Monday, August 31, 2009

The Battle of Sajik Tampak III - Murphys Laws of War...

Day light will be here soon, so our parties were getting ready to watch the action. The other parties had reached their locations. By first light, they would come to know if they were in the line of sight of the village. They could relocate in the wee hours of morning, if minor changes were required.

Ranvir was still looking at the village. Till now, everything was moving as planned. I moved up to Ranvir.

‘Sir, the parties are in position’ he said

‘Yes’ I replied, looking around to see if I could see anything.

‘This is smooth. We should be able to wrap this up by noon, nahi?’ I could see excitement all over his face.

‘Do you know Murphy?’ I asked


‘Yes, Murphy, the one with all the laws. He says “things will go wrong, when u least expect it”. What I mean to say is, when you are out in the open with your men, always be on your guard. Remember this, complacency kills’

‘Yes sir, I understand’

‘You should. Not only because it is your life in danger, but also the lives of your men. Ranvir, your one mistake can cost one person his life. Do remember that throughout your life. There will be times, when the situation is such, you have to take risks. Take them. But never take unwarranted risks’ I said, trying to tell him that in a matter of some time, he will have to take on responsibilities alone.


Just then, I thought I saw some movement in the other mountain ridge. Just to confirm, I took my binos. I could see something moving amongst trees. If these were our chaps, then it was a very poor show of drills.

It would take a trained eye to identify the movements, but I could do so now after spending so much time in Manipur. I concentrated on the movements. I could not see what was moving, but it was no where near co-ordinates of our parties. And it was moving towards Pramod’s location. Pramod had already given the report of his reaching the location. Could it have been Pramod relocating his party for a clearer view of the village? Or was it?

No movement was welcome at this point of time, which was visible from a distance. The movements were not tactical, but well hidden. Now, I concentrated fiercely on the movements. I could see some uniforms………


‘Sir?’ all this while Ranvir was watching me.

‘SHIT, SHIT, SHIT’ I could not say any thing else at that time.

‘Those are militants moving towards Pramod. Oh man, if they get to him without getting noticed Pramod is fucked!! They’ll have him inside out. Fuck, Ranvir, get the radio set, and FAST’

Militants moving towards Pramod? Do they know he is there?? Was it a routine patrol they were taking out? Has Pramod seen them???

Ranvir rushed back with radio set.

‘Four for four alfa’ I called for Pramod

No answer.

I called again ‘four for four alfa’

I was praying to god that he should reply this time……

No reply again.

I gave it a last try. ‘You bastard, four alfa, for gods’ sake, reply’

Listening that four alfa did not reply, Saurabh came in….

‘One seven for four, any urgent message, over?’

‘Bloody four alfa. That chap isn’t answering’ I was frustrated

‘Any serious movements, sir?’ even Saurabh was worried by now.

‘Can see some movements towards him. If he doesn’t react, he’ll be had’

Listening to intensity of the situation, our CO came in

‘One five for four, is the movement towards him clearly seen?’

‘Very clearly’ I replied, hoping the CO would not have come in, but now that he was here, he took charge.

‘How much reaction time does he have?’ he enquired

‘About five mins’ I said

‘Bloody hell, is he sleeping? Four, can u get there?’ he asked me

‘Negative, negative’ he was on the other ridge and it would take me some time to reach there.

CO had to take a decision. He was not able to see the situation, but then he decided to go in with Saurabh and Sreejith, who appeared to be nearer to Pramod.

‘One five for one seven, are all teams in location?’ he asked Saurabh

As I could see the whole situation, I had a better picture, so I interrupted.

‘Four for one five, before anyone goes in, give me five mins.’ I requested

Every thing had changed within a few minutes. The game which was clearly in our hands, now we were on back foot, willing to even bust the operation…..

I could feel the heat of the situation. How could Pramod get into this???

Fuck the militants……

Fuck Pramod…….


Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Battle of Sajik Tampak - Part II - Happenings on Ground

On ground, two hours of warning time is more than enough. The teams were ready in less than one hour. Every one had taken their packed meals and sufficient water to last for three days. And if more water was required, it could be fetched from the nearby nullah. The main problem would be food. But the thing would be over well within three days, so no one bothered.

