2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: An Inch of Metal for Miles of Motherland

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 7 and last. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999

Mushkoh: Soldiers seldom make wars, politicians do; soldiers perish trying to end them.

In the end they just become dead weights loaded on the backs of unknowing mules, their dignity wrapped in tattered blankets. If they are fortunate, these blankets will somewhere have a little badge of honour pinned, an inch of metal for miles of motherland.

With soldiers returning from the recapture of Tiger Hill
With soldiers returning with Pakistani military ware from the recapture of Tiger Hill

Brigade-Major Rajeev Srivastava was in no mood to receive us. We had arrived at his camp deep in Mushkoh valley uninvited and unannounced. He was busy and he could well have sent us back. But he had ushered us into his tent and ordered tea. He was hard at work on an unsteady little desk piled up with files and papers. The tent was steaming like a sauna in mid-afternoon. “How have you managed to come here?” he asked, scribbling on furiously. “My orders are to allow no media personnel here. If they reach here, I have orders to escort them to Sonemarg, right out of the war zone.” Continue reading “Kargil: An Inch of Metal for Miles of Motherland”

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2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: The Good Soldier on a Bad Night

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 1. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999.

Under bombardment in the battle for Mount Tololing in Drass with AP photographer Saurabh Das, on belly and Gaurav Sawant, then of The Indian Express (right).
Under bombardment in the battle for Mount Tololing in Drass with AP photographer Saurabh Das, on belly, and Gaurav Sawant, then of The Indian Express (right).

Drass: “Two hundred artillery guns firing across the mountain all night. Will that make a good story for you?”

This officer shall remain unnamed in the story for reasons that have to do with the strange workings of the defence establishment — the games they can play with good officers and the petty wars they can unleash. But if this man wasn’t a good soldier, true to his calling and country, the Indian Army probably doesn’t have any. He, more than anyone else, introduced some of us to the face of the war and  to the life of the man who wages it: the footsoldier. He showed us how spectacular and how sorry war could be, how exciting and spectacular and frightening, how necessary and how utterly futile.

He commanded an artillery unit that shuttled about Drass during the two months of conflict. He wore a colonel’s rank on his shoulders but he had the heart of a jawan. And he had a mind of his own, which is not always a good thing to have. The Indian army was still struggling for a foothold in the mountains when we first met him. We had stopped by his gun area on a rocky hillside near Drass one afternoon and by the time we left half an hour later, he had extended us an invitation to visit again. “If you want to see the war, come and  see it with the soldiers.” Continue reading “Kargil: The Good Soldier on a Bad Night”

1999, Kargil, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Kargil: Man Behind the Enemy Mask

A FRAGMENT FROM MY REPORTAGE ON THE KARGIL WAR OF 1999
This piece was first published in The Telegraph in July 1999

In Mushkoh Valley with Neelesh Misra of AP (left, in flak jacket).
In Mushkoh Valley with Neelesh Misra of AP (left, in flak jacket).

Mushkoh Valley, Drass, Kargil: Here is a little glimpse into the man we describe by that disliked anonymous noun called The Enemy: Captain Imtiaz Malik of the Pakistan Army’s 165th Mortar Regiment.

Captain Imtiaz perished in the fierce battle over Point 4875 on the night of July 7. But if he knew how to fight, he perhaps also knew how to love. In his breast pocket was found a letter from his wife Samina. It was a crumpled sheet of blue and spattered with the dead captain’s blood. The post mark on the envelope showed that Samina had mailed it in Islamabad on June 14, probably the last letter she sent to him.

There were also other missives from his wife Captain Imtiaz had kept on his person through to the end: two postcards, for instance, of the kind young lovers are wont to write to each other. It would seem too indecent an invasion of a dead man’s privacy or a young widow’s grief to reveal their contents. Suffice to say that Captain Imtiaz was a man well loved by his dear ones. And perhaps he loved his dear ones as much; else, he wouldn’t have bothered strapping his wife’s letters to his heart in battle. Continue reading “Kargil: Man Behind the Enemy Mask”