THREE YEARS LATER
23RD FEBRUARY + 0353 HRS
Pathanya jerked from his bed with a cold sweat. His hands were on his chest checking for wounds and he found himself surprisingly out of breath. He turned to see the small red digital readout of the alarm clock nearby and regained his bearings. And then he felt the sweat on his forehead and his heartbeat began to slow down from the rapid pumping it had been doing in his chest a few seconds ago.
The same nightmare again…
He caught his breath and realized that there was no way he was going to fall back to bed again. So he shoved his blankets away and rolled himself off the bed. He checked his left thigh with his fingers pressing down on it and the pain slowly shot up the rest of his body as he pressed it some more. The thick scar left there by that tree log had taken him two years to heal acceptably. During that time he had been walking with a stagger that had not gone unnoticed within the small Para community he belonged to. He hated it. Hated the attention it garnered and the stories—no rumors! —that spread as a result of it. He just wanted to be left alone.
Needless to say, he had not been left alone.
The work done by him and his small team of Paras in the mountains of Bhutan had become the stuff of legend within the Indian Army. He glanced over to his uniform hanging behind the door of the wooden hut and saw the moonlight glistening off the various ribbons and citations he had received as a result of it. One of which was the special ribbon given to all of the Paras from the 9TH, 10TH, 11TH and 12TH Battalions of the Regiment from the King of Bhutan for services rendered in the defense of that Himalayan Kingdom from the Chinese forces. The “Snow-Lions”, as the Indian Paras were now known to the Bhutanese citizenry, had received that ribbon soberly in view of the thousands of Indian soldiers who lost their lives alongside the fifteen-thousand Bhutanese civilians when the two nuclear detonations had ripped the Himalayan kingdom apart.
To Pathanya, the price had been the loss of six of the ten team members of his Spear LRRP team plus two more severely wounded, including himself. The first to go had been Second-Lieutenant Ganesh who had taken a deep splinter wound on their second day after entering Bhutan. Then the nuclear explosion over the Barshong valley had taken with one swipe what the Chinese soldiers from the PLA’s former “Highland Division” had been unable to for more than a week of brutal combat…
He stopped pressing down on his scar, sighed and headed to the hanging uniform near the closed door. He could see the darkness outside beginning to turn to dark gray as the early morning fog descended over the green trees. He rubbed his thumb over the ribbon given specially to him, Tarun and Vikram by the King of Bhutan in Thimpu a few months after the war.
Yes. That ceremony had been simple and sober too. The young King had aged tremendously over that time as his country had struggled to recover from the grievous wounds inflicted to it by the war. Even so, he had put the ribbon on the three men and patted them on the shoulder for what they had done to prevent the fall of the city during the early days of that war.
“The Thimpu Shield,” Pathanya said to himself as he remembered what the King had told the three men at the emotional ceremony that bright sunny day. He sighed again.
He took his tee-shirt from the rack nearby and grabbed his jogging shoes before walking outside and sitting on the cold rocks of the steps at the edge of the hut’s foundation. He tied his shoes, stretched his muscles and began running on the dirt path past the lawns and towards the trail that headed into the woods just as the first chirping bird sounds began filling the air around him.
Of course, it had been a major struggle for Pathanya to stay on in the army with the leg wound. It had taken him months of recovery and many more months of struggle to learn to walk again without a stagger. Even more months to jog at anything resembling the speeds at which he had been able to before that war. But he had managed to survive and prove to the army doctors that he was still fit for duty. Given his combat record, the army had been somewhat relenting and had given him a chance to pass the Para training course again. And he had.
And during all that time the world had changed. For India, China and Bhutan of course but also Asia and the rest of the world…
Pathanya noticed that he wasn’t alone on the jogging track. He was soon catching up to a group of Paras jogging in unison past the greenery at the Counter-insurgency and Jungle Warfare School or CIJWS where he was currently posted for a brief stint, helping the School supplant its high altitude spec-ops and COIN operational training methods with real combat experience from those that had been involved in the Bhutanese theater during the war.