 The CO had divided the teams into four groups. Two of them to be led by Capt Naresh and Capt Pramod were to act as stops. The main Raid party was to be led by Maj Saurabh along with the ghataks and the third, the search and reserve party was to be led by Capt Sreejith. Every thing had been briefed by the team commanders as to what the teams were supposed to do. The final co-ordinates of the recommended positions of various teams were given by me in a coded form.

The teams were ready to move after the briefing by the team commanders, but they did not move late until midnight. Our Battalion HQ was in Sajik Tampak village and as a rule of the game, no party was allowed to move in daylight other than Area Domination Patrol (ADP) party. So, these parties moved to the company posted in groups of twos and threes from battalion HQ. Some villagers, we had come to know, were informers of the militants. They used to look out for the movements of our men and used to pass the information to the militants on small radio sets. In fact, we had a small EW Dte (Early Warning Detachment) provided by the Division Signal Regiment, who had confirmed to us that our movements were being noted but could not exactly point out were the signals were coming from. So, we had resorted to other tactics to deceive the villagers. We never moved out of the village in groups. First we used to move to the company posts in groups of twos and threes, concentrate there and after last light (in darkness) we used to launch the operations.

The movement of various teams started at midnight. The parties were supposed to be in their position by first light (day break). Till that time, my team was supposed to watch over the village for any movements. After daybreak, we would be converted to second reserves. The raid party was to watch over the movements for 3-4 hours after the first light and was to close in to the village slowly and enter at around 1000hrs.

I asked Ranvir to grab a little sleep as the next day was going to be a long one. But as this was his first operation, he volunteered to stay awake and keep a watch over the village. Earlier, it used to be a major problem to keep a watch in the night time. The visibility reduces to 5-10 meters.  But now a days, the technology had improved a lot. We had various Night Vision Devices (NVDs) and Thermal Imagers. They are very effective. They can trace any movement at large distances in pitch black nights. We had put one such Hand Held Thermal Imager (HHTI) on sentry post. Ranvir had already taken position and was watching over the village. I was on the radio set listening to the conversation going amongst various teams.

‘Two for one seven, over’ two was Sreejith and one seven was Saurabh.

‘Ok, pass, over’ Saurabh replied.

‘We are moving towards CP1’  CP1 was Check Point 1.

‘Roger, we are about to reach Zulu’ Zulu was Saurabh’s Check Point.


Rest of the teams also gave their reports

‘one for one seven, reached Yankee’ one was Naresh, who had reached his Check Point.

‘four alfa for one seven, about to reach’ four alfa was Pramod.


We used to change the call signs for every operation, as the militants used to keep track of our call signs.


Having gathered all the reports, Saurabh reported to the CO.

‘One seven for one five, progressing as planned, over’

‘Roger, take care, out’ replied the CO.


I was also listening to the communication and concluded that the parties would be in position by the given time. I was a bit relaxed after quite a long time. I turned around and slept on my back. Ranvir was concentrating on the village. I looked at the open sky. The sky looked pretty much the same every time. Innumerable stars blinking all the time. The sky was still as always. And the night is same for everyone. Even for the sentry of the militants who would be watching out for us somewhere outside the village.

And what I had learned was that the night is same for everyone, it is what we do today, that decides what lies in store for us the next day.

Looking at blank sky, the mind tends to wander. I remembered one night when I was on leave; I was with my friend, Shilpa, biking around the Queen’s necklace (Marine Drive). As Shilpa comes late from her job, we usually go out late in the night. We decided to sit on the sea face for some time.

We were enjoying the clear skies and the still ness of the seas. Though her hairs were not long, I loved her hair. I started playing with her hair. 

‘What?’ she said

‘What what?’ I said still playing with her hair.

‘Stop it, don’t get into this again, I’ve to reach office early tomorrow’ but I could say she also enjoyed my playing with her hair.

