Nostalgia is an inalienable facet of every retired soldier’s psyche. In fact, post-retirement life gets enlivened only when the past events appear in a flashback. A soldier lives and relives them till he breathes his last. Maybe he carries the memories of the troops he commanded, their camaraderie, raw courage and unflinching loyalty to the yonder world of the Atharva-Veda as well.
One can never stop wondering at the transformation of an ordinary mortal into a fearless soldier, ready for the supreme sacrifice for the values he believes in – devotion to comrades, his unit and the country. One can only marvel at the sense of commitment displayed by many, much beyond the normal call of duty.
Mani was recruited in the Army in 1999. During his training, he repeatedly failed to pass the mandatory swimming test of jumping from 10 meters high diving board. He used to climb up to the board with confidence but could never pick up enough courage to take the plunge. Coaxing and cajoling were of no use. Mani was considered to be a timid, gutless and cowardly person by his batch mates. Trainers felt that Mani lacked soldierly qualities and should be discharged from the Army. Mani was called and given final warning. He was distraught. He dreaded the thought of having to bear the disgrace of expulsion from the Army. He sought one more chance.
On the appointed day and time, he climbed up the steps to the diving board hastily and even before the testing officer could issue instructions, he closed his eyes, lunged forward and came down flailing his arms. Everyone was happy for him but the testing officer wanted him to repeat the jump to remove his fear. Mani made two more jumps and was declared successful. After the completion of his training, he was posted to a unit engaged in anti-terrorist operations in the Poonch Sector of Jammu region.
After a few months, Mani was on night sentry duty with another soldier when four heavily armed terrorists attacked his unit camp. Mani’s colleague got killed in the first hail of grenades thrown by the terrorists. Keeping his cool, Mani engaged the terrorists and shot dead one of them. Firing indiscriminately, the terrorists ran towards the sleeping troops’. With total disregard to his personal safety, Mani charged after them and killed another intruder. Surprised by the resistance put up, the other two terrorists decided to abandon the mission and withdrew into the nearby forest.
It was due to Mani’s extra-ordinary fearlessness and bravery that the unit escaped carnage. No one had expected Mani to display such nerve and audacity. When asked, his reply was, “They would have killed so many sleeping soldiers of my unit. How could I let them in? I cannot let my unit down.” A timid recruit who was scared of jumping from the diving board had got transformed into an intrepid warrior capable of killing terrorists in a close encounter.
Awtade was serving in a unit in the Sialkot sector in 1971. The area was infested with lakhs of mines in unmarked minefields. A party was deputed to clear an important river crossing site to facilitate movement of own vehicular traffic. A safe lane was created after disarming numerous mines over 10 hours of continuous work. Having finished the task well, soldiers were happy and relaxed. The cleared lane was duly marked with white tape as per the standard practice. After a short break, soldiers started loading retrieved mines in the vehicle when suddenly a huge bang was heard. While lifting mines, Awtade had lost his balance and put a step on a mine in the uncleared portion.
He was writhing in pain. His foot had got sheared from the ankle and the flesh was splattered all over – it was a horrific sight. A handkerchief was tied to the stub and he was lifted into the vehicle for transportation to the medical post. All of a sudden, Awtade shouted for the vehicle to be stopped. He wanted to tell the officer that two mines had slipped from his hand on the cleared path when he lost his balance. “Sir, please have them cleared lest our troops suffer casualties inadvertently”. Here was a man maimed for life, bleeding profusely and suffering excruciating pain, yet he was concerned about the safety of other troops. Personal trauma did not deter him from the task assigned.
Javed and Basant were part of a unit detailed to sink a shaft for the nuclear tests in Pokharan. Work was being carried out round the clock to adhere to the tight time schedule. Task forces worked in 8 hours shifts. With a view to introduce a bit of competitive environment, outputs of task forces were compared on a weekly basis. The best performing task force got the privilege to fly the championship flag for the week. It became a much sought after honour.
One day, Javed and Basant were brought out from the shaft by an agitated platoon commander and taken to the officer. Both had tied strings on their upper arms and their arms had turned blue. When queried by the officer, one of them replied, “Our task force has never won so far. We learnt that in case flow of blood is stopped, the arms do not get tired. We wanted to produce more work today to win the banner and hence, decided to tie strings.” The officer did not know whether to punish them for their outright stupidity which could have crippled them forever or admire them for their spirit.
Somnath and Jagir were close to completing their tenure on Siachen Glacier. A report was received that a soldier had got trapped at a place at 14,000 feet altitude and was losing consciousness due to extreme cold and oxygen deficiency. He needed immediate evacuation by helicopter. Unfortunately, no helipad existed close by. Possibility of carrying two persons who could jump from a hovering helicopter and beat down the snow to prepare a makeshift helipad was being discussed. That appeared to be the sole way to save the injured soldier. However, jumping from a hovering helicopter in blizzard like environment on unprobed ground could prove fatal. Fall in a concealed crevice could mean certain death.
Even before the discussion could be concluded, Somnath and Jagir appeared fully dressed with shovels and helipad markers. They were apprised of the risks involved. On their insistence, they were given quick briefing and carried in a helicopter. They did the task admirably and saved the life of the stranded soldier. However, Jagir suffered frostbite injuries and lost a toe. He does not regret his decision. Strangely, they neither knew nor cared to find out as to who the injured soldier was. For them, every Indian soldier deserved help.
The Inexplicable Behaviour
Self preservation is a strong natural instinct. Subordination of personal interests to organisational interests is against normal human psyche. What made Mani, Awtade, Javed, Basant, Somnath and Jagir behave the way they did?
Soldiers are neither reckless nor foolhardy. It is not in a fit of rash bravado that they risk their lives for their colleagues and country. They have normal emotions and love their families. They are fully aware of the trauma and privations that their families would have to suffer should they die in the call of duty.
Many social scientists have tried in vain to solve the inexplicable behaviour of a soldier when he opts to die for his unit and country rather than ensure own safety. They fail to understand his psyche and mental make-up. Not to let-down his comrades, unit and country is a unique attribute of a soldier’s personality. In fact, it is a trait of character. Mani, Awtade, Javed, Basant, Somnath and Jagir did what they thought was right and soldier-like.