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”

2012, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Ajmal Kasab: Boy who took the wrong lane and ended up in a dungeon

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph
New Delhi, 21 November 2012

Deep in my dungeon
I welcome you here
Deep in my dungeon
I worship your fear
Deep in my dungeon
I dwell
I do not know if I wish you well
Deep in my dungeon
I welcome you here
I worship your fear
Deep in my dungeon
A bloody kiss
From the wishing well

— an old prison rhyme quoted in The Executioner’s Song by Norman MailerThere are two images of him from that November night four years ago.

One suggested the menace he’d been trained in — hair dishevelled, face blood-scarred, eyes at once devilish and furtive, hands at the ready to fire from the weapon they held. That was Ajmal Amir Kasab just after the mayhem he’d left behind in the concourse of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). He had charged across the overbridge and was about to leap down the unlit Badruddin Tyabji Lane en route to more havoc at the Cama Hospital. Continue reading “Ajmal Kasab: Boy who took the wrong lane and ended up in a dungeon”

2012, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

A blip, if that, in Pak ties: A ‘pawn’ for his country, not a ‘catch’ for India

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph

New Delhi, Nov. 21: This will be a passing blip, if that, in the jagged course of India-Pakistan ties. Ajmal Kasab was a trifling in the 26/11 terror project, his extermination is unlikely to either create new bilateral frictions or close unaddressed grievances New Delhi has with Islamabad.

It might seem an irony that the hanging of the man who became the emblem of the most audacious peacetime assault on India will weigh minimally on the long-term consequences of his bloody assignment. But there are good reasons for it.

Pakistan was quick to disown Kasab despite his well-recorded origins. Father’s name: Amir Shahban Kasab. Mother’s name: Noor Illahi. Domicile: Village Faridkot in Okara district of Pakistani Punjab. These clues vanished swiftly after Pakistani media teams traced Kasab’s roots, and the denial of any association with him lasted to the very end. Continue reading “A blip, if that, in Pak ties: A ‘pawn’ for his country, not a ‘catch’ for India”

2012, Pakistan, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Certificate for Nitish, Made in Pakistan

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph

Lahore, Nov. 18: There’s a bequest chief minister Nitish Kumar has carried back home from Pakistan that escaped the customs authorities at Wagah.

He has been gifted so profusely over the past week by his hosts, it required a station wagon to be added to his road caravan; the aircraft hold on the final lap to Patna would probably have choked on their burden — trophy plaques, a rainbow range of traditional hats, piles of shawls and chadars, carton-loads of tomes on a shared civilisation and history.

But the takeaway that neither registered nor bleeped on the crossover X-ray ramps is what Nitish might want to treasure most from his trip — it’s endorsement from a constituency that has dogged and harried generations of Indian leaders, a certificate of recognition and respect, Made in Pakistan. Continue reading “Certificate for Nitish, Made in Pakistan”

2012, Reportage, Taxila, Telegraph Calcutta

Nitish goes in search of Chanakya

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph

Taxila (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Nov. 15: There was a day thousands of years ago that a mastermind called Kautilya decided to leave the faculty of Taxila University, the most hallowed portal of learning of its time.

He descended these hills and travelled far down the plains to arrive in Patliputra and become Chanakya, the philosopher who inspired Chandragupt to emperorship and empire.

Yesterday, that journey was traced all the way from the reverse end. Patliputra’s current king, Nitish Kumar, arrived at Taxila, but there was neither sign nor signature of Chanakya to be found.

As a regent of the great Magadhan kingdom, Chanakya was the central toll of his times. It’s not a name that rings a bell any more. Its echoes have so expired you have to shout the name aloud and invent a resonance of your own. “Channakiya?” asked Naseem the guide as he led us up hillside steps to partial remains of the campus at Jaulian, “Kabhi suna nahin, yahan to sirf ryoons hain (Chanakya? Never heard of him, all we have here are ruins).” Continue reading “Nitish goes in search of Chanakya”

2012, Islamabad, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Captain Nitish on Imran turf

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph

Islamabad, Nov. 14: Never before in his career as cricketer or as politician has Imran Khan vacated his high head-of-the- table seat.

On the sprawling hillside lawns of his Bani Galla estate yesterday afternoon, the towering icon in crisp salwar suit made way for a diminutive man in creased khaddar and sat listening to a lecture he has hitherto assumed to be his sole prerogative, whether it was the cricket dressing room or the party parlours of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

“Main yahan koi takreer nahin karne wala, Nitishbhai, I and my team have much to learn from you, questions to ask and answers to find, so this floor is yours,” Imran announced as soon as the Bihar chief minister spilled out onto the manor terrace. Thereon, for an hour and a little more, he was rapt, apprentice-like, ingesting Nitish Kumar’s governance mantra, cricket’s emperor gathering the ropes of the new realm he is bidding to conquer: government. Continue reading “Captain Nitish on Imran turf”