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Padree Béhoshe: the Pastor Fainted.

That historic evening, with the children away at a Christian camp, the house was very quiet.

IMG_0726Elizabeth Lal Din, the pastor’s wife and Libbo to her friends, reached out for the aubergines. The eggs were on the boil and the broiler glowing. The open kitchen drawer rammed into her side and she swore in Punjabi.

Ammi-jee was such a loving mother. Her visit had lasted longer than the butcher’s opening hours. It wasn’t just the samosas and tea, but their delicious gossip of two impending marriages, a divorce and a funeral. Besides which, she wouldn’t dare cut her mum’s visit short.

Determined to give Charles, a confirmed carnivore, the best default vegetarian meal of his life, she was not to know that it would exceed her hopes.

Elizabeth switched on the radio and the sound of zalmaan coca cola piya dé — “O’ cruel one, give me a drink of coca cola” — filled the kitchen —https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji04oFaxrCA.

Discreetly undulating her hips to the kehrwa beat, she sliced a couple of aubergines length-wise, zebra-striped them, sprinkled salt on the inside and put them next to the bowl of finely chopped tomatoes.

She turned the radio off and slipped a disc of Punjabi hymns into the CD player. To the sound of  khushi khushi manaohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ensjWNHwd2M — she rinsed the aubergines and then scooped out the soft part over the chopped tomatoes, adding half a grated onion, a garlic clove and two inches of grated ginger. And of course, green chilies, coriander and mint.

 Image result for green chillies mint & corianderhttps://www.google.fr/search?q=green+chillies+mint+%26+coriander&espv

She brushed the aubergines with her home-made organic ghee and put them under the broiler. To the sound of yesu ke naam mein hum fatah patay hain — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6wwQuyTI1o — she put ghee in a thick bottomed frying pan, sprinkled salt, added a few cumin and mustard seeds, let them sizzle, then with her wooden spatula, slid in the mixture of the scooped out aubergine, tomatoes, onion and garlic. She stirred it, added her home-made garam masala spice mixture, put a lid on the frying pan and lowered the heat to a simmer.

She peeled and chopped four tomatoes, crushed them with a potato masher, added salt, pepper, red chillies, sliced ginger, crushed garlic and white and black cumin, chucked it into hot ghee in a pan and then reduced the heat to very low.

The inside of the aubergines under the broiler was golden brown. She got them out, sprinkled salt and pepper on the inside, took the frying pan off the gas flame and filled the aubergines with the mixture. Some of it was surplus, which she diluted with water, added fenugreek powder, and added to the simmering sauce.

The eggs were hard-boiled to perfection. Mum’s Christmas egg-slicer gave her perfect cuts. She pressed a slice of egg into the middle of each aubergine half.

Taking her frying pan off the flame, she gently put the aubergines into the sauce, covered the frying pan and put it back on the flame.

The phone rang.

“Oh yes, yes mum. I do remember your starch-free basmati rice recipe … pardon?

“Ok – wash a cup of rice five times or until the water in which it’s soaked is clear.

“After thirty minutes, chuck it in boiling water and wait for a rolling boil.

“Drain and rinse

“Put the rice in my thick-bottomed pan — yes, the one you gave Charles for his  birthday — and add a cup of water — yes mum, not two cups, one — let it come to the boil with the lid on, then turn the gas off and it’s done in twenty minutes of steaming.

“thanks mum …. yes, bet it’s so delicious, he faints!

“Bye mum!”

IMG_0726

And actually, as history records, when Pastor Charles Lal Din finished his dinner after a prayer meeting, marriage counselling and the church accounts, his eyes suddenly started glazing, his fleshy lips parted, Libbo appeared to be undulating, breathing hard and the floor rose to meet the ceiling.

Padree Béhoshe.

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Will rebranding Christians make their lives any easier in Pakistan?

By Azam Gill

Published in the Express Tribune, a New York Times affiliate

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Pakistan’s Christians will now be respectably called ‘Masihi.’ Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has issued orders regarding use of Masihi for Christians instead of Esaayi, in the column for Religion.”

Pakistani Christians had been seeking rebranding for quite some time.

“The Urdu ‘Isai’ (derived from ‘Esa’, the Arabic word for ‘Jesus’ used in the Qur’an) now carries strong overtones (of) ‘unclean’ demeaning occupations. This use of language feeds the narrative which makes Christians feel like second-class citizens in today’s society.  On October 8, 2015 in Lahore, more than 500 Muslim students took an oath that they would not call Christians ‘Esaayi,’ but would use the word ‘Masihi’ themselves.”

These noble gestural efforts from all concerned are commendable in their own right. But just treating symptoms allows the disease to thrive.

And the disease here is the association of Christians with scavenging sanitary work which gained them the insulting designation of chuhras (C-word).

The real objection of Pakistani Christians to being called Isai is that the word has, over time, become synonymous with the degrading C-word. After all, Isai, referring to Hazrat Isa/Al-Masih, constantly evokes Muslim-Christian commonality which, in these troubled times, should help shield Christians against violence. At the end of the day, when Pakistani Christians are bombed, their Muslim neighbours’ goodwill is of inestimable value.

Yet, even though Pakistani Christians are well aware that Isai puts them in an advantageous position within communal hostility, they are strongly focused on burying the word (insultingly pronounced Ssa’ai in the Punjab), for having become a de facto replacement for the pejorative C-word. So, while the brand name is a variable, the content it projects is invariable and until that content changes, it will vitiate each new brand name.

When the number of Christians, fuelled by circumstances and blatant discriminatory practices, into employment as sanitary workers decreases the word Isai will become as respectable as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jew or Parsee. Dedicated educational, vocational and affirmative action programs, spearheaded by Christians but patronised by powerful, wealthy and enlightened Muslims will go a long way in achieving the goal of decreasing the number of Christians employed as scavengers and sanitary workers.

Very few Muslims realise that Christian hymns and hymn singing to musical orchestras in churches and prayer meetings have resulted in generations of musicians and lyricists invisible to their Muslim neighbours, their talent drowned in the open drains outside the hovels of their bastis.

This is a gold mine hidden in plain sight for talent scouts of the entertainment industry under the aegis of Pakistan’s business-savvy Muslim elite.