‘I see that you are quite busy these days’ I replied trying to keep up with the conversation.

‘I’ve got to go back to Pune this Saturday’ 

Shilpa was actually from Pune, but had shifted to Mumbai for her job. She had rented an apartment in Mumbai along with her friends. She lived here for most of the time, while her parents lived in Pune. She visited her parents often, because Pune is not very far from Mumbai. This was one of the main reasons that she could afford to come around with me at night; otherwise she was from a conservative family wearing kurtas most of the time. I had met her last year, through a friend. She was not very beautiful or good looking, but our thoughts met and we were together since. I liked to spend time with her. She had something in her that made her different from the rest of the crowd.

 ‘My parents insist that I see a boy this time, and get married’ she continued

‘Then go’ I said, anger in my voice was distinct.

She probably expected it, ‘hey, don’t get angry, I am just pulling your leg, I m not going there, and you know that’

There was a long silence after that. There have been times when we are together for long periods without uttering even a single word.

She rested her head on my shoulder.

‘You know, there’s so much pressure at work, all the time, we are running against the time to complete our projects. Not to mention the pressure from parents to get married and settle down. I am literally fighting everyday. But somewhere, I feel happy that you are with me, and that feeling keeps me going through the roughs of life…..’

Yes, I thought, one right person in life keeps you going no matter how much the pressure.

And I was here, again in the open skies. Soft blades of grass, I was playing with, gave me reassurance. I smiled thinking about the different facets of night. The night was going to be long...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Battle of Sajik Tampak - A Sneak Peek into an Infantry Soliders Life

The sentry indicated with sign language to lookout. I looked out of my camofledged bivouc, but couldnt find anything unusual happening in the village below. The village was around two kilometers far as the crow flies. It was a typically small Manipuri village, around eight-ten huts scattered in a small area. Two people were walking across from one of the huts, which looked like a church to a small house. Probably, the sunday mass had just got over and all the villagers were going back to their homes.

Just then, Lt Ranvir asked me what we were doing up there on a mountain watching the village for more than 48 hrs now? Lt Ranvir had been sent along with me as an understudy and I was supposed to train him in the tactics used in operations. So, only we could talk in whispers as we were watching the village in prone position from close by. Rest nobody was allowed to talk as a rule of the game. Well, of course, unless it was very necessary.

I recollected the briefing I had from my Commanding Officer (CO) before inducting into the operations. The source had just visited the Commanding Officer with the piece of information that six militants will be visiting the village for collection of some ration for stocking in their camps and also for rest and recoup. Earlier also we had such info that some militants do come to villages nearby for rest and recoup. But this piece of information looked promising enough because our Area Domination Patrol (ADP) had caught a glimpse of militants moving out from the village only 15 days ago, but could not launch any operation as they vanished into the jungles in a very short time. The CO also believed that there was some movement going around that village and had earlier recommended that we keep surveillance over that village. Only this time, he wanted to go over this operation in a very deliberate manner. So, he called me to brief how he wanted to go about it.

Basically, all the deliberate ops we had planned were in a similar manner and would go on for six to seven days. First of all, he wanted to set up a surveillance team. It would go there and sit in a position from where the village is clearly visible and all the movements in the village can be seen without being very close to it or being on the way from or to the village. So, this time I was supposed to go in a survey team. Otherwise, I always operated with the raiding team which actually saw all the action. Probably, the CO wanted to give me some rest by taking me off from the active ops and putting me behind the ops for a while. I was supposed to look for a suitable location for the surveillance. It would be a surveillance for 72 hrs. All our movements would be under the cover of darkness. There was this new Lieutenant commissioned in our regiment recently and he was yet to see any action. So, the CO suggested that I take him along with me so that he gets to know what the ops were like and how to operate. Anyways, as this was not active ops, would not involve any fire fights, so he could learn without risking anyone’s life. I looked towards him and realised that he must be terrified as I was on my first ops!!

