The winter in Kashmir is brutally cold and even more so if you are a soldier. You are likely to have to live in tents, always at risk of being buried under blankets of snow while you sleep. Further the job requires that you move out every night acting on the tipoff that there are militants in the vicinity and hope to get them sleeping in a comfortable house before day break. Since you need to do this silently and the sound of vehicles carries a long way at night and the lack of foliage makes visibility clear for miles around you have no choice except to walk. Possibly for miles!
And when you finally reach the village where the militants may be hiding, you lay a cordon around the village and approach the suspected house. By now people in the vicinity would know something was afoot and the militants would be wide awake and waiting for you. And as soon as you are close enough – they start firing at you. Believe me. I’ve been there, done that, for two of the longest years of my life.
Tral where Col MN Rai received a hail of bullets to his head is amazingly stark at this time of the year. The walnut groves are bare of foliage and you can see clear for miles. Since it is a side valley the winds can come howling down the mountains and leave you shivering. Col Rai and his soldiers would probably have walked over the hills to reach Handora, the village where the self styled District Commander had come to meet his mother.
The entire event would probably have been short and brutal. Sudden gunfire, the soldiers trying to figure where it came from and then review their situation only to see the Colonel injured seriously. Evacuating him to hospital would have been another complex task. The main task – and I am certain Col Rai too would have agreed was to complete the operation and destroy the enemy. However leaving a comrade injured too is not an easy task.
Col Rai was obviously a man among men. He had to have been leading from the front where he was a target for the militants. His death would be a terrible loss to his team and my heart goes out to all at 42 RR. To lose a team member is difficult enough. But to lose a leader is devastating. It will be a long slow process for the emotional wounds to heal, but the scars shall remain. However, the daily routine of going out to surround and maybe destroy militants will continue. And wondering how many more of your friends and colleagues will not return from the operation.
Unfortunately, public memory is short. Col Rai will be forgotten soon, as have been hundreds of other soldiers who died in the service of the country. However their memory will continue to live in the hearts of those they have worked with. Col Rai will be an inspiration for generations of soldiers to come.
Inmemory salutes the memory of Col Rai and promises to keep remembering these unsung heroes of our land. It is because of them that we sleep easy at night!