the shoulders of their uniform, does not allow them to sit in the restful warmth of their army-posts and these warriors get up and go to the jungles to write a new definition of bravery ! At the other end, the mindlessness of those who offer their daughters along with food does not end here... showing up instead, in the form of stones that rain down on the ambulances that carry these wounded Satishes to hospitals. Exasperated, the souls of these Satishes  part with their bodies to go up so they can - on behalf of the voiceless food and the voiceless daughters of Hafaruda and Rajwad - make a plea to God ! Who knows if God listens to these Satishes... it's close to forty years... as of now, there is no news of these pleas getting a hearing !

A wayward thought has begun recently to make its way into my mind... whether or not the representatives in the bunker on the other side miss somebody too, when they see the moon poised thus above their bunker ? It would be interesting to know... ! I am reminded of a few lines in a poem by Geet Chaturvedi :

Bhookh mein hotee hai tapasya
 paani mein bahut saaree atripti
upkaar mein kaee aarope
vyaakhyaa mein thodee see badneeyatee
karuna mein hamesha 
ek nijee itihaas hota hai
In hunger there is a penance
in water, an immense discontent
in favour, many an allegation
in interpretation, a bit of ill-intent
in compassion,
there is always a personal history

(June 2017)

Monday, 14 May 2018

Diary Of A Soldier-5. An English Translation of Gautam Rajrishi's -Fauji Ki Diary (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

I Love You Fly Boy 

Date  : January 27, 2017                                                                                                                              Place : An army helipad somewhere in Jammu-Nagrota

It's getting to be four in the afternoon. Piercing through the fog after a day long struggle, the Sun God smiles eventually. Two pilots from army aviation - a major and a captain - in their smart, fitted uniforms are  preparing to return with their helicopter to their aviation base situated somewhere in the interior of central Kashmir. The journey from this helipad to their aviation base will take approximately an hour and a quarter. The two arrived here only the day before, crossing the snowy ranges of Pirpanjal with their advance light helicopter- Dhruv,... to provide extra security against the countless threats received in view of the twenty sixth of January. The rotors of the helicopter are gradually gaining speed. After a cursory look around, the major comes to sit in the cockpit signalling to the captain with a small shake of his head. With his right hand, the captain increases the pressure on the joy-stick... full throttle... raising something like a dust-storm. The moment the speed of rotor-fans reaches three hundred and fifteen rotations per minute, the gigantic five tonne helicopter rises in the air, defying the gravity of the earth. The band of vagrant clouds adrift a little below, adds a crease or two to the zigzag of creases present already on the major's brow. Playing with the vagrancy of the clouds the rotor fans, by then, bring the helicopter to a safe height... above that vagrant band. The snowy Pirpanjal peaks, visible on the distant horizon in front, are gradually coming closer. All that is required is to cross over these peaks.The flight over the valley-floor beyond is child-play.  A bunch of clouds, hanging over the Pirpanjal, smiles, as if conspiratorially,  on seeing the coming helicopter. The captain is not particularly bothered. This is perhaps his first flight in the area. But the few, sporadic drops of sweat amid the suddenly increasing  lines zigzagging on the major's brow are telling another tale. The helicopter is moving very slowly because of the fog and the clouds. It is imperative as per orders that they reach the base before five-thirty in the evening. In the freezing cold, the day appears for ever to be in a haste to leave, and the night, ever ready to make its appearance by six. This is an advance helicopter only in name, its capacity for a night flight being almost zero.

Date  : 27 January 2017                                                                                                                              Place : A forest below Pirpanjal, somewhere in southern Kashmir valley
Its nine-thirty in the morning. A section of the forest this side of the valley booms suddenly with sounds of bullet-fire. The nearby National Rifles Battalion had received confirmed news of four terrorists hiding in the jungle just the previous night and the first appearance of the Sun god has blown the bugle of an encounter. Two of the terrorists have been neutralized, two are being chased. It has been over seven hours. One of the army-units on the chase has reached very deep inside the jungle and one of the surviving terrorists has been killed. There is no sign of the other. One of the team... the lance naik of the unit is injured. A bullet has hit his abdomen.  First-aid has put a stop to the bleeding, but it is imperative he reaches the hospital at once. The nearest road is four hours away. A message, to send a helicopter at the earliest has been sent on the wireless to the aviation base.
Date : 27 January 2017                                                                                                                                Place: Directly above Pirpanjal

