The Nation Narrative



 

N I N E T E E N

The Nation Narrative


We can increase our scope of selflessness beyond our family by serving our community, city or even nation.

‘You need an attitude of service. You’re not just serving yourself. You help others to grow up and you grow with them.’

—David Green


We zigzagged in the traffic, using all our knowledge of the city to get to the hospital via back roads. It is incredible how much you miss when you just stick to the beaten path. I was seeing parts of the city that I had not seen before, and people were shocked to see a high-end car with a monk in the passenger seat zoom through their neighbourhood. The roar of the engine was deafening to the city-folk dwelling in these parts who were carrying out their daily duties of congregating and drinking chai. To us, however, the roar meant that we would get to Lalita sooner.

  It could have been that because we were in deep conversation on the way to the temple that we missed it, but going a different route we saw the cause of the traffic. Mumbai had ground to a halt because of the flames that were engulfing a building. Billowing smoke formed spirals in the sky as it rose from the top of the three-storey apartment. It was a terrifying sight. Traffic built up around the scene as people stopped and stared, and the police tried their best to divert both. The red lights of fire engines lined the streets, and we even saw some soldiers from the armed forces there to assist them.

  My attention fell upon two men—one a firefighter and another a soldier—who were working hand in hand to grab one of the long hoses from the fire engines. They both ran with it together and stood right next to the blaze trying to defeat it. In times of calamity, teamwork makes all the difference; people must come together. The sacrifice these men were making, reminded me of another man from the Indian Army—my friend, Brigadier Sunil Kumar N.V. When he was telling me his story, he choked up. And since it wasn’t common for a man from the army to get emotional, I had asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’ Though he said nothing, I guessed he was simply expressing the love he felt for his men as they bravely served their country. I marvelled at how widening your circle of influence to help your community and nation is more fulfilling than just helping your family. Sunil Kumar’s stories offer the perfect examples of how this works.

Serving the Country

‘The leaves crunched as our Indian commando team walked in a single file surrounded by the overgrowth of the Sri Lankan jungle,’ Sunil Kumar began. ‘Each of our commandos had black-and-green warpaint on their faces to complete the camouflage. Their fingers lurked around their semi-automatic rifles. They could not trust the rustling and singing of the tropical birds in the canopy. An uneasy silence fell over the troop as they looked at each other, knowing what was coming.

  ‘All of a sudden, birds flew from the top of a tree as they heard the gunshots. It was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam attacking our Indian Peacekeeping Force. AK-47 bullets from the Tamil Tigers clawed into our ambushed task force. We lay flat on the ground in defence and, following the echoes of the storm of bullets, fired eastwards.

  ‘Most of our men escaped. We weren’t sure how many were left,’ Sunil continued. ‘It was 1988, and technology was not as advanced as it is today. It would take some time to find out how many casualties there were across the jungle floor. We got a crackling call to our unit that one of our commandos was critically injured and had to be evacuated. Where was he exactly? We didn’t know. How badly was he injured? We didn’t know. How many men were around him? You see the picture of uncertainty developing. However, we were called in to help and rescue him.

  ‘We started our treacherous trek towards him. On our journey, we saw the footprints of the men who had gone through the jungle before us. The long, winding path followed a freshwater stream, taking us through unfamiliar territory. We reached the site quicker than we’d expected. I suppose when you know someone is in danger, you work harder to help them. We could still hear gunshots in the distance, but we reached our man relatively unharmed,’ Kumar added.

  ‘Even before seeing the soldier, you could smell the wretched stench of blood and flesh. He was so badly injured that some of his internal organs had fallen out through the deep cuts in his body. Blood gushed from him and he cried in pain. “I don’t want to die,” he screamed when he saw us. “Tell my wife and children I love them. Tell my countrymen I love them,” he continued, unable to hold back his emotions. It was an urgent situation and we had to get him out of there at any cost. Any more noise would attract the Tamil Tigers to pounce on us.

  ‘We opened the stretcher we were carrying and quickly shifted him onto that. First aid was tough in a situation where adrenaline was flowing like oxygen. “We have a casualty. Calling for helicopter evac.!” I spoke into my portable radio.

  ‘“No can do,” it replied. “The jungle is too hot and there is not a field in sight.” They could not risk having the helicopter blown out of the air. We had to find another way out of that hell and take our man to a military hospital.

  ‘Considering his condition, we only had one choice,’ the brigadier said. ‘We picked him up on the stretcher and moved quickly to the nearest road, where we flagged down a car and took control. I am a Keralite and, hence, I managed to pass off as Sri Lankan. It was easy for us to convince the driver to take us to the hospital as we blended in with the locals. It was a dangerous move. If the person whose car we were in was a sympathizer of the Tamil Tigers, we would have no hope. They were notorious for randomly stopping vehicles. But finally, we raced through the jungle and managed to get to a military hospital just in time for our injured comrade to live to tell the tale.

  ‘After a few months he was back in the unit, ready to go out on duty again. This was the camaraderie within the army; we were willing to sacrifice for each other and the nation. It is this spirit that motivates us to serve more.’

  Sunil Kumar did not just talk about the heat of the jungle. He also mentioned his time on the highest battlefield on earth—the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas. Talking about the team spirit in the army, he said: ‘I was commanding a group of men to protect the frozen Indian border, which lay on a huge chunk of ice. Life is unpredictable on the glacier. There can be avalanches, which can bury you under tonnes of falling snow. Or, in my opinion, something worse: the glacier is known for its random crevices, ice cracking open, creating canyons 100–200 feet deep. Whilst walking without being alert, if you fall through, which has happened in the past, your rescue would be hopeless. Your body would freeze as temperatures plummet to -100 degrees Celsius inside the abyss.

  ‘We came up with a way to stay safe together. We tied ourselves with a long rope, so if one person fell in the crevice, the others could crack ice picks into the ground and then we could all pull him back up. We were risking our lives, not just from fighting in the war, but from the deadly cold that directly risks the heart and the body. It was our team spirit that allowed us to put our lives on the line for each other and the country,’ Brigadier Kumar recounted.

  My mind was frozen on the Siachen Glacier as the tyres screeched. I was thinking about how all of us could sleep peacefully at night only because the tough men and women of the Indian Armed Forces stand ready to face any challenges, even ready to sacrifice their lives, to protect the nation and its citizens. The least we can do to pay back our military is, as a nation and as citizens, to try to be worthy of the sacrifices they make for us.

  We had arrived at the hospital. I diverted my full attention back to Harry as he slouched in his seat, holding the bottom of the steering wheel. He paused and breathed, changing his mood from the manic nature of his driving. ‘What if she doesn’t make it?’ he said, looking me in the eye.

  ‘Make what?’ I replied.

  ‘What if she is taken away from me?’ he cried. It’s in moments of great grief that we understand what people mean to us, I thought.

  I said nothing as I leaned across the seat to give him a hug. He wiped his eyes with the handkerchief in his blazer pocket. It had been an emotionally tiring day for him, and it was about to get even more so. He exhaled and opened his door. I leapt out of the passenger side and followed him as he entered the hospital to meet his fate.

Summary:

  • When we expand the circle of selflessness, we can effectively serve our community and nation. This is shown by the heroic efforts of the soldiers who keep us safe, and the civil servants who help run our nations.




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