The United States Civil Rights movement could never have succeeded without the support and participation of enlightened Whites. Christian community leaders should concentrate on lobbying the Muslim leadership to refine and ensure the implementation of educational, vocational and affirmative action.

History might be replete with examples of communal rebranding, but in recent times, renaming of communities resulted in the United States’ exportable semantic cesspit. As Red Indians evolved into American Indians, Original Americans and finally Native Americans, Blacks finally became African-Americans while the Jews stayed Jews and Indian Americans are quite pleased with themselves.

The rebranding succeeded since it offered a cop-out – white America and the successful middle class of the community concerned could mitigate their commitment to changing the situation and toss a crumb as a substitute for positive action.

Cute.

The Jews never bothered to reinvent themselves, realising that the cause of persecution is not the name but the situational components. The unchanged word Jew has come a long way from the Shakespearean Shylock to a signifier of wealth, power, status, culture and reliability.

Despite their complaints of Islamophobia, no Muslim has asked to be called anything other than a Muslim and would never be fooled by a semantic hand-out!

With minorities suffering direct persecution, it is irresponsible to let the majority community off the hook by asking for superficial concessions. The focus should be on fundamental changes.

Minority leaders should maintain moral pressure to change the situation and constantly remind the majority of how well they are treated when they find themselves in a minority in more enlightened spaces.

Rebranding a deteriorating product offers middle-class Christians and their supporters a cosy cop-out and good short-term press for the politicians involved in this undersized game.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose – By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2).

“And that which we call a cesspool – By any other name would stink as much – As did the state of Denmark – When foul play spiked its rightful king.”

 

If oil rich Arab countries can support the Palestinians, why not the Rohingya refugees?

Published in the Express Tribune

by Azam Gill December 10, 2016

The Rohingya only have their gratitude, dark skins, rickety bodies and battered souls to offer. PHOTO: AFP

A 2015 Amnesty report declared the stateless Rohingya of Burma to be the most persecuted refugees in the world. Their Burmese majority tormenters are trapped between a forgiveness shortfall and a surfeit of rancour at the abortive Rohingya attempt to be annexed by East Pakistan in 1948 followed by an armed insurgency seeking autonomy or independence. 

Reprisals have devastated the civilian population. There are currently 140,000 Rohingya refugees mired in squalor in Bangladesh, India and Thailand in the latest phase of their on-going exodus. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called the violence against the Rohingya a “slow genocide”.

On November 30thFrance 24 broadcasted that a concerted crackdown from the Burmese army reportedly involved,

 “Murder, rape and torture … razed entire villages, abused human rights and caused a massive outflow of refugees.”

The non-profit group, Physicians for Human Rights, wrote in a 2013 report carried by Reuters on June 17, 2015:

“Between May 1991 and March 1992, more than 260,000 Rohingyas fled the country over ‘human rights abuses committed by the Burmese military, including the confiscation of land, forced labour, rape, torture, and summary executions’.”

Nearly a million and a half and Muslim by faith, they are mainly concentrated on Burma’s western coastal state of Arakan/Rakhine where they make up around 90% of the population. They are generally considered to have migrated from present-day Bangladesh during the British Raj, although an indigenous origin has not been ruled out.

In the Second World War, they were armed and supported by the British to fight against the Japanese, co-religionists of the Burmese majority who consider that alliance mortally sinful. Mostly illiterate and almost totally isolated, in 1948, they were unaware that they could have acquired Burma’s ‘Associate Citizenship’. As such, in 1982, under General Ne Win’s dictatorship, they ended up being definitively excluded from citizenship rights. These two procedures blissfully ignored the 1872 report on the census of British Burma which observed that,

“There is more than one race which has been so long in the country that it may be called indigenous, and that is the Arakanese Mussulman.”

The book Human Rights and Statelessness: The case study of the Rohingya in Myanmar, by Fiona Gill, concludes that,

“The first and undeniable change needed … is the amendment of the 1982 Citizenship Act …(Burma’s) regional neighbours have a legal and humanitarian obligation to address the consequences of statelessness and displacement.”

On June 17, 2015, Reuter’s questioned:

“Why is no one helping Myanmar’s Rohingya?”

One year later, Saudi Arabia announced the grant of permanent resident status to four million Burmese workers, presumably Rohingya. This laudable example of affirmative action still leaves the current crisis intact.

To benefit from Saudi Arabia’s largesse, a Rohingya has to enter Saudi Arabia legally. Even if the Saudis were to follow Angela Merkel’s example, the Rohingya victims can’t afford the passage. So the next logical step is for Saudi ships to anchor off on Burma’s territorial waters and take Rohingya boatloads on board. Financially, they can afford it. The political risk is negligible, since Burmese muscle only flexes within its borders.

Last year, Qatar also pledged $50 million to Indonesia to host Rohingya refugees, generously stretching its arm to keep them at bay. Indeed, because these refugees are jobless, poor, unskilled, carry diseases and, actually smell. No one would want to have them in the neighbourhood. Qatar should take its inspiration from Germany and Italy — maybe hire a slick refugee consultant with blow-dried hair and a killer smile?

Oil rich Arab countries wholeheartedly support Palestinians who, of course, also provide a ready means of restoring Muslim sovereignty over the Holy Land. Alas, the Rohingya only have their gratitude, dark skins, rickety bodies and battered souls to offer.

But Saudi Arabia and Qatar can only be reproached for failing to meet high expectations. The persecution itself calls out the Burmese Buddhist majority led by a Nobel Peace Laureate who, as the state counsellor of Myanmar, is the de facto head of state.  On the subject of Rohingya persecution, the Oxford-educated Aung San Suu Kyi thrives as the serenely mute counsellor. And the world lies back and lets its intelligence receive these resounding insults without reminding her that her own most outstanding qualification is being a victim of persecution. She has a dozen international awards ranging from the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom to The Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding and the Sakharov Prize. Did I hear you applause, Rohingya?

