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The Rediff Special/Chindu Sreedharan

"We retaliate only when we have to. And then, we don't do it the chota mota way. We hit them hard with everything we got!"


No answer.

Jawans with mortar "Lailaa?"

No answer still.

The Lamb moved down the steps further and called again anxiously to his missing kitten. He had found her exactly 10 days ago, and promptly lost his heart.


It was past 11.30 pm on August 14, and we were on our way to the observation post. The freedom hour, we had decided earlier, was to be spent watching the Pakistani slopes, hardly two kilometres away.

"I guess she will come back when she feels like it," the Lamb sighed, "Let's move."

So we moved on, past the cook's hut, up the steps, on to the open ground, and then over the communication trench to the edge of the slope. Two sentries were on duty, peering into the valley.

"It is a bad night," the Lamb said, "See the moon? Not much light there. And anyway, it is August 14 night. They usually try something or the other to disrupt our celebrations."

We waited with the sentries, peering down the slopes. The wind, chilled by an earlier downpour, whistled around us, making us shiver. The Lamb said something, but I didn't catch it.

"That's surprising! Look over there -- there are no lights!" He repeated as I turned towards him, "That's a Pakistani village and every night it is lit like Singapore! But tonight, there isn't a single light there!"

We waited, standing silent and shivering, watching the valley. Pakistan's slopes looked as empty and deserted as ours did -- yet there were more than a dozen patrols parties moving across the slopes.

"You know, our company will be moving out of here soon. And I will be so glad to move out," the Lamb was saying, "When you come here for the first time, it looks beautiful and great -- the mountains, the valley, everything. But after a little while it isn't fun anymore. You long for society. I know we will be completely lost initially when we reach a city, but I am dying to reach one!"

Earlier, two other officers, much senior to the Lamb, had more or less said the same thing. "Life for a jawan can be very miserable at the border. If there is a war or continuous action, it is different," one had told me, "But here, just patrolling, watching, just watching and on duty day in and day out, looking the enemy right in the eye every day and wondering when he is going to shoot -- that is very scary."

"Look, you can motivate someone to work hard. But you cannot motivate anyone to die. And that's what we do here every single day," the other officer had said, "When you go out on a patrol, there is no guarantee you will get back. You might, you might not. That's the way things are here."

I was awakened from my reverie by the Lamb's saying, "It is 12 now. Let's turn in. Nothing is going to happen tonight."

We returned to the sleeping quarters. Only to be awakened later -- and kept that way -- with the sounds of Pakistani merrymaking, shrill telephones and tension.

August 15, 9 am

Ready for assault The second round of shelling began while we were on our way down. We had to trek down halfway again, as the previous evening's downpour made it unsafe for vehicles to come down. The Lamb, Tourmaster and two jawans were with us as we started back after the flag-hoisting ceremony at the post.

"The Paks do it often enough," the soldiers were discussing the previous night's events. "We don't gain anything from firing on them. On the contrary, we stand to lose. So we let them go ahead. Besides, a couple of shots every now and then keeps the wild animals away!"

"We retaliate only when we have to. And then, we don't do it the chota mota way," they went on, "We hit them hard with everything we got!"

We had by now reached the road, and were walking down towards where our Jonga waited four kilometres away. We must have been about a kilometre away when we heard the muffled roar from across. This time we saw the smoke rising from the slopes in thin clouds.

There was another explosion, then another, and yet another. We stopped.

"I am sorry, I will have to leave you here," the Lamb said, "The commander is away and things are getting hot at the post. I will have to get back there fast."

He shook hands with us, slung his AK-56 over the shoulder and started back towards the camp.

The Lamb had turned into the Tiger, temporarily.

"The buggers will get it now," Tourmaster said as we started down again, "Let's move fast. See that peak over there? That's theirs. And it would suit their purpose to pick us off today!"

Two and a half hours later, we were at headquarters. "There has been firing all over the border. In fact, we were expecting worse than this," an army officer said, "But unfortunately, or fortunately, they stopped -- they will not get it back this time!"

"The Paks are making desperate attempts," he said, "They don't want today to pass peacefully. But as militancy has suffered a serious set back in the valley, they are relying on direct hits."

But after the recent Indo-Pak talks, hadn't things improved?

No, they hadn't. "At the military level things are the same as they were. The prime minister's doctrine might work for the politicians, but not for the army. We go by our general's doctrine, not Gujral's!"

Three hours later, we were safe and snug in Srinagar.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

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