Yes, Sir!11 mins 24K 11 mins 24K
“Get your men ready Lieutenant Colonel Avinash” boomed Brigadier O. Shah, as he came out of the Briefing Room along with Dev. I was waiting outside thinking all the while what this tough Brigadier had planned for us. He was tough outside but always for our good. “Yes, Sir!” I replied as if by reflex and sprinted to collect the soldiers
Life in the Army is full of challenges and excitement. I have had my share of adventurous episodes, but this one under Brig O Shah is still fresh in my memory despite all the 10 years that have gone past. Whenever I left the camp on such risky mission, I had to prepare for 2 fights. 1st was with the enemy, of course, 2nd was with me. It is far easier than fighting your opponent than you, yourself, fear and apprehension of the final result, whether will I win or not?
There we were standing in neat rows in front of Brig O Shah. I enquired from Colonel Dev, my senior and who will be leading us in the mission-“What is the task?” I thought I was only whispering, ut Brig O Shah apparently heard me and barked “That’s 20km away”. I could not hold my self and asked equally gruffly, “What’s 20 km away?” He barked back, “Your enemies’ camp”. So it was an attack on the enemy camp I silently muttered to myself. “Tell them how to do it Dev” thundered Brig O Shah. He felt very proud of using short sentences.” No Ramayana! Be brief and to the point”
Dev told us the plan of attack on a model “Have you guys understood? Get going now.” yelled Brig O Shah almost pushing us out of the camp. Our vehicle started rolling out of our camp. We passed by some village. Though the sun was up, it was still pretty sleepy for the villagers. Things looked so easy paced and quiet. The mountain road, long and winding would have made such a good picnic outing. The trees were green and inviting and the air so fresh. The river which was flowing along the road was so sparkling and clear and a pleasant sound of its flow accompanied us till we reached our destination. We were the only ones there and it looked fairly haunting. I could make out that my friend Arvind was a bit shaky possibly imagining the encounters ahead. I laid my hands on his shoulder as if to comfort him.
Mahabharata and Ramayana had their wars completed or paused as soon as the sun had set but ours would begin in pitch darkness or at best, when the stars appeared on the night sky and the moon playing hide and seek amidst the clouds. We quietly wore our bulletproof jackets and also slipped in our food packets into the ruck sack on our back. Brigadier Shah had given us the plan and we were to implement it
“Gosh! 20km from here” I quietly said to myself as we jumped down the vehicle. “See you soon, Boys” wished Brig O Shah as we entered the forest Only trees to our company and only the birds – their crackle and chirping- were the sounds that could be made. Our column which comprised 14 men was trying its best not to make any sound- not even of the shoe. Any one on the other side can make out that somebody is coming. They teach us all this during our training. We were because of this reason very slow. The steep climb reduced our speed even further.
I know that we had to walk at least for 8 hours before we can think of looking for an area to set up our bivouac camp. This was part of our plan. At around half way mark we were to establish a reserve so that, we could drop certain items and go for the attack with bare essentials. This is something like a mountaineer who establishes a base camp before climbing the peak.
I don’t know for how long we walked. It seemed endless. Dev was walking ahead and I was right behind him. Dev was a good hunter. He had a good aim to shoot so invariably he would be walking ahead. Today, the usual spring in his step was missing but we could always bank on him for his hunter instincts. Everyone was quiet and breathing heavily with beads of perspiration flowing down our body as we took one step after the other. Suddenly, Dev froze and crouched. I instinctively followed him and quickly signaled all others. Everyone immediately crouched and hid themselves behind trees. “Shhhhhhh” Dev whispered, “I can hear something”. I too put my ears and gestured to Dev that I too could hear something and was trying to make out what it is. I knew from the air that our encounter is just around the corner. May be, we have walked into the enemy column. All of a sudden.
THACK! THACK! THACK! THACK!
“Phew! This is it” I thought. Instinctively all of us fired back. There was a big confusion as to who was firing at whom. Amidst all this sound I could hear Dev shout “OYE! OYE!” and wildly swing his hand. I thought there was some problem. He was signaling us to divide. I couldn’t understand why? TWING! That was yet another bullet that whistled past Arvind-my buddy who had taken cover behind a tree, next to me. Perhaps, the enemies had picked him up and were firing at him. I could now understand why Dev was shouting. At a little distance away I could see two enemy soldiers who were firing at Arvind. I yelled at Arvind “Change your position” TWING! TWING! Arvind now realized that he is in danger and dived close to a rock to save himself.
Dev’s sharp senses saved us that day. Seeing his wild hand signals, others in the column had divided themselves and came around to trap the enemy soldiers. It was quiet a risky move but Brigadier Shah had drilled us well and so our soldiers pressed ahead. Seeing themselves surrounded the enemy panicked. One of them in a crazy attempt tried running through and came charging, shouting a volley of foul words and firing furiously with his weapon. I was too dazed at his daring. Before even I could react I was face to face with him. I don’t know what happened then. He collapsed in a heap on me. I hit my neck and shoulder on a rock below and gave out a loud shriek. The weight of the enemy soldier lying collapsed on top of me made my pain even worse.