It is going to be five in the evening. The major has taken over complete control of the helicopter. The captain who appeared relaxed till a few seconds back seems agitated. The helicopter, battling the fog and the horde of conspiring clouds is directly over the summits of Pirpanjal. On his radio-set, the major receives a message from the base about the ongoing encounter right below him and also about the jawan injured during the encounter. The base... as also darkness, is still half an hour away. The dilemma in the majors mind is at its peak. The rules state that he can keep flying towards his base. He is under no pressure. As per rules and orders he should, in view of the security of the expensive helicopter and its two trained pilots, land at the base by the time its five-thirty. At that height of his dilemma he remembers his major friend... his close buddy, who is posted in that very National Rifles Battalion and suddenly the helicopter turns towards the jungle below Pirpanjal. Ignoring the captain's lips mumbling in protest, the major runs his left hand over his brow, erasing the zigzag of all lines on his brow like lines of chalk drawn over a slate.

Date  : 27 January 2017                                                                                                                              Place : A dense part of a jungle somewhere in the southern Kashmir valley directly below Pirpanjal.

The time is almost a quarter past five. The evening has descended somewhat early in this interior of the jungle. In between the chirruping of crickets, one can hear intermittent sounds of a person's groans. The worried eyes of fellow soldiers of the injured lance-naik  rise again and again to the sky. With the descending darkness, the sound of the injured lance-naik's moans are growing dim. And then, amid the sound of the crickets' chirruping, rises anther sound from the sky. The silhouette of the huge rotor fans of the sudden shape of the helicopter above the trees comes as an elixir for the by now disheartened lance-naik. The helicopter, poised a little above the ground, is rattling up the entire jungle. The injured lance-naik and one of his mates come to give company to the lonesome twosome of the major and the captain sitting in the helicopter. Making the trees sway and swing, the helicopter begins its journey towards the base, making its way out in the dark. The clock glowing in the cockpit is giving a warning about it being fifteen minutes past the stipulated timeline

Date : 28 January 2017                                                                                                                                Place: Aviation base cantonment situated somewhere in central Kashmir valley.

Its seven in the morning. The injured lance-naik is breathing safely in the ICU for the past twelve hours under the care of capable doctors. The major is sound asleep. His mobile set rings.Drowsy and lazy he stares with a mumble at the mobile screen,... which is flashing the number of his friend - the major. He takes the call, somewhat half-heartedly...                                                                                                                            Major : "Haan...bol !" - yes...shoot !
Friend Major : "Kaisa hai tu?" - how are you ?
Major : "Thanks kehne ke liye phone kiya hai toone ? - have you called to say thanks ?
Friend Major : Nahin...!" - no !
Major: "Phir ?' - Why then ?
Friend Major : "I love you fly-boy !"
Major : "Chal-chal...!" - buzz off !
And loud guffaws ring out in unison at both ends of the mobile-set.
PS :--                                                                                                                                                          Indian army is proud of its aviation wing. These dare devil pilots have saved and are saving daily the lives of any number of soldiers - putting so many times their own lives at risk...setting an example... many a time in violation of the rules and regulations laid down in this respect.Noone knows the stories of their bravery. Thank you O Chetak, Cheeta and Dhruv... and the team of valiant officers who fly them... !!!                     
(May 2017)

Sunday, 29 April 2018

'Diary Of A Soldier - 4' English Translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Daiary'

  Kitne Haathon Main Yahan Hain Kitne Patthar, Gaur Kar !                                                                         (So many stones, in so many hands here, pay heed!)
             April 2017

