Havaldar Satbir Singh

Havaldar Satbir Singh

When belief in self surmounts death 

Drass, July 3 (Rajesh Ramachandran) - They were seven of them, in two rows. Taking their rifles up and then bringing it down, eyes fixed on the ground, hands moving to the right and then left. The haggard-looking soldiers were rehearsing to welcome their colleagues. 

Then Havildar Satbir Singh came, the last one to return after capturing Black Rocks. His colleagues’ hands and legs moved out of sync. Probably because they didn’t want to welcome the hero this way. Satbir Singh was dead. Four jawans of the unit climbed the Shaktiman truck and brought him down . 

It was a plot of dried up wheat field where the stretcher was laid. The seven, with arms, took position to his left and the rest of the unit, which was present at the makeshift base camp, on to his right. 

The click of heels was not heard; there was no bugle playing the last post. Suddenly they all looked tired and vulnerable. Satbir Singh, bare-footed with his toes tied together with white gauze. His face was covered with his own jacket. 

The officer marched towards Satbir Singh’s body, took the wreath from a jawan, laid it at Satbir Singh’s feet, saluted and turned back. 

The wreath was on behalf of the Commanding Officer of the unit. Next, it was the Subedar Major’s turn to pay homage on behalf of all other ranks. The military ritual over, the officer slowly walked up to Satbir Singh, lifted the jacket, had a last look and walked away. 

“I just wanted to see his face,” the officer later said. The face seemed calm and ordinary. Satbir Singh was the last of the 13 who perished while capturing Black Rocks to arrive at the base camp. 

Death in life couldn’t be felt more than here at the battlefront. They do think about life, however busy they are with the task at hand. For instance, while reassuring omeone that he wouldn’t be quoted, the officer’s reply was willy but morbid too: “If we don’t fear death, why should we fear you quoting us?” 

And it could be this element of uncertainty that lurks behind every rock they climb which makes them all believers. At a base camp a few minutes before they were to start the march to the next battlefield, they all had a red tilak on their forehead: from the commanding officer to the lance naik. 

Do they think of their families while going up to bare their chest to enemy fire? “Fleeting images of the family do appear. But mostly there would only be blood in our minds. For, to survive is to kill,” says a soldier. Then there is life in death too; its for Satbir Singh that many more Satbirs would fight. 

CourtesyThe Hindustan Times News Service

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