Salute to all those Brave Hearts! [Interview with Maj Sunil from Kashmir]

It was a day when Major Sahab was about to leave back to his work – Kashmir, battle field. We all had very heavy feeling when he sat in car and gave a broad smile saying goodbye. I wondered, from where he gathers all that positiveness when you have to fight for life and live without home & family. Salute to those Brave hearts and great souls who stay away from family for pride and safety of nation!!!

I was born & grew up in a city and in a very pampering environment. Oh, I am so grateful for that! I never had a chance to meet and know any Indian army serving person. But thanks to my husband for giving me brother with a brave heart because of whom we can live peaceful and happy.

Last week Major Sahab (my brother in law đŸ˜„) visited home after he was posted in Kashmir. Yes, the battle field.

While we were having dinner, first time, Major Sahab was into his role and started telling all stories about his life in Army. I was very curious to hear from him. He said, reaching to airport from huts is also a challenge for us. Because no one knows when, where militants will come and try all the possibilities to kill you. So staying in battle field is like every single moment you fight for your lives.

I also took opportunity and fired some questions on him :D. So, here is a small discussion or I would say interview of Major Sahab about life in Kashmir…

1. How would you describe life in Army?

It’s pretty difficult to describe the experience of serving in Army in one single statement or verse.

So when Dipti asked me to give some inputs about serving in the Army, I was pretty zapped for last 2 days. Not because, it’s difficult, but because I don’t know from where to start.

Looking back at the last 13 years, I know one thing, that the Indian Army is a way of life than meager employment.

Donning the same mantle, I can say that I’m pretty fortunate to have been blessed to be able to serve in the Indian Army. And, while doing so, got the chance to serve in the Kashmir, the crown of India.

Kashmir is a beautiful piece of land that is eponymous with heaven. Now one would easily ask, why is it heaven? .Well, it’s the land, the weather, green pastures amidst snowy mountains & above all the warmth & resilience of the locals, that makes it heaven.

However, in recent history, Kashmir is marred by Indo-Pak confrontation putting it on the threshold of a nuclear war. So, its indeed a privileged opportunity, for every soldier to be able to serve in the nuclear battlefield, albeit heavenly. Pun intended.

2. What was the feeling when you got your posting order to Kashmir – Battlefield?

When I received my posting order to Kashmir, (my first posting to Kashmir), I had mixed feelings. Having served last six years in the comfort of the marital bliss, the thought of leaving the family surely gave the creeps, to me as well as wifey. But, the bold stance of wifey was surely comforting & awe-inspiring.

So, when wifey & myself, packed up the well-set home of last six years of peace posting, in the agony of packing, I took comfort in sharing a feeling that all faujis have experienced & eulogized with their packing folklores. At first packing, the entire house seemed a pretty disturbing affair. Our entire present (plus dreams) being packed into 22 odd steel boxes & knowing that they all will soon be laden in dust & grim in some forlorn corner of the Cantt gave pre-packing nightmares to me. But, again the fauji wife in my wifey came to the rescue. Before even I could conceive the idea of painful packing, wifey was up & about with steel boxes, packing-lists & half packing done. So to say, behind every successful army officer, there’s a rock-solid army wife!

And finally, my tryst with Kashmir was about to start. The folks at home were curious & supportive as always & did bless me for the adventures ahead. The sonny was as usual busy with his play & tricks while wifey was smiling till last.

& finally, with a heavy heart & mixed feeling, I landed at Kashmir airport on 15 October 2018 in the land of famed heaven. & before even I could wear down my feelings, my troops were present at the airport to receive me. Their sight brought cheer to my gloom & in a matter of six hours, I was whisked away from the secured confines of the airport to the sky-high 13000 feet mountains. The apple hawkers en-route added a blissful joy to the journey, with their turgid sweet apples. & finally, in the dark of the night, I was at home, back home.

My subalterns were forthcoming & gave me the best bunk in the cold & drab bunker. Finally, I gave in to the heavy heart & travel fatigue.

3. How about first day experience?

In morning, at about 5 or 6, as I woke up & ventured out of my sleeping bag, I witnessed the dawn, that I’d never ever seen in my life before. The sky radiated a pink hue to the cold morning as the Sun was playing hide-n-seek with snow-capped peaks of North Kashmir. To my North lay Pakistan & to the South of was the Kashmir valley. The East & West was dominated by the treacherous mountain range, on which I was standing, along with my fellow Fauji’s & along with our comforting bunkers.