One of Dushyant's couplets, along with slogans for freedom, is in full swing these days  in the valley below ..."kaise aakaash mein sooraakh ho nahin sakta, ek ptthar to tabeeyat se uchhaalo yaaron" -  'why can't a hole be made in the sky, just pelt up a stone, fellows, with all your might'.  And stones are being pelted up aplenty. The blessings showering down on stones these days are proving mightier than the prayers being thrown up to God. Stones are being pelted with intensity, stones being pelted up with might . Failing however, in making a darned hole in the sky. It's the heads of the uniforms that are getting split up, their shoulders tearing, knees slipping... but no hole is made in the sky, and how can it possibly? When Dushyant had made the call to pelt up a stone with full might, it had implicit in it the might of the truth.  And no matter with what might these stones, enveloped in a wayward,  false dream are being pelted, their reach is restricted to heads-shoulders-knees... it's not in them to make a hole in the sky. This shower of stones is not reaching even as far as us on these sky-high mountains.  Seeing the Kashmiri porters, who bring our rations and other things from the village below, sit down to eat in the langar - community eating  - with our jawans, I couldn't stop myself. I also joined in and when I asked them why they, like their kith and kin in the valley below, do not pick stones too, to throw in our direction... the reply of twenty-one year old Usmaan Chheti raised, among the sounds of slurping of mutton, such an echo of boisterous, collective guffaws that I panicked...what if it causes an avalanche! With an alluring  smile on lips hidden behind his sparse beard, Usmaan said with a little salute, "Saab, the thing is that in the valley below, freedom has been written even on the backs that are bowed in  prayer before God ! Just as children, who've grown up listening to ghost stories know there are no ghosts, and yet hear and repeat ghost stories... the youngsters in the valley below are in a similar situation.  What freedom is or isn't... these boys have no clue... but since they've been hearing it since childhood they go on repeating it and with it keep pelting stones for fun!"
The stones raining down do not agitate as much, as does the apathy of the Jhelum. Wanting me to shake up the Jhelum in its silent and serene flow and ask how it can remain so unperturbed when the children who play on its banks are going astray at the behest of a few nuts. The slogans of 'Go back, Indian dogs' are not as distressing as is the customary blooming of the chinars. I feel like hauling up each and every chinar tree in the valley and ask how it can continue to flower happily when the young ones who've grown under its shade are foul-mouthing its own country. It's not as saddening to hear these absurd demands for freedom as it is to see the reddening, juicy apples in the orchard. I wish to chew into these apples and say what good is your sweetness when the boys who've grown up tasting you are raising such bitter slogans !                       
Want...feel...wish...all in the mind ! unable, really, to do anything ! Disappointed, when the mind runs it's eye over the newspapers, the channels and the social media, it seems to be on the receiving end on that front too. From each and every quarte. The unbiased media, the honest journalist friends show the picture of the injured people of Kashmir but somehow the lenses of their cameras and the ink in their pens overlook the police personnel with split heads, the CRPF jawans with broken shoulders and the Security Force squad. with a limp. And no wonder, since the picture of these wounded security personnel doesn't raise the TRP ratings... the mention of these limping-groaning policemen does nothing to heat up the debate on facebook.
Such strange stories are coming up from the valley below... some from a small group of crazed youngsters involved in burning the office of the Tehsildar, die of a cylinder exploding in the fire started by them and it is the men in uniform who get blamed. A sick senior citizen, admitted in the hospital for many days, breathes his last and when his body reaches home a rumour is floated in the lanes and by-lanes that he died of police-beating and all hell breaks loose on the security personnel in the form raining stones. When an eight year old child falls while running and is abandoned by kinsmen, a soldier from Haryana in the security force, reminded of his son in a remote village, gathers him up in his arms, gives him water, drives him to the hospital in his vehicle and when the child dies in the hospital takes on his head the charge of having brutally killed the same child. It takes lots of guts to exercise restraint on hearing the adjective of 'Indian dogs' to your face. Under the circumstances, the restrain being exhibited by the men of CRPF in the valley is setting an example before the world. A crazy youth, approaches a man in uniform and catching hold of his collar shouts in his face, making a proper show of his knowledge of English, "You bloody Indian dog, go back," And the man in uniform responds by smiling and clasping the crazy youth in an embrace... the crowd is taken aback while that uniformed man moves away, bestowing a thousand silent curses on his own restrain. The SP of a certain region has his head split open by a stone... his uniform drenched in blood, but he stands facing a crowd with just a handiplast stuck on his wound with strict instructions to his subordinates not to charge on the crowd. The next day, a team of doctors declares one of his ears dysfunctional as a result of the injury.
... so many of such stories make their way up from the valley. Hearing them, I begin to envy my own and  my soldiers' good fortune. Thank goodness we are here, on these snowy mountains, watching the borders and not posted in that valley down below ! Had it been so, could we have exercised such restraint...!                     
Kitne haathon mein yahan hain kitne patthar, gaur kar !                                                                      Phir bhi uth kar aa gaye hain kitne hi sar, gaur kar!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
(So many stones, in so many hands here, pay heed!                                                                                       so many heads, have still turned up here, pay heed !)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

