**This is a True Story**
I knew him when he must have been 09 years of age. I myself was 11-12 years and soon the halcyon days of the school were over and each of us parted our ways. I joined the Army and after 25 years of glorious service sought retirement.
I had an opportunity to visit Nagpur to deliver a lecture. A schoolmate says, “Prabir, one of our school friends would join us for lunch?” I said, “Great! Who?” “Wait and watch”. During lunch time a car glides in the porch and in walks a burly, 6 feet tall Khalsa.
His first words were, “Remember me?” Now, really, after 40 years? Hey Lo!! … I am **** (utters the sobriquet he had earned in school; unmentionable here; S Singh). OMG! After hugs and some more we sat down for chat in the lawn under the sun umbrella strategically placed under a banyan tree. The cool breeze and the pint definitely helped. And my next question was, so, tell me what have you been doing all these years? I was ill-prepared for the answer.
Well, after passing out from the school, I finished my graduation and passed my UPSC exam and the Services Selection Board cleared me to join the Army. I completed my training and was pretty high in the Order of Merit too! I was commissioned into ** MADRAS Regiment and we were posted in Vizag. Things were moving as planned and life was good.
‘Op Pawan’ (Indian Army operations in Sri Lanka, 1987) was launched and ours being a tambi (troops from South India) battalion we were handpicked to be among the first to be inducted in Sri Lanka. Our affinity to the civil populace, language and similarity of men would give us an edge while conducting any operation. This was the premise and here we were in the jungles of Sri Lanka chasing the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE. Well, for the uninitiated, this was nothing we had prepared ourselves for. The LTTE were a formidable foe and gave us a torrid time settling down.
I was deployed with my platoon (being a very junior officer) at KKS (Kankeshantorai) near Palali Airport in North Sri Lanka. Soon we built our intelligence network and information started trickling in. We gave them a bloody nose and at regular intervals dented their leadership structure. By and by our actions started paying results and we established our domination in the area. It is a different matter that the locals gave me the nickname of ‘Butcher’; the higher headquarters too, sent across the ‘hard-nuts’ for interrogation. The LTTE cadre was very highly motivated and would chew on the cyanide pill hanging around their neck, rather than divulge any information. But we countered these actions and could extract some ‘real-time’ information. Our swift follow up actions resulted in the extermination of more than 150 hardcore LTTE terrorists.
Soon, I was the target of the LTTE and a prize was placed on my head aka the Wild Wild West. Time went by and the influence of the LTTE was diminishing in our Area of Responsibility.
Evening of Dec 19, 1988, our convoy left our base for operation and after having traveled for 15 kms we were ambushed. A burst of automatics from our left targeted our vehicle. Sitting besides the driver, I got an entire fusillade. The vehicle overturned and we were thrown over; I was floating between consciousness and semi-consciousness. Our driver was killed on the spot. My buddy came and sat beside me (we were hunched behind the overturned vehicle). I told him Kunjumon tambi, whenever you hear the noise of the LTTE (they come to check on casualties and post clean up operations), just nudge me, I have my loaded carbine with me, I shall let loose. I must have lost consciousness and awoke only due to the frantic nudging of my buddy. I swung my carbine and emptied my entire magazine (28 bullets!) and heard some screams and the noise of running feet. (Later, the body count confirmed my shooting had killed four LTTE soldiers). They were nine LTTE men who had ambushed the convoy; the five ran into our Quick Reaction Team (QRT) that was summoned by us on being fired. We neutralized the entire ambush party. Well, I don’t remember much after that as I went into coma. The rest of the story I pieced together after I regained my senses after a period of 08 days of being in Coma (Dec 26, 1988).
When the QRT came and lifted me, the fingers lifting my head slid into my head – the grey matter was splashed out; it was stuffed in and was handily bandaged. Eleven bullets had entered my body; 04 in my head, 02 in my midriff and 05 in my legs. One of the bullets miraculously stopped 0.1 millimeter short of my heart without puncturing it. The doctors were surprised that I had survived; they had no hope that I’d live.
I was airlifted and within the next two hours we touched down at Meenabakkam airport, Chennai. The doctors, who had been summoned to the airport, took a look and said they just could not do anything with their present facilities. I needed immediate evacuation to Southern Command Hospital, Pune.
While I was still in coma, they performed 02 operations in my head and in total removed 06 bullets out of my body. Some sight I was covered from head to toe in bandages; the prognosis was I would be a vegetable for life with practically no chances of recovery. Of course the doctors had not encountered me or my will OR the power of my mind.
The first thing I was doing on regaining consciousness was patting the side of my bed for my carbine. The nurse seeing that told me to relax as I was in the hospital and not the jungles of Sri Lanka. Since they could not inject anything on my left side, my right side had swollen up having to endure thousands of injections during the stay of 23 days in the hospital. The saline bottles and IV fluid injectors are not counted which seemed like a permanent fixture with my body.
Well, the days and nights passed with regular visits of various specialists who were tasked to work on various organs of mine. Since Doordarshan was the only TV channel, The Media wanted to interview me. After due clearances, the interviewer’s first question was. “Sir aapko jab goli lagi to kaisa laga?” (Sir, when you were hit by bullets how did you feel?). I wanted to squeeze the life out of him and I replied “bahut achha laga, aap ko bhi khani hai?” (I felt great; do you want to have one as well?) That was the only question they could shoot; good for them or else I would have shot them.
And soon the hospital staff started calling me the miracle man. My recovery was not short of a miracle. I would resolve to myself, that I could not let the battalion down and need to be with my men as fast as I can. Operations is something one has been trained for and that is where I wanted to be. I recovered and was asked where I would like to go. I retorted back I wanted to go back to my unit of course. They could not believe their ears. But soon I was back in the flight for my unit, which was still in Sri Lanka. I could be there for just a couple of days as the unit had completed its tenure there and we came back to a peace location.
I sought voluntary retirement with 60 percent disability. I moved to Nagpur and started my business. I married and have 02 wonderful angels as my children. Since the day I have been discharged from the hospital I have not had salt, chilies, drink or anything which can upset my body constitution. I am still on medication and take 04 pills each day. They say I still have 5 to 7 splinters embedded in my brain, well that must account for the ‘freak-streak’ that I have! But seriously, I have no rancor or regrets. Given a chance, I would do what I did again; surely will join the Armed Forces again. It has given my life a new meaning. It has nourished and cherished my dream of being in uniform.