When belief in self
Drass, July 3 (Rajesh
Ramachandran) - They were seven of them, in two
rows. Taking their rifles up and then bringing it
down, eyes fixed on the ground, hands moving to the
right and then left. The haggard-looking soldiers
were rehearsing to welcome their colleagues.
Then Havildar Satbir Singh
came, the last one to return after capturing Black
Rocks. His colleagues’ hands and legs moved out of
sync. Probably because they didn’t want to welcome
the hero this way. Satbir Singh was dead. Four
jawans of the unit climbed the Shaktiman truck and
brought him down .
It was a plot of dried up
wheat field where the stretcher was laid. The seven,
with arms, took position to his left and the rest of
the unit, which was present at the makeshift base
camp, on to his right.
The click of heels was not
heard; there was no bugle playing the last post.
Suddenly they all looked tired and vulnerable.
Satbir Singh, bare-footed with his toes tied
together with white gauze. His face was covered with
his own jacket.
The officer marched towards
Satbir Singh’s body, took the wreath from a jawan,
laid it at Satbir Singh’s feet, saluted and turned
The wreath was on behalf of
the Commanding Officer of the unit. Next, it was the
Subedar Major’s turn to pay homage on behalf of
all other ranks. The military ritual over, the
officer slowly walked up to Satbir Singh, lifted the
jacket, had a last look and walked away.
“I just wanted to see his
face,” the officer later said. The face seemed
calm and ordinary. Satbir Singh was the last of the
13 who perished while capturing Black Rocks to
arrive at the base camp.
Death in life couldn’t be
felt more than here at the battlefront. They do
think about life, however busy they are with the
task at hand. For instance, while reassuring omeone
that he wouldn’t be quoted, the officer’s reply
was willy but morbid too: “If we don’t fear
death, why should we fear you quoting us?”
And it could be this
element of uncertainty that lurks behind every rock
they climb which makes them all believers. At a base
camp a few minutes before they were to start the
march to the next battlefield, they all had a red
tilak on their forehead: from the commanding officer
to the lance naik.
Do they think of their
families while going up to bare their chest to enemy
fire? “Fleeting images of the family do appear.
But mostly there would only be blood in our minds.
For, to survive is to kill,” says a soldier. Then
there is life in death too; its for Satbir Singh
that many more Satbirs would fight.
The Hindustan Times News Service