The room was filled with a palpable chill, as time ebbed slowly as I looked down at my own body strapped onto the ventilator. Countless tubes appeared to be emanating and leaving my body. They were trying to prolong my death or my life, I didn’t know.

I was hovering and floating like a sublime mist in the Intensive Care Unit as the body of Maj Urja Mehta lay listlessly on the bed there. To my spirit, it already appeared cold and distant. Should I move on, or let them cling on to the hope that they will pull me back? I waited. The force that bound me to the mortal world still felt like gravity. Like a moon clinging on to a planet!

***

Twenty-three years was not an age to be confronted with these questions. But the country had beckoned me, and I had responded appropriately. 

Point 5685 was the objective. We were briefed at the Ops room in the evening. The operation was planned for midnight. The point had to be captured before the first light. 

The Bofors opened up fire to divert the enemy’s attention. How spectacular it looked as the illuminated trace of the munition vanished halfway in the sky. Then the loud bang as it made contact signalling the destruction it would wreak on the target! 

Our team of ten plodded through the snowy slope one step at a time. A missed step and the crevasse would swallow you; make a little noise and the enemy sitting on the dominating height would feast on you. We slugged on, every step making our lungs scream for more air.

Just an hour before the first ray of light would illuminate the skies—we were in the striking distance of the enemy post. We observed just two of them manning it. Another dozen probably sleeping in the bunkers. Unaware of what was to follow.

***

My elder brother Mehul was a commercial pilot. I always dreamed of being one, but I wanted to fly the fighters. The MIGs and the Mirages. I had a cockpit constructed in my room, detailing all the dashboards and a view of the skies full of enemy planes. With controls in my hands, I would spend countless hours soaring in the skies like an eagle.

“Urji, go and study a bit. Just sitting and dreaming is not going to make you a pilot!” My brother would chide me.

“You will see bro. I will fly high and make you all proud- The country proud. You will drop me to the base in your Air-Bus, won’t you?” I would pull his leg.

Mehul was the most jubilant and ecstatic person when he learned about my selection to NDA. My childhood dream was on its way to fulfillment.

The Zulu squadron was my life and blood for the next three years, as I moaned, groaned, front rolled and side rolled my way in NDA. The camps, the marches, and the cross country runs romped me up into a fit fighting machine. Whereas the teachings of warcraft and etiquette chiselled out a fine gentleman in me.

I took a fascination for the army, as it gave me that adrenaline rush which I craved for. I took the plunge and joined Infantry when everyone thought I would fly fighter planes. I wanted to be close to the real action – on the ground, and chose army surprising even myself!

The passing out parade at IMA was the grand finale, the culmination of all the gruelling hard work. Once we were pipped with our ranks, everyone threw up their headgears in celebration; but not me. I valued my cap utterly and did not want to mix it up with others. That was me!

***

Trisha held my hand and looked at me glumly. Pleading for a miracle. Praying hard. Wanting some flutter in my eyelids or some reaction of sorts. The constant rhythmic whooshing of the ventilator was too hard for her to bear. She had cried her heart out and now even the tears had crystalized.

We had been engaged for just six months, but it was after a long childhood romance which had started in high school. It had stood the test of time and distance. Till now it seemed eternal and blessed, ideal and romantic – what love stories were made up of. But now it all seemed to sublimate into oblivion.

She needed me to give meaning to her life, and come back. But I just watched powerlessly.

***

I had called my Dad and Mom, just before proceeding on to the mission in the Turtuk sector. It was a call on the satellite phone. Most of it was one-way communication. You had to hear the other side out before you could speak.

I was a bit anxious and it was not lost out on my father. He understood that probably I was tasked with a mission.

“Come back after routing the enemy, with your head and flag held high. May the force of God be with you son.”

“I will Papa. Don’t worry.” I took a breath and added, “If death strikes before I prove my valour, I swear I will kill death.”

I heard a long pause on the other side and I heard my mom sob. Would I be speaking to them the last time? The thought crossed my mind, but I brushed it aside and focused on the mission.

***

The doctors were in a huddle. They were wondering what to do next. Or probably they did not have anything to offer. They discussed and the Chief passed on some instructions. They were subjecting me to some more tests. The residents started running around and getting things organised. As if they had been tasked with a new objective.

Something was brewing and it did not sound too good. I could sense it. It had been more than forty-eight hours and there were no signs of a comeback. 

I was clinging on to hope – Hope to be back with Trisha and my family. But it was gradually sounding more distant. I was a silent spectator, watching from a distance outside my imperturbable body. Why, I was the life, the soul and spirit of that body called Urja Mehta. But I was not feeling like it anymore. I felt already in another world. Just caught in a wrap, waiting for an opportunity to go back, or maybe to move on!

***

“There are two of them directly in front of the post Saab. One is likely to be on the other side, manning the gorge. We can approach from that side, Sir.” Sub Pandey briefed me before we planned the final assault.

