Preamble. LOC Kashmir will offer autobiographical short fiction in one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, the 740 kilometer Line of Control dividing the Pakistani and Indian parts of Kashmir. Approximately 500,000 Indian and 300,000 Pakistani armed and battle-hardened troops face each other across their gun-sights. Both sides indulge in infiltration and aggressive patrolling. Exchanges of fire occur with regular frequency. This is where and how I spent my late teens, as a young officer in the wake of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, before having to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. I wish to see peace in beautiful Kashmir during my lifetime, even though I am not very hopeful.
Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir
Part II of V
The powerfully muscled Gurkha two-striper naik nimbly took a signed receipt from his officer, saluted him smartly, about-turned and, unruffled by Pakistani gun muzzles trained on him, walked unhesitatingly across the pebble beach to enter the shallow but fast-flowing river Tawi.
At the same time, I lithely walked down the stony path under the sights of the camouflaged Indian rifle company’s weapons. I could feel Indian and Pakistani warriors’ eyes boring into me as I, too, stepped into the ice-cold current of the Tawi. Total focus and sheer pride kept my balance over the treacherously slippery pebbles of the river bed. I could feel the current grabbing at my already numb ankles.
And it was the same for the Gurkha naik.
We came face to face accurately in the middle of the Tawi, an unrehearsed approach perfectly timed by the same instincts of professional pride.
The Gurkha’s raised his knee bringing his thigh parallel with the water. Then he stamped his foot down as though he was standing on a level parade ground in Dharamsala. A spray of water shot up in the form of an inverted triangle, masking us from each other and glistening like a supernatural omen. His right hand slapped the Sterling 9mm sten gun over his left shoulder in a sharp crack that reached the Pakistani lines.
Totally focused, I replied with a parade ground full stamp and return salute worthy of Subedar Major Asfar Khan’s approval at the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.
“Namaskar, Saab!” he welcomed me in his gravelly voice through the second shot of spray in his face, slitted veteran’s eyes boring into mine.
“Salaam aleikum, Ustaad!”
He smiled at my use of the customary Indo-Pakistani form of address for a naik which meant teacher, and stuck his large-sized hand out.
His grip was neutral. I was outmatched in musculature. He had the strength to crush my hand and the skill and experience to gently misbalance me. My troops were watching. But he didn’t start any rangbazi one-upmanship. He was a gentleman and I owe him one.
“How’s it going, saab?”
“Very well. And you — are you happy in the Indian army?”
He chuckled. “Yes, saab.”
“You’re a Nepali citizen. Why don’t you come fight for us?”
“No problem, saab. When I finish my contract with India and if you pay me more!”
I laughed. “What’s your salary?”
“Twelve hundred rupees, saab.”
He was lying and we both knew it. That was the salary of a second lieutenant, if at all!
“That’s great. You should have a lot of fun with that!”
He grinned cheekily and then in a pounding of hoofs and a screen of gravel Jawan Allah Ditta skittered down the embankment with the snorting buffalo for me to swap for a signed receipt. Another exchange of salutes from behind water jets and the unnamed Gurkha and I returned to our opposing worlds.
I walked back up the embankment through a wedding cake of total silence.
Wait for Part III