28 Oct 2010
Point 711 Border Post
They were in middle of the guided tour when Gurung was called upon by Maj Ajay. The morning patrol had discovered breaches in fence nearby their post that needed immediate repairs. He had to leave the journalists under supervision of somebody else, while he accompanied the repair team Major Ajay was leading the team who wanted a first hand look himself. As her itinerary included a visit to actual LoC (Line of Control), Dutt had no great difficulty persuading Maj Ajay to let her accompany the repair team.
Actual site of the breach was less than a Km away from the post, but mountainous terrain and muddy trails prolonged their journey to 30 minutes. Breach was in a small clearing inside a lightly wooded area. There was a gentle slope just beside the Indian fence, broken by small hill like protrusions on the mountain on the Pakistani side. Pakistani presence was marked by two small bunkers on two such hills, about 800 metres apart from each other. One bunker which was on a slightly higher elevation provided a superior view of the surroundings, while the second one provided a cover to its flank from the right side. For any Pakistani infiltrator, it was an ideal place to cross over due to easier terrain, tree cover and firing cover by Pakistanis manning the bunkers.
Varsha Butt was struggling to keep up with the soldiers marching towards the breach. She had not expected her visit to fence to be an exhausting affair. So far it had consisted solely of her trying not to get left behind on the muddy and rocky trails. Her expensive Swiss made snow shoes and warm suit were covered with mud and in spite of 4 layers of clothing, cold wind was chilling her to the bone. The small 6 man team led by Maj Ajay would have been more considerate if the tensions were not so high. But they were under tremendous strain themselves and couldn’t afford such niceties. Sub. Gurung was cameraman of the team and he was responsible for recording all the damage to the fence and material required to repair it. Sidhesh had taken an instant liking for the cheerful Gorkha soldier and he was teaching him tricks of the photography. So, she was left with no one but herself to talk with. This she did with much gusto, grumbling to herself. Sidhesh once caught her talking to herself and considered slowing down for her. But he was enjoying Gurung’s anecdotes too much to do so.
The party reached the site of the breach and at once went down to business. Major Ajay assigned 3 soldiers to keep watch and 2 for repair of the fence. Gurung switched on his camcorder and started recording. The damage was not much, but a single man could pass through the breach with little difficulty. Varsha cornered Maj Ajay as soon as he was finished assigning duties and started another interview right there. Maj Ajay answered her questions as patiently he could while half of his mind was focused on the work being done by his men. He was also wary of an ambush by the Pakis and wanted the whole business to be over as soon as possible. His men reported that they’ll need 15 minutes to finish up the job. Varsha Dutt now wanted to rattle out her impressions of the visit with the fence and Paki border posts beyond that in the background besides her. Although it was dangerous, Ajay had no choice but to acquiesce to her demands.
She at once positioned herself at an advantageous point, where Sidhesh could capture a Paki border post and the fence at the same time while keeping her in focus. Sidhesh gave the ready signal and began recording, while she started her speech.
“So, here we are the Line of Control, where Indian soldiers stare at their Pakistani counterparts day after day, night after night. This line is dotted by thousands of posts on both sides where lakhs of able bodied men who could be employed more productively elsewhere, spend their lives keeping their so called “enemy” in their gun-sights all the time.” All the soldiers within earshot cringed in disgust. Oblivious to them, she rattled on, “We spend billions of rupees just to maintain status quo while billions of people go hungry everyday. Is this the right way to…”
Her speech was interrupted by a screeching sound coming from across the border. She stopped in mid-sentence and turned around looking for the source of the sound in confusion. Maj Ajay and his men knew the sound of Paki Type-81 mortar very well and immediately swung into action. Maj Ajay rushed towards the two journalists and started dragging them towards cover behind some large rocks. First mortar landed about 80 metres from their location as they were taking cover. Almost at once, Pakis from bunker on left opened up machine gun fire, pinning them down behind the rocks,
Although the soldiers were used to be under fire, it was not true for the journalists who were scared as hell. Varsha screamed at once. “What the hell is this ? Why are they firing on us ?”
“It must be an ambush. They deliberately damaged the fence, knowing very well that we’ll send our men to repair it and will be sitting ducks in process.” Ajay replied over the din of gun fire.
They ducked again instinctively when another mortar round came whooshing by and landed less than 40 metres from them.
“Pakis from the 2nd post are firing these mortars sir. We are not in their direct line of sight, so they can’t fire their machine guns on us. But we need to get out of this area as soon as possible.” Gurung shouted.
“This post in front must be providing them with our exact location. Chandra and Murugan, take up positions and provide us with covering fire while rest of us make a dash towards the tree cover. We’ll cover you when we reach there. Gurung, you escort Varsha and Sidhesh. Run towards the trees the moment Chandra and Murugan start their covering fire.”
Just then another mortar landed very near to the group showering them with dust and rubble. It was too much for Varsha, who at once jumped up from behind the rocks and started running, exposing herself to enemy fire. Gurung at once realised the danger she was in and jumped on her, pinning her to the ground. He then dragged her back to the cover behind rocks as she kept thrashing hysterically.
“You F**** moron. You will get me killed here ! Look at me. Why did you tackle me. All my clothes are now covered with mud. These clothes cost more than your annual salary and you’ve spoiled them. You’ll suffer for this you idiot.” She screeched.
“Calm down madam. He just saved your life. You can’t talk to him like that.” Maj Ajay intervened
“You need to shut up Major. You don’t realise who you are talking to. I left my comfortable studio to make a documentary on you dumbasses and this is how you treat me ? This is not acceptable. I’ll make sure that you all suffer for this.”
Gurung interrupted her charade, “Sir, the men are in position. Ready to leave at your order.”
“Very good. Chandra, Murugan, start firing. Rest of the men, follow me” Maj Ajay ordered in a calm voice..
“She coming too, sir ?” Gurung asked, gesturing towards Varsha who now lay prone behind the rocks.
“Yes. Drag her if you have too . Just ignore whatever she says.”
Murugan and Chandra had taken up positions behind 2 large rocks and started firing on the Paki machine gun with their INSAS. Even though, distance was large for an assault rifle, their accurate fire silenced Paki machine gun for a while. It was the opening that Maj Ajay was waiting for. He ordered the team to rush out at once. Paki gunners saw them trying to escape and opened up fire again. But the team reached safe positions before Pakis had the chance to adjust their aim and fire accurately. Maj Ajay then ordered men alongside him to provide covering fire for Chandra and Murugan who rejoined the team safely. After checking whether everybody was OK, Ajay assigned 2 of his men to escort the two journalists to a safer place, while he called for reinforcements and fire on the Paki posts from adjacent Indian posts.
He didn’t know it yet, but Pakis had just started unprovoked firing on 11 other locations along LoC in J&K.; Ceasefire along the border was no longer in force