March 7, 2019
Author's note: I was following with great interest, the recent incidents about squadron leader Abhinandan of Indian Air Force. Having served in the Indian Air Force myself as an aircraft technician, I remembered the time I spent at Pathankot air base during the 1971 war. I was 20 years old, it was my first posting after completing my training as aircraft technician at Jalahalli Air Force training centre, Bangalore. I remembered that I had written a story based on my war experience, which was first published in Konkani during the late seventies, and in Rakhno weekly in August 2000, after the Kargil War, with the title 'Mogachi Aproop Ghadi'. I was lucky enough to have a copy of the same. I thought this could make interesting reading for the readers of Daijiworld.com, and I quickly translated it into English.
Hope you will like it. It is a mix of love and war. For me no story is complete without a little bit of love on the sides. This I feel is one of the better stories that I have written during my younger years. I have named it as A Rare Moment of Love, just to emphasize that by serving ones nation, a soldier demonstrates his love for the nation, a rare opportunity a soldier gets during his lifetime.
I think this could be a perfect story line, considering the current state of affairs on our borders.
Please let me know your opinion & feedback.
With warm regards,
My heart was racing as I was climbing down the steps to the Command operations room situated at the basement of the Command head office. I showed my ID to the security guard at the entrance; after checking my ID, the guard gave me a brisk salute and directed me to the office of the air officer commanding.
"Air officer commanding has called me, for what...? Could it be about yesterday's incident?"
"May I come in sir?" I knocked on the door, while reading the name plate on his door: 'Air Commodore Ajith Saxena'.
"Come in," I heard the curt reply.
Opening the door slowly, I entered the room and saluted the OLD MAN who was busy checking a chart on the board. We used to fondly call him as Old Man with no malice meant!
"Relax...," said the commanding officer, chewing on his cigar, as he walked towards me.
"Congratulations Winco..., (wing commander)," he wished me stretching his hand for a hand shake, "I am proud of you for your bravery, you destroyed two of their aircraft, really great!" my hand was now in his hand. He was appreciating me for my mission where we had tactfully shot down and destroyed two of the enemy aircraft in a dog fight.
But my thoughts and my sentiments were far from accepting his appreciation. I did not speak; I was trying to control the tears that were welling in my eyes.
"I understand my boy, you are thinking about flight lieutenant Roshan. I know Roshan was one amongst our brave pilots, but it happens my son, we lose some, in order to win some." Old Man went to his chair still chewing the cigar in between his lips. "A few aeroplanes, a few pilots...,"
"How easily you say that sir...!" I could hear my own voice struggling to come out of my throat, but I could not hide my feelings any longer, I had seen the fighter plane of my best friend Roshan burst into a ball of fire and crash on to the ground, after being hit by the enemy fire. I had not spoken after that incident, but not anymore!
"It is true sir that we may lose some of our aircraft, but we can buy them. Russia, America, France etc, will be too happy to sell their warfare to an emerging superpower like India. But how about the lives we lose in this war? A son that a mother loses, a brother, a husband, and sir, a friend lost by someone like me?" The tears that were stored in my heart went out of control and started flowing freely, I cried, forgetting that I was soldier!
There was a silence, as if to control our emotions.
Then the commanding officer spoke again: "Son, during my long service in the Indian Air Force, I have taken part in four wars; I too have lost my friends who were dear to me, I too have cried like you. But I never dared ask such questions to my commanding officer! My heart may have been stronger than yours, or maybe I was more matured than you are right now. It is not your fault wing commander Pinto, it is none of our fault. Don't you think that our enemies also sacrifice their lives for their nation? They too have their mother, father, brothers, sisters, husband and friends? But this war? These borders? You are not responsible for this Winco, neither am I..., and the officer above me, whose commands I follow, he too is not responsible for this war! Then who is responsible? When both the nations suffer innumerable losses, then why do they go for war? I cannot give you a reply my son, there is no answer to this menace called war! Therefore forget all sentiments, just remember you are a soldier, a fighter pilot, still a soldier, and you have to fight, fight for your nation, fight for yourself!"
I was listening, how true my commanding officer was talking!
"I am sorry sir; I was overcome by emotions," I said.
