[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, inspired by certain tales of gallantry]
An year shy of half a century. Nearly fifty years ago, on this day, it was raining fire and blood on the treacherous passes of the Pir Panjal range. That day, in the midst of the ungodly blizzard of bullets and brutal weather, our lives took a turn none of us had anticipated. No, that won’t be right. Only my life took a turn; for the other two, it ended. No words can capture the seething undercurrents of emotion that haunts the survivors – the ones who won the war, yet lost everything.
The world will remember it as one of the days in a bloodied battle. But for me, it marks the day when I learned that the slightest of delays can turn out to be fatal in a battle field. And you know what is the most depressing thing? When others pay for the mistake you made. The guilt has been weighing down on my mind a lot. I have to let it out; let others know. This, is my confession.
Wars are as much fought mentally as they are physically. A slight waver in your mind is the enemy’s advantage. So is complacency. The day which had gone so well in favour of our battalion was turned on its heads in the blink of an eye. Heavy mortar shelling which came out of nowhere caught us off-guard. Our decision to hold our ground in the open trench turned into a disaster. The heavy shelling spelt doom for all except the three of us. Amidst the raining mortars and dismembered limbs, we somehow managed to make our way to another makeshift bunker.
Waiting there wasn’t an option; nor were we inclined to do so. We had to retaliate. But the numbers were skewed in their favour. The three of us against a full squadron seemed unreal. The reinforcement was on its way, but the weather was unrelenting. Time – we needed time. But it was a luxury we could not ask for. With our bunker busted, the enemy would move in within minutes and occupy the post. We will have to confront them here. Or, we could go behind the enemy lines, and hope to make a dent – possibly hold them off till the rest of troops arrived. Either way, it was a one-way ticket. We decided to take the fight to the other side. We will either defend our post – or die trying.
We checked our inventory – fire arms and hand grenades. Not sufficient to make them retreat, but enough to prove our point – we refuse to go down easily. Our strategy was clear and simple – We move in, and once within striking distance, charge the enemy bunkers. I took the duty of giving the covering fire. After waiting a couple more minutes, we moved in. Taking advantage of the twists and turns in the pass, and our camouflage, we succeeded in getting close enough.
From here it was all but a blur till that decisive moment. We were like possessed demons, as we charged down on the nearest bunker. Not for a second was my finger taken off the trigger. My buddies did their part perfectly, lobbing the grenades in to the bunker and destroying it. With no time to waste, we jumped in and neutralized the remaining gunmen inside. Then, we went for the next one. This was relatively easy, since it was a small bunker, and also because our attack was still unanticipated. For them, we were all but dead. With renewed energies, we took out the bunker. My rounds were finished, and it was with much vengeance that I bayoneted one guy in that trench. After raiding the bunker and replenishing our guns and grenades, we went for the next one – the one which ended our blitzkrieg.
This time again, it was the mortar shelling which did us in. One shell landed dangerously close to us. The result was fatal. One of my buddy grenadiers was fatally wounded, and one look at his mutilated body drained all the energy out of me. Half burned, half alive, it was a torture just to watch him breath. This one second slack during my petrified stance was paid for by the life of my other buddy. He had resumed his charge at the bunker, unaware of my emotional debacle. He was confident of my presence. But me? I was torn between tending to my dying friend and continuing my duty. I turned my head in time only to see his body get riddled with bullets. He went down, but like the true hero that he was, he took down half the enemy with him. He saved his last breath to grenade the bunker which finished him. It was all done in a matter of seconds. By the time I resumed my fire, reinforcement had arrived, and the skirmish that followed resulted in our victory.
We won that day. But I lost. When months later, the three of us were awarded the highest gallantry medals, posthumously for my buddies, it was but a bitter tonic for me. Even now, as I look at my medal, I see a half burned man, and a man whose body was torn apart by bullets. It was raining fire and blood that day. The barrage of fire had ceased for just one moment – a second between life and death.