Their repression seriously tarnishes the renowned Buddhist lustre. In 2013, his holiness, the Dalai Lama, pleaded with Burmese Buddhists to end the violence against the Rohingya. Last year, he urged Aung Sang Suu Kyi to speak out on their behalf. Six months ago, he repeated the demand, answered by her deafening silence. Burma’s moral wasteland is overcast with “shades of mediocrity, like emptiness in harmony”.

Three forces can converge to inject solvency into Burma’s moral bankruptcy.

The Dalai Lama, the Pope and the Mufti of Al Azhar University need to announce a joint visit to Burma, to exert pressure on its Buddhists, get the world’s attention and reassure the Rohingya, respectively. Burma would be hard put to refuse such a visit. Were the three religious leaders to publicly demand an end to the violent reprisals and the placing of United Nations observers protected by a UN contingent, it should be enough to move the problem from the paddy fields and narrow alleys to a well-appointed conference room.

Will America be able to bounce back from such a venomous presidential campaign?

by Azam Gill,  The Express Tribune, November 10, 2016: with permission.

Mr Trump’s successes have raised alarms among international observers. PHOTO: REUTERS

Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, now has to make ‘America Great Again’. The ‘what’ is clear, the ‘how’ has yet to come and much hinges on his ability to “bind the wounds” as he said in his victory speech.

Speaking in Manchester, New Hampshire on November 6th, Hillary Clinton had already said that Americans must choose between “division and unity”. On November 8th, The Daily Telegraph called it the “…most divisive election in history” and The Guardian the “… most divisive campaign in memory.”

So now the winner has just over two months to ensure that he does not preside over a nation polarised by the hard-fought electoral campaign that has left the world agape at its virulence. He should also be able to find out ‘what the hell is going on’ before Inauguration Day. The period is too short to expect a quick fix, yet adequate to dull sharp edges for manageability. Competent politicians always embed an escape hatch in their campaign declarations and promises.

George H W Bush’s ‘read my lips’ at the Republican National Convention in 1988, and Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to close down the Guantanamo Detention Centre slid out through the trapdoor. Mr Trump has precedents to follow.

Accordingly, pork barrel politics should now realign the alienated opposition and shed the excess baggage of supporters extraneous to the post-election period to lessen the cynical campaign hostility.

Pessimists would assert that only a saint could reconcile the bitterness of such a venomous campaign. Optimists would retort that this year’s campaign fits the framework of several precedents, and they’d be right. US Presidential campaign history is replete with no-holds-barred nastiness.

Thomas Jefferson made it to Mount Rushmore, his granite face carved amid illustrious company. But not his campaign etiquette.

During American democracy’s infancy in 1800, the Jefferson camp called John Adams:

“A hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Adams retaliated by asking voters:

“Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames… female chastity violated… children writhing on the pike? Great God of compassion and justice, shield my country from destruction.”

1828 saw the nastiness of the Andrew Jackson versus John Quincy Adams campaign. Adams’ team said Jackson, of working class origins, was unable to spell Europe and his wife, Rachel was a bigamist and a “dirty black wench… convicted adulteress…open and notorious lewdness.” Jackson’s supporters claimed that Adams had sold his wife’s maid to the czar of Russia to become another one of his concubines!

Negative campaigning embroiled even Abraham Lincoln in his 1860 campaign against Stephen Douglas. The Douglas team described Lincoln as:

“A horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman… the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame.”

The Lincoln team’s Lost Child flyers proclaimed that five feet four inch Douglas “answers to the name Little Giant… talks a great deal, very loud, always about himself – about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”

Lincoln, too, is a Mount Rushmore inhabitant.

In the 1884 Cleveland-Blaine contest, Stephen Grover Cleveland’s illegitimate child was an issue and the chant, “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa?” reverberated against accusations of corrupt dealings with the railroad. Nevertheless, Cleveland won the election and became the first Democratic president.

In 1928, Herbert Hoover uninhibitedly exploited Al Smith’s Catholicism, accusing him of being a Papal figurehead and planning to extend the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River between Manhattan and Jersey City by 3,500 miles to reach the Vatican.

Once in office, though, they lost their vitriol and got down to the business of leading America as best as they could. And therein lies the political space between the cup and lip which may accommodate a slip — or an upturn all the way to Mount Rushmore.

Accommodating divisions without being divided against itself is fundamental to a democracy. The time when the dust settles between the election results and the inauguration is crucial to the future of the presidency. Residual bitterness has the potential to inspire obstruction for the sake of it rather than the positives of different analyses.

Domestically cornered leaders seek to address their insufficiencies by holding up short-term, international foreign policy scoops. Republicans and Democrats become unhesitatingly interventionist in their search for bones to throw to backyard wolves. Thus, the US regularly faces blow-back with which it smears its overseas partners.

Washington lobbyists work overtime at each presidential change, tripping over themselves to prophecy the incumbent’s foreign policy, its effect on their foreign clients and how they can tweak it to their advantage. By exclusively focusing on American foreign policy during this critical period, the foreign offices of America’s allies will engender their share of miscalculations. The roots of the US’s foreign policy lie in its domestic governance, good or bad, strong or weak. Pundits, lobbyists and foreign office staffers would be well advised to keep their ears to the home ground and listen to the ticking of the American heartland. Hillary’s lads and lassies didn’t, and look what happened.

While Trump’s challenge is to convert disunion to a workable consensus, Clinton can still build “bridges instead of walls” as her campaign posters promised and put her considerable talent at the disposal of the nation she so obviously loves. That is achievable by forswearing obstructionism and turning herself into a national watchdog to ensure against Trump’s isolationist tendencies.

Trump’s spin doctors will be kept busy by their boss striving to deliver on most of his strategic promise of making America great again. That said, just by letting go of ‘again’ and setting himself up as an example of integrity would be greatness enough.

Both candidates battered their country’s dignity into the ground.

If they so wish, both have the opportunity to make it right.

It is said that there are vacant spots on Mount Rushmore

Azam Gill

Azam Gill

The author is a novelist, analyst and retired Lecturer from Toulouse University. He served in the French Foreign Legion, French Navy and the Punjab Regiment. He has authored nine books.

Is Trump’s Popularity A Growing Revolt Against The Deep State?

