The first and foremost virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue, rest everything is second or third virtue. Yes, I felt sad and lonely from being away. Passing time made my life slow and my wait very long. Date on the magazines, which I read in those remote areas, did not matter to me. I did count every second before I could get a letter from home. I do not forget, the way I started my all letters. Thanks God, I never forgot to carry a small album.
I appeared cheerful in the exterior, but that does not speak truth always. I did not let it out, I too felt sad, and I too missed my home. I left my home at very young age. Yes, I could hear a prayer from my mother on my birthday, but from a distance. Maybe, I got used to my combat dress more than anything else.
I have lived with my fears. Someone has rightly said, courage is doing what you are afraid to do. Fatigue is a virtue I learnt to live with very early. Yet, I was tired at times.
Who says, I do not feel. Last breath of brave soldiers left me with moist eyes. Cold did not let me sleep for days together. Freezing wind brushed through my skin. Patrolling created a template of heavy backpack with slow and steady steps. I also remember that suffocating humidity of forest. Quite often, I have moved at short notice.
My journey in uniform turned a village boy into a strong and independent man of his own will. I have been face to face with reality. I do not live in dreams, but I never stopped dreaming. No doubt, I was out of breath more than once, but that could not stop me from negotiating those steepest peaks known to the man. I certainly could feel, those heights were short of oxygen.
Yes, I celebrated my festivals differently, be it Dussehra or Diwali. Another day of firing on border replaced crackers and bombs. I could imagine, my house at a distance would be lit with candles and flooded with sweets. Series of Diwali, I celebrated away from home, with my colleagues in snowy mountains and bone chilling cold. I could see in me that child still alive and getting restless to eat a sweet from mother’s hand. I did not stop dreaming to be at home for next Diwali. My colleagues, who celebrated last Diwali of their life in those trenches and bunkers, had lost the opportunity to be together with their family forever. I am lucky, I am still alive.
I learnt to live life in the moment. That made my life easier. I have many wounds which I have kept to myself. Silence and kindness comes to me naturally. The best lessons of life, I have learnt when I have seen my friends breathing their last on my lap. I am calm, not because I am weak, but because I have seen death from very close. But still, life always had a special flavor towards me. Yes, I was a lovely child and a nice young boy. I learnt quite early not to think of things which I did not get and be happy with what I had. I have been lucky to know too early, that I must live life as if I would drop dead in ten seconds. You understand it right; I had learnt to live in one moment at a time. Every single day I lived through, was a dream which came true.
Disheartened I was often, when I found the STD out of order. Glimpses of morning revived the hopes of communication with loved ones. There were no nights many a times. Uncertainty irritated me the most. In my free time, I stared at maps to devise a plan for the next move. But still, I found time to write letters to my loved ones. Exhausted by loneliness and cold, I expressed my vulnerabilities through letters. Despite my feeling of loneliness and vulnerability, I never had courage to draw a true picture of what I was facing, in those letters. I never wanted my loved ones to be disturbed and worried. I lived in times, when there were no mobiles and no internet.
I often revisit my association with those heights with hardly any oxygen. I also remember the blood bathed snow, which was melt to quench the thirst. I salute my friends in olive-green, who were no less than supermen. They had bodies of steel and heart of pure gold. Circumstances did not diminish their sense of humour. In such situations, a superhuman could have thought of anything but own survival. Baptism of the fire made me a man, and that too overnight.
I have found my eyes wet, whenever, I have revisited new benchmarks of bravery by my heroes in olive green. One episode of bravery has touched me often, of Major Adhikari, hero of Tololing, which I wish to mention here. He had just received a letter from his beloved wife. “I want to read it in peace tomorrow after the operation is over,” he had said, stuffing his wife’s letter in his pocket before going for the attack with his team to secure initial foothold on Tololing. The operation was almost next to impossible, tasked to capture a feature at a height of fifteen thousand feet and ninety degree steep. He did not give up until he succumbed to his injuries. The letter from his beloved remained with him in his pocket, the letter he did not know he would never get to read.
Extraordinary courage of this brave son of his great mother paved the way for the capture of Tololing. I bow in front of this brother officer. He depicts the story of many brave soldiers. Siegried Sassoon has summarized life of a soldier, when he said, “Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land, drawing no dividend from time’s tomorrows”.