My initial reaction was that I too have been hit by a bullet. I struggled to throw the enemy soldier off myself and with great effort pushed him aside. I shook myself and changed my position again. The firing was still on with everyone shouting some action. I was surprised at my self having been able to change my position so quickly and now realised that I am okay. Dev yelled at me “Mister! Alright?” still reeling from the shock of this close escape I nodded “Yes.” I made a quick prayer to my God for having saved me. Still trembling I looked at the enemy soldier lying in front of me, completely motion less.
The fire continued for sometime and suddenly everything quietened. It was Dev who broke the stillness. “We have done it guys.” Dev’s quick presence of mind and bold decision to encircle the enemy swung the fight in our favour. ‘Who dares, Wins.’ We counted 6 enemy soldiers. Dev continued “Either the enemy already knows about our mission or he still does not. We have still not finished our task” as he turned over an enemy soldier and started checking his pockets. He got a map from the camp from where they had probably come. A big smile ran through all of our faces. This shall prove very very handy, indeed. “Now that we have this map, we will go ahead,” said Dev. The camp apparently was another eight to ten kilometers from where we were. We began our march again. We would have walked some distance when I heard Arvind’s agonising call.
While jumping over a tree stump Arvind fell down and twisted his ankle. He was in severe pain. There was but no option for Arvind to bear the pain and continue with the march. Should we leave him at the bivouac camp? We tried comforting him and tied a stick and bandage to stabilize his foot. Arvind kept on crying low but in pain. We decided to take along and continued our march. He himself was not ready to be left behind. I took Arvind’s gun so that he has lesser weight to carry and is a bit more at ease. As luck would have it, I found Rosemary plant. My little knowledge of botnay and medicine helped. I knew that the juice from its leaves act as a painkiller. Since, there was no way of extracting the juice. I plucked a few leaves and asked Arvind to chew the leaves. It worked like magic. After some distance Arvind whispered in my ears “I ‘m feeling much better”.
It must be close to ten o’clock in the night. Dev checked his map and whispered all of us to come closer and said “Boys, the enemy camp is not more than half an hour from here. Be extremely cautious. Nobody makes a sound. Be very alert. Listen to all kinds of sound. Do not break contact, Keep your radio sets functioning and on to your ears. Are you okay Arvind to go for the raid. Else you can stop short and keep a watch for any surprises. Arvind replied “No way am I going to stop short. I will go for the kill” “That’s like a soldier” said Dev. I was very proud of my buddy.
As we moved closer, I could make out faintly the enemy camp, through its shadows. There was a dim light from one of the structures. I could also see a sentry post. Now was our moment. We had to surprise the enemy. Dev indicated the targets to each one of us and put his thumb up as one after the other in pairs we moved ahead. I had to stick with Arvind, my buddy. Our target was the Sentry. We started crawling towards the fence of the camp. Our plan was to attack him from behind. As we cut through the fence, the empty cans and bottles made some clattering noise. This was a big mistake and alerted the sentry. He immediately opened fire on us. I fired back. Bingo! He was hit.
We then were running from tree to tree so as to save ourselves from the firing that had broken out in the enemy camp. We dashed towards our target which Dev had indicated. It was a make-shift kind of a building from which the faint light was coming. We stormed inside with our guns firing. The enemy inside had no chance, All four were eliminated. All through this fire, there were lots of messages on the radio of our comrades. I could make out somebody shouting, somebody screaming and all kinds of things. Suddenly there was Dev hollering in our ears on the radio “Clear Out, Clear Out.”. Our attack on the camp was with lightning speed and the mission I guess was successful. It indeed was. We scampered, still firing at the camp behind us so that, no enemy comes chasing. I don’t know how many in total were eliminated. Our tally was eight. Arvind for his bad twisted ankle behaved very well, though at times I had to drag.
We collected together at the place where Dev had indicated the targets to us. We all shook hands in a hurry and started running towards our camp. We had to run at least for about 4 hours so that we have covered some 10 to 12 kilometers so that we are safe from the enemy who could counter attack. Running in that dark night was not easy. We kept tripping and falling and kept hurting ourselves. We had to stay together, keep our direction. We were dog tired, thirsty, hungry and everything. All along Dev kept hollering something.
I could see the crack of dawn now. The birds had come to life and an odd would start chirping. At last we were safe and well away from enemy’s range. We stopped for a small while so that we could take stock. . I was thirsty like a whale and drank gallons of water from the stream where we had halted. Hitanshu was hit on his hand yet he was able to control the pain and continue. Dev himself was hurt but never let it known. Two others were also injured. Arvind’s ankle had swollen and surprisingly I don’t know how had he coped up with all the running. He started feeling the pain now.
Without wasting any further time we started towards our camp again. Dev continued giving us directions. There was lot of happiness on a mission well accomplished. We never felt the pain as we were getting closer to our side. Then our radio sets crackled again. “All OK Boys?” It was short and gruff. Unlike the usual fear this time it sent a wave of cheer through us. Unmistakably it was Brigadier O. Shah waiting to receive us at the same place where he had left us. What a relief and a big sense of achievement as the old man hugged each one of us.