Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ordinary men or Superheroes?

Exactly one year ago, I was traveling with my parents to New York, with a connecting flight from Atlanta. We had had a horrible start to the trip, with overnight delays and a detour to North Carolina, due to thunderstorms. So, we were nothing but relieved to reach Atlanta and get on track for New York. When we alighted from the flight and walked through our gate, it really did feel like an achievement to have finally reached half way through to our trip, after two long days. As soon as we started walking, we saw a big crowd at the terminal, loud cheering and clapping. And we were quite taken aback, to say the least. I mean all the passengers on board our flight had had a rough night, but how would have these other people known?One look back, and I realized what the applause was for. There was a big group of young soldiers, possibly returning from foreign postings, and here were complete strangers who were cheering for them. We could hear the words "Welcome Home", "Salute to you, Soldier", and "America is proud of you"! My father was quite surprised to see this and just said, "Why can't we honor our soldiers like them?".

Of course, we went on to have a long discussion over it, and we realized that even though Americans despise their country going at war, as much as Indians do, they do not lose appreciation for their countrymen. They do not undermine the fact that it is these young men and women, who did not chose to participate in war, but had to follow orders. People who chose to make a career in armed forces do so, to protect their country and fellow citizens, not to inflict atrocity on others. So, why is is that a country like India forgets a major war, like Kargil and its uncountable heroes? The war, like any other, was unnecessary and brought on by factors, best, not discussed here.

But, the fact remains that it is this militia that saved a lot of civilian lives from being targeted by the infiltrators. It is easy for people to debate over why wars happen, why can't we leave peacefully, etc. But, what is so difficult about remembering the sacrifices made by so many? For whatever reason, wars and violence are part of human nature. Then, it becomes equally important for people to value the handful who risk their lives, knowing well that one day they would be involved in something as complicated as war. The reason I say, it is complicated is because there are so many angles to killing the enemy, than just sending a bullet through another person. The question that always comes up in my mind is 'Can any training in the world actually prepare you to shoot another fellow human being?'. You can be trained to be strong, physically; possess endurance and skill, intelligence and alertness. But, can you actually be trained to be guilt-free and emotionless?

I have some friends in the armed forces, and I wish they never have to make that decision of whether to listen to their heart or follow their orders. I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to be faced with a combat, and actually having to use ammunition on a live person, for the first time. Because they are just like us, people who like pleasant things in life, who want to cherish the small joys and who want to be with their loved ones. They feel pain and pleasure the same way we do. Then how are they expected to transform from being movie buffs, cricket lovers and jolly personalities to protectors of the nation overnight? How are they expected to carry the burden of leading so many men, and protecting several others? Of course, they are trained and they know what they were getting into in the first place. But, can you actually prepare someone to walk away from their wounded buddy (as they are called in Army Lingo) and put the mission on a higher pedestal? How can you train their mind to be untouched by emotion and keep going? How can they find the courage to walk in the line of fire? How is it possible to keep your anger aside, forget the way your fellow soldiers were treated and yet, treat the enemy's fallen with respect? What are these men made of?

All these unsettling thoughts bother me every time I watch a war movie. The Kargil War was an important landmark in Indian history, and it was necessary for our generation to understand that freedom does come at a price. The ailment of Independent India is that people have taken their freedom for granted and refuse to hold responsibility for anything. This war was a good reminder that a few chose to put the country and the lives of others above their own. As grateful citizens, the least we can do is to remember the valor and sacrifices made by these men and their families. It also means, that we do our bit and contribute to our country's progress and improvement, in every way we can. It could mean picking up garbage from the streets, minimizing child abuse or promoting literacy. Because it is for the country's future that these soldiers defend it from enemies. If we cannot secure a decent future for the country, their effort to defend the country goes waste.

The Kargil War had a casualty figure of 527 Indian soldiers and that is a huge number for a senselessly instigated war. We have to realize that there were a lot of soldiers in their early twenties who were juxtaposed into the war scene, having just received their first posting. I am not sure if experience helps and prepares you for war, but definitely the rush of youth could blind you and could you catch you unawares. Since, this war was largely covered by the media, there were multiple stories of engagements being called off, marriage plans postponed, and what not. Whether it was fair to have personal details of these soldiers being discussed, is a debatable topic. But, what I think it did, was give a face and a name to the unknown soldier. The war cry devised by Capt. Vikram Batra, "Yeh Dil Maange More!" is etched in our memories forever. What happens is, everybody knows a war is being fought, they mourn for the martyrs and eventually forget about it. But when there is a name attached and a story to tell, there is a personal connection. It becomes easier to identify with the person and then it becomes a personal loss. It is important to sense that feeling, because then the war means much more and hits home. 

Since this war was a highly televised one, the public became aware of the sacrifices these men were making; some even having to call off their weddings. It became evident that these men were overcoming huge personal losses and yet, braving the enemy. I knew then, that it must be tough to survive the extreme cold, but only when  I moved to a place with temperatures of -50C, that I developed a new-found respect for these men. It is torturous even to stand outside, with the biting wind, leave alone, get into a hike. It is thanks to the electronic media, who familiarized the public with the treacherous terrain and the dizzying altitude. The daily updates also introduced us to the lives of these soldiers in the face of extreme conditions, be it the tight rationing of food supplies, the unbearable cold or the lack of entertainment. It was also the acknowledgement that at such times, small joys meant a lot, and receiving letters from complete strangers was definitely among them. 

It has been 13 years and a lot of people have forgotten these heroes and their families. We have to remember that putting up names on marble memorials is not enough. Every once in a while showing gratitude and honoring these soldiers is important. For us, 527 is just a number, but for the families, it is 527 brothers, sons, fathers, husbands lost. And that is not something they can forget. So, why should we? After all,we were saved the trouble of defending ourselves, because of their acts of courage. To all the Vikram Batras, Saurabh Kalias, Anuj Nayyars, Vijayant Thapars and many unnamed heroes, 'We remember you, we are proud of you, we salute you and we appreciate your efforts and we are here because of you'! And to all the countrymen, who have forgotten the Kargil War and its heroes, who remember the 1999 World Cup more than the War, here is a rude reminder; it is not Sachin Tendulkar, but these soldiers who won us the bigger battle. It was disheartening to know that when today's youth were interviewed on Vijay Diwas, they had no clue whatsoever, of these war heroes, but were well acquainted with cricketers, celebrities, etc. I have challenged myself to pay tribute to all war heroes on this Vijay Diwas and find out more about the 527 men who lost their lives protecting our beautiful country and no longer let them be 'The Unknown Soldier'. How will you pay tribute?

Some resources that helped me find more about the fallen heroes and the stark reality of war:


8 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for visiting the blog and appreciating the post :)

      Delete
  2. Excellent Article Amrutha. In our country the only folks in the Govt who are doing their duty are these men and they deserve a huge salute from the entire nation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jayashree... I am glad there a lot of people, if not the Government, who appreciate the efforts of these soldiers!

      Delete
  3. We take things for granted. We don't realise that pains they undertake for us. No amount of praise will be enough for our soldiers who are battling tremendous hardships in protecting our today and tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very True... And we should not need a Kargil Diwas to honor them, we should be able to appreciate their efforts irrespective!!

      Delete
  4. Timely reminder Amrutha! It is a sad commentary of the values we cherish when we accord superhero status only to people who have achieved wealth and not to those who have given their all! Maybe that is why we get leaders who are out to get all they can and not out to serve!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you, Sir... People crib about news channels giving importance to celebrities, but it is the audience that demands for it... Unless each individual changes his/her outlook, our society will be defunct in performing its duties!!

      Delete

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...