Saturday, 30 July 2011

Memoir of a fauji uncle

Personal Jottings
By RK Rishikesh Sinha

An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier

Coming to our home daily and narrating interesting stories of his life experiences to us, made my memory laden with knowledge of socio-geo-political scenario of his times and I feel today, those ‘stories’ were the first lessons in the field of history, geography, political science and international relations for me.

I was at the beginning of my teenage when he started visiting our home in Kashmir. Today, if someone comes daily, it might be taken as harassment and intrusion to ones daily life and wastage of time. But those days and time was different. People were more social and guests would be welcomed heartily. Treating guests with hospitality was the daily ritual that people would love to follow.

He was a Bishnupriya Manipuri hailed from Rajagaon, Patharkandi (Assam, INDIA). He was a siphahi in BSF. Though he couldn’t get promotion as he told us with great amusement, “my service record is full of red mark; my activities were not appreciable, once I had bitten an officer also, though my salary is higher than my senior ranks”. He remained a sipahi for his entire service tenure and I don’t think he ever regretted for that. He was the unique personality who followed his instincts and led a carefree fauji life.

When he met us, only two years of his service were left. So he had already spent prime time of his life and that is in the Force. He was a short heighted elderly man, but his physical stature and energy was still matchable with a new recruit. Many times, while going to school I saw him carrying sack of 1 quintal coal without a flinch. Even at that age his scalp was full of black, thick and straight hair.

Kashmir Issue
security in indian kashmir.
Kashmir under seize
Image: Sajjad 

He would come at around 8.30-9.00 at evening. At that time, we didn’t have any means of recreation, only one PHILIPS tape recorder cum radio which was the only source of entertainment that we have. The campus was small; only two BSF families (including us) were residing in the periphery of the campus. There were many vacant beautiful civilian houses without any owner. Few houses had only old persons as their lone survivors who used to look after those houses. And we also lived in one of such houses. We were home arrested and lived in a blanket of security; we can’t go ‘outside’ at will as “mahol” (environment) was full of fear.

I didn’t remember how his story telling would get start. But whenever, he enters our house (we kept our door open all the time so knocking was not needed), I remember we three brothers would get prepared hurriedly to talk with him and eagerly sit around him to listen his amusing stories under very dim voltage. We were new and totally unaware with the activities prevailing in the tense environment of Kashmir. At the time of his coming to our house, sounds of gunshots used to echo the entire atmosphere and it was a daily happening. We used to enquire him inquisitively about the firing, he would answer, “it is Kashmir’s Diwali!”.

When we asked: Why firing takes place for such a long duration (as it starts in evening and ends at dead midnight)? His answer was hilarious, “because the terrorist just push the trigger and goes to sleep; we also do the same. They start the firing, we also the start the firing. And when they feel asleep; they go to sleep. And we also go to sleep.”

His answer sounded to us absurd, but after spending few years I learnt that he was right and it was seemed to me as if there was a good mutual understanding between the two parties regarding their daily routine engagement.

He also told us in one of his visits, the story of Kashmir from 1948 to 1990. He was not happy with his earlier visits (pre-terrorism period) in the valley. He was of the opinion that Kashmiris themselves were responsible for their present state of mess.

I don’t know his name because we used to call him ‘Uncle’.

We used to ask very silly questions like: who are stronger? (as our mind used to swing only between big and tiny, large and small)— the terrorist of Kashmir or terrorist of Mizoram and Nagaland (as we had come to know that he also served in Mizoram and Nagaland). What is the level of duty for a soldier in these states?
In a soldierly tone, he used to quip — Kashmiri militants are cowards, they fire from school, religious places, taking children and women as shields. The weather and environment is tough there in Mizoram and Nagaland. Lot of precautions and preparations goes just to fight the climate.
His experiences and anecdotes on Kashmir filled me with enough stuff, which later in my life and still thrills me to know more about on the Kashmir issue — its status from the days of Mughal period to the present time, and the whole gamut of associated issues (from the perspective of history, theory of nation-state and international relations) that are related to the valley.

Interestingly, my uncle had a ‘two-minute’ solution; following it the Kashmir problem could be solved.

Liberation War of Bangladesh
Freedom Fighters of Bangladesh,1971
Image: Tusher 

My uncle was a very old fauji. If I remember correctly, before the inception of BSF, he was in different Indian force. And he had participated in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. We three brothers got goosebumps whenever we heard his heroic adventures, tales of war horrors done in Bangladesh. 

He narrated that he was a member of Mukti Bahini. At day time, he used to espionage the activities of Pakistani Army by going near to the Pakistani Army camps as a fisherman and gave training to the Bengali fighters. At night, he and his comrades used to launch attack. What he saw in the Pakistani Army morchas, the world knows …the barbaric acts the army of a country had done on its own people, women…
He told: Pakistani Army was frightened of Khukri force. (I still wonder what was the Khukri force he was referring to?)

Their platoon got stuck for three days somewhere in Bangladesh, due to heavy resistance from the Pakistani Army.

After patiently hearing his Bangladesh story, we asked how Bangladesh border is today.

He said: It is very difficult, very difficult to guard in comparison to the Indo-Pakistan border. All the terrains and mountains are on our side, and plain fields are on the Bangladesh side, he said musingly.
It’s been decades, we have left Kashmir. But still there is an urge in me to remain updated to the developments taking place in the country. I found the issues related to Chakma and Bihari muslims in Bangladesh very touchy. Topics on Grameen Bank, mobile banking, and bloggers activities, are some of the stuff that I really love to read.

As time went by, we got busy with studies, and soon we bought a television and started spending time watching it, and lost interest in his stories (which were more or less getting repeated but without any change in facts).

There were a lot other juicy topics the uncle shared with us. Now, I find that my interest and tastes goes only to those topics that he used to tell us in the bone-chilling wintry evenings in Kashmir. Today, after many years I feel those stories were not mere stories; in fact they were lessons about India, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and the world surrounding us.

Where would one find such a teacher? A teacher who had participated in the real theatre of war and politics.
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