Monday, April 14, 2014

Soldiers Old & New

In early 2002, I was stepping out of my hotel room in Mumbai when I noticed an elderly, carefully dressed, hunched gentleman in the foyer. "Hello, boy!", he said, in response to my greeting, "stepping out for the day's business?".  It was Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

The first thing that struck me was how different he looked in civilian clothes. The old black-and-white photos always showed him in a certain understated grandeur. Handlebar mustache, light eyes and ready repartee ("If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying , or he is a Gurkha!").

Almost the same thought crossed my mind yesterday when we went to see the Change of Guards at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. A few days ago, the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) Regiment had replaced 28 Madras as the Presidential Guards and this was the first time JAKLI was doing the formal, weekly change-over on their own. 

Once the ceremony of over, the mounted guards rode away into a dusty, reddish haze. As everybody was stepping out to take photos, an army officer called out to his guests. "This is Subedar Major Bana Singh", he said, standing next to an avuncular Sikh gentleman with a dyed beard. 

The Bana Singh?? I looked carefully at the man, trying hard to imagine him leading a small team in 1987, scaling an ice cliff  6500m up in the Himalayan Saltoro Ranges, in the face of stinging winds at minus 45C, to capture a ridge held by Pakistani commandos. Somehow, my imagination failed me.

Just as it was difficult to think of the elderly Sam standing in a hotel foyer, as the General who won the Bangladesh War, it was impossible to think of Bana anything other than a friendly, cheerful shopkeeper who had just driven down from Khan Market.

Now, this was something to think about:  Does this not show that behind almost every unremarkable face we see around us, there lurks a will power, capable of the most incredible acts of heroism?

Major S. Rathore of 8 JAK LI inspects the Guards

The President's Bodyguards trot back to the barracks

* YouTube - Indian Army on Siachen Glacier (1/3) --
* Siachen Hero - Bana Singh --
*  The Fight for Siachen --

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