This post received a special mention in the Blogadda contest, 'Mera Bharat Mahan'. This was my entry to the contest.
This is the only story he never told his children. It is only account of his battles that he never shared with his dear wife. Col. Kohli was not proud of what he did that night. But that is not to say that he wasn't the least bit satisfied that he had saved a whole unit of his fellow soldiers once more.
An elite para-commando then, he'd been sent on horrifying missions. Most of them were behind enemy lines, as was this. This mission, when he was a major, was in the POK sector. He'd killed. But that wasn't anything new to him. It was what he was trained to do, what he was born to do.
But in this one mission, his last, which tormented him up until his dying days, he'd committed unthinkable acts or horror. They resounded in his mind ever since.
Several Years Ago...
It was a still, dark night. There were few stars. Maj. Kohli had been asked to take out an artillery nest that had been troubling the J&K Rifles battalion unit that was stationed closest to it. It was the Kargil War. Tense times called for tough actions. Maj. Kohli and his team of two had been asked by their CO to do anything necessary to take the nest out by the end of the night. It was now 1900 hours. They had until the break of dawn to complete the task at hand. Operation Blacknight was of tremendous importance.
The nest was located on the top of a hill. There was no way of climbing up any slope of the hill and shooting it out up there. There were no blind sides. They needed a radical approach and they needed one fast. They were airlifted and parachuted down five kilometers away, a little farther away from a village. They'd get some intel there. Or so they hoped for.
The three men walked into the village, all dressed in white kurtas and trousers that they'd brought in knapsacks. They had their 9mm caliber Beretta concealed with a couple extra magazines hidden away in their shoes. Their only other weapons were commando knives and Swiss army knives. They did not have any leads. So they walked, slowly, warily, on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. None seemed to notice at first, but then a man walked hurriedly past them. The tense expression on his face intrigued them. They followed him, taking different routes and covering each other. The man eventually entered a hut, probably his own. As other two commandos secured the perimeter, Maj. Kohli walked into the hut, slowly, so as not to alarm anyone inside. He heard voices, that of a man and what seemed like two children. He swiftly walked into the room in which they were and taking his Beretta out, pointed it at them. Indicating them to remain silent, he asked them to sit. He walked over to a pile of clothes and bound all three by the hands and gagged the children. They were young, possibly not even in their teens. From the looks of it, they were his children.
“If you scream, I will kill your children and burn the village to the ground. Now, have you seen anything unusual nearby lately?”, asked the Major in fluent Urdu.
There was fear in the man's eyes. But it did not emanate from the barrel of the cold gun that touched his temple. It's source was different. The villager seemed disconnected, somewhat distracted. Maj. Kohli had interrogated terrorists before. People who helped those militants were easier to understand, because they were never brainwashed. They did not have the terrorist's psyche. The major knew by the fright in the man's eyes that he had something to hide. He kept asking the man questions but he would either not respond or say that he didn't understand the question.It was already 2200 hours. Time was slowly running out. He needed information and he needed it fast.
The toughest job that any interrogator has is understanding what can break a man. Every person cracks at some point. Some professionals choose torture. Some try to act out negotiation. Every terrorist has a lie that he holds on to. It's incredible how difficult it can be and the measures that one must go to to find out where that lie remains.
It had been an hour. This man was trained, toughened. He'd been used before. By now, he had no fingers on his body. The major had chopped them all off with his standard army knife. The kids were in another room. The man did not say a word every time his gag was removed. Frustration was now sinking in. Along with it came exhaustion. But Maj. Kohli had a job to do. He had countrymen to protect. He needed to do some serious damage before the village would talk. He brought both the kids in.
