SIACHEN AND THE INDIAN ARMY: A TRIBUTE
“It is easy to make faces at the sun,
He is exposed by his own light in all
History slowly smothers its truth,
But hastily struggles to revive it
In the terrible penance of pain.
My work is rewarded in daily wages,
I wait for my final value in love.
Beauty knows to say, “Enough,”
Barbarism clamours for still more.
God loves to see in me, not his servant,
But himself who serves all…”
One fine February morning, sipping on a cup of hot chocolate as I began to prep up myself for the busy work of the day, I came upon a piece of news that leaves you to pause for reaction. My pc screen was all of a sudden swamped with RIPs and consolations coming from people far and wide. The headline featured ten soldiers buried alive in a relentless mass of ice, unaccountably deep in the overwhelming vicinity of Siachen.
My memory of the Himalayas goes back to my trip in 2009, when I personally toured Himachal Pradesh. I visited many attractive tourist locations, but the most formidable was Baralacha, peaking at a lofty 4,890 metres altitude. I recalled by the time our car reached this pass, braving all bends, creeks, smog and snow, the inmates of my car were either fainting down or puking. As for me, I remember to have dozed off into a serene slumber much like the babe in the arms of a cradling mother (the difference being, only here, it was mother nature). I managed to reach the spot in sound health. However, it didn’t take me long to realise an abrupt drop of the oxygen level here and what consequences it bears on mortal humans. I concluded, it is a beauty, no doubt, but one that is quite taxing. I shudder to think what would have happened if we were to camp there; and then my mind reverted back to the news at sight. These soldiers, as fortune would have it, were caught in an avalanche and got buried 25 feet in lethal frost, with the cold claiming all nine lives, except for the body of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa, who was the only survivor to have been taken out alive. Unfortunately, even he breathed his last on February 11 and descended for the heavenly abode.
It is highly interesting to note that the soldiers have been performing phenomenally in their duty and purpose, serving at an altitude of 5,400 metres since 1984 in continuation of the operation Meghdoot amid brazen attacks of enemies and nature alike, at a time when two neighbouring countries continue to lock horns on the demanding question of status quo. These deadly mountains have served as the burial chamber for thousands of lives in the past decades and continue to play a perilous fraction in their lives.
As recently as February 27, a porter fell deep into a crevasse while ferrying supplies. Military operations continued unhalted to cut through the thick mass of ice and penetrate 130 feet deep, but it was too late to recover him. His body was found only on March 2. This was the body of Thukjay Gyasket, who is now survived by his family of four, a mother, a wife and two daughters.
“Bless this little heart, this white soul has won the
kiss of heaven for our earth.
He loves the light of the sun, he loves the sight
Of his mother’s face.
He has not learned to despise the dust, and to
Hanker after gold.
Clasp him to your heart and bless him.
He has come into this land of an hundred crossroads…”
A closer peek into this widely militarised terrain led me to the conclusion that these soldiers not only went through rigorous training to undertake massive combat, but were also prepared to deal with extreme temperatures. The soldiers here, work on a three-month rotation and can go on without food for months. Obviously the resistance and endurance level needs to be optimum when serving on the world’s highest battleground just overlooking the line of control. Then again, nature is the most challenging factor here. Even a little exposure of the human limb to this fierce climate can ensue frostbites and other physical challenges like blurring or loss of sight and limbs. Eating and sleeping disorders are not uncommon, especially when the human body and mind battles incessantly to establish adaptability with the surrounding environment. Blizzards, snowstorms and avalanches are a common occurrence here, where the temperature can fairly dip to –60 degrees. The oxygen level at Siachen is scanty than what can be found on plains and is a killer.
Again, my mind drifted back to the Himachal tour. I couldn’t help reminiscing my mother’s ordeal when she took ill. The driver pulled by a military camp while retreating downwards and I distinctly remember a middle-aged army officer rushing out and offering us immediate help. She recuperated well. We were more than thankful for them to be there and serve us.
“This and this alone
Is true religion-
To serve Thy brethren:
This is sin above all other sin,
To harm Thy brethren:
In such a faith is happiness,
In lack of it is misery and pain:
Blessed is he who swerveth not aside
From this straight path:
Blessed is he whose life is lived
Thus ceaselessly in serving God:
By bearing others’ burdens,
And so alone,
Is life, true life, to be attained:
Nothing is hard to him who, casting self aside,
Thinks only this-
How may I serve my fellow-men?”
If words could suffice: an ardent salute to all the brave-hearts of our country, an ardent salute to the Indian army. They are the reason for our sustenance; they are lifeline of our country.
 Fireflies by Rabindranath Tagore.
 Benediction by Rabindranath Tagore
 From the Ramcharitamanas by Tulsidas