Thursday, August 9, 2012

Life of a Soldier...

Some people are destined for greatness (Actually they inherit superhuman genes from their progenitors!!). Others write their own destiny. He is one such soldier and this is his story.

Once upon a time in the sunny month of May, God decided to send him to walk the path called life in a sleepy town somewhere in a state called Andhra Pradesh in India. That was the time when India was having a tough time dealing with China on the East and Pakistan on the West. That was also the time when Jawaharlal Nehru was criticised and banged by the media and people in general for his failure to properly deal with the arrogance and might of the Chinese. (A little digression I guess!!). 

Anyways, he grew up amidst people who were mostly illiterate and probably were of the opinion that Black Pigs are more loyal to humans than Dogs. You can’t really blame them for their ignorance as the whole town was and is still infested with lots and lots of Pigs. (I don’t know why some people still find Pigs cute!!). His father earned just enough to afford spending on his education. Mind you, at that time in India, studying in a school was a luxury only a few could afford. Spending most of his time playing in the streets, he soon grew up to an age where most of us now ask ourselves ‘What am I going to do with my life? Will I become an Engineer or a Doctor?’ After struggling to clear his Intermediate studies, he plunged into the identity crisis mode. That’s when one of his dear friends advised him to join the Indian Air Force. Despite resistance from his parents, he decided to participate in the fair – a fair where youngsters try their luck to make it into the Armed Forces as a Non Commissioned Officer.  

Now the story of how he qualified to be stamped as ‘Fit for Induction in IAF’ is by itself an interesting one. The minimum weight one ought to have to qualify was around 48. But he was only 45 then. Alarmed by the fact that he would soon be rejected, he secretly gobbled up enough Bananas (luckily available at the fair then!!) to increase his body weight to 48 and scraped through the final medical round. (If gaining weight is so easy then why am I working out so hard in the Gym??) Thus, he began his career in the IAF at the tender age of 19. His parents were unhappy with his decision, but he stuck to his guns. Now whether it was his desire to experience the real world outside, the passion to make a difference by serving his country or to land up a government job is something that is unknown. Nevertheless, he flew off. 

At the training institute, he had a tough time adopting his frail body to the physical and mental rigours that one is made to go through. So much so that he tried to escape and return back home. But life had other plans for him. He finally made it through the rigorous training period, learning to shoot with a ~3Kg 303 rifle and running around the huge dusty grounds holding the heavy rifle ‘Shoulder up’. (Reminds me of Karan in the movie Lakshya).

The transition from civil society to a life in the Military Barracks was never going to be easy, for he was gullible and trusted people easily. His first posting was in Srinagar where he was welcomed by a gang of thieves. They posed as Inspectors of the CID and on the pretext of checking his luggage, stole cash and other valuables kept in his suitcase. That was life’s way of telling him ‘Welcome to the real world dude!!’ Soon enough he married the love of his life. She was his childhood sweetheart and they first met when her family started living as tenants in his house. Soon, they began to love the time spent with each other, chatting all the way whenever they had free time after school and college. There were no mobile phones then, so they had to physically meet to catch up and enjoy sweet nothings (That is why I hate Mark Zuckerberg!!). Sweet friendship then blossomed into love and when he finally declared his love for her at home, he was chided for reasons best known to him and his parents. Nevertheless, he managed to convince them and eventually exchanged marital vows with her - the woman he knew he couldn’t live without.  

With his soul partner supporting him all the way, life in the armed forces became a smooth journey he traversed effortlessly. Hopping around places every four to five years, he became an Indian in the true sense working with dedication for his country as well as his family. Along the way, he also became a father to a son and a daughter and that made him complete. But all wasn't hunky dory yet. His dedication to his country was something his immediate family back in his hometown couldn't fathom at all. And that probably isolated him from all things and affairs happening in his hometown. It hurt him. A farmer and soldier are two people who are experts in expectation management for they are in a very thankless profession. He moved on for he was a soldier. Along the way he saw his colleagues die in air crashes and in freak inexplicable accidents for the Armed Forces were still not modernized to international standards. Working overtime to ready the majestic SU-30 MKI's, MIG-29's and Jaguar's for wartime, he witnessed the death of his seniors and colleagues from close quarters during Operation Vijay. But he also made some friends who later went on to become his ‘Friends for Life’. He educated his children in the best possible way, giving them whatever they asked for and not compromising on their education and attire. And yet also managed to save enough to later buy a flat and become a proud owner of a home. His wife went on to become the reason he managed the finances within an income that is now ‘measly’ if not anything else. 

Living life by his rules, he happily chose to retire after 20 glorious years of service to the country; because he wanted to provide his son and daughter the best possible avenues for higher education. It has been ten years since he left the armed forces. But one can still feel the discomfort with which he is constantly trying to adapt to the whims and fancies of the civil society. Transition back to the civil society was much tougher for him for he had a wife and two children to take care of as well. But he managed everything with gusto. Guess everything else is a child’s play for a soldier who has spent 20 years of his life amidst guns, bullets, jet engines and roaring fighter jets!!

In a few days from now, he is all set to complete 30 years of service which includes 20 years as a non-commissioned officer in the IAF. And whenever I have admired him for his patience, will and dedication to his work, his humility has made me realise I am being a sissy when I whine about work in a corporate setup (I am a chronic complainer nevertheless!! By the way, I am going to retire right after cutting my 45th Birthday cake). Post retirement from IAF, his life has been a relatively smoother ride compared to many other thousands of Ex-Servicemen who are still struggling to earn a little respect and dignity from the civil society. If I tell you I am lucky enough to have seen how soldiers literally work their asses off, come no matter what; then that’s an understatement!! 

This post is dedicated to him – A truly obedient son, a lover who fought for his love, a loving and loyal husband, a father who became a living hero in the eyes of his children and above all a Soldier who with the utmost sincerity dedicated 20 years of his life serving his country. This post is dedicated to all such soldiers who sing along ‘Ab toh humein, aagey badtey hi rehna....’ 

“May God bless all the Soldiers”

signing off,