With very little time on the clock, he advanced toward the older boy, knife in hand. This was not something he wanted to do. But it was needed. His father's eyes widened in horror as the major, with his eyes filled with terror at what he was doing, slowly brought the knife down, working on the boy's face. He carefully carved wide gashes in the erstwhile unblemished visage. After he was done, it looked like a gruesome work of art, never meant to be seen by human eyes. Mortified, the father shook his head violently from side to side. Maj. Kohli took his gag off, expecting him to finally speak. The father, however, simply chose to weep and beg. After some pounding and some cuts in his boy's bare chest, he said, “They are up the mountain to the north, those men you are looking for.”
“I know that. How do I get there safely?”
“I am sorry. I do not know.”
The major slit the boy's arm. “I will not kill them if you co-operate with me. Please tell me how to get up there safely. Where are the cells located, exactly? How many men are there? How are they positioned? I don't want to have to ask you this again. For your childrens' sake, tell me.”, said the major.
As the major, hesitatingly, was beginning to cut the boy again, the man spoke.
“All right. Please do not harm the kids. I will tell you everything. There are about 18-20 men. There are three machine guns. I don't remember what kind. They were saying, um, yes, 30mm field guns or something. There are three of them in bunkers. Around ten men with AK-47s are stationed at the foot of the hill in this direction. That's all I've seen. I swear. I don't know what the others are doing and where they are. You can take my clothes and go up there with food. Some of the villagers go up there with food for them. Now please let my children go.”
Maj. Kohli knew when he was lied to. This was not such an occasion. The man was petrified to his core. The trained army commando had seen this sort of fear in a grown man's eyes, many times, up close. It's what he was trained to incite. But not what yet needed to be done immediately. It was 0200 hours and time was of the essence. But the ultimate sacrifice had to be done. There must be no way for any of these three to contact the militant cell. They knew the lay of the land better. They'd get there faster and inform the militants of the commandos' presence. The mission would be over and they would be dead, or worse, captured. The father and his kids needed to be killed.
It's what the major had been dreading ever since he walked into the little hut and heard the voices. But he hadn't had time. He still lacked it. But they were children. Innocent little civilians. They had their lives ahead of them. Maj. Kohli took stock for a few minutes, brooding over the idea in a corner. He could ask one of the others to do it. Would they? They hadn't had as much field experience as he had. They were experts in combat, but these were civilians, one trained, maybe, but the others were mere kids. What would he do? He could bind them to each other. But would that be enough? He didn't know.
He first blindfolded the already gagged man and kids and told him not to worry, that they were leaving and he didn't want them to see in which direction. The father seemed convinced. Hope was all he had left to keep him warm in the last few minutes of his life. Maj. Kohli then did what he must have. Adroitly handling the long blade, he slit the throats of each of them, with tears in his own eyes.
“May your Allah take good care of you.”, whispered the major, as he knelt over their bodies, his kurta bloody. He cleaned up and changed into a fresh kurta that belonged to the dead man. He walked outside and the elite commando team chalked out a plan as they walked in the direction of the hill. It was around 0330 hours.
Operation Blacknight was a success. His glory that eventful night made him a war-hero, but whenever recounted the mission in his head, he never thought about him planting the Indian tricolour over the top of the hill for his countrymen far below to see. He remembered the fear in the kids' eyes that he killed. He remembered their innocent faces looking up at him with pleading eyes. He remembered the extinguished lights of their eyes after they were fallen, their blindfolds off, bled to death.
This fictional account is based on true events in the lives of such brave men who'd fought for our nation. People think that they offer their country their lives. This is such an understatement. After every battle, after every death nearby them and at their hands, they are severely scarred for life. These scars need not be visible to the eye, but they are always there, below the surface, untouchable. They never speak of it. They cannot. The horrors of war are unthinkable. They all do what they must to protect the nation they love. But in doing so, they are forever marred psychologically, even when they win the war.
I salute all those brave men who offer more than their lives. They hand their very souls to their nation. Jai Hind.
Celebrating 63 years of independence, Happy Independence Day.
PS. This post is an entry to the Blogadda contest, 'Mera Bharat Mahan' on the eve of India's 63rd Independence Day. In association with pringOO.