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January 25, 2001
Project Hope/ Josy Joseph
You are not listed," insisted the male receptionist at Gate No 2, South Block, New Delhi, which houses the defence ministry.
The bearded and turbaned soldier, who had obviously been waiting a while for his entrance pass into the building, was now beginning to lose his patience. "Look here, my name is Bana Singh. I have to meet the colonel; I have come from Srinagar..."
"All that is okay," the receptionist was at his officious best. "But your name is not listed."
Eventually, Singh was compelled to pick up a telephone and call the Army PRO, who also has an office in the same building. Within minutes, the PRO was down at the gate with a pass for Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Bana Singh, PVC, of the 8th Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry regiment.
The incident took place just a few hours ago on Thursday morning.
Bana Singh, though, is unfazed. He does not really expect that life -- and Indian bureaucracy -- will change, just because he is a hero, having won India's highest military honour. It does not upset him that, even a decade after a post was named after him on the icy heights of the Siachen glacier, he is barely recognised in military circles.
Ask him about those days and he will typically shrug it off as the call of duty. But what happened during the months of April and May 1987, went beyond the call of duty.
On April 18, 1987, the Pakistan army at Quaid post, Siachen, began firing at the Indian troops; a junior commissioned officer and five soldiers were killed at Sonam. Consequently, India sent a five-man patrol, under Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande, to this strategic area. But, about 30 metres away from Quaid post, the patrol succumbed to intense Pakistani fire.
The 8th Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry regiment was then given the task of executing Operation Rajiv -- put together for the sole purpose of capturing the post.
The slain officer and his men, who had belonged to this regiment, had managed to lay a rope that led to the top of Quaid post. Later, this was to prove crucial. The 8th JAKLI made several nocturnal attempts to capture the post. For three nights, they were stranded, with minimum rations, on the icy peaks.
The Pakistanis eventually succumbed to a ferocious daytime attack by Bana Singh and his five-man team. Five Pakistanis were killed before the Indian flag flew above the post. Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra -- a rarity in the fact that it was not a posthumous honour -- and the area was renamed Bana Top. "After the 1971 conflict," says an officer of his regiment, " the army was badly needed a real life hero; and Bana came along."
During the Kargil operations in 1999, when I met Bana Singh at Srinagar airport, he was restless. "I would love to go to Kargil now," he said. He was bored of the office duty that bound him at Srinagar.
"If there is a new war, another battle, I want to be in the frontline," he says. "Now I feel more inspired than ever to fight."
Kumar's day of glory came on July 4, 1999, in the midst of the Kargil war. Flat Top, a post vital for India, was occupied by Pakistan-based militants. He was leading the scout team's climb to Flat Top when, from a distance of 150 metres, they faced a veritable hailstorm of gunfire. Two of his colleagues were fatally hit. This was further impetus for Kumar; he was the first to reach and neutralise the enemy bunker. Even as his colleagues reached the top, "I saw two enemies running away in the distance." Both of them succumbed to Kumar's fire.
Kumar often thinks of his two colleagues who died in action on that particular night of bravery. "They were good friends." As he recalls those tales at public functions, he hopes their courage will never go waste.
I could only say dhanyavad (thank you)," grins 20-year-old Havaldar (earlier Grenadier) Yogendra Singh Yadav of the 18 Grenadier Regiment, as he recalls his first attempt at public speaking on November 14, 1999. Today, the Kargil veteran, who was awarded a Param Vir Charkra for exceptional bravery in the line of duty, is equally at ease in any public situation.
It has been a long road to normalcy since the Kargil war. It was only on October 10 last year, that Yadav was discharged from the army's Base Hospital in New Delhi, where he was undergoing treatment for his war injuries. By then, his battalion, the 18 Grenadiers, had left India on a United Nations assignment for Sierra Leone. Had he been with them, he would have -- soldiers on UN duty are paid in dollars -- earned an extra couple of lakh rupees during the assignment.
Instead, Yadav now gets a monthly allowance of Rs 1,500 as reward for his performance at Tiger Hill. Last December, he was transferred to the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. The army brass hope he will be an inspiration to the young officers who undergo training there.
Yadav was part of the Ghatak Platoon which was given the task of capturing three bunkers on Tiger Hill on the night of July 3, 4, 1999. The plan required them to scale the vertical cliff-face, which they did amidst continuous fire. Bullets hit Yadav on his groin and shoulder, but they could not stop him. Ghatak Platoon killed three Pakistani soldiers and lobbed grenades into their bunkers. They won Tiger Hill.
Yadav has not had any opportunity to interact with the cadets, since the IMA was on vacation. Though he is now on "office duty with the Majorsaab," he expected to interact with the cadets when he returns to the IMA.
At present, Yadav is in Delhi preparing to participate in the Republic Day Parade with Havaldar Sanjay Kumar and Subedar Major Bana Singh. The trio -- who are the only Param Vir Chakra awardees who are alive -- will be permanent participants in the Parade; they will be in a special jeep behind the Parade commanders.
While Yadav remained covered with the glory of battle, its grim reality hit him when he travelled to Meerut to meet the widow and brother of his namesake, Yogendra Singh Yadav, his companion in the Tiger Hill assault. While he was sitting with them; his friend's widow asked him: "What did he tell you when he was dying?"
After a prolonged silence, Yadav whispered, "He didn't say anything. In fact, while dying, no one says anything."
Design: Dominic Xavier. Photographs: Vijeyndra Tyagi/Black Star.
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