"I understand. You may go now. But remember, your country is demanding your love, love for your nation. This is our test, a rare moment to demonstrate our love for the nation. Every soldier does not get this opportunity! I wish you all the best in the rest of your mission."
I had no reply to the words of wisdom of my commander. I saluted him with respect and left the place. As I had my next assignment in the evening, I went straight to the canteen and ordered my favorite black coffee. As I was sipping my coffee, my thoughts went back to yesterday's mission. A mission which I would never forget, not till I am alive.
It was just the two of us in yesterday's mission, my friend flight lieutenant Roshan and me. As per the briefing, we were supposed to bombard an oil depot. We knew we would be facing enemy fire by anti-aircraft guns; also there will be enemy aircraft chasing us. Since we were familiar with our route as well as the target, it took us just a few minutes to accomplish our mission without much resistance from enemy fire, and we were on our way back. Roshan was behind me, we were about to cross into our territory, I noticed two enemy aircraft on my radar, which were following Roshan. They were very close to Roshan, and I found it strange that Roshan had not spotted them. I called up Roshan thinking his radar may have been jammed.
"Roshan, Mirage is on you, dive 60 degrees, turn left and proceed."
Roshan was alerted by my call, he responded quickly and dived as I had instructed. I took a steep 90 degree climb with 360 degree spin, and positioned myself behind the mirage. Since the enemy pilot was focusing on Roshan, he did not notice my manoeuvres. He was right into my target, I opened my guns, and his aircraft was destroyed within seconds. Now I started looking for the other one, I had seen there were two of them. Then where was the other one?
"I saw the target being destroyed, congrats sir," I heard Roshan telling me, he had covered quite a distance by now and was far from me.
"But there was another guy, I remember seeing two of them, he may have gone back! Let's proceed to the base now," I told Roshan looking at my fuel gauge.
We were on our way back, Roshan was ahead of me.
"Sir, he is on you….!" I heard Roshan screaming in my earphones. I dived, leaving the mirage in Roshan's hands.
"Sir my guns, my guns are not responding…" I heard Roshan's desperate voice and noticed that Rohan's aircraft was on fire.
"Eject Roshan, out…" I screamed, "Out!"
But it was too late to eject. The enemy fire had destroyed Roshan along with his aircraft.
There was no time to waste, I noticed that the fuel in my tank was fast running low. I lifted my Jaguar to greater height, I knew that the Mirage would be looking for me now. I kept myself out of the reach of his radar, and slowly I came behind him now.
One dive, right on top of him…and a burst of bullets from my guns did not give him time to eject; his Mirage was now a ball of fire hitting the ground!
I returned, but alone.
"Sir, flight lieutenant Roshan?" Aircraft technicians who had come to receive me asked.
My eyes were filled with tears as I tried to speak, "Sorry boys, Roshan's guns failed to fire, Mirage took him from us. We destroyed both the Mirages, but what's the point!"
Yes, what's the point? My friend Roshan's tragedy had overshadowed the victory we had achieved.
"Sir," I heard a waiter's voice wake me up from my deep anguish, "There is a lady looking for you."
"Lady?" I asked myself, and stubbing the cigarette in the ashtray I got up.
"Grace…you?" looking at the lady standing in front of me I spoke, my voice was wavering. I was overwhelmed by a flow of emotion, a sort of fear and regret.
The ever charming Grace, young, a girl full of energy, a girl who was a very popular face in the officers' mess, was standing there staring right into my eyes! I could see the clouds of tears forming in her eyes; I struggled to look into her eyes.
Yet this was Grace, whom I had known for years, my friend Roshan's sister.
"You were with him Stan," I heard Grace speaking. "Both of you went together. I need an explanation from you for losing my bother! You…you you are the cause of my brother's death!"
"Grace…!" I uttered in sheer pain, her words were painful.
"Yes Stan, you are responsible for Roshan's death, you forced him to join the Air Force. He came with you for the mission yesterday, but you came back alone."