This article appeared on Swarajaya Magazine on  March 14, 2015: a prophetic analysis that explains why Donald Trump was elected. The author, Dr. Subhash Kak is Regents professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oklahoma State University and a vedic scholar. It is reproduced with the author’s permission. pmhttp://swarajyamag.com/world/is-trumps-popularity-a-growing-revolt-against-the-deep-state

Is Trump's Popularity A Growing Revolt Against The Deep State?

People are willing to forgive Donald Trump his failings, his egoism, his record as a businessman, his language, because they think he is the only one that can and will fight the elitist Deep State.

In America and Europe, voters are abandoning establishment politicians in favour of outsiders. In the US, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and the socialist Bernie Sanders have capitalised on the general unease with experienced candidates like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Hillary Clinton.

Across the Atlantic, the European project is increasingly seen as being run by bureaucrats in Brussels who are not answerable to citizens or even politicians. In spite of its obvious benefits of a single currency and free movement across the continent, many people wish to free themselves from the suffocating embrace of the European Union.

Some of this is reaction to the difficulties created by the economic stagnation, mass immigration, and terrorism, and the perception that governments have not done enough to change things. The theories, which guided the economic policies of the last 10 years, have not worked out.

In spite of the increase in the money supply, unemployment remains high and the prices of commodities, including minerals and oil, are going down. With ever-increasing automation and AI (artificial intelligence), it is not clear how lost jobs will ever come back.

The politicians on the left and the right have responded to the economic gloom by hardening their positions. Greece voted for the left-wing Syriza, the Labour Party in Britain elected the radical Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.

SYRIZA party chairman and Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras
SYRIZA party chairman and Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras

In the United States, people are flocking to Trump for they are dissatisfied with what has been called the Deep State, which comprises of the elite associated with the major political parties, the corporations, especially of the finance sector, and the entertainment world.

The common man thinks that the elite are concerned only with their own well-being, and neither of the major political parties has the capacity to go against them, and Trump is perhaps the only person who can. His unscripted style and statements that are politically incorrect reinforce this assessment.

The Deep State is facilitated by the revolving door between Congress, the Executive Branch, corporations, and Washington DC think tanks. It is a car with three wheels: first, a neoconservative, interventionist view of foreign policy; second, a neoliberal view of domestic policy; and, third, increased immigration into the developed world.

New communications and computing technologies that have interconnected economies and people across the world have helped the elite strengthen their hold on power. Complex system theory tells us that in such a system attraction basins form and these become the stable states of the system.

Once you are in an attraction basin, it is very hard to pull away from it even though it may not be the optimal basin in the sense of providing the most good to most people. Once a stable state has been arrived at, individuals do not have much freedom or capacity to go against the consensus.

This is true both at the personal and the national levels. Even the president of the United States cannot do much when it comes to decisions related to international finance. This imperative of the attraction state is reinforced by the web of expectations and aspirations that ensnares most people.

The president needs millions of dollars to create the Presidential Library, which requires good relations with captains of industry. It is also difficult for most to simply fade away when their stint at power has ended. Professional politicians are perpetually at the trough, and, to give just one example, in the last 14 years the Clintons have received $153 million  in speaking fees alone.

The Deep State has strategic alliances with the feminists, socialists, communists, and diverse minorities that want the government to take charge and solve problems.

It supports the Left when it speaks of the need for justice, which it uses to counter the right’s insistence on respect for laws. The Left recruits people to its cause through narratives of inequality. The alliance of the Left is based on group identity and feelings of victimhood and grievance and it leaves it to technical experts to manage the complexity of society.

It has co-opted the Right by using the old conservative meme of the collective wisdom emerging from the personal decisions of the many individuals and the folly of the yearning for utopia. All it asks for is the acknowledgement that the experts have this wisdom.

In certain areas, the elite support attitudes that began with the Left but have now been embraced by the Right. Sexual revolution is one of the hallmarks of the post-socialist Left. This is in opposition to the attitudes of most educated women until the 1960s that were changed with the introduction of the contraceptive pill. Fears of overpopulation legitimated a contraceptive ethic throughout middle-class society in the West. China, India and other countries quickly adopted these ideas.

Likewise, no-fault divorce, first adopted by the Bolsheviks following the Russian Revolution of 1917, was eventually widely embraced. This began to undermine the idea of marriage as a binding mutual contract oriented toward the procreation and nurturing of children.

As populations have begun to decrease in Europe, all sides of the establishment want greater immigration.  The Left, to reduce the political power of entrenched groups, even at the cost of wages going down; the Right, for cheap labour.

The establishment media has become a mouthpiece for the elite. But new information and computer technologies are a double-edged sword. While they are making it easier to exercise control over people, social media has reduced the power of the pro-establishment media. To come back to the disillusionment with the Left and the Right, more and more people believe that in actual governance both parties do the bidding of the powerful corporations.

People are willing to forgive Trump his failings, his egoism, his record as a businessman, his language, because they think he is the only one that can and will fight the elite. It also explains why he is being attacked with great vehemence by both the left and the right.

For going against the unwritten consensus, he has been called the most dangerous man in the world. The growing revolt does not have a grand plan. It is born of desperation against political correctness and it has taken different guises in different countries.

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir – BLOWBACK: Part V of V

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.