“I think we will make a two-prong attack. Let us split into two teams and take them from both sides.” I thoughtfully strategized.

“Sir, let me take the lead team. You can give us cover from behind.” The Subhedar added trying to protect his Major Saab.

“That’s not possible Saab. I will lead. You can give cover by taking the other sentry out.” I added with an air of order in it. “ And Saab, more than me, you need to go back home safely. You have a family and young kids to look after.”

Sub Pandey’s chest imploded with pride. He was happy that his Officer was going to lead the team upfront.

How could I forget the Chetwode motto? 

The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time.

The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.

Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.

The team assembled and nestled for one final time. This could be our last conversation – I thought. We discussed the plan and took our positions. The teams were split into two. I was going in for the frontal attack. Subhedar Pandey would take the post from the side-front.

We gave out our war cry breaking the stillness of the night and launched the attack simultaneously. We launched a grenade on the sentry post. The blast blinded them for a short time. We seized the moment and advanced. Bullets started flying everywhere, whizzing past our bodies. A hit and it’s all over. We took down the sentries as they were caught by surprise. There was a brief silence. The other team had also successfully reached the ridge from the other side.

We next had to storm the bunker and take out any remaining enemies. We blasted our way using a grenade launcher. There was intense fire upon us as we tried to enter. Two of our men dropped to the floor. Taking protection by cover fire I entered the room and took two headshots in succession. And then the firing stopped. The room was smoke-filled. It became still. We had claimed the post. So we had all thought. No… it was not over yet!

There was a room adjoining the main bunker, which had missed our attention. The fire came from behind the door. It had a small opening, with the barrel of the gun jutting out. It hit me and my teammate hard. I collapsed. Two bullets lodged in my chest. One in my mate’s head.

The team unleashed its firepower on the sole enemy hidden in the room. They vanquished him in no time. But he had done the damage. The team Captain was down!

***

 The doctors had concluded that I had now become brain-dead. There was no cortical activity in my brain. There was no point in waiting further. But they had to convince my family to let them withdraw the life support. It was never easy.

“He is a fighter. He will not give up. He will come back, just give him sme more time.” Trisha looked confidently in the eyes of the doctor and said.

“Madam, we have done all the tests. It’s certain. There is no possibility of recovery now. We have to let him go.” The doctor softly said, letting the reality gradually sink in.

“How can you say that? How can I let him go just like that? We had so many dreams together, yet to be fulfilled.” She sank in the chair and burst into a wailing cry, gradually grasping the reality.

My mom couldn’t stop crying as she was inconsolable. My Dad somehow tried hard to keep a grip on his bearing. He managed to tell the doctors that I had volunteered for organ donation and they needed to do the needful.

After a lot of heart-wrenching tears, I was finally taken to the operation theatre for extracting the donor organs. At least I would continue living in some form and give a new lease to some needy soul.

***

My brother wished so much that I had called him on that final day just before the assault. He wished he had a chance to speak to me, one final time.

Little did he realize that henceforth he would always be referred to as Maj Urja Mehta’s brother. Not a single day in his life would pass with somebody not asking him about the story of the heroism of the team that had captured Point 5685. The decisive battle that sculpted the victory in the war.

It would take my brother ten years to pen a book on my life. He would go to the same place where I had fallen, for an interview in the documentary featuring the Battle of Point 5685. A tribute from those icy heights, to my valour and sacrifice.

**

They would most probably give me state honours. A full ceremonial farewell. After all, I had earned a hero’s death. I would be joining the valiant martyrs like Vikram Batra, Anuj Nayyar and Haneef-u-ddin.

I will be remembered forever. Inspire youngsters to give their best. Sacrifice before self. Books would be written. Chapters dedicated. Documentaries and films made. The country would never be able to forget me. I will remain alive not for the twenty-three short years of my physical self, but much longer. That would be an achievement worth dying for? Isn’t it?

I could visualize my mom taking the Mahavir Chakra from the Honourable President’s hands. She would try stopping the tears rolling down as they would read the story of the mission we had undertaken on Pt 5685–the glorious capture and the turnaround in the battle, which ultimately helped us win the war.

***

The room felt icy cold. The mist cleared. Urja (energy) had left the room. Forever. And so had Maj Urja Mehta.

***

Notes:

  1. Saab : Like Saheb, is a routinely used address for all the Junior Commissioned Officers.
  2. Point 5685 : All peaks are referred to as points on a map that are known by their heights. 5685 denotes the height of that feature – in meters above sea level.
  3. Chetwode motto: Field Marshal Philip Chetwode was the Commander in Chief of the Indian Army. These words from his speech then became immortalised and carved in stone on the walls of Chetwode Building in IMA and have become the abiding touchstone of all those who have taken the ‘final step’ and believe in an ethos of leadership and soldiering in its purest form.

 ***

Photo By: Pixabay

***

This is an entry from team Heads and Tales Game of  Writers co-sponsored by Diners Club International.

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