Then, again the sentry signaled me to look out. I concentrated to see and I could see thru my binoculars (binos) a few people walking out of the church and walking towards a particular house. They were not carrying any weapons but they all sported uniforms. I zoomed into them and clearly saw the militants. Then I looked at my sentry and gave him a smile (as though we already had our kills!!!). I took out my log book and made a note in it.
0905 hrs:         4 Militants walk out of the church and move into house no 3.

I looked satisfied. I handed over the binos to Ranvir and he watched over the house for the next two hours. Earlier, he was preoccupied with the thought that since last two days, he had not even brushed his teeth, let alone take a bath. He would have been stinking by now. Moreover, he had already taken out more than a dozen leeches from his body. But all this didn’t seem to bother him now. He concentrated on the houses for any movement. I was satisfied this survey would be fruitful unlike the past several times the survey team was out and returned empty handed.

The main ops would start now. After I pass this info to my Battalion HQ, all the teams would activate at two hours warning order. They would be split into several stop teams, who would cordon off the village and hunt down any militant running away. There would be a raid party which would actually enter the village and hunt for its kills. Also, there would be a search party who would search all the houses and the area near for any clues or leads. Ideally, there would also be a pursue party, who will pursue the fleeing militants, but our CO was not for that party. He knew that in Manipur, pursuing a militant is more dangerous than the actual firefight. He used to comment, “Let him run today, we’ll get him tomorrow. Anyways, he is our kill.”

Since there was no more movement for the next two hours, I concluded that there would be only four militants in the village. The time had come to pass this information to my CO. I would be soon deinducted from my location and the other parties would move in.

Just then, Ranvir turned to me and signaled to me that he had spotted something and wanted orders to fire. I put him in standby and took over the Binos from him and started looking in the direction he was looking. I could see two men walking in front of us around 500 meters away on a patch of land. One of them was a militant and the other a civilian. They would be out of sight within few seconds. I realised then, that there would be more than four militants roaming around. But this was not the time to hunt one of them. I indicated to Lt Ranvir to put his weapon down. He had a lot to learn. To catch the BIG fish, leave the smaller ones. Had I fired at this militant, I would have warned the rest of the lot that we were there. Also, we had only AK 47s with us, which has an effective accurate range of 400 meters. So, we were not sure we would hit him accurately, and if we missed him on the first fire, he would vanish into the jungles within a second. And there would be no way we could track him. More over, we could even hit the other fellow, a civilian. The commander has to take so many decisions in a split second. So many important decisions, which could be a matter of life and death for many!!!

Ranvir looked at me puzzled, not understanding the decision that I had taken. He thought why to waste even a single chance to shoot these bastards. He would learn in due course of time how to deal with these bastards. I would explain to him once we hit the base. Till that time, he’ll have to wait and watch and learn. Silently.

I picked up my radio set and called my CO “Four for One Five, over”

A reply came immediately “One Five for Four pass your message, over”

I smiled as I passed the message “I can see our friends in the village”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Skywalks - Changing the face of Mumbai

Mumbai – The Maximum city. The city is growing at the speed of lighting. The huge playgrounds we played cricket on a few years ago, have now mothered malls and multiplexes. The countryside we visited a weekend spots, like Nerul and Titwala, have now become hotspots for Townships. I remember one ‘Parsi Kuwa’ in our area – story that it was a home to Parsi ghosts and where we dreaded to go after sundown, is now a town ship. I remember how we dared our friends for a bottle of ‘Pepsi’ to visit the location in the night time!! Now, I guess, the ghosts would be hunting for a new location for themselves. I would recommend that they go really far from this city, looking at the rate at which the city is growing, it would extend its limits to the neighboring metros like Pune.

The fallout of this growth is that now we can see regular traffic congestion at every traffic junction, there is always crowd on the FOBs, the trains are packed and are bursting with commuters. Now these are the kind of complaints that I regularly had against the governing body. And I wished for a miracle to change the face of the city and relieve me of the trauma and suffering that I go through everyday while commuting everyday. Now, I can say here that the face of the Mumbai, on the map of India is already special, because of the planning done by the planning authorities like MMRDA, MSRDC, BMC, MHADA, CIDCO Etc). In this blog, I will discuss the 50 Skywalks that are being built all over the city.

