On our way back from Turtuk –the last tourist village in the Nubra tehsil before the Line of Control , our driver agreed to take us a little further , closer to the border . If it wasn’t for the painted signs on the boulders ,we could never have guessed the gravity of the perimeters we were approaching . The military post looked so tiny yet safely protected by mountains towering on all sides . As we got off the bus, ground guards in uniform walked out of the bunker nearby . 2 of them were young serious–faced Gurkha soldiers,while the third one was a middle-aged man who seemed oddly familiar. And the tension that had slowly built up in the air suddenly vanished when he started speaking to us in fluent Marathi ! He belonged to Shirur and had been posted there till his retirement , scheduled for 3 months later . With an education till the 10th grade and a turbulent history of fights with friends in his village , he admitted himself into the Army at the age of 18. His salary was just enough to suffice his family, with maybe an added luxury of a 2-wheeler.
He politely catered to our surging curiosity, answering every question that we had. He gave us some perspective on the hard-hitting realities that we often tend to ignore. He shared with us some experiences that were clearly very close to his heart. During train journeys, he said, they would willingly give up their seat for a standing passenger and fit themselves in a spot near the door. What saddened him was the lack of separate compartments reserved exclusively for the thousands of soldiers who get a chance to go home only once in a while.
In his opinion, the key that holds them together in the warzone is the fact each one comes from a different part of the country. They are clean slates , unaware of the other’s past , experiencing each other’s personalities as brand new. So they are able to look past the routine ego clashes and fights very easily, harbouring only a spirit of respect and brotherhood for each other. .
As we listened to him , each of his felt genuine respect for all these men who stand silent yet strong , facing a reality that we are completely blind to . I felt lucky to be a part of that moment.. to feel awe-struck …to experience strength and humility that is so pure ..so real. Before we waved a final goodbye ,we asked him if we could help them in some way. He just smiled and said , "Kuthe bhetlaat tar olakh nakki dakhva ha." [If we happen to meet somewhere by chance, don’t forget to recognize me.]
It’s easy to speak of patriotism and overcoming hardships , but do we really understand the weight of these words in the way that they do ? Ask a man who joined the army only because of lack of another option , and then stood firmly by his oath for 17 years that followed ; who is still grateful for the little things he is treated to once in a while, like a bed to rest on or a hot water bath . That, for him ,is a good day .