A Humbling Experience

A senior officer, I know, once said at a social gathering, “It’s humbling to see a woman run 100 km”. He was referring to a 100 km marathon he participated in, every year. I didn’t know what to say. Of course, my intention here is far from initiating a debate on the capabilities of the fairer sex, but I had seen people in flesh n blood that would make others seem less human. And, we are not talking about physical capability here, because I feel it can be achieved by anyone or everyone through dedicated training or simply just by sheer god’s gift, or maybe, we find it extraordinary because we are just too caught up with our own priorities to even pay attention to existence of such possibilities. But, very rarely one gets exposed to the virtues which a particular class of humans possess, who are so ordinary and simple that probably a dope would outsmart them on an abandoned straight street, and yet so extraordinary that their acts and behavior defy a common logic. What makes them do it? What is it behind that superhuman behaviour that could shake up any soul witnessing it? May be just a bond he shares with his colleagues or more appropriately, his comrades. May be just a sense of pride he has. Pride in his subunit, unit or profession or simply in his self being, better yet, in all of these.

My first realisation upon this fact came when I was admitted to a Hospital, getting myself treated for some, well, now in the introspection, superficial wounds I had incurred in a counter terrorist operation. And when I could get on my feet long enough to move outside Officers’ Ward, I went to see my buddy, down in the Surgical Ward, who had been my partner in the adventure and of course thus was party to the same consequences with little more serious injuries. While I was looking for him in the ward, I came across this man sitting on a bed with his back against the bed rest. When I looked at him he was twisting his moustache with his face filled with pride. As my sight moved towards his lower limbs, I realised he was missing his left leg below his knee, and as my sight went back to his face, the movement of which he was noticing all this while, his face filled with more pride. He immediately came into a more attentive posture and smartly greeted me. Now this wasn’t the first time I had seen a wounded soldier. I may sound like a “war veteran”, which, I am not, but I have seen a more than fair share of combat as per my seniority in my army. In fact most people would have probably considered me exaggerating whenever I told about my experiences of being “under the range”. But this one here, just left me speechless; and when I started to go around the ward I realised the irony of being an “experienced combatant”. All these were the men who had experienced combat situations just like those who had been with me during all my “experiences”. The irony was that the people, who stayed on the field after an action, never realised about the part which began for their comrades who were evacuated from the field, sometimes with their limbs missing, sometimes losing an eye or simply injured seriously enough to having seen the face of the death from a very close range.

Anyways, I soon found out that my buddy had gone to see the specialist. While I was waiting for him, I decided to find out more about this young man. He was from one of the Infantry units, deployed in a counter insurgency role near disputed borders. One night while he was acting as leading scout of a patrol, without realising, he entered an unmarked minefield. Our man here stepped on one of the anti personnel mines and as a result lost his left foot. Thereafter, his patrol followed the regular battle drills, recovered him from the situation and then evacuated him to the hospital as per set procedure. Eventually, he was operated upon and in order to save his life, the doctors decided to amputate his leg below his knee.

This man here was just in his late twenties and he had lost a limb to a stupid minefield, probably laid by his own army a few years back. He sure wasn’t eligible to serve anymore in the army because of losing a reasonable amount of ability. He sure wasn’t educated enough to take up a decent job on the civic street. He wouldn’t have been able to do some farming. Yet he had this strange sense of satisfaction of having done his bit for his comrades. His simple explanation that had it not been him, someone else may have got hit, defied the basic instinct of survival.

As I went around the ward, I met a number of soldiers, with different tales of combat incidents, most of them matching the sentiment of this young man in their narration. I do not remember the name of this young man, or for that matter of anyone else’s who told me about his experiences. But for me they were all the same. They all had one face, that of an infantry soldier, who had been through combat.

I had a number of interactions with this young man about his future plans, about his ongoing treatment and about what The Army intended to do with him. About a week later, I could manipulate my discharge from the Hospital, convincing the doctor that I would be assigned to some desk job in the battalion. Needless to say, I went to take leave from him before returning to the unit. He told me he was being referred to another Hospital for artificial replacement of his limb. That would be the last time I would be seeing this young man.

I got the opportunity to visit the same hospital about a couple of weeks later, but by then he had been transferred to another hospital for his limb replacement. My interaction with this young man started something, which, sort of, became customary for me then; a visit to the surgical ward and meeting all the men there. And here they all were, all new faces bringing a whole new series of experiences.

This article was written by an army officer who’ll remain unnamed

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