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?