And those that had survived…he reminded himself as he passed by the jogging soldiers and continued on his lonely path.
Half an hour later he was back at his hut to see his orderly had set up the steaming tea on the table inside. As always. He slowed his jogging and trotted to a stop with his shirt dripping from sweat and his legs burning from the pain. Especially his left thigh. He grimaced at the pain while catching his breath but otherwise ignored it.
“Enjoying the morning, Major?” a voice said behind him as he walked up the steps of his hut, still taking deep breaths. He turned to see an older man in the army field dress walking up to him. He had the SOCOM Operations insignia on his shoulder patch. He also had a smile on his face and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Pathanya stood in attention and saluted which the senior officer returned.
“At ease, Major.”
Pathanya noticed the man was of Tibetan descent. The man ignored Pathanya’s curiosity and turned to see the green leaves of the trees, the chirping of the birds and glanced up to the colorful morning sky.
“Not as lively up in northern Bhutan, is it?” the Lieutenant-Colonel said with a smile. Pathanya was even more curious now than before, but he kept his peace. His records were available to those at SOCOM headquarters. So it was not particularly surprising that the officer knew about his experience.
Hell, the whole nation did at this point thanks to some investigative journalist who had spilled the beans the year after the war got over.
So why was this officer of Tibetan descent spiking his curiosity?
“You don’t know me, Major,” the old man said quaintly. “My name is Lef-tenant-Colonel Gephel and I worked with some special stuff during the war while you were in Bhutan fighting the Chinese.”
Special-stuff…Pathanya thought. He had learnt soon after the war had ended that there had been teams of Paras culled from the Regiment a year before the war had started for some “nasty” work, as Colonel Misra had said to him after the war. That meant inside Tibet. So while Pathanya and his men had been inside Bhutan for about ten days of intensive operations. These men had been inside Tibet far longer than that. Some in the media had even gone as far as alleging that these men of Tibetan descent had been used inside Tibet to instigate the very rebellion against Beijing that had ultimately led to open war between the two nations months later.
Were they really responsible for instigating that war? Pathanya had never been able to convince himself suitably on that one. At first he had found it easy to blame them for the war and the loss of so many lives, including many from his team. But over time he had let that question go as he had realized the complexity of the problem and the precipitous nature of events preluding that war. Besides, if these teams had been used so effectively, someone high up the command must have authorized it? Could it be the reason that Defense-Minister Chakri had mysteriously resigned from his position on the PM’s cabinet a few months after the war?
Could this man be one of them?
So many questions, Pathanya thought. So few answers. He noticed finally that Gephel was holding out his hand to him. He shook it and Gephel didn’t let it go:
“I have been wanting to meet with you ever since I read about you and your men in Bhutan in the newspapers. Despite the fact I work there, you will be surprised how compartmentalized the information is inside SOCOM headquarters. Hell, I know for a fact that you have no clue what I did during the war any more than what I did about yours. Except that yours made it to the media somehow while mine didn’t!” Gephel chuckled.
“Probably better that way too!” he continued. “I doubt many in Delhi would be happy to have the media talking about my role in that nasty mess. But I wanted to meet you in person, Pathanya. You and your men prevented Bhutan from falling to the Chinese. We should have seen that coming, really, but didn’t. And you rescued us from a catastrophic oversight in our planning.” He finally released Pathanya’s hand.
“I am afraid I don’t fully understand, sir.” Pathanya said finally. He meant it.
“Don’t think about it too much, Major. I just wanted to meet you before I leave for Laddakh to help survey our recently established control there.” He sighed. “It has been three years but the wounds haven’t yet healed out there. Hell, I doubt they ever will. All I know is that I will get to smell the gravel of my birthplace once again. It has been three years since I last did that!” He smiled.
“Yes sir.” Pathanya replied. He knew now that this man was who he thought he was. “Were you originally from near there, sir?”
“No. Gyantse in Tibet.” Gephel smiled again:
“But the Aksai-Chin will do for now.”
Last edited by vivek_ahuja on 31 Jan 2013 10:54, edited 2 times in total.