Kashmir

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir – BLOWBACK:  Part V of V

The Indian General Officer Commanding (GOC) had got onto the hotline with my GOC, commanding the 23rd Division of World War II fame, carrying battle honors such as Imphal and Operation Zipper, upheld in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan wars. Within the hour, we were on stand-down while I waited for the inevitable rocket to be fired up my backside. Nothing happened for a week — not a word from my Regimental Commanding Officer (CO). My men were proud, but worried for me. It was evident in their eyes. I braved it out until I was called to the CO’s office.
“Gill, I have to convey the GOC’s extreme displeasure.”
“Sir!”
“Although understandable, your decision was reckless and foolhardy!”
“Sir — but I would like to express my disagreement with this judgment.”
 “I put my ass on the line to save your Commission. Now shut up and don’t offer your opinion.” He growled with a gleam in his eyes. “You are being sent to the Army School of Physical Training for an Officer’s PT Course.”
“Sir!”
The Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) was a career-enhancing opportunity for a noncommissioned officer (NCO). After completing his contract, he could find a job as a fitness coach in a school. It was a dead end for commissioned officers. They were sent there when career-friendly courses were considered to be too challenging, or they were in disfavor with their superiors.
My men didn’t know that and thought it was a big deal.
And they were pleased as pie.
They had been gorging on buffalo meat for weeks. The company fund had swelled from the sale of the skins and I had already spent it on something they’d been hankering after. When they visited older units, they were served their meals in the troops’ langar mess on crockery embossed with the regimental crest. Our unit’s battalion fund or company funds couldn’t afford that luxury and they felt a mite deprived. Now, when my men’s guests and cousins from other units dropped by in the company langar, they would eat off spanking Pakpur crockery, shiny cutlery and drink from glittering glasses. We could have bought an embossed set but that would have sparked unhealthy inter-company rivalry and put the other unit officers on the spot. There were already a few unsavory mutterings.
Siddique, my batman orderly was worried.
“Saab, at the PT School, while the officers are training, their batmen are put on fatigue duties.”
I grunted. “I’ll think of something.”
He brightened up. He had faith in me.
Soldiers of all ranks require a movement order to go from one unit to another. I asked the head clerk for two blank copies of Siddique’s movement order.  His eyebrows went up imperceptibly but he complied. Usually it was filled out for an officer’s signature. On the office copy, his rank was sipahi, or private. On the outgoing copy, I filled in his rank as Lance Naik, or Lance Corporal. The Head Clerk’s eyes twinkled as he stamped both copies.
Gill Saab!” he sighed with heavy emphasis.
Siddique was delighted, bought himself a Lance Naik’s stripe and had his picture taken.
A hundred and ten kilometers north of Islamabad, the ASPT, Kakul, is nestled amidst the Sarban hills of Abbotabad. The officer instructors teach theory and supervise the physical training dispensed by NCOs and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) on the PT ground. It is a very tough course. Before we saw a single officer, we were made to fall in by the grim-faced senior JCO Instructor backed by his full complement of NCO instructors.
They eyed us like hungry sharks.
“I am Subedar Sharbat Khan,” the JCO roared in his Raanghardh accent. “Your Chief JCO instructor. My instructors and I have respect but no pity, no sympathy. We do not run a hospital or a Recuperative Care Center.
“We will not salute you, but come to shun. You will not salute us, but come to shun. Clear?”
“Yes Saab!” we roared back.
“You will address NCO instructors as staff and JCO instructors as Saab. They will address you as Sir or Saab.
“We know the human body better than any doctor. We know where to give you pain. We will give you pain. There are two chains over the squat toilets — one for flushing. The other one to help you stand up in the first week. If any Saab can stand up in the first week without using this chain, report it to us so we can put our belts on the CO Saab’s table!”  Putting the belt on the CO’s table is an NCO’s or JCO’s way of offering his resignation.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen in the first week, after which I decided that there was no point getting jittery over a career-dead course and started taking it easy. I took no notes in class and was laid-back on the PT ground. Siddique, as a Lance Naik, was enjoying commanding fatigue parties all day long.
Captain Zaidi bhai had a motorbike but at the end of the day just dropped off to sleep. He was generous.
So, most evenings my buddy Captain Manzar and I would borrow Zaidi bhai’s bike and putt-putt to the Abbottabad Officer’s Club to sip a few vodkas in a picturesque colonial setting —polished wood, glistening marble, trophy-hung walls, turbaned and liveried waiters. We would then toddle over to Abbottabad High Street for bespoke lamb balti and sing mahyaas all the way back to the ASPT.
My punishment for cattle rustling was a pleasant time of much sweat, tiredness, fresh mountain air, vodka and stir-fried lamb in the company of carefree professional warriors in search of excellence.
End V of V.

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir Part IV of V

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.

Kashmir

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir: Part IV of V

This was the fifth cattle rustling sortie into Indian territory and, I was more careful than usual. There was still the risk from stray mines and, we had to operate among the Indian lines almost right under their gun muzzles. They, too, were all hereditary professionals, from a culture with no real conception of conscription.

Yet, the bigger risk came from ourselves. In the last four sorties we had rustled nine buffaloes. My men were getting smug but Subedar Hayat, a seasoned veteran of two wars, countless patrols and cease-fire violations, looked worried. Surprisingly, not about me, a nineteen year old lieutenant, but the more experienced men. He gritted his teeth, cursed and at this sortie had even given Ditta a paternal smack on the back of his head.

“No worries, Subedar saab,” he had reacted cockily. “Gill saab’s leading us. He’s charmed!”

“Shut up and make sure you’re back for the makhaddi halwa!”

The starry, but moonless night was good for skylining. From a kneeling or lying-loading position any vertical object against a low horizon was easy to spot. So we stayed below our immediate skylines and snaked into the concealing saroot reeds, which were higher than our heads. The sand made our moves noiseless.

We could hear the buffalo breathing and swishing the saroots. Mehram and I crouched to get a better look of anything against the skyline. The cattle were to our left. Ditta and Sudagar were also to our left. The top curve of a crescent shaped bunker showed itself at fifty meters. An Indian sentry was sky-lined on it, and we could sense rather than clearly see that he was straining at observation to our left.

We suddenly realized Ditta and Sudagar were no longer there.

My blood ran cold.

The Indians had obviously heard or sensed something, otherwise the sentry wouldn’t have been exposing himself against the skyline.

There was a loud rustling in the saroots, strong animal grunts, the pawing of a powerful animal and then the pounding of hooves. A snorting buffalo emerged from the saroots to our left and darted across our vision towards the Indian bunker. Oblivious to all else, Allah Ditta was sprinting at the buffalo’s heels, intent on his prey, completely unaware that he was heading straight for the Indian bunker. Armed only with our tent pegs, ropes and bayonets, Mehram and I also started running on the soft track between the saroots in the direction of the bunker.

We broke into the clearing which was the bunker’s field of fire to witness single-minded raw courage.

