Just imagine guys, a city bred nineteen year old for whom a fight meant a brawl at the disco or at the bar, was leading a contingent of young soldiers in the land of the Maoists, ready to fight for his and his men’s lives.
Comment of the Moment
By Nepali Chhoro
UWB Note: This article was received as a comment for this post. We haven’t verified the identity of Nepali Chhoro as a Royal Nepal Army captain. (We request him to do so by phone so that we can remove (or replace this notice). We will respect his right to privacy. We are publishing this article here because we liked it.)
I am an army officer and have been a regular visitor to UWB for some time now. And I see that this place, like so many others in today’s Nepal, is filled with discussion regarding the RNA. There have been numerous instances when I have felt the urge to put forward my comments, especially to articles or comments that tend to make some wild speculation regarding the army, but I’ve always managed to refrain myself from doing so. But this time around my heartfelt desire to share my story with you guys has got the better of me. And so here I present my story. I hope this will be able to clear of lot of misconceptions that people tend to have about the army.
I was born in a middle class Brahmin family which wasn’t even remotely associated with the military (you would associate that with a typical Bahun family, I guess). But the neighbourhood I grew up in, and the subsequent schooling I got, instilled in me a deep desire to be an army officer some day. And immediately after I had completed my Intermediate level studies, I found myself training to be one. When I joined my cadet course, the army was yet to be involved in this war and there was no sign of that happening any time soon, and so all I was looking forward to was a quiet and a respectful life in an army uniform. But not long after, following the Maoists attack on Dang, RNA was dragged into the battlefield. Had this incident happened, only a couple of months earlier, I wouldn’t even have joined the army, for my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to. But as fate would have it, we went to war and the rest, as they say, is history. The army in those days was woefully sort of young officers in the field and because of that our training days at Kharipati were reduced substantially. And before I could even realize what had happened, I found myself leading a small contingent of ‘just-out-of-the-school’ boys in the mid west of the country, right in the Maoists heartland.
From the day I had put on my RNA dress, I was always waiting for the inevitable, an encounter with the Maoists, that is. And if I thought I had to wait long for that, I was very wrong indeed. In fact, it was only a week after I had landed at that place that I was sent on an operation, and now looking back at that day, I can safely say that was the moment that changed my life, forever. I was leading my boys; well admittedly there were two old pros too, old enough to be my father, both of them. But it was me who was in control. Just imagine guys, a city bred nineteen year old for whom a fight meant a brawl at the disco or at the bar, was leading a contingent of young soldiers in the land of the Maoists, ready to fight for his and his men’s lives.
My platoon was scaling a rather big and steep hill, following a foot trail that must have been there for ages. I was in the middle of the patrol, joyfully chatting with my men. Our group was led by two scouts, some 15-20 meters ahead of us. It was a sunny day, the sort of day when there is not a single piece of cloud in the sky. The surroundings were very quiet indeed. The only sound you could hear for miles was that of river Rapti flowing right below us. We were moving right on schedule and according to our plan. There is a saying in the army which says if your operation goes on very smoothly indeed, be very afraid, for that means you’ve walked right into an enemy ambush. I must admit now, I had thought of this very saying then, but preoccupied with so many ideas, I didn’t for a moment give a serious thought towards it.
