“Education is one thing, ma’am. But humanity – that is different. And I think that, is more important.” – Raja Basheer Khan (a soldier guarding India’s borders).
The lonely soldier atop a mountain is sometimes a philosopher. He is also someone who is entrusted with one of the most extraordinary jobs in the world – being India’s first line of defense.
He stands guard over snow-covered ridges, day and night. He watches the desert sun set across the fence. He opens the gates for the farmers ploughing the last tract of India, lying beyond the fenced border. He watches as the river turns into a sea and drowns his camp every year.
He will tell you about his daughter who is in college and his wife who is his strength. He will tell you how far his home is. He will also tell you, how important his job is – for his family.
He will tell you of struggling with frostbites and low-oxygen situations. He will tell you how he helped another soldier, still.
He will tell you of the difficulty of navigating a river which builds and destroys islands as it pleases. He will tell you of the people who live on these islands with a compassion that is rare.
He will tell you of cross-border smuggling and how that makes his job difficult. He will also tell you, better than any economist of how poverty makes smugglers of people sometimes.
He will ask you if you feel fine as he drives along what is affectionately called a national highway, but is really just a dirt track cut into a steep cliff. He will later smile and tell you that it was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. And if you ask him, how he knows that and drives on it still, he will merely smile and shrug.
He will tell you of long marches and treacherous climbs to unreachable outposts. He will tell you how that helps him when he is sent for disaster relief.
He will fret over your comfort and apologize for the lack of electricity and other amenities while showing you into the best room there is in his camp.
He will also wait hours for you and when he finally finds you, he will insist on showing you the gurudwara nearby and with a child’s enthusiasm tell you it’s history. He will blush like a teenager if you tease him. He will also trek miles carrying weights you cannot lift.
He will help you climb a mountain and tell you, you are almost like his daughter and that he will fall before you slip on the sleet and slush.
He will tell you it was nice to see a new face after so long. He will ask you to hurry up and leave as the snowstorm was coming and you shouldn’t have to deal with it -with him.
He is the gentleman soldier guarding our borders. And it was my privilege to have spent some time with them as they went about performing the sovereign duty of protecting my nation.
(a few memories from the 2 weeks spent with the BSF and the ITBP -India’s first lines of defense)