My Soldier Friends
The train gathered speed as it journeyed past fields and villages, waterfalls and rivulets. I was travelling the Konkan route, known for its beautiful landscape views.
Taking a break from the routine office work I was going to visit the tourist haven, Kerala, known for its backwaters and lagoons, coconut trees and ayurvedic massages; which incidentally happens to be my home state too. I was going to visit Kerala after nearly a gap of 12 years.
Having studied and worked outside the state I was eagerly anticipating my trip to my native state, known by the sojourn “God’s Own Country”. I had specifically chosen to travel by rail than by air to have a taste of the Konkan.
I sat at the doorstep of the train taking in every bit of the beautiful views. The wind breezed past my face making my hair fly in all directions. But I didn’t mind it; in fact, I enjoyed every bit of the wind.
Train doorsteps being the idle place to catch up on the scenery, it was not much before a young man came and asked for some “door space”. Having got acquainted with him as a fellow traveller in my coupe, I let him share some space.
He, being a regular traveller pointed out to me different minute details of the landscape which otherwise I would have missed. He pointed out waterfalls in the distance, spires of temples situated on hilltops, the river meets the sea and so on.
He introduced himself as Praveen, a soldier in the Indian Army and a native of Kannur, in Kerala. He was travelling with his fellow soldiers to their respective homes in various parts of Kerala. Soon enough he whistled to 3-4 of his mates to join us and soon I found myself sitting with a group of “protectors of our frontiers” or “defenders of our land”.
I chatted with them in native language Malayalam, though I was not so proficient and comfortable with it. They pulled my leg at many instances and made fun of my accent. But I too enjoyed their company thoroughly Having never had relatives or friends who served in the army, I was delighted to meet them and eager to know about their lives.
They all happened to be part of the troop deployed in Kashmir. A couple of them had even seen the Kargil war. They recounted how harsh the climate there sometimes could turn out to be and how lonely they occasionally feel. They mentioned the beauty of the valley as also the harsh life of the people there.
They showed me pictures of the snow-clad mountains, the apple trees and the valley of flowers as also their bunkers and living. Having never seen snow in my whole life, I was captivated by those pictures and my longing to visit the valley increased more than ever. They smiled watching my sheer glee and joy.
Their young boyish faces with those lopsided smiles hid perfectly the hard lives they lived, the blood they saw and the violence they endured. They recounted how their families always lived a life of anxiety at the thought of their safety and survival. I felt proud of them. I saluted them and revered them. They had shed the cocoons of their safe and secure life to take up arms and stand up to defend our nation.
I suddenly felt I should have cared about these “jawans” much earlier. I had never understood how it would be to have a soldier in your family who was constantly at the source of danger. I spent the rest of the journey with these young soldiers, trying to cheer them and give them a few happy moments.
The 32-hour journey slowly came to an end as slowly one by one they disembarked at various stations. By the time the train arrived at the last station, only Praveen and I were left. As the train chugged into the Trivandrum Central station, we exchanged our numbers and bid each other goodbye. He helped me with my luggage and escorted to me up to where my uncle stood to receive me.
He then disappeared into the ordinary crowd at the railway station. But for me, he was an extraordinary person, one of my first “Army friends”. I looked at pride at him and his friends as he disappeared into the lanes of the capital city of Kerala. The next few days I was busy meeting relatives and other family friends in various parts of Kerala. In between, I also visited Munnar and Thekkady, two hot tourist spots of Kerala.
I was happy one day to receive Praveen’s call while on a visit to an aunt’s place. It was nice to see that he too appreciated my company. We chatted for a while. We kept in contact for a couple of years more till the myriad activities of life took us in different ways and our busier lives didn’t allow space for such small comradeship.
But somewhere I still remember him and his friends and pray for their safety. Every time I read about soldiers or army or defence, I remember them. And I read every article about Kashmir in the newspapers, be it during peacetime or war, just to believe that I am still with them as a friend. I hope that wherever they might be, they be safe and happy.
Contributed By: Gitanjali Maria, [email protected]
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