Ditta, an ace player of kabbadi, the millennial Punjabi contact sport, gave a loud barak battle-cry, sprinted harder and jumped on to the buffalo’s back when it was a few metres short of the bunker. At about the same time, the buffalo stopped short of the bunker’s crescent, lowered its head and sent Ditta fliying head over heels at the foot of the bunker. Before the surprised Indian sentry could react, Ditta rose, seized him by the ankles and hurled him to the ground. The sentry gave a loud shout of surprise just as the buffalo wheeled and ran back, Ditta at its heels.

Mehram and I sank into the sand. A machine gun burst raked the saroots over our heads. Had we been kneeling, a firing position derided in our combat training, we would have been ripped to shreds by 7.62mm rounds.

Stop firing — it’s me, Chandu Ram!” The Indian sentry screamed in the Haryana dialect.

He rose, gathered his wits about him and recovered his 7.62 mm SLR assault rifle.

“What the hell was all that?” an authoritative voice asked from the bunker.

“Pakistani commando, Ustad jee,” Chandu Ram reported to his two-striper naik. “I’ll check it out.”

“Good! Be careful and don’t hesitate.”

“I won’t, Ustad Jee!” he said with relish as he fixed his bayonet to the muzzle of the rifle.

 Mehram and I stayed stock still. The slightest movement or sound would betray us to Chandu Ram. Indistinct sounds from inside the bunker told us he wouldn’t be alone for long. Slightly crouched, Chandu Ram started clearing the saroots by poking them with his bayonet, in a rightwards trajectory to where we were concealed.

Our ears also picked up the faint sounds of weapons being cocked on our side of the LOC, on average 300 meters by crows’ flight. This could turn into a major cease-fire violation but I had no time to manage career challenges while our lives hung by a thread.

Chandu Ram was getting nearer. He was below us and to our right by about three meters, at our 4 o’clock, making bayonet thrusts into the saroots, grunting for a kill. Mehram was to my right. He looked at me. I nodded. We had trained together and needed no words. Mehram rushed Chandu Ram’s knees in a tackle from his 10 o’clock flank. As he fell, I wrested Chandu Ram’s SLR from him, reversed it and smashed the butt in his face. He gave a loud grunt, there was no blood but he was knocked out cold. Must have got him in the forehead. Following my Infantry School training, I reversed the weapon again for a killing bayonet stab in the throat but Mehram’s  hand on my arm stayed me. His experienced eyes screamed negative saab! and I understood. He had not wanted to compound our violation by humiliating the Indians with a kill or the loss of a weapon and risk an escalated local reprisal. I dropped the rifle near Chandu Ram and we sprinted out of the trap towards the clearing into which Ditta had disappeared.

It was empty.

Our eyes darted in all directions, ears cocked for any sign of Ditta or Sudagar.

There was a knot in my stomach and for once in my life I was almost at a loss to decide.

Then the saroots moved and Ditta and Sudagar strolled through, each leading a buffalo by a rope as though they were taking their dogs out for a stroll.

It was too late for total silence. The imperative now was to cross back to our lines as quickly as we could. I raised my arm, biceps parallel to the ground, fore-arm vertical, fist clenched, and pumped my forearm up and down in the field signal for double up. We started running for the river on soft sand, eyes and ears alert. Behind us, the torches were out, there were shouts and curses. If the Indians opened fire and it reached our lines, my men would open up. They were on the alert to give us covering fire, but unless they could pinpoint our location, they couldn’t do that. That was why they hadn’t replied to the burst of machine gun fire.

Two Verey light flare guns blasted and the sky above our heads lightened. We were at the river and plunged in, Ditta and Sudagar leading.

The Indians didn’t open up. They had a wise commander.

This time Subedar Hayat’s face was grim, his eyes reproving. “I think we’ve made our point, Saab, from Islamabad to Delhi. Halwa time now,” he growled as he wrapped the blanket around me.

My men were at their weapons, squinting over their gun barrels at the local alert opposite, grinning with anticipation at a scrap.

The makhaddi halwa, oozing desi ghee, was particularly good.

 Another fine night on the Line of Control.

Wait for Part V — blowback

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir Part III of V

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.

Kashmir

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir

Part III of V

 Chamb sector facing the Line of Control in Kashmir is a three-hour drive southeast of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. In the years following the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, the officer’s mess of the Punjab Regiment battalion was headquartered in the bombed out police station of Chamb town, captured and retained by the Pakistanis in the 1971 war. Partial roofs were completed by tarpaulin over shell-pocked walls, blown out doors and windows. Offices, kitchen, staff officer’s quarters and the mess cohabited without complaint.

I had spent dinner in silence.

“Its okay, Gill. Soldiers are meant to follow orders,” the Colonel said, which only made it worse.

“Young man,” Major Waraich lisped. “Your men followed your orders. Then you followed the orders of the Brigade Commander.”

“Have another meat boti, Gill badshah,” the Quartermaster urged, his close-set eyes glowing.

“Thank you sir, no problem sir!” I replied equally to all the sincere and insincere condolences, seething inwardly over having to return the Indian buffalo I had unthinkingly ordered my men to retrieve.

Then one by one they all yawned their way off the steel folding chairs and left.

I sat there for a while in silence, then looked at my watch and lit a cigarette, waiting.

The three-striper havaldar who ran the mess stamped his foot at the salute and broke into my thoughts.

“Havaldar Mehram just rang, sahib. He says they’re ready and waiting.”

“Okay.”

His hand rose in the salute. “Good luck, and be careful, Saab!” he said.

I smiled and nodded — no secrets in a bloody infantry unit!

In shorts and a tee shirt, I was at the crossing point thirty minutes later, a surplus M-1 bayonet and two grenades in my belt, a small pouch and a tent picket in my hand.

Three shadows emerged from the saroot reeds. They assumed shape in a moonless night under sporadic clouds. The water in the Tawi shimmered dully.

Havaldar Mehram, one-striper Lance Naik Sudagar and Jawan Allah Ditta, in shorts, dark tee shirts, ropes across their chests, bayonets and grenades in their belts and tent pickets in their hands. Their eyes shone.

“Make sure you walk behind me, stepping into my footsteps.”

“Yes Saab.”

