To Each His Own

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two brothers choose different paths and end up quite differently. This is the story of their jorney

Submitted: August 14, 2017

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Submitted: August 14, 2017

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Prologue


The cold wind jolted me out of the frequent and inadvertent lapses into the dreamy state brought on by the cozy confines of the Innova. I instantly stole a glance at the driver to satisfy myself that he was awake and alive to the treacherous path that we were now crossing. "So this is that dreaded pass huh?" I said, looking out and observing an endless canvas of deep valley and the unseen violent fate that could be meted out by the unforgiving terrain. "Yes sir.” Tayyab answered. “Zojilla is a tricky path to cross.” Just then, a fallen truck loomed into sight, packets of Maggi strewn across the area, reiterating what he just said. "But you guys pushed tanks across this pass, long time ago." He seemed well conversant with history, well at least better than me. "We guys?" It was amusing and irritating that he would assume I was in the army. He realised. "So you are not an army man. You must be visiting Ladakh then. Puneet sir personally asked me to pick you up. You must be a personal friend. Isn't it?" He wasn't a friend and I didn't feel like elaborating any further. I chose silence. Unmindful of my snub, he carried on.


Midway along the pass, our car halted and Tayyab joined a motley group, mostly army men, who were paying respects to what seemed like an improvised temple. I got down, to stretch my legs rather than to fold my hands. The view was spectacular. The Baltal camp stretched below, tent upon tent, absorbing the mass of the Amarnath pilgrims. Religion can drive the masses like no other. “Won’t you pay your respects?” Tayyab asked me in a rather surprised tone. “Pay respects to what exactly?” I shot back. “This is the Captain’s memorial. Not offering prayers here doesn’t augur well for the journey beyond.” I gazed at him, indifferent and unrepentant. “I’m sure you have prayed for both of us. I don’t, ever. Let’s get on.”

He was a skillful driver. We were chugging along at a comfortable pace despite the bad roads and foolish traffic. Tayyab continued his commentary and regular snippets, unruffled by my reluctant acknowledgements. Ghumri and Matayin went by and we were greeted by a large blue board that said something to the tune of ‘Welcome to Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world’, one hell of a welcome!

“Are you a localite?” My polite inquiry caught him unawares. “Err yes, I am from Kargil. I was a teenager during the war, you know. I lugged huge ammunition boxes too, when the army wanted local people to help out. Lost a part of our house to the shelling.” His determination to supply more information than what was asked for was unwavering. “Ohh, you carried loads during the war? Great.” He seem to have understood the purport of my tone. “Where were you?” I answered “abroad” and his “ohh great” shut me up for the rest of the short distance to what seemed like an army camp.

A tall guy in camouflages indicated us to stop at the gate. Tayyab got into a conversation with him while I glanced around. ‘MVC Paltan’ was painted across the arch with a Roman ‘X’ alongside. Our car passed muster and we were ushered inside, stopping in front of a well maintained set of rooms. I got out and was greeted by Puneet, who wore a genial persona with businesslike looks. “Hi Angad. Welcome to Drass and to ‘Ten JAT’. Hope you had a pleasant enough journey?” If Srinagar to Drass could be ‘pleasant’ I couldn’t fathom what ‘unpleasant could be. I mumbled a feeble ‘Yes’. “So we meet, finally” I said, in light of the fact that we were conversing through phone and letters for quite some time now. “Ohh yes, I’ve been waiting to meet you. Been hearing so much of you from Anuj, mostly over drinks.” He winked! “How come you never visited him in the unit?” I wasn’t about to discuss my family troubles with a complete stranger. “Can we go in please? It’s quite cold here, especially the wind.” He ushered me into a surprisingly comfortable and spacious room and instructed leisurely on drinking water, staying covered, taking rest and something to the tune of “Don’t be a Gama in the land of Lama”. I gave a patient hearing and bid him a polite good bye.

