I am a Naval Officer looking
after the disability pension adjudications of all Armed Forces personnel.
Having lived all my uniformed days on ships and submarines, the change to
a real hardcore shore job came as a pleasant surprise and that too, the
posting was in the Directorate General Armed Forces Medical Services.
Literally, the other side of the fence, as also grey concrete vis-a-vis
the blue waters of an ocean.
Having taken up my appointment, I
went about the rather serious job of attempting a modicum of fairness in
judgements as also to act with positiveness for the benefit of Indian
Armed Forces personnel. With the Navy in my blood for years, I decided
that I must attempt to have a view point also of the Army and Air Force to
essentially develop within myself a blend of true Indian values from men
on the rather harsh borders and front line air stations who face death on
a day-to-day basis so gallantly.
And so with the blessings of the
DGAFMS, I headed for Leh and the higher reaches in April, this year. Time,
being limited, I neither had the patience for acclimatisation nor the
inclination. Fool hardy, no doubt but I wanted to be with the men on the
LoC. The hospital, the backbone of the area I was to visit, as also the
High Altitude Research Centre was an eye opener on how patients from
forward posts are given the best possible care from ever-smiling doctors
After two days, I headed for Kargil
by road, driving along mountain hugging roads constructed by the hardy and
resolute Border Roads Organisation. The Indus river was mighty as I drove
alongside her, at times calm and gentle, at times raging but most of the
time roaring as she made her way into Pakistan. And the mountains, bare,
cold, rocky, snow capped gave one a feeling of spiritualism and peace. The
air was crisp, cold and the wind attempted to roughen me up as if knowing
fully well that a seagull had possibly by mistake flown into a territory
known for its harshness and bleakness. And the seagull had to be given a
little chilly windy shiver. Yes, it was a shake up, no doubt, but what a
lovely one was it. I reached 14000 ft at the Flotula Pass completely white
and bitterly cold. I had to stop and show my respect for these beautiful
I removed my Naval peak cap and
showered a little snow on my hair and looked up at the deeply overcast
skies and prayed for the men who have been living in these regions day and
night not knowing what the next day holds for them.
At Kargil, I stayed with a front
line medical facility and saw the work the doctors perform in a rather
ancient set up, in barracks well past their prime and ever so difficult to
maintain. Yet, smiling doctors and nursing assistants are giving their
best to the soldiers from forward posts. I visited one such post - Point
43 (once a Pakistan territory). The post was eyeball to eyeball with our
neighbours and the young officers and men lived in the most primitive of
conditions. Yet the morale of these troops within sniper fire distance was
something to be observed, felt and experienced. The youngest jawan had so
much to teach an old sea dog like me and with such enthusiasm.
Drass, the second coldest inhabited
place in the world with winter temperatures touching minus 60 degree
Celcius was my next halt. After a briefing at the medical centre, I had
reached our heavy gun positions to see and feel for myself the retaliatory
and awesome fire power.
At Batalik, I caught up with the
mighty Indus roar as it enters Pakistan, an area fraught with danger, an
area where the Army faced the terrible fire power of Pakistan in July 1999
and the accompanying havoc. Yet at those heights of 15000-18000 ft, the
Indian soldiers stood firm maintaining a legacy left by the braves and
sustaining a vigil day and night, protecting the country from the enemy.
My drive to Turtil along the Shlok
river was like driving through fantasy land. It was a pleasure
distributing sweets from my flag jeep to the many children, fair skinned,
light-eyed with rosy pink cheeks who would come running up from the river
bank or scramble down rocky slopes like lissom little ibex and I would
wait eagerly to reward them with sweets and toffees. As they sucked the
sweets, I would salute them with a Jai Hind followed by a loud
chorus of Jai Hind and thus I would proceed to the next village. I
reached the last point at the LoC, closely observed by Pakistan soldiers
who probably wondered what a man in blues and white peak cap was doing
The Siachen Glacier as usual gave me
yet another memorable experience (my second trip into the region). While I
had planned to reach the highest out-post at 20000 ft, nature prevented me
from going up beyond 15000 ft that day due to bad weather. I was
tremendously disappointed but later on I was to realise why guardian
angels do exist. That night, the two posts I was to visit were wiped out
in an avalanche. As I remarked earlier, the inhospitable terrain and
climate were greater enemies of our soldiers than the neighbouring Army.
The Medical Centre at the confluence
of the Nubra and Shlok rivers manned by medical officers and nursing
assistants was doing a tremendous job taking care of troops and porters of
the area - a bleak rocky land of double humped camels and ibex.
Back across the Khardungla Pass to
Leh, I finally returned to Delhi after ten exhilarating days with the men
on the LoC. It was a life time experience, a bag full of admiration and a
head bowed in respect for those who had sacrificed their lives for the
cause of the nation. A salute from the Navy to all those men past and
present who guard this country against all odds, in the coldest and
inhospitable terrains on this Earth.
Surgeon Cmde Subroto Kundu