Each one of us love our country, whichever nation it may be, it is but natural for one to love his or her nation. I do, in fact, my love for the country was furthered because of two reasons, one was because of the fact that my dad was in Indian Navy and always carried that pride with him even after his retirement and almost on regular basis injected doses of patriotism in me by ways of tales & stories. The other reason was that my initial upbringing had a huge impact of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, read related article here). Everytime, the country faces some kind of crisis a nationalist in me comes to wake and try to do something however minuscule it may be for my nation.
It was the year 1999, and i was just four years into government service, the Kargil Conflict at the northern tip of India erupted, that was the second time that we witnessed war live on our television screens, the first time was the Gulf War. It was a routine affair for us then, atleast for some days, go to office, read news about the ongoing conflict, debate and discuss about the war and raise questions as to how the Pakistanis reached Indian side in the first place. What was the army doing and so on and so forth. Reach home switch back the television screens and watch the war live, the news channels fought a different kind of war with each others for gaining higher TRP. One channel would invite a war veteran, the others would invite diplomats, in its bid to score brownie point one female tv journalist even reached the bunkers and telecasted the war live from there, thereby giving easy information about army positions to those on the other side of the border. As the conflict came to its fag end and the pakis started running helter skelter as they always did in each war against us, a sense of jingoism had spread all over the nation. The Prime Minister appealed to the nation to donate generously in PM relief fund to help the soldiers killed and maimed. Our entire office contributed one day’s salary for the cause and sent to the Prime Minister’s Office. That was it, our part of national service and our responsibilities as a responsible citizen ended then and there.
However, there was curiosity about the place for years together and there was a silent but firm resolve that i would grab the very first opportunity to visit the place as and when it came my way. It was not such an easy opportunity after all to visit a place around 1600 miles away from your hometown.
But, as luck would have it, I finally made it, when we four friends decided to visit Ladakh, the first option was to go via Manali as we heard the route was more picturesque, luckily friends had enough faith in me to entrust me the responsibility of chalking out the entire route map, scheduling etc. I dropped the idea of going to Ladakh via Manali and opted to go from Srinagar. The hidden agenda behind it was that it would ensure that we pass through Kargil, Drass and other sectors that were the theater of 1999 conflict. The reasoning that i gave amongst my friends was much more technical in nature, I told them that the route from Manali was very steep and could have resulted in Altitude Related Sickness. Luckily everybody bought my piece of reasoning.
So we set of for the once in a lifetime journey, yes, most of us never get chance to travel this far, and those who get, may get only one lucky chance to visit these places, for the cost it entails, not for the monetary part, but the physical exertion, the minute detailing, planning involved.
It was around 3 in the afternoon when we crossed Zozilla pass, and phew what a pass it was, just to be frank with my readers, just everybody in the vehicle were terrified, and this is just a reality. At Drass the temperature was around 7 degree and we were chilling. We, living in the humid part of the country find 12 degrees temperature during winter too harsh. So seven degrees was like expecting far too much for us. We were chilling, just when we saw a small hamlet, few huts, a small school and a typical village styled restaurant. We ordered Maggie and sipped hot cup of tea. Just when Samir one of our friends, who is into social work, said, lets visit the nearby school and see how they work in this part of the world. The other two friends, who were busy filling their stomach however did not feel the idea tasty enough and dropped it. I accompanied Samir and we went inside the compound and introduced ourselves to the Principal and requested him to visit his campus. The Old man was too enthused to see two guys coming all the way from Mumbai and showing the kind of interest in their school. The Principal alongwith four teachers took us to all the school, which had only five six classrooms. It was afternoon session for the school and the morning session kids had left, they asked all the kids to assembled and we had photo op. We inquired about the problems, the challenges and wished them all the best. We took photographs, took the address of the school and promised the Principal that we would be dispatching the pictures, which we did. We were quite amazed to see a fully functional school in this remotest part of the world and the assembly of kids, and the interest they were showing in getting educated. It was really a positive development afterall.