Two days passed by amid guzzling gallons of water, gulping down more than a couple of ‘dispirins’ and zero activity. On the third morning a smartly turned out jawan came to me with express instructions to escort me to Puneet saab’s office. I tagged along. We went into a room with a black name board with ‘2IC’ on it. Puneet was sitting inside with a rack full of papers stacked on his table. “I hope you are doing well? High altitude can be scary due to the effects it has. I nodded my affirmation and sat down to an indicated chair beside a welcome heater. “The CO is visiting forward posts so I’m handling the day to day routine. He will be back soon. Will you stay till he gets back?” He was kidding right? “I leave in two days. I’m flying back to the States in a week from now.” He seemed genuinely disappointed. “When do you plan to visit your brother?”

 

“How far do we have to go?” I needed to know of course. “ We go in a vehicle till the Iron bridge and then it’s a walk for about 2-3 hours depending on how you cope up with the rigours” A mental calculation indicated that it would be a day’s work. Up and down. “Let’s go tomorrow. And I will leave day after. My flight is for the next day from Leh.”

“Fair enough. Tomorrow morning 6 AM sharp. We’ll carry along our breakfast, lunch and some stuff for Anuj too.”

We started promptly at dawn. The army jeep dropped us off after an hour’s journey to await our return till we got back. “You see that peak there? That’s the post. We should be able to make it in a couple of hours. Let’s start before the Sun is upon us.” I labored along for the next three hours without saying much while Puneet kept on spiritedly about the association, bonhomie and camaraderie he shared with Anuj. He was the type who loved to rattle on incessantly. Just my luck!  “Are we there yet?” I asked him between deep breaths when we halted near a clearing and the white snow visibly glistened below us like a vast blanket. “Just a bit more. It will get narrower from here on, so watch your step.” This was an unforgiving land. Cold, narrow, snow bound and physically demanding. “Did you capture these during the war?” I asked him tentatively. “Of course. All of this and beyond. You are aware that this Paltan was the one which captured this place. Point 5318. Painful yet remarkable. It was no mean feat and I don’t intend to be humble about it.”

We lapsed into silence for a while. “How was it?” I asked him. “How was what?” I pondered over how to put across the question. “Past couple of days I’ve been observing the rigors that you have to endure. Remorseless weather, no mobiles yet a job to do. How was it during the time of war?” He gave me a wry smile. “We didn’t have even a fraction of the comfort that we have now. Add to it no winter protection that could beat this cold. How we did what we did? Come to think of it, Indian Army doesn’t need a reason. We are driven by our strong legacy and ethos. Naam, Namak, Nishaan. More of it later, if you do find time to sit with us seeing as you are in quite a hurry to leave. But I observed a change in you from what you were when you arrived. What happened?” I looked around the strange land, standing among strange people, walking up unknown paths. “Nothing” I replied.

We went on till we neared a bigger clearing with some sorts of construction ahead of us. “This is it,” announced Puneet. I indicated him to take the lead. A strange nervousness was setting in within me. It was not easy to bridge long lost relations. Yet here I was. The Subedar accompanying us brought out the Thali and arranged the Aarti. “Subedar Vijay was with him in those final moments” Puneet indicated the man. I stared up at the writing on the wall.

In loving memory of

Captain Anuj Sharma, MVC

23 June 1999

‘X Jat’

Jai Bhagwan, Jat Balwaan.”

 

 

 

I kept staring at his lively photo that adorned the memorial. He wore that same lop sided grin that I remembered from memory. Puneet handed me a letter. “I’ve kept it with me all along. Wanting to hand it over once you visited him here.” I took it with trembling hands and read through. He mused about our childhood, our times together – good and bad and the future. “Take care of mother; you will be the only one she’ll be left with.” And many suggestions on what I should do with my life. It ended with “Given a choice, if I had to do this all over again knowing where I’d end up, I pray I’d make the right choice again. Nothing beats the joy of serving the country.”

I could feel the lump in my throat, all the bottled up emotions waiting to burst out. All those lost moments and foolish pride. I was determined not to break down. I heard Anuj’s playful voice in my head, chiding me “It’s ok to cry you know”

A lone tear trickled out, making its way down, dripping on to the memorial floor.


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