I had always been interested in politics so it came as no surprise to my family when, at the age of 18, I announced my decision to join the armed forces. After some basic medical checkups I was an enlisted man. I had originally wanted to join the air force but I failed their eye exam, I was blind you see. That little disability also shot my chances of being part of the mobile infantry, so they put me in artillery with all the other blind soldiers.
I went to Kakul for my initial training, which was so rigorous it almost made me quit then and there. We were taught complicated subjects like corporate accounting, advanced taxation, constitutional law and propaganda skills. I used to come back to my barracks completely exhausted from lifting the weight of all those books. I couldn’t even muster the energy to write home, so I phoned instead.
The ten yard treks to class every morning were bad enough, but once inside you lost all personal autonomy to your superior officer. The drill sergeant was in charge there. You did everything he wanted. If he told you to eat your pencils, you started chewing lead. If he told you that monetary expansion was not the primary source of inflation, you kept your mouth shut and said yes. He was bigger than god, bigger even than the IMF. His will was absolute.
In time we learned to stop questioning and grew comfortable with our military mindsets. Discipline was everything in the army. There was no time for lolling about in the cutthroat world of corporate business and real estate. With all those contracts and currency flying around an indecisive soldier was a debt-ridden soldier.
I was soon promoted down the ranks and to congratulate me the Colonel invited some friends over for dinner. I was told the next day that the party was a great success. The General who was generally unconcerned about rank movements beneath him had not partaken in much debate and the Major General was majorly general in his views on career mobility. The Private privately announced to the Staff Officer that the privacy of his office had been invaded that morning by his office staff, as witnessed by the Private while he was attending to his privates in the privacy of a nearby lavatory. The Colonel cooked kernels for everyone and the Rear Admiral admired proceedings from behind.
The discussion eventually shifted to the General’s wife, who had a reputation for sleeping around. She suffered from narcolepsy and was likely to fall unconscious anywhere. Later they discussed all the wars we’d never won and the importance of their institution to this country. The General rubbished the similarities often drawn with mental institutions, pointing out that in the army the crazy people are in charge.
Later that week we learned that due to the incompetence of the civilian government, for failing to stop a military takeover in 1958, we were now at war with India. War. What a scary word. None of us had joined the army to fight wars. It was our worst nightmare.
We received workshops on loading and firing military issued weapons but most of us got injured on our first try and did not feel confident about our prospects, some of us were pissing our pants in fear, others were wearing shorts.
Fortunately, we were part of the standing reserves. Unfortunately, the Brigadier over at the main strike corps was as mad as a cocker spaniel and spent his days sitting in his office lobbing grenades into the mess hall. He’d killed half the division before a single bullet had been fired.
So it happened that I was shoved into an infantry battalion just to make up the numbers, and was off to lead the charge of death at the line of control.
We were lead by a rather ugly looking Major whose face resembled a hemorrhoid operation gone wrong and whose voice had been known to cause ear damage. So the troops absolutely loved him. On our way we came across some beautiful valley girls and asked the Major to immediately requisition them in the name of king and country, lest they fall into enemy hands. There wasn’t a lot of action on the first day as we were early for the war. To keep the soldiers on their guard the Major released a poisonous snake in the trenches. Nobody slept that night.
Later, we had a bonfire and sang songs about mosquitoes. The Major got horribly drunk and decided that it was a crying shame he hadn’t killed a Hindu all day. So he ordered one of his men to dress up as a Pandit and shot him.
The next day the Indians announced their arrival with heavy artillery fire, which our boys responded to with great fervour. So much fervour in fact that they forgot about the infantry charge and ended up killing our own men. That didn’t deter them though as they carried on firing for the next two days.
I was one of the lucky ones to have survived the initial assault, mainly by not following orders, and I was still sitting in the trenches listening to our mortars flying over the line of control when suddenly, nothing happened. I didn’t know what to do, it happened so suddenly you see, I panicked. Getting up from my position I risked friendly fire as I ran deeper and deeper into non-enemy territory. I didn’t stop till I was all the way home.
Later, I heard on the radio that we won the war by surrendering to India and signing a ceasefire. I felt proud to have played my part in the victory, however small and insignificant. I was a local hero.
I would surely have received a medal of honour had I gone back to headquarters but I wasn’t motivated by personal accolades and did not want the credit of beating the Indians all for myself so I stayed away, and changed my name and address just in case.