"Grace..., please Grace, stop it!" I shouted. "You are not a small child. This is war, a rare moment to show our love to our nation! A soldier, a fighter pilot, puts his own life in danger, and fights for the security of his nation. He forgets that there are people crying for him. Our Roshan was also like that. I know he is your only brother; you have no one in this world to be called your own. He was my friend too, and you know how close we were to each other. But above all he was a soldier, a daring pilot! You do not know Grace, how daringly he fought and destroyed the enemy aircraft. His guns malfunctioned, the mechanism of his ejection seat probably failed too! Why don't you try to understand Grace, you are not a small girl anymore!"
"Yes Stan, I am not a small girl anymore! That is the exact reason why his death scares me! We were just the two of us for each other, where shall I go now Stan? Who is there for me, tell me Stan, tell me…" Grace ran from there, crying bitterly.
I tried to stop her, but she was already gone, but I could still hear her sobs.
"Tell me Stan who is there for me now in this world…" her words were still echoing in my ears.
Eight days had passed, there were no signs of any end to this war. This is a soldier's life; our destiny is the security of our nation! Government spends millions of dollars to keep us fighting fit at all times.
That evening I was relaxing at the officers' mess, I had the night off for the first time since the war had started. Leaving all my worries behind, I helped myself to a large whisky and settled in a corner. As the spirit started influencing my nerves, I remembered my loved ones, how many days had passed and I had no time even to think about my near and dear ones.
And then there was the tragedy of Roshan. The heart-wrenching tears of his sister Grace.
Oh God! I anguished to myself, what a curse is this war!
I was still in my thoughts when I saw Grace walking in. It was the first time I was seeing her after that dreadful meeting a few days ago. She was wearing a sari this evening, her long and beautiful hair was flowing freely on her shoulders. I had seen her many times before; she was a regular with her brother to the mess. We used to talk, laugh, and play. But deep within me it was a different feeling today. I had great pity for her, she had accused me for her brother's death, but I did not take her innocent words seriously.
Grace saw me now; slowly she came walking towards me, a graceful walk! Everything was looking different today, what's wrong with me? I asked myself.
"Hi Grace," I stood up welcoming her.
She did not speak; she stood there looking at me.
"Won"t you sit down Grace" I asked her softly, she sat on the chair next to me.
I ordered a coke for her and I too sat down.
"I had a day off for the first time since the war started," I told her lifting my glass, with a smile on my face.
Grace did not speak, leaning her head on the chair, she closed her eyes.
I knew she was thinking about Roshan. Her world had come to a full stop along with Roshan's death.
"Grace, how long will you grieve thinking about Roshan's unfortunate death?" I initiated the conversation just to console her. "I know what you are thinking. I pushed Roshan to join the Indian Air Force, and today he is gone because of me."
"No!" Grace whispered slowly opening her eyes. "No Stan, don't say that. I was not in my senses the other day when I spoke the way I did. I had gone almost mad crying and weeping for my brother! I am sorry!"
"I fully understand Grace; I did not take your words seriously. But you should know that Roshan was a smart pilot, a fighter pilot. But a fighter pilot, after starting his engines, when he closes the canopy of his cockpit, he also seals his fate within that cockpit. However smart, swift he may be, when he is in the air, especially in the enemy territory, if something goes wrong…Same thing happened with Roshan…."
Grace was listening, but I could feel that her thoughts were somewhere else.
"I know Grace, however much consolation one may get, it is not enough to heal a bereaved heart. But this is war Grace, a war between two nations, but for a soldier it is a war between his life and death. Today it is Roshan, who knows, tomorrow it could be me."
"No..! No Stan." All of a sudden Grace put her hand on mine and she screamed, I could see the tears sparkling on her lashes. "Please Stan, don't say that, nothing will happen to you, nothing should happen to you! I have lost everything Stan, and now you too….?! No Stan, nothing will happen to you, you will remain safe; THE SKY WILL PROTECT YOU FOR ITS GLORY, and THE SOIL OF THIS NATION WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU FOR ITS PRIDE! As for me, I will pray for you Stan, I will be with you… in your every struggle!" Grace murmured these words holding my hand tightly in hers, and ran out from there with tears gushing from her eyes.
And I sat there looking at her, the path she had walked. She was not there, yet I could feel her presence all around me, I could feel the concern she had for me in the depth of her eyes.
And suddenly I realized, there was a strange current flowing within my heart. Now I knew her eyes were silently trying to speak to me in a language without words, trying to tell me something which I was realizing slowly.