Then at around 4.30 pm we reached the town of Kargil, I was clicking photos as much as possible with the other hand busy in recording the videos on my handycam. I was a small kid and my expressions were akin to a child who suddenly got sweets and toys and gifts almost unexpectedly!! We reached Kargil Smarak. A War Memorial of the Kargil built by the Government after the Kargil Conflict to commemorate the bravery of those brave men who fought for our country. We moved round the memorial and reached the main sanctum where light burns round the clock. An urn is kept inside the small makeshift museum, in this urn ashes of a soldier killed is kept. Just everybody gets sentimental seeing this urn. The arms, the photographs etc are displayed in this museum. We learn’t that during the conflict, the food prepared for these soldiers at the base camp used to reach the soldiers after three days due to difficult terrains !!!
A soldier was guarding the place, cold winds were blowing from the mountain side. We were shivering, almost. But the soldier in his complete uniform stood firm, showed no emotions, as if his body was not prone to these cold winds. We were talking in our mothertongue Marathi. And surprise surprise, the soldier guarding was also from our part of the world. He soon signalled his other colleague to guard the place and came to ease. The soldier standing like a statue had suddenly come to life, but, we did not realize that he did this to join the conversation with us. He inquired with us from where we had come and he was from Pune, which is nearly a twin city of Mumbai. He was in his early twenties, a new recruit, and he was jolly pleased to find people from his state at this place. We were shown the peaks of Tiger Hills, Tololing Peaks etc. We were informed that the mercury in this part of the world drops to minus sixty during winter !!! And it was summer time, we continued with our shivering though🙂
After visiting the place and witnessing the peaks, we were shaken, what we saw on television was just nothing. We lost 527 finest soldiers of ours. We killed more than 4000 enemies. Our soldiers trekked a near vertical cliff, used to hide themselves in those cliffs during day time and start the trekk in the night so that they were not spotted by the enemies who had cheated and occupied Indian positions on those mountains. Again in the night the soldiers would trekk upwards. Finally they trekked that vertical cliff and fought, killed and routed the enemy from our side of the border. The mountain ranges are so dangerous and since the entire place is at a higher altitude one suffers from breathlessness even while strolling leisurely. How our young boys carried arms and ammunition and fought was mind wrecking. Only sheer determination, love for motherland would have made this possible. We heard the tale of Late Captain Vikram Batra, a young officer in his mid twenties, singing a popular jingle and telling his officers “ye dil mange more..” (my heart demands more), after gunning down few pakis. How are these men moulded was the question that came to our minds ? No war is not good, but to defend our motherland is no wrong either.
We left the place at around 6.00 pm. We halted at Kargil that night. Thoughts came rushing, thoughts of how we perceived the war in our drawing rooms, the stupid questions we raised as to how the pakis reached Indian side, what was the army doing etc. I felt quite ashamed of myself as to how we rush to conclusions without assessing the gravity of the situation.
Our army fought gallantly and took back what was legitimately ours. But, what did we, the civil society, the government do in return ? There was a scam in purchase of coffins ordered for these brave soldiers, money exchanged hands in buying these coffins, it was alleged. The politicians built big 19 storeyed building in the name of Kargil War widows and usurped all the flats, the now infamous Adarsh scam. The Kargil Report which was submitted after the conflict is not implemented. Ain’t those ruling us ashamed of ? atleast they must show some feelings about people who laid their lives for our country. But then, who cares. Neither the classes nor the masses.
As we came back into this dirty dirty world from our northern sojourn of Ladakh, one thought did touch minds, when the plane touched land, back we are, back in the failed and corrupt society. Fortunately, when all institutions in our society are falling there is one institution still standing tall and firm, it is our armed forces. We can still look up to them, and we do look up to them in times of all kinds of crises whether internal or external, whether man made or natural, and our armed forces comes to our rescue almost everytime.
While returning from Ladakh, one notices beautiful one liners written by Border Road Organisation to caution drivers to drive slowly. One unusual board we found. It was written Border Roads Organisation – a corruption free organisation. Although it was self boasting, we felt, but there was an institution which had guts to boast itself corruption free, we felt. And their work reflected what they said. The tar road they were laying had a 12 inches layer of tar. While traversing through those roads one felt like they were travelling on a cushion of rubber. Contrast this with the tar roads of biggest metropolis of India, i.e Mumbai and one finds not even 2 inches thick road, the entire money, just everybody knows where it goes.
I thought it my social obligation to just bring forth what i witnessed. It is just a small tribute to those brave soldiers who are protecting chicken hearted people like me back at home.
Just to conclude a beautiful letter written by Capt. Vijayant Thapar to this Dad. The brave captain was killed in the conflict. The letter is a must read one for all and one.