In the morning and during night hours, one could feel the chilly cold. It was an early warning of intense winters approaching Kargil. It was late 1983 and Zozila Pass was about to be confirmed shut. It was a matter of time when traffic and other movements over the pass would come to a halt till May or June next year.
Distinctly remember, it was around the same time. On my way to Leh from Kargil, I met Driver Jaswant Singh. I had travelled almost twenty five kilometers from Kargil, when I came across an army truck which was parked on one side of the road. I could see no habitat around. I halted and decided to interact with the driver of the truck. He was an elderly looking Sikh. Quite likely, he was close to an age of sixty or so. He belonged to an army unit, staffed by civilian drivers. His unit was permanently based in Pathonkot. Apparently, he looked thin, weak and tired.
When I met him, it was his eleventh day running in that location. He was the part of an army convoy which had gone from Pathankot to Leh. His vehicle had broken down mid way and it was not possible for the vehicle to tag along with the parent convoy. Further movement of the vehicle was subject to replacement of faulty part in the location. Non availability of the component with the convoy had left no option, but to leave the vehicle behind. The driver had the assurance, that the next convoy originating from Phatankot would bring the required component. Till then, he was to stay there and was to manage with whatever he had.
I could, clearly, see the lines of fatigue on his face. Those lines of fatigue spoke loud and clear, of his lonely scuffle with adverse circumstances during those last eleven days. It was perceptible; he had lived on very thin logistics. As per him, there were some houses at a distance of around two kilometers from his location. He had got some assistance from there, mostly on the payment. His dietary habits, being absolutely in contrast with those of local populace, had added to his difficulties further. He had almost run out with whatever rations or money he had. A stage came, when he lost control over his tears during the conversation with me. His struggle with the circumstances was discernible through his tears. His pain was self revealing.
At the first opportunity, I spoke to the concerned officer. The officer understood the logic, that an option of recovery of the vehicle to a safer location could have been a good decision, and would have been better if probed earlier. Any way, he ordered recovery of the vehicle to a safer location. The vehicle reached my unit on the subsequent day. Driver Jaswant Singh finally had a sigh of relief. It was a matter of time before his unit delivered the necessary part. And finally, it was time to say ‘Good Bye’.
Jaswant Singh had finally had travelled back happily. However, his tale of pain and suffering was not without a lesson. I was face to face with the perilous situation which stood as one of the possibilities in the way, which an army driver or any other driver could face. Stretch from Pathankot to Leh and back takes thirteen days for a driver to traverse. Route being mountainous and circuitous must have taken a toll upon his mental and physical health. Once, he reached back home or his parent unit after an arduous journey, another duty would await him. Only option for him was in acknowledging, that his happiness lied in quietly accepting detours of roads as his permanent home.
Delivery of logistics at final destination is a story of toil and hard work of a driver behind a wheel. Quite possible, someone had spent days together remaining hungry to feed the last man in the line of duty. Invisible hands which work quietly also deserve acknowledgement for their down-to-earth contribution in the final victory till the last milestone. They certainly deserve our reverence and respect.
This incident created a bond between Jaswant and me. This was embedded in our friendship and grounded in a feeling of possibility of being available in a crisis. This bond was beyond family and blood. It was bond of respect and joy. This bond transcended all barriers. The same was evident when I happened to meet him for the second time again at his unit station, Pathankot. I saw him happily driving his vehicle on a local road there. When, we met, it was a meeting of tight hugs, between two friends.
Author : Col. N. S. Malhan
Col. Narinder Singh Malhan was commissioned from the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun. On having served for almost four decades in Indian Army, he loves to share his experiences through his writings. In his opinion, every life has a lot to unfold. Each life is unique and is a historical document with its own identity. He strongly feels, real discovery is through introspection by looking back in own time. He believes, sharing own experiences are like revisiting life's milestones with more intensity. He thoroughly enjoyed his journey in uniform.