Now I desperately wish I had done that. For it happened. Out of nowhere there were sounds of sudden bursts of gunfire followed by shrieks of pain. We had walked right into an ambush. Both my scouts had fallen. And before I could think of anything, a heavy hand pushed me right down to earth. With my M-16 clutched in the right hand, the left hand holding my helmet and my face down into the soil, I lay flat on the ground for what seemed an eternity. There were sounds of gunfire and bombs exploding everywhere and I was lost, hopelessly out of what you could call, my league. My men were fighting back bravely and I, their leader, was trembling with fear. Some sounds, which seemed very strange to me then, were regularly bumbling out of my walkie-talkie and yet all I could do was to lay there motionless. But slowly I regained my composure. It wasn’t courage, rather it was the fear of losing the respect of my men that brought me out of that moment of unconsciousness of sorts, I guess. Sluggishly I looked around me, the old fatherly ‘Subdar saab’ was right beside me covering me with his fire and commanding my men. He looked at me and smiled as if to say, “Go on sir, go on and take command. These men are yours.” If I was waiting for a moment of inspiration, then that was it. Soon it was my voice that started to ring around, my M-16 started firing and though we were easily outnumbered by them, the Maoists, within the next hour and half we had chased them away, but not before the occurrence of an incident that would make me a true soldier.
During that firefight, I killed a real person for the first time in my life. She, yup the person was a girl, was the commander of her men. A single shot fired from my rifle had killed the young lass. After everything was over, I went over to her dead body. The bullet had gone right through her head, splitting it into two halves. Her dead body lay there flat facing the sky. Believe me, it was the most horrendous of scenes one can ever imagine of. A near headless torso lying before you with blood splattered everywhere can scare the wits out of anybody. And the knowledge it’s you who’ve done that, doesn’t help you either. It was a scene right out of a Hollywood war movie. For the next seven days, I couldn’t eat or drink anything. I would see her dead body everywhere I looked at. I used to be a person who couldn’t even watch a goat being sacrificed, let alone a person being killed. And that incident made me unable to sleep, unable to think. I thought then, that was it, I couldn’t ever make it as an army officer, I was ready to quit. But as I had done earlier, during my first real gun battle, I recomposed myself again. Though it took a full week, I finally did manage to calm myself down.
And yet I was deeply worried. A feeling of guilt was eating me from the inside. But this time, it was not because of the person I had killed, but rather it was because of people I had allowed to be killed. I had lost three of my men during that battle. And it was me, only me who was responsible for that. A little bit of thinking could have saved each of those three, but my incompetence had allowed them to die. It was a terrible crime to commit, especially for an army commander. Because we had managed to kill a lot of Maoists (many were gravely injured and must have died later), everyone had forgotten my mistake, but I hadn’t. When you’re training as an army officer, your trainers will always make one thing clear to you, “Your actions and your decisions will not only affect you, but all your men”, they would say. “Whenever you make any decision, think of the men who will be following you.” And surely enough, I had let down my trainers and my men. It was then I decided not to ever look at a bigger picture of things. I would do what I would be asked to do, and make sure that my men and I myself would survive doing just that. My duty and my men would be my first concern from that point onwards.
Five years have since passed. I am a proud army captain today. Quite a few medals glitter my tunic and that is probably because I have killed a large number of people. I’ve killed so many people that I have lost count of them (I had made a promise to keep a count of all the people I had killed). I was a sort of person who couldn’t even hurt a fly just a few years back, now I’m a killing machine. And this I say without the slightest hint of guilt or sorrow. I am proud to have completed my duties, saved the lives of lot of my men, kept myself alive and killed the people I have fought against. Admittedly few of the men I’ve killed were killed in what you would call a cowardly way (yes I have killed a lot of captured and unarmed people too) but that was essential to save the lives of many around me. This was not an all-out battle we were fighting guys. We were fighting against guerillas from among our own people.
You just wouldn’t know when a person would spring out from among a friendly crowd you would be talking to and kill you, you just wouldn’t know in which corner of the road you’re traveling an ambush awaits you. When you’re fighting a force that bases itself on cowardly attacks, there is no action that can be called cowardly. The truth is plain and simple, if you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you. And strange as it may sound, this is the principle of all the RNA men. We don’t care if we’re under the King or the parliament, all we care is staying alive. In fact we and in fact the nation itself are lucky that we’re not driven by any ideology or doctrines of any sort. This means we will always be ready to be under any government that rules this country, but most of us have our reservations regarding the Maoists.
Read some of the comments related to this post here.