It was 02H00. The silence ensconced sentries on both sides. They were awake and alert, muzzles pointed at each other. Especially my company, which knew what was going down. At the slightest suspicion, safety catches would slide to the off position, and on orders, deadly 7.62mm rounds and 60mm mortar bombs would rake and explode the saroot cane stalks.

I sank into the lying loading position behind the saroot reeds.

My men followed.

Soundlessly, we crawled slowly down the embankment. Since we carried no firearms, there was no point leapfrogging for a fire and move sequence. But movement was very slow. Inch by inch, with pauses to listen. However soundless your own move for another, you may be overwhelmed by your own imperceptible sounds. Respiration, heartbeat or a breath of air stirred by a moving limb can overwhelm your own hearing.

The undulations in the terrain might have appeared flat, but to the trained eye they were a series of dead ground providing concealment and cover. Tiny waves lapped the pebble beach. At the water line we paused, listening, observing and studying in a single, silent line, our silhouettes too low to be made out by the Indians. I turned back and got a thumbs-up from Mehram. Sliding into the icy cold water with my head just above the surface I had to start fighting the current and the numbing cold of the Himalayan stream. But there was no ripple, no rustle and no skyline break.

We crawled out of the ice-cold water on to the opposite bank, clothes wet. The breeze rustling through the high saroot reeds and over our wet clothing was numbing, but welcome. It would also mask any sound we might make. In absolute terms, the silent approach is only possible in fiction. Otherwise it is silent only in relation to the adversary’s ability to pick it up.

We lay like crocodiles waiting for their unwary prey. We were now in Indian Territory, without passport or visas, on my personal initiative. On their soil, violating their sovereignty. Shooting us dead would be justifiable homicide, at the least, though my men would have replied in force.

This was the flood bank. The sandy channels between the reeds were our allies, and the Indian sentries sky-lined on top of their crescent shaped concrete bunkers were hereditary, professional warriors. Like us. Yet, between the undulating channels and high saroot reeds there was dead ground to be exploited with patience and skill.

But before that there was the minefield to be crossed.

Even a fake minefield can delay, disorganize and hinder the enemy from using an area or route. It also has the advantage that the side laying a fake minefield can always go through it.  This one was different. Just after the 1971 war, some cattle and careless or unlucky soldiers had been injured. For the past few months, the freely grazing cattle within it had not caused a single mine to explode. Over time, persistently inclement weather causes even the best-laid mines to drift or become inoperative. But the possibility could never be erased unless a marked minefield passage had been cleared.

Fifty meters ahead of us, the minefield hungrily brooded behind its rusty barbed wire strung on oddly-leaning wooden posts. Just short of it, the reedy saroot clumps rose above head height. We quietly listened but there was no sound alien to the environment. I started crawling forward while the others waited on the beach.

Inch by inch, I covered the fifty meters. From the lying-loading position I probed the posts. They were suitably wobbly. I signaled and then Havaldar Mehram crawled to my side. We both knew what to do. We raised two fence-posts about ten inches and rolled them aside to form a meter and a half gap. Then we crawled forward into one of the sandy undulations until we reached the saroots. Being higher than us, we would be able to walk upright on the soft sand. I stood up and signaled.

Then Lance Naik Sudagar and Jawan Allah Ditta joined us, teeth smiling in the dark.  I gave each one his share of alfalfa from the pouch in my belt. We crushed it in our hands and rubbed it over our palms. Hoping to catch the sound of buffalos breathing, we cocked our ears. Then Allah Ditta sniffed. He had caught the smell in his nostrils, and then we did too. I signaled, and Sudagar and Allah Ditta moved into the flanks while Mehram and I went ahead. Two turns and the buffalo stumbled up, snorting.

Before the animal could come to full wakefulness, Ditta and Sudagar had secured their nooses around its horns from either side. Mehram and I went up and stroked the buffalo and let it smell the fodder on our palms. It followed us meekly until the edge of the saroot line. A patrol is most vulnerable during exfiltration and we were doubly careful. The buffalo being untrained in fieldcraft, there was no real stealth option. Allah Ditta and Sudagar walked the buffalo across, hunched next to it, molded to its rounded silhouette.  Once they were across, Mehram and I folded the fence back in place, crawled to the beach, went back into the water and crawled back up the embankment.

Subedar (warrant officer) Khizar Hayat stood stone-faced behind the first bend, blanket held out to wrap around me. Three other soldiers did the same for Ditta, Sudagar and Mehram and another two took charge of the buffalo. The track back to my bunker ran parallel with the front line posts. I could feel my men’s fierce looks. I felt no fear, no cold, no pride, no arrogance. Just the relief of a job well done.

Subedar Hayat led us to the company cookhouse a few hundred meters behind the lines. This time, the salutes from the men were different although there was anxiety behind their eyes. I understood.

“Saab?” I addressed Hayat — even the Presidents of Pakistan and India address Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) as saab.

“Jee Saab?”

“Slaughter the buffalo now. Cut it up, distribute the meat to all the company cookhouses. Send the liver and kidneys to the officer’s mess.”

There was a second of silence. Then grizzled smiles split the night. They understood. You can’t return a dead buffalo and once the officers had smacked their lips over a spicy, masaalaedaar liver and kidney balti, they would be in no position to complain.

“And the skin, saab?” Havildar Shahnawaz wanted to know.

“You’re in charge. Clean it, salt it and then take it to Sialkot and sell it. The money goes into the company fund.”

“Jee Saab!”

There was a general smartening up and we got down to the serious business of consuming semolina makhadi halwa made with ghee and dried fruit, washed down with hot cardamom tea.

It was a fine night.

Wait for Part IV

 

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir Part II of V

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.

Kashmir

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.

We stopped.

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

Cattle Rustlers across the LOC Kashmir Part I of V

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 I of V

To command a Rifle Company of the Punjab Regiment when you are not yet nineteen is a thrilling challenge. Commanding it in the field enhances the experience. On the Line of Control in Kashmir, a world hot-spot, it is unique.

