Siachen Experience#3: The Day I Attended My Own Funeral
That Smart Phone in your hand, or the TV you watch could be Weapons of Mass Destruction! Yes I repeat WMD. In the connected world of rapid instantaneous communication today, do we realize one wrong message can spread destruction, the way it did with morphed photos and fake videos that got circulated during the recent JNU episode. It divided the people right in the middle. Can we forget the recent episode where Lance Naik Hanumanthappa was declared dead by everyone, up the chain, but was found alive later. I really thank God communications were not as good about 20 years back.
While being on “Top” of the Siachen Glacier, my last few days were eventful. My relief had started climbing and I was all eager to go back to civilization. But few were not as lucky. We had a fearless Artillery OP Officer at a forward Post. He too was due for relief. Few days before his relief was to take place, he was retaliating Paki fire by bringing down accurate fire on enemy posts. All of a sudden an enemy shell landed near him, he was injured badly. We radioed immediately for Casualty Evacuation. The Brave Army Aviation pilots, fought through the poor weather, brought in their helicopters for evacuation, but were forced to wait in a helipad enroute because the shelling was still going on. To our surprise the shelling stopped. Immediately the choppers went up and retrieved the injured officer. As they were taking off, another enemy artillery shell landed close to the helipad. To our good luck, the helicopter survived. Unluckily a soldier who was helping load the injured officer in to the helicopter got hit. This, we realized then, was a new technique the enemy resorted to target our helicopters, by waiting for the helicopter to land before they fire again.
The helicopter rushed to save the Officer. However, they could not return to carry the injured soldier since the weather packed up by then. It took another three days before the soldier was evacuated once the weather cleared up. He survived, due to sheer grit and the will to live. Unfortunately my friend could not survive despite being given immediate treatment.
I reached base camp shortly thereafter. To assuage my emotions of having been kept on “Top” for more than my tenure, my annual leave was sanctioned immediately and I was packed off on priority to Thoise to board my flight back to the World of Happiness. I reached Thoise airfield Transit Camp where we had to await our turn to board the Air Force flight. I was happy to be on my way back to civilization, but my happiness was short-lived. I was given the onerous responsibility of escorting my friend’s mortal remains to Chandigarh. With a heavy heart I stepped into the IL76. My eyes sat glued to the coffin. Recounting the chirpy young boy who stayed in my Fibre Glass Hut on his way up, and how so very young the light has been put out. The journey to Chandigarh was uneventful, except for my moist eyes.
The IL76 Gajraj plane, landed smoothly. The rear of the aircraft opened, and I stepped down to oversee the handing over of fallen hero’s remains to the people detailed to receive the same. The Airforce had made arrangements to transport it further to Delhi, immediately in another aircraft. I saluted my departed friend one last time and turned to leave.
To my utter surprise I saw the men of my unit lined up at the tarmac to receive me. For a moment I thought maybe this is the way they receive those who return from the Glacier, may be a protocol that, I wasn’t aware of. I soon noticed surprised faces to see me walk up to them, they all stared at me. I noticed strange glances, and this, confused me. Weren’t they happy to receive me? After all the formalities were over, I went to the Transit Camp. At the Transit Camp, during my conversation with the boys who came to receive me, I realized the big folly that had just taken place.
Long distance calls through Army exchanges back then were as feeble as it could get. The message sent from Leh through phone was – “Capt Saab arriving at Chandigarh escorting the body. Send vehicle for pick up”. The message as understood by my unit guys was that – Capt Saab’s body is coming in the aircraft. And so they all hurriedly reached the tarmac along with a 1Ton truck to receive my coffin. So when I stepped out, they were extremely surprised to see me – the Ghost who walked. That is the story of how I got the opportunity to attend my own funeral arrangements. A rare privilege indeed.
The magnanimity of that error did not strike me then, I dismissed it as a mere miscommunication. But today I am wondering, if the communications to our folks back home were as good as it is now, what would have been their experience, especially with parents and aging grandparents, I shudder to think.
And herein lies a message for all of us. Do not be too trigger happy to forward anything that comes into your mobile phone. Haste is waste. Don’t be the one to show off that you have some new information however smart it may sound. Wait, analyse the consequences and send only if you feel it will add value to people. Any message or opinion that fuels suspicion, fuels divisiveness, fuels hatred, spreads sadness – Do you think you should be a part of that gang? Let us avoid being party to these Weapons of Mass Destruction!
I close with few words of popular Malayalam Actor Mohanlal from his Voice Blog, expressing pain at the recent happenings at JNU– “All thoughts are good, if only they would guide the nation in the path of progress, All agitations are good if only they would add one more brick to the growth of our nation, all debates are good if only they would ensure the freedom that has been achieved through sacrifices of martyrs, remains intact,…… rest everything is not only just a waste of time and effort, but an abuse to the motherland. I do not remember who wrote this, “When India is alive, How can we die, …… when India is Dying, What is the use of us being alive?”