I believe the skywalks are the first step towards a mature city. Transport interchange activities, passenger transfer between trains, buses, taxies & Private vehicles make the station area most congested. The problem aggravates with the road side hawking and vehicular parking. The Sky walk is an elevated walk way dedicated to the pedestrians connecting the rly. Station/ high concentration commercial area and destination points where concentration of pedestrians prevail. The purpose of the sky walks is to manage the crowd and help them to provide them a dedicated passage through these areas.

What catches the eye is that, the success of the first sky walk. It is a unique model. Footpaths will be replaced by skywalks near the station areas. That gives us the feel of what will be the situation after all the skywalks are built. I have been to all the metros of this country. But never ever have I seen infrastructures coming up so speedily and on such a huge scale. Of course, there are exceptions, like the Delhi metro or the Kolkata Bridge over Howrah. But they are very few.

The other day I had been on the Bandra (East) skywalk and found the experience very pleasant, specially when you see the traffic on the road below and you have space to walk on the skywalk. The journey from Bandra station to Kalanagar Exit took only 10 mins, where as the same journey would have taken more than 15 mins if I had taken the footpaths on the road. Moreover, I would have to dodge the traffic (specifically, the inconsiderate auto rickshaw drivers!!!) all the way. I would have had to cross the roads 3 times, once the highway also. If you look at the picture below, you will understand what I mean to say.

Now, when I compare the same journey with the journey on the skywalk, the difference is clearly seen. I have also be to Kanjurmarg skywalk, which is also on the similar lines.

The benefits of skywalks which I found

  1. It was relatively clean, although, at some places it was dirty with spits marks.
  2. It is wide and spacious
  3. It is relatively covered, although I have my doubt that won’t be able to protect the users from rains. MMRDA would have thought for that also, so we will have to wait and watch till the monsoons arrive.
  4. The skywalks give a very special view of the area around. But I do not know, if we will get any view after the advertisements will be placed all around the skywalk. In fact, I even doubt that we will be able to get the similar luminosity after the boarding have been placed on the skywalks. Presently, it is open and bright.
  5. There are 5 entry/exits. So we can alight were ever we want to in between. Also, the skywalks can be used for short distances.
  6. All the skywalks start and end on the Railway FOB. That effectively means I don’t have to climb extra stairs to get on to the skywalk. I have to just continue to walk till I reach my destination and then disembark. (although, in some cases, I may have to climb stairs to get on to a skywalk, but I feel it will be worth, cause I avoid the congested traffic roads)
  7. There have been provisions made for installing Elevators for the handicapped. So, even the handicapped can use the skywalks easily.
  8. There are also provisions for toilets at some entry/exits. (The MMRDA has gone into details, ah….!!!!)

There is still a lot of scope for improvement

  1. There need to be spittoons/waste bins on the sky walks at regular intervals. The sky has been in use for months now, and on one has even thought about installing waste bins till now. These are the basic necessities that need to be taken care of. Overall Maintainance is required.

  2. There can be some PCOs at regular intervals also.
  3. There needs to be some kind of security arrangements on the skywalk. Although, I saw a few guards on duty (4-5), but it needs to be complimented with CCTV cameras. Now a day, even the railways have CCTVs installed all over their FOB. So, this premium installation should have state of the art CCTV systems installed.
  4. Some of the skywalks are as long as 1.5 – 1.8 kms from start to end. So, having a few cold drinks vending machines/ outlets will help.

With the skywalks coming all over the city, I am sure, there will be effective control of pedestrian traffic near the station areas. And having infrastructure facilities like these make the city - “The Maximum City”. Although, the construction of skywalks have given nightmares to the existing commuters, but it is temporary phase. On the arrival of monsoons, it will be even worse. But, I guess, some hardships have to be borne, to have a better tomorrow. Only after its completion, will we realize what we missed all these years. With still some more infrastructures coming up, like the Bandra Worli sea link, the face of the city will completely change. The skywalks will give the city a major and a much needed face lift. What do you say?