Finally, as the day began I was quickly chiseled into the task by the Commanding Officer. At the end of his briefing, as I rested myself in my office chair, I was pretty overwhelmed by the sheer feeling that 24 hours before I was up in the busy lanes of Pune & here I am, at almost top of the Kashmir. Never before, I had seen such a quick transition. From peace to the field, from urban chaos to blissful mountains, from home to HOME & from India to Pakistan (almost)! I suppose, no one can ever digest such a rapid flow of feelings, if not for the camaraderie of Indian Army. & support of folks, back home in Pune.

Soon before I could sink into the kaleidoscope of emotional transitions, Sachin (my ever smiling buddy) brought a cuppa Coffee at my desk, the black coffee, just the way I liked it. & so I was ready to start my first day in the Kashmir.

4. What is the experience of first snowfall?

As soon as I received my posting order to Kashmir, one thing that always gave me 100% exhilaration, was the thought of living in a place where it snows in winters. That’s the effects of Californication on my generation. The famed snowfall, Christmas Jingles & Snowman outside the house… so the Kashmir posting was the only way I could witness a real snowfall, in a real life.

Since my posting to Kashmir, the weather in general always remained cold atop the North Kashmir mountains, however, it never snowed, even though mid-Novembers had arrived. On a dry & super cold evening of mid-November, all of a sudden the sky turned gray from the incoming clouds from North (Thanks Pakistan) & in a manner of minutes the clouded the prevalent golden hue of the dusk. Boy, the color hues in Kashmir are a separate blog section. As the night progressed while I lay in the sleeping bag, I was suddenly woken up by rhythmic thud sounds on my tin sheet bunker. Too lazy to check out the disturbance, knowing the Sentry on duty would be alert, I went back to the warmth & dreams. Next morning, as Sachin came to my bunker with a steaming Cinnamon tea, the door past him glowed with a super-white iridescence, throwing my otherwise cold and drab bunker glowing in White. As I got up to see the origin of the luminous visitor, the surprise struck me a white blow. It was all a white-clad view outside, with the earthen view of my familiar surroundings being replaced by the overnight snowfall, with few flakes still falling by. Boy-o-Boy, I wore my sneakers & sprinted outside in my night-wear to catch the first of snowfall of my life. All the Pine trees around my camp were glistening with a fresh coat of the White treatment.

I quickly scoured for my DSLR & GoPro & rushed to the jungle (outside the camp) to capture my first snowfall moment. The Sentry on duty warned me not to go ahead of his point, lest, the enemy would be happy to take a pot-shot, as the area ahead was directly in range of their snipers. However, the cupid in the snowfall had already struck me to obscure my otherwise decent comprehension. Notwithstanding, I continued to prod through a half a feet of snow to the forward areas to catch my moment of the white-out. The white mountains in the north were super-inviting with snow all around. As I walked further, clicking thousand of pics, to my awesome surprise, fresh snowfall started. What a piece of luck, with Camera, Snowfall & Virgin territory! After about an hour of Pics session (only after my DSLR battery died) I decided to turn back.

That’s when I realized that I am just a trigger away from the enemy territory.

As I quickly started pacing back, I realized that my Sneakers were all wet & snow-laden. After about an hour, as I reached back to the camp, the same sentry on duty (in a super-miffed tone) checked me for my blatant intrusion, well past his authority. Sheepishly, I had to admit to him that it was my first snowfall & so the transgression.

Back in the camp, having clocked a higher note from the first snowfall, the day went well. Except for super cold weather that followed throughout the day, I didn’t realize how did the day went past, with tons of RAWs & Adobe Lightroom to accompany.

In the night, at about 0100 hours as I lay in the romantic hug of my sleeping bag, I had a sharp & pinching sensation in my toes. The pain was unbearable & kept me writhing till dawn. I thought it’d be my old Sciatica or something. A paratrooper always has a Sciatica. Next day, with a fresh snowfall in the cold afternoon, I continued to enliven the photographer in me. Come night, the same pinching toes. Stupid Sciatica

Only, in the day once I checked up with the Unit Medical Officer, he diagnosed me with the Chilblain. The condition that turns the toes blue, due to excessive exposure to the snow/ cold temperatures. So much for the photography, I had to spend the next month wearing double/ triple layer of socks & undergo the (painstaking) hot water therapy to get the chill outta my blain.

5. So do you enjoy your life in snow?

So much for the snow & photography, the rush from first snowfall came down in next 2/3 days. Chilblain apart, it took me 2/3 days to realize what a pain it is (at least for a Pune guy) to live in a place where it snows constantly in winters.

