It is so much fun to go back to the memories of your childhood. Life and experiences from the eyes of a child is so different from when you’re an adult. Such is Meghna Aunty’s story – our winner this week. It is a beautiful narration of a war through the eyes of a child.
MEMORIES OF ANOTHER WAR
by Meghna Girish
Sixty days of Kargil brought back vivid pictures of another Indo-Pak war witnessed through the eyes of a child. My father was then commanding an Infantry Battalion in the Jammu Sector and my mother and I were among the few families, still staying at a semi-field station, when war broke out.
It is impossible to erase memories of the first night of the 1971 conflict that tore apart the still of a wintry December night. Our lovely home and dream shelter for almost two years suddenly seemed unsafe- even dangerous. As the doors and windows vibrated noisily to the sounds of intense artillery shelling, my mom and I moved into an adjacent underground bunker readied for our protection. The damp cold inside was forgotten as the sky lit up with the brightest firepower display that reminded me of Diwali. It was scary, awesome and yet strangely beautiful. I was worried about our goats Chotu, Motu, Pyari and Chakori who lay huddled fearfully in their shed nearby. We were too excited to even think about sleep. At daybreak, we ventured into the house. Scattered window panes and shell splinters around meant that we were well within enemy shelling range. An Army Subedar came to tell us to pack a few clothes as we had to be shifted to a safer place.
As we took a last look at Ballol Nala that overlooked our home, a great deal of dust seemed to be rising from its sandy banks. I watched in fascination, as the rumbling of heavy vehicles became a roar. Battle Tanks! Moving in for armoured support of troops!
On our way to the Jammu Airfield which was to be our new temporary home, we had to be driven very slowly as the roads were filled with a sea of humanity- villagers fleeing their homes along the border with whatever little they could salvage and carry. Old couples, young children, teenaged boys carrying tiny siblings on their shoulders, infants wailing in their mothers arms, cattle, goats, country fowl and pet dogs hurried along. Able-bodied men carried cots and steel trunks on their heads. The displaced people were later sheltered in camps – tiny tents pitched on open grounds in winter cold. And even six months after the war had ended, those tents continued to be their homes.
At the Airfield, it was community living for the few armed forces families who hadn’t left for their home-towns before war started. We stayed in a building with window-panes painted black and had little candles for light. Air raid sirens reverberated late at night or at the crack of dawn and made us jump out of bed and dive into bunkers, to escape the intense bombing of the runway used by Indian Jets for sorties and refueling. Sky battles or ‘dog fights’ between Indian and Pakistani fighter aircraft left us gaping and wide eyed! A sense of adventure and courage replaced fear as we children collected shell shrapnel and splinters as souvenirs. Many of us wove imaginary stories and talked about joining the armed forces when we grew up.
Every evening, families sat around the transistor to listen to the news – of battles at Suchetgadh, Shakargadh and Nawapind. Massive fighting raging on in Chamb and Jorian. So many killed. So many wounded. Is my papa safe? I would wonder and cross my fingers and toes. My mother would accompany other aunties to the Jammu field hospital to do their bit for the wounded soldiers and they always spoke of rejoining their fighting units at the earliest.
Fourteen days of war saw the birth of a new Nation- Bangladesh. A great Indian victory. Humiliating surrender for the enemy. Twenty-eight years later, we had Kargil. This time the media did a great job of fuelling the spontaneous wave of patriotism that arose. Our heroic soldiers once again braved the harshest conditions at grave odds to push back a wily enemy.
It’s been a long while since May 1999. A number of positive developments have seen India’s stature grow in the eyes of the world. Yet, our courageous soldiers have had to maintain a constant, perilous vigil on the highest, coldest, most inhospitable battlefield on earth. We live in safety because hundreds of them continue to make the supreme sacrifice year after year. Their thoughts can never be far from my mind or heart. Long live peace!