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Wounds have not taken the fight out of them

Till a few days ago they were fighting a war. A landmine or a fusillade of bullets has reduced them to narrators of the drama that is being enacted on the snowy terrain yonder. Kargil has claimed many lives and many more limbs
Every day, the two army hospitals in Delhi, the Base Hospital and the Research and Referral Hospital, get soldiers on stretcher wheels. Some have limbs missing, some have bullets lodged in their brains, and all of them suffer from complications due to lack of prompt medical care.

Dalip Singh, 24 from 18 Grenadiers
It took 36 hours for Dalip Singh, 24, to be evacuated. This soldier from 18 Grenadiers was injured on May 27. He was stealthily advancing towards a Batalik sangar (bunker made of rocks) at 5 a.m. in sub-zero temperatures when enemy fire blew up his right hand and left eye. He arrived, crawling, at the base 24 hours later, on May 29. He was flown to Srinagar and then to Delhi.

Wounded he may be but broken he is not. Like his bandaged colleagues, he is only concerned about dushman ko khadedna hai (routing the enemy). A few beds away, Jeevan Chetri, 20, stoically narrates how he lost a leg to a landmine, but talk about the enemy, and his face hardens, in a hoarse voice he says, "They have to be driven out."

Lying in a corner bed in the R&R Hospital, Ravinder Singh, 20, has only one grouse. "I am quite comfortable here, but I would have been happier in the other room with soldiers my age," he says sheepishly. The two others in the room are in their 40s and they crib about his poor tastes (Govinda's films) and the three are constantly fighting for the TV remote.

A sports enthusiast, Ravinder, was a reluctant recruit, but the battlefield changed all that. "My only concern is to fight for my country," he says. His nose flattened by a gunshot (he breathes through a pipe), this rifleman trekked three kilometres after being hit. When he paused near a trench, he was shot in the thigh.

Hawaldar Ram Chandra Singh's problem is the never ending visits by his relatives from Haryana. This soldier of 9 Rajputana Rifles was hit by a Pakistani shell when he was gathering stones to build a bunker in the Uri sector. His family charged to Delhi on receiving a telegram from the Army Headquarters. "They have been sending the same telegram at regular intervals and, each time, someone rushes in. Now, I have told them to ring before setting out."

His arms and legs swathed in heavy bandages, Rajinder Singh of 315 Field Regiment is tired of being strapped to a bed for over 24 days. "I tell the doctors to get me back on my feet soon." One leg has been operated upon four times, while the pus in the other makes it difficult for an operation. Yet he hopes that his 16-year-old son joins the Army.

Those who don't fight, but only stand and support have also been hit. Lance Naik Janbir Singh, who is in the Ordnance in Dras hid in a trench for two days when the attack began on May 7. "Since we are not fighters we did not have any ammunition. We were on our way to Kargil when our vehicle was hit," he says.

Sanam Chorgial of Ladakh, too, was hit in the eye while carrying goods for the army.

Some of the wounded soldiers have not informed their families. Maybe they need time to come to terms with their disabilities.

Coming to terms is not easy. There are bouts of irritation, anger and frustration. Occasionally, insensitive media hounds aggrevate them.

The war has taken its toll on their career and the future of their families. They all know the road ahead is tough. But there is a sense of pride. Says Hawaldar Vishnu Prasad of 18 Grenadiers: "We may have lost our limbs, but we have gained respect. Till yesterday, the army was considered just another employment option by most Indians. The letters of support from all over and the ambition of the youth to fight for the country are our reward."

Meanwhile, these soldiers in their beds are still fighting, for the TV remote, the young guns want Zee movies, the older bunch news bulletins.

Date: 09.09.2004 03:27
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