Col HP Singh (retd)
THE nation is full of praise for the defence forces following the air strike on our belligerent neighbour. The forces have always risen to the occasion whenever the country has demanded. With sabre-rattling and war-mongering is gaining ground, TRPs of various channels are being steered by stories, discussions and episodes of everything connected with the uniformed community.
I am reminded of a similar situation years ago. It was during a Christmas Eve bash when we learnt that our Junior Command Course had been cancelled and mobilisation ordered following a terrorist attack on Parliament. Within hours we were in military special trains, taking precedence for movement even over Rajdhani and Shatabdi expresses. The families were to be ‘shed’ en route at the nearest railway station to our home towns while we were to carry on to join our paltans closer to the border/LoC. Patriotic crowds greeted us at stations carrying fruits, eatables, tea and cans of milk, serving us with abundant love and respect. The media, politicians and the local administration turned up to assure us that they stood with us in this national crisis. A few requested me to be photographed with them in my camouflage fatigues, holding my year-old daughter in my arms and my wife smiling at the camera, concealing her anxiety.
On arrival, we got ready for the mission, prepared the equipment, topped up the fuel tanks and awaited orders to advance westwards. The orders never came and the hysteria soon died down. After months of deployment, we returned from the forgotten front without any media glare or heart-warming receptions. Life was back to normal with the struggle for accommodation, railway reservation and school admission necessitated due to mid-session transfers.
Today, it is deja vu again, when one witnesses patriotic sloganeering and expressions of solidarity with soldiers. A soldier will never let his countrymen down and will be ever ready to risk his life whenever the nation demands. Once the war clouds are over, he will humbly continue with his life without any expectation of recognition. He knows that public memory is short. He will nevertheless remain hopeful that promises made to him will be fulfilled and he won’t need to justify the few perks he got for his ‘routine’ job. He will, however, yearn for honour and glory which he carries with him to the grave.
A soldier values the cheering, eulogies, sweets, fruits and cans of milk, but he would be indebted if we stand by his family if he is maimed or martyred and not force his kin to stage a demonstration to earn their rightful emoluments. It is time to prove Rudyard Kipling wrong: ‘In times of war and not before, Gods and soldiers we adore. But in times of peace and all things righted, God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.’
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