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November 4, 1999

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Requiem: Major Purushottam

Anybody from the media who was even remotely connected to the Army in Kashmir during the Kargil operations, knew the late Major Purushottam. He was almost like the caricature of the Big Hearted Soldier one sees in Hindi films: booming-toned, full of jokes and wisecracks, and open with his little fridge. I spoke a lot to the Major before actually meeting him; I'd moan and whine over the South Block MoD's media-savvy and he'd laugh it off: "Varshaaaa, why do you go to Delhi? Just give me a call! Better yet, just come here. I'll set up everything for you. Aapko nahi khush rakhenge to aur kisko rakhenge?!" By the time I met him, after Kargil was officially over, he seemed like an old friend.

His JCO -- also killed in the Lashkar-e-Toiba's murderous attack on the Badami Bagh Cantonment yesterday -- doted on him. During my trip to Srinagar, when I was brought to tears by a particularly uninformed and insensitive colonel, this junior commissioned officer dragged me to the absent Major's office and sat me down in his chair and plied me with "supshail" coffee and brought out a box of tissues and saw me through my bout of humiliation and self-pity -- and understood it for what it was. And hence, he broke all security rules to put me through to another officer who would accommodate me, one whom the Major vibed with. "Is samay humare sahab yahaan hotey to aap-ko koi kasht nahi hota. Humare sahab to bas... unke jaisa aur koi nahi."

While waiting for the Major to arrive, I had lunch with this man, a simple, frugal meal of dahi, chapati, achaar and daal. Why is that detail important? I don't know. But it's all bundled up with the warmth with which he insisted I eat in "not-the-officers'-mess." The men wanted to know all about song and dance in Bollywood, and I wanted to hear all about death by bullets... How they obliged me, yesterday.

I last spoke to the Major eight days ago. See, I had gotten into the habit of calling him up for a weekly chat; a bit of terrorism, a bit of ghazals, a bit of politics, a bit of blood... I'd promised to visit him as soon as the elections were over, and I was serious about it, too. "Whaaat elections... that business is non-ending. Forget politics, don't keep us on the hook. You don't know how many men are waiting to entertain you! I promise you, you'll never go back. Of course, they all have to queue up behind me. To kab padhaar rahin hain...? Achchha, I hope you called me before you speak to ___ and ___! I don't play second fiddle, I'm warning you." The Major was a class flirt, the kind who brings a twinkle to any woman's eyes. He is not just a statistic. He lived, he breathed, he served, he enjoyed, and he made people feel good about themselves. He was everything I take the Indian Army to be...

So maybe you think, Varsha's an army groupie anyway, her perceptions can be brushed aside. Not so. Star News' Vishnu Shome, who had covered the Kargil conflict extensively, looked like he was swallowing lumps caught in his throat when he announced Major Purushottam's demise late last night. And their correspondent in Srinagar, Vinay Chowdhary, gave the kind of eulogy usually reserved for generals killed in action. It was the same with Zee News... The Major had struck a chord with the unlikeliest of species -- the media. If you don't believe me, ask Chindu about the Major, the same Chindu who so wrote so thoughtlessly and stupidly about the army and Kashmiri voters. Yes, the Major and I discussed that piece. It would be wrong of me to repeat what he said; suffice to say, Major Purushottam laughed it off. Which even I couldn't...

I heard of Major Purushottam's death from my editor. Without knowing any details, he somehow knew that I shouldn't hear of it on the television. What *did* I feel? At that point, I felt no sorrow. I felt no pain. I felt no personal loss. I felt: anger, fury, rage. Not at the Islamic terrorists. For I always knew their ends. I felt wrath at the media -- at all the Sreedharans and Mehras and Joshis and Gokhales and Pillais who don't think for a second before they drag soldiers through the mud and slime that such journalists belong in. They claim that they are "in search of the Truth"; that nothing should come in the way of reporting "the Truth"; that journalism's raison d'etre is "the Truth." WHAT "Truth" is this? If "the Truth" is to vilify and nail the army, why the f*** don't most people see it as "the Truth"?

The truth is that the army is, at its essence, a well-oiled killing machine. It is made up of human beings, men and women, who do not like to kill, who did not enlist to kill, who did not start off with an appetite to plunge bayonets through soft stomachs. They join the army because they want to protect -- to save the lives of their countrymen. Consequently, they are taught to kill the enemy -- effectively and efficiently. And that leads to their being casual about the flow of blood, about death itself. They do not see Death as we do; for if they did, they'd be a spent force -- a useless, incompetent non-force...

The army is *not* a force to be unleashed in civilian space -- for when that happens, the killing machine does not differentiate between a foreign soldier and a domestic separatist in the guise of a human rights activist. Its mathematics is simple: anti-national = erase. To try and lade civilian rules on it, stems from ignorance of its character, and is ultimately self-defeating.

Major Purushottam, public relations officer of the 15 Corps, was betrayed by all such "in search of the Truth." To all those who shed a tear for him today, I can only say this: Avenge him. Drive these scumbags out of the limelight. Make them so irrelevant that nobody else would dare to trifle with the army again. For the difference between General Pervez Musharraf and General Ved Malik is not these dirtbag newsmen -- it is the character of the Indian people themselves, which will not tolerate garbage being heaped upon them, which flicked off the Emergency without help from the Press... It is the Indian character of our few good men. And it is *that* character among civilians I call upon today to retaliate for the foul murder of Major Purushottam. Tell them: Leave the army alone to do its job. Have some confidence in it. They die so we may live.

Varsha Bhosle

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