The individual mileage of Snowfall experiences may vary, but, in Army snowfall has totally different connotations. It’s the time one has to be on a maximum alert. Either its enemy or avalanche that’s after poor faujis. When one would assume that after the fresh snowfall, its right time to sneak back to the bunker with a steaming glass of brandy, its otherwise. It’s the time faujis go into the overdrive. Even the kero-heaters (since there is no electricity atop mountains, so the kerosene) are switched off (or ordered to be switched off) by 2200hrs, lest the cramped bunkers & Carbon Monoxide plays the spoilsport, at the mid of the night.

So, after two days down & three DSLR memory cards full, I had pretty much lived my first snowfall moment. That’s when the water in overhead tank started to freeze completely. Well, its universal truth that a fresh morning leads to a good day. However, the irony has its say when one has to heat the overhead tanks or room side snow to get a bucketful water, just to start the day. So each morning, since the first snowfall, my (or Sachin’s) 30-60 mins would go in making water available just to start the day.

To my utter surprise, apart from my hair oil, even my shampoo, liquid soap & toothpaste would freeze itself to death. The buckets stored overnight would have a thick layer of ice formation over them. The flush would be dead-struck in the similar ice later. Even the top layer of western commode water!

The biggest test of One’s mental/physical resolve comes, when one has to get up from the bed (darling sleeping bag) & wear an outdoor wear. Those five mins are the worst five mins when the temps are -10oC to -20oC & one is struggling to move from nightwear to daily wear. Once, the outerwear along with jackets are on, then the day goes by usual. Patrolling, Training, Eating, Drinking & merry!

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6. And very important, tell us about your Job!

Happiness & surprise apart, donning an Olive Green Uniform comes with its own charms & challenges. & the best thing about the job in Kashmir is Making sure that the Enemy dies for his own Country!

& here we were, in one of the most hostile terrain, with enemy right ahead of us playing hide-n-seek with sub-zero temperatures all around. To enjoy is to sin & to sin is to know it.

It would snow constantly & that is when we would be out patrolling amidst the snow. The snow would eventually sneak in through sleeves, shoe-let or from 1000 odd openings (only devil in the snow knows these openings) to spoil the entire walk. In spite, of the best gear available on earth, Snow knows that we’re not supposed to prod through its creation & rightly, it’d punish us on occasional days by pushing lumps of snow through our dress.

The worst would come when we had to take night halts in search/anticipation of the enemy. As we would walk, the body would remain warm. But, as soon as we would halt, the sweat will condense even before we could gather our breaths. Resultant, it’d be super-chill from both, outside as well as inside. & then in such conditions, we would remain awake throughout the night anticipating the enemy will pass through our beat/ his frequented beats.

Such drills went on for months & months. Lack of success/ surprise would often de-moralize one & all. & that’s when we as officers would have to take care of our men & pump them up. Any such unwarranted depression leads to further losses & directly forces us to make further silly mistakes. So an Officer has to work double time to ensure that one remains strong (both, physically as well as mentally) & make sure that one’s troops are super-motivated, often at the cost of one’s comfort.

After the toil & watch of over a (super frustrating) year, our first success came when a bunch of terrorists (sponsored by the enemy) who were trying to sneak-in into the Indian territory at the mid-night through a dense forest amidst heavy snowfall were spotted & neutralized on the spot. The moment I heard the gunshots, right across my camp, I realized that the team lead by Victor (one of my fellow officer) must have spotted the sneaking bastards. It was almost -15oC when the brave team lead by Victor did their job of neutralising enemy sponsored terrorists sneaking inside our country with an aim to fraternize the population from mainland India. Imagine eight soldiers remaining awake for the entire night, shivering with cold temperatures, amidst a scary forest with little or no comfort, spotting the enemy & taking a decision to open the fire, knowing that the enemy will fire back.

That’s the creed of Indian Army.

The safety, honor and welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honor, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time!

Since then, our Unit has done extremely well & till date has eliminated more than 10 such terrorists. That is ten fewer weapons/ blasts in mainland India. Overall, in last one year, the Indian Security Forces have eliminated hundreds & hundreds of terrorists sneaking in & operating in the Kashmir valley. That’s a huge figure. That’s almost Delhi or Mumbai avoiding terrorists sponsored attacks for one or two years.

And, this feeling gives us all a good night’s sleep. That my country, my family is safe. Well, the Indian Army will always be there to protect us, no matter what the situation is!

Note: The details involving operational details have been avoided for the obvious sake of secrecy/ safety of plans.

Brother and sister in law

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