I had the courage to fight the war now, I had a reason to win this war, and I had purpose to live beyond the war!
And it was for Grace!
Early morning the next day, our four Jaguars were airborne. Our mission was to destroy an ammunition depot in the Sialkot sector in the enemy territory. I was the leader of this mission; we had received the necessary instructions in our pre-dawn briefing. RAW is always a source of information for our armed forces. Today's mission was a difficult one, being an ammunition depot, we knew that the security would be tight, surface to air missiles would be deployed to thwart our approach to the target, yet we had to accomplish this mission swiftly, with all our might, and with all our knowledge.
And there we were, within striking distance from our target. We were four, as per the briefing, each one of us was supposed to split in four different directions and attack the target within a gap of 20 seconds between attack. The whole mission was to be completed within 80 seconds. Being the leader, I chose to attack last, in 4th position. After making sure everything was in order, our aircraft were out of sight of each other. When one was approaching the target, the other three were assigned to provide the cover fire against enemy aircraft as well as against the ground fire.
Everything went precisely as planned, all the three completed their task, and now it was my turn.
My aircraft was in diving mode, 1500, 1200, 1000 meters, I released the bombs and swiftly pulled myself up in a vertical spin mode. I was avoiding the heavy enemy fire from air, as well as from the ground.
I knew something had gone wrong, my tail was hit, and my aircraft was on fire! My aircraft was going out of control and was briskly losing height! There was no time to think, within a split second my hand went to the ejection lever, next moment I was out of the aircraft, and I could see my aircraft going down in a ball of fire! I had some luck; otherwise the worst could have happened!
Was I really lucky? I was still within the enemy territory, I was thinking as my parachute was taking me down. Then after a few minutes I landed, and I saw it was a bushy terrain. My hands touched my pocket, I could feel my gun, and felt a sudden sense of satisfaction.
I could not see anyone around in the vicinity; slowly I started to untie myself from the parachute.
Te...te...te…te, I heard the sound of machine gun fire, they were firing around my legs. My hands went up in surrender mode. There was no time to react with my gun.
I looked around keeping my hands still in surrender mode, they were four of them. They had machine guns in their hands!
Suddenly a wave of fear engulfed me…POW….! Prisoner of war!
Yes, there was no way I could fight with them! They would take me now to their camp, then torture me to get all the information they can get from me, about my air base, about the type of aircraft, the number of aircraft, number of squadrons that we have etc. Who knows how long I would be in their custody, who knows if I would see my motherland again!
I remembered my parents, my near and dear ones, and then finally Grace.
"No Stan, nothing will happen to you, nothing should happen to you….!" The words Grace had spoken that evening. Then the dreams I had already started seeing about our future together.
"Hindustan ka suwar…" One of the four kicked me and started to untie me from my parachute.
I did not offer any resistance, they were four of them, I was alone.
They pushed me to walk, with a blow on my back.
My blood was boiling already. I turned suddenly, and with lightening speed I kicked him between his thighs. It was a deadly blow, before he could fall to the ground, the other three attacked me!
I knew when one of them hit me on my neck; I could taste my own blood when the other one smashed my face. Then the soldier whom I had hit between his thighs got up and put his hand between my thighs and squeezed my private parts!
"Ma..," with a loud cry of pain I fell flat to the ground, almost unconscious.
When I opened my eyes, I could feel a mild drizzle on my face, everything was looking blur. After some time, I could hear two of them talking.
"It is almost two hours since they went to get the ambulance, still no sight of them…" one was telling the other.
Two hours, I thought to myself, it means I was unconscious for two hours!
"You think they met with some accident?" Asked one of them to the other, and putting his machine gun on his shoulder he left the place with the caution: "You stay here, keep a watch on him, I will go and look what has happened. This guy is unconscious anyway."
After some time the reaming soldier came near me, kicked me with his boots, and making sure that I was unconscious, he walked to nearby rock and sat there. Taking out a pouch of Naswar (a mix of tobacco) he prepared a shot and put it into his mouth.
My whole body and mind became active now; I forgot the pain between my thighs. He did not realize that I was conscious. I just wanted to take control of his machine gun.