'Diary Of A Soldier - 3' - English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Faujee Kee Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Ik zakhm Main Mureed To Ik Zakhm Peer Main                                                                                    (The wound, the disciple, the Master in me merge into one)                                                                             March 2017                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  One looks again for that leisure...when it was possible to just lounge day in and day out and dream of one's love...'tasavvure jaanaan'. Loads and loads of leisure...the kind when making false and fake references to others, one talked to friends about that I can, in this leisure, build stories around these lengthy nights. The nights on the border are long, very long... often longer than a lifetime...restive, apprehensive, all wrapped up in alert night vigils. And these nights have an umpteen number of stories that cannot be written, cannot be told...and even if told, there is always this fear of them going beyond common understanding. 'War' is the central character in all these stories. A war that takes place every day on these snow-covered, freezing and shivering, difficult to reach borders. Who, apart from these sentries, is able to witness these endless, every-day wars !
It's another matter that wars are not fought only on borders ! Many a time, even for soldiers...wars are fought, not only on borders. The enemy who, standing a stone's throw away stares you in the eye, or the squad of terrorists who, taking advantage of the foul weather forever push to infiltrate to this side in the name of the so called 'jehad'...together or separately have continuously been creating a war-like situation for the past three or three and a half decades. We may have tried to deny it by calling it 'low intensity conflict', a martyrdom every other day tells a different story... a story which may be nothing more than an anecdote when seen against that  great first world war of a hundred years ago, but  for an Indian soldier standing guard day and night on these freezing-shivering boundaries, this anecdote holds no less an expanse than an epic. This lone Indian soldier, cut off from the sight and mind of the entire country raises, in the backdrop of this untold story, the question as to why, when after that great war a hundred years back, all of Europe, America or even Germany could emerge as great powers and established, developed countries... this country of ours, even after having faced five wars after independence, presents before the whole world the picture of a tottering, helpless and hapless establishment ?
War can never ever, even remotely, be a thing of desire... especially not for a soldier. During any war, what a soldier fears - even more than death, pain or injury - is bringing disgrace to his uniform and his regiment. He fights any war for these two things..only...  his green uniform and for the naam-namak-nishaan (name, loyalty, badge)  of his regiment ! After each such war he looks towards his country and its people with only this small wish that his commitment get recognition,... that his sacrifice be honoured. After world-war-1 ended, soldiers in all the countries  that were involved, were and are still looked at with the same love and respect that they had ever, even minutely, expected. But here in this country, despite - against expectation - having to continuously suffer the sting of apathy, the Indian soldier puts his life at risk each and every time to protect the borders. He watches, helpless and speechless, how the misbehaviour of a handful of his kin in a moving train is thrust upon their entire family... how against the atrocities committed by a few of his colleagues in the north-east states or the Kashmir region, his aeons long commitment is erased... totally. He is enraged, he is anguished, and yet, he continues to serve. Receiving more love from the pine and the cedar trees on the border than from the people of his country.  Apart from the many, everyday battles with the pettiness of the enemy in front, the audacity of terrorists making sly attacks, the lethal lashings of the weather, the behaviour of the difficult terrain, he also fights a war with this step-motherly treatment from his countrymen... wars are not fought only on the border !

Well... the month of April is more than half over and the year still has its body cloaked in the freezing cold of the year gone by. The steps set up by the snow to climb out of the bunker show no sign of shrinking...  still standing shamelessly high with its face turned up.  Everything feels like it's wet ...the whole existence... down to its endless depths. The mind, anxious and eager for bright and fierce sunshine wants to bring the whole sun down on to the roof of the bunker. If only there was this flaming string of sunshine on which one could, squeezing out the body, hang it out to dry !

The nights are longer than a life-time, and the day - just a moment in that long life!

... and the night carries with it a memory, like a memory of you...  despite all the bindings of duty ...and this small motorola radio-set sitting by my side keeps buzzing day and night connecting me to all the sentries far and near with... "Alfa Oscar kilo over" (all okay ! over !!).  And you know this damned, teeny-weeny radio-set reminds me of you... each time, every time, with its non-stop reporting... "all okay, over"

Yes ! Really !! As slender... also as easy on the reliable as you, and to speak into it,... it has to be brought completely close to one's lips... just as with you ! You are going  to laugh, aren't you, if you ever get to read this diary ?

Would that it was possible to signal from these snowy, remote mountains my ..."ok over" ... at times "miss you over"... and a little "love you over" through this radio-set to you too !

Had it been so, would the nights have still been as long as a life-time ?

Ha ha...  I fear, if nothing else, these long, unmoving and stretched out nights may turn the robust soldier in me into a poet. I am reminded of a couplet by Farhat Ehsaas :

"Mujh tak hai mere dukh ke tasvvuf ka silsila
 ik zakhm main mureed, to ik zakhm peer main                                                                                                                                                                                         
(As my pain evolves within and develops a mystic vision                                                                                the wound, the disciple, the Master in me merge into one)