The soldier has been mauled, humiliated, insulted, his integrity questioned and his every move analyzed threadbare. Never was there so much scrutiny of those who just wanted to do their duty and live a life of honour.
Soldiers demand nothing. They sleep in the cold. Meals are skipped because they are too busy trying to save others. The last remembered smell is of gunpowder and gun oil. They carry their family in their wallets. They kill. They die. Some say they were “martyred”. Some don’t bother; “killed” is good enough for both soldier and terrorist.
And the soldier is not allowed to speak. He, who has the most to say because of what he lives through each moment, is not allowed to tell the world what he feels. How does it feel when his skin burns at plus 50 degrees centigrade? What does he go through when his limbs catch frostbite and the only way to save him is to amputate that limb? How heavy is the dead body of his martyr brother? What are his loves, longings, victories and defeats? When his body is broken from extreme exhaustion and blood loss, where does he summon that last ounce of energy to walk up to his buddy who is in ICU?
What is the DNA of a soldier?
So we went across the country and spoke to soldiers. They opened up to me because I too, was a soldier once. The brotherhood always endures. The same questions were asked, visit after visit – which course, which regiment, which unit? We were with 17 Kumaon in Naushera (J&K) in the same Brigade in 1998…you were OC Charlie Company. Sir, you are from Jessami-13 OTA, SS 57, right? I was in Kohima, SS 74.
The same soldier talk.
I remember sitting and sharing a drink with this tough young officer from the Para Regiment, who had seen countless operations and bloodshed. He spoke to me (off camera) about firefights. He was telling me about an operation in Kashmir in which a few of his brother officers were involved. He mentioned a particularly funny incident about an officer climbing a rock-face in pitch darkness and then coming face to face with two terrorists. The operation was successful. Later, I asked him about that officer. Suddenly, for a fraction of a second, this big, tough paratrooper crumbled in front of my eyes. And then he recovered his composure as suddenly as he had lost it. “Shaheed”, he said stoically, pretending as if the loss was in the past. But I had seen the truth.
Then there was this CRPF jawan I met in Srinagar who was narrating a story about how his brothers were martyred in ant-Naxal operations in Sukma. He told me how he carried the dead body of his friend for twelve kilometers so that he could give him the final gift; a farewell worthy of a soldier. He too remembered. He remembered it clearly.
No loss is ever in the past. Soldiers have long memories. Very long memories.
“My father was in the Indian Army”, said Arnab on 15 March this year.
I nodded, understanding the emotion. Olive Green changes your DNA forever.
“We must pay homage to the Indian soldier, sailor and airman, Major. Not the equipment, not the weapons but the human being who wears that uniform. The soldier who watches over us while we sleep”, he said. “Will you do it?” Arnab asked.
“I am new to media. Speaking at a panel discussion and creating a TV series are two different things. To speak for the soldier is a sacred trust. I don’t want to fail”, I said.
“You won’t fail. Please do exactly what you do on TV debates. Speak from the heart and be blunt. Just speak soldier to soldier,” Arnab said.
I went home and climbed down to the dingy basement looking for old records and photos from my army days. I found them. They made me smile and laugh and cry.
Over a period of a month, the idea of a TV series took shape.
We mulled over names. What would a TV series on the soldier be called? It was not a work of fiction. It was about a veteran going across India, meeting his brothers. Many names crossed our minds. In the end, we settled for a name that was blunt, to the point and from the heart. Just like my TV debates.
So, we called it PATRIOT.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17 Kumaon Regiment
#MajorGauravArya #adgpi #Patriot #IndianArmy
Saturday 27 May, 7:30 pm @Republic TV.