From the Diary of a Soldier…

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In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of life;

Be not like dumb driven cattle,

Be a hero in the strife.”

-H.W. Longfellow.

Aritrik Dutta Chowdhury
Aritrik Dutta Chowdhury

To be a hero in the strife, I chose to join the infantry, the fighting arm of the Indian army.The journey of this transit from a young and valiant soldier to a contemplative and wise human being has been enriching and happily arduous. If I peep back to the yesteryears, the only thing that has never changed is the truth that I am a soldier.When I got commissioned, our battalion was at Thane and thereafter we were sent to thePakistan border up north. In June 1971, our battalion was deported to Kargil where the mukti bahinis reprising in East Pakistan were in full swing. Just before the war was declared, on 1st November, 1976, I was recalled from my annual leave, my family resided at Kochi. I remember having flown over the Dahl lake in a helicopter and joining my battalion on the 3rd of December. The days of war were declared, the bugles replaced the nostalgic symphony of my holiday memories and the clarion call just made us fall in, to annihilate the ruthless attack from the Western front. The whole battalion strove with resolute faith and confederacy, trifling their lives:

‘Cannons to the right of them,

Cannons to the left of them,

Cannons in front of them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of death,

Into the mouth of Hell…” (Lord Alfred Tennyson)

We reached the foothills of the main peaks of Kargil which were under the Pakhtoons and these peaks were Blackrocks devoid of any vegetation, barren like the scorching sun, so much so that any movement in the daylight was easily visible. The highest peak was called the 13620. Our battalion was given the task of capturing these fortified positions on the Pak army. Our Commanding Officer held several clandestine meetings with all the officials briefing us on the strategies; as these were posts that overlooked the whole of Kargil valley and were continuously being showered with invasive attacks of medium machine guns and rocket launchers.71-war2

The days were poignantly combated with the chilly cold of the night when the temperature could drop down to -20 degrees centigrade. A freezing wind blew and we had to wear American Coat Porkhas to ward off the cold. The barrenness and coldness of life that we had voluntarily chosen was bereft of the warmth and cosiness of ordinary lifestyle, but the glory and pride that it gifted us with, invigorated us every morn to strike the opponents with new zeal. Our battalion recaptured the seoccnd highest peak on the 7th -8th of November after a valiant hand-to-hand fight, and I was the intelligence officer of the battalion directly reporting to the Commanding Officer. I felt like a harbinger of a hundred corpses and thousands of losses but at the end I could report a triumph, a feather added to our caps.

On the night of 9th November, our Commanding Officer decided to attack from the blackrock side and Major Vishwanathan was to lead the Alpha- company attack on the evening of 9th. Around 10 pm at night, we received a radio message on the battalion that the company attack had failed and Major Vishwanathan had been captured and most probably shot by the Pakistan army. Later I came to know that Major Vishwanathan’s body was tied and pricked with bullets:

“What passing bells for these who die as cattle? – Only the

monstrous anger of the guns”. (Wilfred Owen).

Our Commanding Officer decided to take a small team with rocket launchers to assist and help him in the resuscitated attack; we had no time to pause and mourn, we could just envision every casualty as another added reason to avenge the foes. Every death soaked our tears, strengthened us with a new conflagration; every corpse rose as a phoenix to mock the sky with our clarion of victory. I was not selected as a part of the small team but I insisted on accompanying the troupe. The virulent symptoms of war had been spreading like a pandemic and “to be up and doing”  would just be a soothing antidote for any of us. As we trudged towards the peak, the enemy was firing at us with tracer bullets and we moved like snipers; as one group fired and distorted the attention of the machine guns, the other part of the group treaded forward:

“But double, like old beggars under sacks,

Towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Man marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shot. All went lame, all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.” (Wilfred Owen)

At the polls, there lay mine-fields which had to be crossed and already heavy casualties had been suffered,

“But many there stood still To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge,

Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world.” (Wilfred Owen)

71-war3At around 3am, the medium machine guns stopped firing at us, so we realized that the enemy had either fled or had suffered heavy casualties. Our Commanding Officer (who received a Veer Chakra) asked me to follow his footsteps. At around 4am, no sooner did I set my foot on the mine than a huge explosion happened. Owen must have been writing about us as he said:

“So soon they topped the hill, and raced together

Over an open stretch of herb and heather

Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned

With fury against them; and soft sudden cups

Opened in thousands for their blood;”

I was thrown atop, I toppled over and the person behind me had lost his eyes. The vision with which we marched on lost its valour, my left foot was missing and my right leg ripped apart. In a moment, destiny conspired to carve a new pavement for me, a way I had never wanted to tread, a road far far away from my dreams, my vision. Tourniquets were tied on my legs and I was put on a stretcher and I heard a couple of comrades being ordered to take me to the hospital immediately, before I lost awareness and later I awakened amidst many others who were in an equally painful state.

“I don’t recall what happened then…

And, as I held him to me, I could feel our wounds were pressed

The large one in my heart against the small one in his chest”. (Michael Mack)

71-war4I was taken to the field hospital where operations were done to resist gangrene. Then I was helicoptered to Jammu hospital where I met a lot of soldiers from Kargil. At the sacrificial altar of the hospital where we lay as lambs in the slaughter-house, we were told that our army had captured the posts; and even after so many years of the war, it is still retained as a part of India. War is surely a series of catastrophes that result in victory. I was kept in the hospital for long, but Kashmir used to be regularly bombed so the hospital premises had to be evacuated and from there I was transferred to army hospital at Dehradun and thereafter to Commando Hospital at Pune, Maharashtra. I never felt the loss of my limbs, because my pain was numbed by the resounding of the guns that resonated in me like the sweet flute long after it was heard no more:

“There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men for long

enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” (Ernest Hemmingway)

During war, we think not of family and friends; the only aim is to outwit the foes even before they conjecture our presence. It’s just the denouement of war that keeps us striving, it’s a struggle that defeats itself only for a bigger victory. The self-tarnishing faculty of war makes it temporal but the inevitability of loss that strikes as an aftermath keeps reverberating in the families and nations that suffered through it. War is basically destruction of mankind to redeem humanity and resuscitate peace; and I feel lucky and honoured to be sacrificing and countering the cause for my nation as a worthy knight with the chalice of satisfaction, like many others who have been accomplices in the same journey:

“Whatever hope is yours,

Was my life also. I went hunting wild

… I mean the truth untold,

The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

Now men will go content with what we spoiled.” (Wilfred Owen)

(The name of the Army Man has been withheld according to his wish from whose diary the section has been taken)

An article by Aritrik Dutta Chowdhury