We were two, but there was only one weapon, and he had it around his shoulders. I could see an opportunity here.
Slowly I started crawling towards him, in order to stay alive, I had to kill this guy, and kill him as quick as possible! I saw him bending to spit out the tobacco, in lightening speed I pounced on him and grabbed his machine gun with both my hands. He was taken by surprise. He started to resist, but since both the ends of the machine gun were in my control, there was nothing much he could do! I do not know from where I got all the strength, in matter of few minutes I knocked him down to the ground, and the machine gun was in my hand now. I pointed it toward his chest.
He was begging for mercy with folded hands, but no! He was not getting any mercy from me!
I pulled the trigger; I grimaced seeing him dying in that manner.
There was no time to waste. I had to leave the place before the others came with the ambulance. I took out the small compass from my overall pocket, making sure the direction to the Indian border, I started running toward it. I had gone a couple of meters; my presence of mind brought me back to the dead soldier. I quickly removed his uniform and wore it myself and threw my flying suit over his dead body. As I was briskly walking towards the Indian border with the machine gun in my hand, I could see a few enemy soldiers patrolling the area, but seeing me in their uniform, they thought I was one of their own and never bothered to check.
Finally I managed to enter into the Indian territory! I breathed a sigh of relief and started walking slowly but proudly thinking that I was in my own country.
But there were other terrifying things waiting for me. In all my bravery, I forgot that I was wearing the enemy's uniform!
A shower of bullets were suddenly fired around my legs, throwing the machine gun away, I fell to the ground as the bullets had battered my legs. I raised my hands in surrender.
I could see a team of our own soldiers coming towards me.
"Friend…, Friend…! I shouted, I am an Indian!"
"Shut up you pig, one of the soldiers kicked on my side, you say you are a friend?" he was laughing.
"I am wing commander Pinto, Indian Air Force fighter pilot, my Jaguar was hit…." I tried to explain.
"Shut your mouth, you swine, another of them kicked me. They were not ready to listen to me; they went on hitting me till I was unconscious.
After one week….
"Cease fire!" I read the headlines on the daily and breathed a sigh of relief and tried to lean on to the backrest of my bed. I tied to fold my legs, but they were both bandaged, the pain was still there.
Oh God, what an experience, and how lucky I was! My thoughts took me back to what had happened since I was caught by our own soldiers.
That day when I went unconscious, the soldiers took me to a nearby hospital and gave me first aid. They had also informed my case to the nearby police station. When police heard my story, that my name was wing commander Pinto, and that I was an Air Force pilot, they handed me over to the Air Force authorities. My records were then thoroughly investigated. After ascertaining that my case was genuine, I was transferred to the Air Force hospital, and both my legs were operated upon. Luckily, my bones were intact, and now I was recovering rapidly.
How lucky I was! If only the same luck was with my best friend Roshan!
We had won the war, in all parameters!
But the soldiers that we had lost? Someone's father, brother, husband, or a friend?
"Roshan my friend, I muttered to myself, I felt as though he was still a part of us from heaven. I could feel my eyes going moist.
"Good morning Stan," I heard the sweet voice of Grace as she entered the room. She was there for me ever since I was admitted here, taking care of me.
"Hi Grace," my lips opened in greeting, I wiped my eyes with my palm.
"You were crying Stan?" she asked as she sat on my bed looking at my moist eyes.
I shook my head, with a 'no' gesture, and went on looking into her beautiful eyes, which were full of hope. There was love in those eyes, there was gratitude!
"No Stan she had said that day, nothing will happen to you, if anything would happen to you, who is there for me?" I slowly remembered the words Grace had said.
My heart was filled with emotion, slowly I gathered her face in my palms, and I pulled her towards me.
"I love you Stan…" she whispered resting her head on my chest.
My eyes were slowly closing as if this were a dream, I put my arms around her, and my fingers were caressing her beautiful hair!
"This was A RARE MOMENT OF LOVE, love that you can show towards your nation," I remembered the wise words from my Old Man, air commodore Ajith Saxena. "Everybody will not get an opportunity to fight for their country."
How true he was! And today the same war had ended with a complete moment of love into my life!
And then they lived happily ever after!