He is breathing slowly through the air mask. There is a window on the eastern side of the room and the sunlight brightens the bare walled white room even more. Little dust particles float quietly in the air. I pour myself a fourth cup of coffee out of the flask. I look at my phone.
0730 hours. Srinagar. 6’Celcius.
I move my attention to the view outside the window. The room is on the ground floor and a slew of Army Trucks line up in front of the Military Hospital . My heartbeat shoots up and I hold his hand tightly which has a glucose drip attached to it. I turn it around. Even the palm has cuts.
The doctor in charge arrives for the morning round. I move away. A fair stout man, he wears a smile. I try to remember his name from last night but the memories are hazy.
“Any progress , Doctor?” I am earnest and he gets it.
“He is still unconscious. But his body is responding well. Why don’t you go freshen up lady, there is ample staff here.”
“Alright. Thank you.” I shake his hand.
I walk back to the hotel. I throw myself on the bed . I fall asleep in a split second. I dream of a hand full of cuts and bruises moving on my body. I open my eyes with a start. I take a bath, order myself a sandwich and head back.
He is sitting up on his bed in anticipation and turns expressionless on seeing me. Somebody must have told him of my arrival, I deduce. I look at his face clearly for the first time in bright light. The two eyes are deeply sunken in the head. I feel a tug .
“You were the last person I expected to see here.” he speaks slowly.
I keep quiet and place my bag at the side table. I occupy a corner with my chair and a notebook.
“I heard you arrived last night and seeing the flask and your eyes, I presume you haven’t slept. How caring of you.” He turns his head sideways towards me. I notice the tinge of sarcasm in his voice.
“The Hindu has sent me here. I am a war journalist remember! ” Yes. I am on work here. I try to convince myself.
“And here I thought you had come for your injured ex-fiance. Begin. That way you can leave earlier.”
“So, first of all the country is thankful that there were no casualties. It is..” I am interrupted.
“Who said nobody died! One of our soldiers was martyred. ”
I move through my papers. I crosscheck. “But my source is the DGMO . No human casualties.”
“As I said one of us died. Does he have to be a human for making sacrifices for his country?”
“ I don’t understand. I think you are still in shock. Maybe we should talk later.”
“ I am a Fauji lady. I fight where I am told and I win where I fight. I am in peace after yesterday. Not in shock. ”
“Lets rewind the clock then ” I settle down with my notebook.
“We were receiving inputs about the infiltration for a long time. As soon as we got the go from the top, our unit was assigned the mission.” I see him drift into the narration.
“Ten of us belonging to the Para Special Forces crossed the border around 0200 hours yesterday along with two sniffer dogs – Shera and Kaali. We were tasked to eliminate the infiltration camp beyond the LOC. These camps are nothing but just house the terrorists take on rent from locals to house militants. We were lucky that the area had scarce population. Snow had been falling all night. Everything was white till the horizon . There had been mist formed during the night covering the entire area almost to the ground. You couldn’t see a foot in front of you. We covered the camp from all sides, took our position and started firing. We were not expecting much resistance at that ungodly hour. But soon we were receiving retaliatory firings.”
“Was there a breach of intelligence?” He doesn’t seem pleased with my interruption but soon chivalry overcomes it.
“Seems plausible. They seemed ready. It was hellish. Raining deadly fragments and splinters, wood, and metal down on us. But we fought. I was assigned to one of the 30-caliber machine guns with Captain Arunabh Kumar. Shera and Kaali were with us. I hope you remember when I was sent on the two month training at Meerut Cantt with the dog squad. The time I surprised you at your office?” He finally gives his classic side smile.
“Ofcourse . With three dogs. And then we went on a ride to the lake with them. Boy ! could they swim! You know how much scared I am of dogs but still!”
“They were fierce but loyal to me. I was training and bonding with them. Even then I didn’t leave you alone with them. Did I? I am not like you.” I focus on my notebook. I cannot look into those eyes full of language.
“Can we go back to the incident?”
“It was almost dawn. We had killed four of them . Suddenly someone yelled. “Look out behind you.” I turned around and I saw a group of men coming out of the mist. Without thinking, I grabbed the 30-calibre, swung it around, and started firing. The men were approximately three feet in front of our positions. We killed about ten men and captured two. Some of the enemy made it to our positions and we had to fight hand-to-hand. Shera and Kaali too dived in but one of them managed to flee. I suffered a bullet shot on my shoulder. Captain Kumar received deep cuts on thighs . Even Kaali had been shot. But we had to trace that fleeing enemy before retreating back. We had less than half an hour. Shera picked up the scent and, hot on his trail, moved with speed and stealth for approximately one kilometer across the mountainous terrain. I followed him.
He traced the militant in a hideout where he had succumbed to his injuries. The operation was complete. I was wondering about the mist when I felt the tip of an LMG on my neck. There had been one more hiding in the vast snow. He made me throw my 30-calibre.
I didn’t want to die facing my back to the enemy. I couldn’t die before I proved my blood. I whistled Shera. Shera leaped on him while I swiftly turned back trying to gain control over the LMG. We struggled but being hit with a bullet I was losing my strength in the cold. He eventually threw me away. Shera kept tearing through his pants but the enemy kicked him and shot him at one go. Now he aimed straight at me. I was prepared this time. To face death with courage. With my chest facing the bullets.”
He pauses suddenly . The kind of pause when you remember something which you are trying to avoid. Looking for words in their orphanage.
“Nobody can love God better than when he is looking death square in the face and talks to God and then sees God come to the rescue. Shera leaped on the enemy again but shot again. However this time I had grabbed my 30 caliber and fired . And I kept on firing till he fell on the ground with fear and pain on his face.
I dropped my gun. I looked at Shera. A hero had fallen. I removed my fatigues , wrapped it around him and carried him back to our base in my arms. He was two years old. I fell unconscious as soon as I reached here. Even a fauji’s body doesn’t give up till the work is done.”
There is a fond smile on his face.
“I saw Shera running and playing as a pup at the Dog Squad premises in Meerut, and I fell in love with him. It was instant. I went to my senior and requested that he be given to me. We had been together since. He was three-months old when he was given to me.
Shera wasn’t responding well to the training and six months down the line, he hadn’t learnt much. I was upset and would break down during lonely nights in the barracks, but then I never pressured him. Instead I said, ‘You take your time. I want to see how long you wait before you start responding,’ and today we both share an inseparable bond. He gave his life for me, for his country. I am proud I trained him.
You know a person can learn a lot from dogs. Shera taught me to live with joy and enthusiasm every single day. He taught me the true meaning of love which is selflessness and unbridled loyalty. He was a true gentleman and I hope to go to his heaven and not man’s.”
I close my notebook and sit across him.
I hold his palm with the glucose drip attached in my hand , bring it close to my lips and kiss it gently.
I look into his deep black eyes and murmur.
“ Let us get our first dog together.”
This post was written in collaboration with Second Home.
Second Home provides pet sitting for people travelling out unable to take their pets along. The pets receive the same love and care here as they get at their home. For more information visit their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SecondHome007