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15 Feb 2019

The panic radiated at War-Torn PAD

Kamal Baruah
I woke up by a long siren after a doze, where I had to wait an hour at the airport lounge until PAD called off. The scene was like another war zone where soldiers came, saw and conquered the world. I felt another Kargil there while I was part of India's one of the toughest battle terrain with Pakistan

There're thick jungles along with heavy rainfall making the vast topography inhospitable. To the stranger, this land may seem another battle with poisonous insects, leaches and reptiles. North East tenure is considered a punishment transfer for an outsider. But being a native, I opted for Assam. After Assam Agitation (1970-1985), insurgents were waging an armed insurgency to fight with the Indian Army. Those days, Assam was under disturbed area. Army got special power on the name of AFSPA. Human rights are being violated under that controversial act from J&K to Assam and Manipur. Soon after glorious triumph over Kargil War 99, I landed in the evening at Guwahati Railway Station. There were incidents of bomb-blast and conflict uprising against Army. The panic radiated and we're forced to pass in Transit Camp that night. There was Assam bandh on the following day while Army dropped us at the Airport. We flew by an Antonov. 

The flight was scheduled to land after 45 minutes but it experienced airborne delays. The passengers were informed for placing hold of landing by ATC. We were anxiously looking at fellow travellers. After a few circles over the Wing sky, AN-32 was finally descending, adjusted with airspeed and altitude at the runway. There was PAD (Position Attack Defence) going on. The fighters were flying ultimate low at extreme sonic booms, air flowing aerodynamic noises around us. Those were MIGs, Jaguars that conquering the eastern sky, where soldiers galloped along the parade ground with boots and jungle uniforms. Also there were noises coming from aircraft systems, cockpit, cabin pressurization and its conditioning systems, auxiliary power units and helicopter hovering. I realised that cause disturbance to Goraimari-Salonibari residents. The localities have harrowing time from night flying too. Regular power cut in the evening caused havoc to residents. The base seemed annoyed and racked by war-torn PAD. I witnessed such scenario forcing me to think “oh hell – where will this all end?”

Those days were long past. "Huge Chinese armies have been marching in the northern part of NEFA. We have had reverses at Walong, Se La and today Bomdila, a small town in NEFA, has also fallen. We shall not rest till the invader goes out of India or is pushed out. I want to make that clear to all of you, and, especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment." This speech of All India Radio on Nov 20, 1962 made people of Assam feel abandoned. It was like people of Assam were let down by their own government. At a time when even the Prime Minister Nehru seemed helpless, what was going to be their fate?

It was Tezpur, where Dalai Lama was given a warm welcome after Tibetan uprising in 1959. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the Chinese aggression. India will have to revisit the issues of long shadow of this small town during November 1962, panic spread through Tezpur as the Indian army retreated from the Kameng sector of Arunachal, the evacuation of people from Tezpur took place. It was hard to imagine the chaos that descended upon that small town, the thousands of people in bullock carts and vehicles crowding the steamer ghat in chilly winter and set up campfires in the night to flee to the south bank. The British/Scottish tea planters, administrations had flown out to Calcutta and no one was left in charge. 

The Indian Army had to fight alone with Mules carrying ammunition over a mountain pass. The supply line was cut off due to non availability of frontier air base and motor able train/road links.  Army's ammunition stocks were being blown up by enemy's explosions. Word had spread that the Chinese were decided to come down to Tezpur. The State Bank's coins were all dumped in the Padum Pukhuri Lake and burnt all the paper currency. The gate of the Tezpur Mental Hospital opened; the inmates were let off and roamed around the deserted town. An eerie silence swept across the town with only a few people remaining. After 31 days, China declared unilateral ceasefire on Nov 21 midnight, 1962 but people continued to flee homes. 

I woke up by a long siren after a doze where I had to wait an hour at the airport lounge until PAD called off. The scene was like another war zone where soldiers came, saw and conquered the world. I felt another Kargil there while I was part of India's one of the toughest battle terrain with Pakistan. The Operation Vijay of Indian Army with the help of Air Force recaptured the LOC sector infiltrated by the Pakistani troops and militants. Although I was not fighting in the forefront line but I felt the heat of the war. I had the opportunity to serve the border of Kutch.  There was virtually no habitation in the end of the horizon to the world. The emitting light of Keti Bunder port was seen from barrack. We were trapped for 60 days conflict in that endless salt-whiteness. Life was beautiful and lonely there in that inhospitable landscape at Kutch.

It was a thorny welcome awaited for me at Tezpur. India put military deployment at the eastern border after war. There was movement of armed forces and their logistical support infrastructure in the North East. The billets were over crowded even a place of charpoy was not available for a rest and had to shift my bedding every day looking for a bed of night duty personnel. Normally it was no power supply during night. Technical areas are somehow brightened by DG Sets.  Tezpur base is a restricted area due to its proximity to the China border. There are Intelligence wireless unit from Army, IB, SSB that carry out the task of monitoring military activities of enemy country.  My tradesmen were busy recording on Shortwave HF Receiver. I was sent on detachment on the very next day to Army Camp Vartak – Border Roads Organisation. 

The huge herd of wild Elephants were entering together for search of food, blocking the runway. Elephant sometimes went berserk caused crazy damage. Once they ventured onto a Signals Unit and damaged everything even playing football with Russian crumbling bunkers. Elephant chasing Team ECT had been deployed to protect the base. Their efforts went in vain. Elephants have the largest brain of any land animal and are exceptionally smart creatures. They go back to Arunachal Hills in the morning.  I was busy converting data between transmission media by tuning modem with computer safely inside soviet bunkers 24x7. 

After nearing two decades, memories of rough terrain at Tezpur base still haunted me today. Serving in the Armed Forces is not a job. It's about love, passion, pride and honour of their country. Army endure struggles for its citizen to sleep in peace. Tezpur returned to normal after quite a long time. They were chills moments of fear of foreign occupation, torn apart by Chinese Aggression. Those fearless nights are my wild dreams. I am a soldier, I fought where I was told and I won where I fought. Hovering copter with SAR Team was painful experience while victim's families at base were in distress. Today I lift the LCD screen mounted on clamshell of my laptop. At sunset, the wintry breeze swirls by keying another story to an unknown destination of a soldier. I pulled out my iphone for a mail to my editor tonight. Sunrise is still a couple of hours away. I choose to sip a cuppa coffee before I go sleeping well tonight.
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