Vantage point

Sunday, December 15, 2002

continued from yesterday

I decided that I would talk about this with Vimal first. As he saw me approaching him, he started explaining the situation to me

�You see, my father thinks I am being stupid throwing my career away like this. He was pleading with me to come back home. I think he will realise that this is the life I have chosen�, he said.

�Vimal, I know who your father is�, I said knowingly.

�You do? What do you mean by saying it in that tone? He is not some celebrity or something. How do you know him?� he asked, going on the defensive.

�I haven�t always worked in Kashmir. I used to work in Delhi until a year ago. And I have seen your father many times during that one week in December 1999. In fact the whole country has seen him on television prostrating himself in front of the Prime Minister�s residence, but public memory is short and as you said, he is no celebrity, so no one else at the camp recognised him.� I said.

Vimal went silent and a panicky look came to his face.

�Please don�t tell the Colonel this, you know I don�t mean any harm. I am just trying to atone for my father�s sins. Because of me he was a part of the great betrayal of the country and our army. �

I could not make out if this was indeed the case. Was this man really so principled that he would leave a career for a small part he inadvertently played in something wrong. Or was it a case of the Stockholm syndrome? How could his father give birth to such a patriotic child? It seemed straight out of a 60�s hindi movie.

My mind went back to the last week of 1999. Pakistani terrorists had hijacked the Indian Airlines flight and taken it to Kandhar in Afghanistan. They wanted terrorists released in exchange of the 178 passengers on board. The list they had was full of deadly names who could wreak newer havoc in Kashmir which had till then been relatively peaceful. At that time, the relatives and parents of all the hostages had staged noisy demonstrations all over the capital demanding that the terrorists be released. Vimal�s father had been one of the most active among these and had on one occasion prostrated himself in front of the Prime Minister�s gate as his car was about to come out. The pressure all the relatives applied had worked and the Government, interested more about short term gains than national interest, had released three dangerous terrorists � Masood Azhar, Sheikh Omar and Mushtaq Zargar. The passengers all returned safely, except for one.

What followed was a renewed phase of terrorism in Kashmir that still continued. Goaded by Masood Azhar�s captivating hateful speeches, hoards of Pakistanis started launching suicide attacks in Kashmir. It was the biggest blow to India�s image and efforts to bring terrorism under control.

So Vimal had been in that plane for a week. Was he really ashamed of his father�s action? Or was he in cahoots with the terrorists and had managed to gain access to this camp in Kashmir?

�Tell me why did you come here so late then, last year? � I asked him.

�I was aghast when I came home and learnt that my father had begged to the government that the terrorists be released. He is the one who had told me all about the virtues of Indian army. How could he disregard the hundreds of soldiers who have lost their lives to these terrorists in the past? I was disappointed. I felt repulsed that my life had come at such a huge cost.�

�Initially, though angry at my father, I got back to my life, my job, my friends. What happened during that week was just a bad memory in the past. But somehow I always felt guilty for what had happened. And this guilt kept growing every time I read about a terrorist attack or a suicide attack on the army or civilians in Kashmir. Whenever the Jaish-e-Mohammad, started by Masood Azhar, made a strike, somewhere I felt as if I was as much the reason behind it as those who were doing it. This guilt started affecting my work, my peace of mind. I felt like I was living a life which did not quite belong to me, but was given to me like alms.�

�I had been contemplating the move for a few days, but I finally made the decision On December 13 last year, when the terrorists attacked the parliament in Delhi. Had Masood Azhar been in prison, this would never have happened. I was in part guilty for the attack on our parliament. I, with the other 177 passengers of IC 814, was partly responsible. But I did not have a right to tell them to do anything. So I took the decision on my own. I was living a life that did not belong to me. I had to quit it and start a new one. I quite my job and decided to come to Kashmir and spend the rest of the life helping the armed forces here in whatever way I could. Initially I tried to get enrolled, but I could not. All my efforts to do it officially came undone. So this is what I did. I just came here, begged the Colonel to let me help out. My father feels horrible. He keeps apologising to me, as if I am the one he has wronged. I keep telling him to imagine that I have died in an accident. But he tries to convince me. He does not realise that this is my life now. It belongs to all those who have died for me.�

Vimal finished this long narrative and stood looking at me expectantly. I could not believe my ears. This sounded too idealistic to be true. And yet, it was. Or so I felt in my heart. I could not doubt Vimal�s earnestness, but nevertheless, it was my duty to tell the Colonel. I was sure that he too would see the truth in things and it would not make any difference. I thought I would explain this to Vimal so that he himself could tell everything to the Colonel.

�Vimal, I admire what you are doing, but I have to��..�

I could not complete the sentence. That is when the gunfire started. We both instinctively jumped behind a wall and started moving towards a tent. There were a couple of grenade explosions some distance away. It was obviously a fidayeen (suicide) attack on the camp. From behind the wall I could see two terrorists with their assault rifles running towards the back of the camp. By this time, our jawans had started firing in reply. What followed was a fierce gun battle. I must admit that I was petrified at what was happening. But Vimal was calm. He kept telling me to stay calm and that nothing would happen. We both remained silent as sporadic bursts of bullets were heard.

I think you must have guessed by now what happened next. So I�ll just give you the details of what happened.

Now from where we were hiding, we could see that 5 jawans were taking shelter behind another wall a few feet away from us and were firing at the terrorists. All the gunfire was coming from in front of them. As a result they had ignored the area behind them. It all happened in a matter of seconds as a terrorist crept up from behind us. He could not see us because of the wall, but we could see that he was holding 2 grenades in his hand. He could just throw them at the wall behind which the 5 jawans were standing and kill them all.

But before I could shout and warn the jawans, Vimal was off like a shot. He hid behind the wall till the last moment and jumped the terrorist. The terrorist was surprised at this unexpected assailant and tried to fight free of him. What he did not expect was that Vimal would reach for the grenades in his pouch. I watched aghast as Vimal took a grenade out, stepped away a few feet away, removed the pin and threw it towards the ground. It exploded making a huge noise. The terrorist was killed, and so was Vimal.

So that is how the whole attack ended. The last surviving suicide bomber to attack the camp was killed by a civilian who himself became a suicide bomber. The whole thing had happened too fast to anticipate or analyse.

I was shaken by the grenade blast too, and my ear drums were torn apart. But what I remember about that day is not what I heard, but what I saw. As Vimal�s body lay there, covered in blood and gore, his face wore the most satisfied smile I had ever seen in my life.

The End

p.s- it might seem a little tacky and hurried, since I don't have too much time right now. This is a rough draft I wrote between project meetings and assignment sessions. I wrote it mainly to make sure that the basic idea is recorded somewhere so that later when I sit to rewrite it at leisure, I will have a little more than just the basic idea in mind. Okay then, Economics presentation tomorrow and my team members will be here any minute, so I'd better go. Thanks for your encouraging comments.