Sunday, July 22, 2007

Are we worthy??

Emotional infirmities & mental stresses in the Indian Army

Around six years ago I traveled to Kerala on some official assignment. I boarded the Kerala Express at New Delhi and knowing that the journey is going to take 54 hours, I was keen to know about my co-passengers. As I boarded the train, I realized that the other six passengers are all men! Out of all them, the eldest and the wittiest, who could effortlessly initiate conversations was an ex-IFS, who had taken a voluntary retirement and was on his own. The next was a LIC agent from Kerala (whose eyes always preyed for potential policy buyers), had come to receive the award for being one of the outstanding performers from the South zone, and now was returning. The third was a serious looking hotelier, a General Manager in a five star property in Delhi, was going to Kerala to meet his parents, who also had seen a girl for him. The fourth was a journalist from Cochin, who commanded profound knowledge of the thriving pornography industry, had come to Delhi to cover some news beats. The fifth one, a soldier from Palaghat, and the most intriguing of all, in fact the protagonist for our long 54 hour journey. And the sixth was – me, the story teller.

The first day of our journey went by discussing politics to pornography, most of it was initiated by the ex – bureaucrat. The only person who stood completely disinterested was our soldier friend. Sitting by the side lower berth he kept on looking outside, got down at every station, and kept asking everyone whether the train is moving at a right time or not. His gestures suggested that if he could, he would run faster than the train to reach his destination. It was only in the later part of the second day that he got a little comfortable with us. He hardly spoke, but whatever he shared left us completely dumbstruck. He started by saying that was on his way back, after almost nine months serving at Siachen. He had not taken a shower in the past six months and had been on a diet of dry fruits and chocolates. We could gather his urgency to reach Palghat, when he told us that he was blessed with a son four months back, and he didn’t even know how he looked! What awed us was this man’s humility, innocence and his genuine ‘going home soon smile’. It never appeared to fade even when he kept on narrating inhuman experiences that hundreds of soldiers like him undergo, while guarding our borders.

By night all of us hit our respective berths. I could’nt sleep as the soldier’s narration kept on reverberating in my mind. From my berth I kept on looking at him and found that he couldn’t sleep either. He got up, opened his trunk, and looked at the gifts that he got for his son, took out a small mirror and combed his hair. He repeated the same in a similar sequence innumerable times.

While I read today that on an average one soldier of our Indian Army is giving away their life, once in every three days, on account of mental and physical strain, I am reminded of him. It is him and every soldier like him, who are giving away every bit of their precious life to make us feel secured. Frankly – ‘Are we any worthy of their supreme sacrifice?’


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