In the autumn of 1962, Flight Lieutenant Ghosh who flew a reconnaissance single-engine Otter to places beyond where Dakotas and Packets flew, had hinted that a war was imminent; our preparations were woefully lacking. I was a 22-year-old low-ranking aircraftsman hoping somehow to be called in to take part in the imminent war in the Chushul area.

Earlier in 1961 I had spent a freezing, but yet exhilarating (lots of rum and mutton) winter along with an Airfield Safety operator in the advanced landing ground of Chushul. I loved then the eerily silent white mountains around us which, I imagined, was now ready to reverberate with gunfire. I, like many of my young friends, was ready and eager to die for the Nation. Sadly, the Government decided that the Air Force had no role to play except carrying supplies through the narrow mountain valleys amidst looming mountains which could kill the crew if the weather turned bad.

Induction of the high-flying and cockpit-compressed large AN-12 brought in some relief. When the pilot had to take in passengers, he crowded them into the cockpit.

One day in that desolate onset of winter in 1962, I helped carry back a young army captain – probably just an year older than myself – whom the Chinese had captured and made to walk bare-feet on the Aksai-Chin’s snow and then pushed out on to our side of the glacier. Through the flight, we kept him warm, spreading our winter tunics on his violently shaking legs. When he was being transported from Srinagar to New Delhi Military Hospital, the medical officer in the MI (Medical Inspection) room confided in us that both his legs would be amputated – assuming the trauma would let him survive the flight. I held my tears at the airfield; but cried all through that night, and many nights to follow. I was not alone in that shared sorrow. That man in the stretcher was so handsome; his delirious face still so full of hope and dreams.

Modi was 12 then, attending RSS Shakhas in flared Khaki shorts and singing about ‘our brave vow’ in the name of a ‘Veer’ Savarkar who got out of Port Blair jail by sending abject apology letters to the British, promising to support their rule; only to fight ‘Muslim invaders who came through the mountains’. Later Modi would bluff the gullible way-side tea sellers of India that he was selling tea on a railway platform which in reality dd not exist in 1962.

What does the wife-deserting ‘Strong man’ know about the travails of the war that he threatens to wage till the death of the last soldier?

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