In the 70’s, Pakistan army units were deployed opposite the Indian army in underground earthen bunkers, linked by open crawl trenches ankle-deep in slush after a rainfall. When cobras or Russell’s vipers fell into them, they had to be killed or tolerated in these confined spaces. The nearest Indian and Pakistani machine gun posts in the Chamb sector were 50 meters apart, the farthest 300. Our machine guns pointed at each other, ready to open up on orders. Both armies still have observation towers manned by armed soldiers equipped with binoculars and clipboards to spot and report enemy movement for analyses. On the slightest pretext, a cease-fire violation can stain the earth with blood. It is ugly trench warfare, with the only recreation being improvised sport. Boredom can lead to stagnation and affect performance levels.

Which is why every day, one to two-thirds of a company is withdrawn a few hundred meters to the rear for training, education and firing.

Young officers were hardest hit.

I would run and do Battle PT with my men, supervise and take part in tactical training and then walk two miles to the battalion headquarters, sten gun over my shoulder, magazines in their pouches, grenades and a combat dagger in my belt.  After doing my company’s man management paper work, I’d have lunch in the makeshift officer’s mess in a bombed out building and then walk back to my own bunker. Then I’d check over the sentries and either do afternoon sport with my company or walk three miles back to battalion headquarters for collective sport, then walk back again to have a bucket shower under a thorny kikar tree. After ensuring that the troops’ dinner was well cooked and distributed I had to walk back to the mess for dinner, then walk back. There were minefields everywhere and barbed wire was no guarantee against a mine sliding onto a cleared track after a rain. Coming back at night, I had to be alert against an ambush by an Indian patrol.

And every night, I got up at odd hours to check that the sentries were alert.

And if life was hard for me it was hard for all of us.

For example, there were no water points in Chamb. A towed water trailer brought potable water which had to be rationed for personal hygiene.

Which is why the Pakistan Army maintained the British habit of holding regular platoon, company and battalion durbars. Without having to seek his commander’s interview through ‘proper channels’, a soldier can just stand up, state his name, rank and number and announce his problem, which has to be summarily dealt with — a challenge at any age or rank but more so to a nineteen year old. By being a company commander I was supposed to be mother-father to nearly a hundred and fifty warriors, Muslim to a man and if I did my job they would ignore the fact that I was a heathen Christian and follow me into hell.

I was determined not to fail my men.

“2280224 Sipahi Pir Bakhsh Saab!” — From Pind Dadan Khan, he was a good wrestler and known for his honesty.

“Yes?”

“Saab, it’s a sin to have a wet dream and not wash right way. And there’s no water for a shower. What are we supposed to do when we have one in the middle of the night?”

Nearly a hundred pairs of eyes were locked on to me.

I thought on my feet. “How do you perform your ablutions before nimaaz prayers in the desert when there’s no water?”

“We are allowed to make the motions of washing and thus absolved, saab.”

I smiled smugly in the silence, then suddenly my men started smiling and clapping.

“2198651 Kudrutullah Saab!” — a two striper from Attock, he was a boxer known for his ready wit.

“Yes, Ustaad!” I used a corporal’s customary form of address, which means teacher, since that rank dispenses basic training in the Pakistan Army.

“Saab, many of our minefields and those of the Indians between our lines have been washed away.  Cattle wander through them safely. If they cross over to our side, what do we do?”

I was buoyed with my success at the preceding reply and completely unaware of its consequences.

“Grab them!

And that is exactly what they did.

 

That fateful and decisive morning, leaving, as usual, one third of my company to man the trenches, I had taken the rest of my men for firing practice. The firing results were good and we were in high spirits when we passed the company cookhouse at the time when I would have stopped anyway to taste that day’s lunch.

But there was something different that day.

A handful of Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and men were standing outside the cookhouse where the cook and his assistants usually lounged. They looked sullen. The “hoshyar” bringing them to shun was a battle cry. Their eyes smoldered at the salute.

“What’s up?” I snapped.

“Saab, following your orders, we grabbed a buffalo that had wandered into our territory. The Indians did a noisy lock and load and so did we. They then got through on the Generals’ hot line and now the Captaan Saahib from Brigade Headquarters is here. Said as soon as you got back, the buffalo would be returned.  He’s waiting at the front line for you. We obeyed your orders, saab.”

“Good!”

I strode off to the front line, only three hundred meters away and into an unforgettable scene.

 

The river Tawi flowed all of nearly a hundred meters wide with a medium current over a pebble bed. The sand and pebble beaches and flood channels rose to an escarpment on the Pakistani side, giving them the advantage of high ground.

Opposite, the Indians benefited from the concealment offered by the high rising reeds and dips in the sandy flood channels. Within this natural camouflage, they had spent a fortune in cover by building crescent shaped concrete bunkers, like tiaras, sloping down from the middle to either end. Standing on top, a sentry could see over the reeds, but otherwise the field of fire had very limited range. On the other hand, the intensity of fire at short range is devastating. In addition to the odd sentry sky-lining himself, the Indians relied on patrols and the bluff of minefields even when partially defunct.

On the beach below our positions on the escarpment facing the Indians, two of my men held a buffalo on a leash. All my men were on lock and load, itching for a fight. On the opposite bank, an Indian major and a muscular Gurkha two-striper naik coolly stood facing us, unperturbed by our muzzles trained on them.

I reached Captain Khalid Mujeeb standing on the escarpment like Thomas Hardy’s two handled mug and prayed the Indians would not notice his wimpiness. He was the General Staff Officer Grade III (GSO or G-3) which made him the Brigade headquarters de facto factotum. I gave him an angry salute.

He licked his lips. “Sorry, Gill badshah, Brigade Commander’s orders. Indians got on the hot line.”

“Sir!” I didn’t trust myself to say more.

“Brigade Commander desires that you be the one to return it.” I fought my annoyance at army English and its mixed up definite and indefinite articles.

“Right sir, I’ll get down to it.”

“Get receipt and leave your weapon here,” he sniffed.

“Am I under open arrest? Do you want my belt too?”

“No, Gill Badshah, I mean what if fight started.”

“In that case,” I said pityingly. “They’ll be unarmed and I’ll have nothing.”

“Okay, but stay cool, partner.”

Thinking it best not to reply, I walked down to the beach.

I was only about fifty meters from the two Indians.

I came to shun and saluted the Indian officer.

He returned the compliment with a smile.

“If the receipt’s ready, sir, we can meet midway.”

 

Wait for Part II