In a Soldier’s life
The fruit of tour de APDC (All Pakistan Declamation Contest) Risalpur, 2012, happened to fall in my lap, luckily. Speaking formally, I and Hammad Shafi were given a chance to represent KEMU in Risalpur. Although we didn’t win the trophy but still made it to the top ten teams out of 46 Universities of Pakistan. Well! We gave our best and left the rest to Allah. After all, it was another feather in the cap. Didactic, everything was.
Anyway, literally speaking, I am not jotting this 4-day (12-15th December) event down to flaunt any privilege and apprise you of the particulars of the whole contest, neither am I going to enlist the names of the winners (GCU, Lahore won the trophy though). Leaving the details of all the lifetime fun and the memorable socializing we got to avail during those 4-day sojourn in PAF Academy; the exhilarating c130 experience to and fro Risalpur;
those joyrides in the Mashak airplanes making Mardan, Noshehra and Peshawar look like ants under the wings;
the 5 times a day food schedule; Relishing loads of “Chalgozay” free of cost for they are 2000 Rupees/kg in Lahore; the recreational tours and splendid performances after the declamation sessions that made us realize that cadets can be as creative and artful as anyone in the whole country; All Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, and Pathan contestants from all over Pakistan gathering under one banner becoming fast friends overnight; and treasuring this resolute excursion as one of the best times we have had over the years. No! It’s not a synapse of some meeting. It’s just that life, for the first time, gave me a chance to appreciate a soldier’s days and nights, and knit a sweater of inspiration out of that experience in general, and as a doctor, precisely. Conversing with some of the most adventurous pilots of Pakistan Air Force Academy, some young cadets and the staff members there fell like wetting dew drops on the coarse and dry earth of my heart, smoothing out the surface and revitalizing the sheen of the flora… invoking an urge to assess our lives on a serious note... and solemn confessions follow… Let’s think!
We would walk on the roads leaving the place we were lodging at and would keep on walking till 3 am in the morning; Jackets on, mufflers all around the neck, wet roads, freezing atmosphere… just black concrete with central lines under the feet… street lights converging ahead. There, in our way, we would come across cadets, both young and old, under training and trained, pilots and wing commanders… They would appear cold robots to us, we civilians- Robots and machines all around. Same haircuts; immaculate uniforms; meticulous shines on heavy foot-wear with horse shoes beneath to give a thudding noise while parade, and more routinely, the “salute”; methodical conducts… All alert.
They would intrigue us… imagine something that intrigues you to talk to it; surely it is not an automaton. We would approach those synchronized androids and ask how they do all that! “Don’t you ever get agitated with all that stern and cold discipline?” utter we. “No! We get used to it by and by” reply they.
We encountered a senior pilot who had recently resigned from flying. He shared this with us after getting us captivated by his outstanding war-time air-stunts, the dog-fight sessions in the air (“Dog-fight is not a joke. You need to be at the zenith of all the aeronautical skills, and one hour in the air literally means eight hours study on the ground” quoting him)- He went “We were directed to stop the Indian F-16s encroaching the Pakistani premises during the Mumbai attacks. I and my coach both in our own speedy fighter jets were on our way. We knew that one of us had to sacrifice his life the moment we encounter the enemy planes. My coach was the leader and I was his subordinate, the rule being that the subordinate has to give away his life before the leader. Suddenly my coach ordered me on the radio ‘Oye chal mera leader ban ja, men tera subordinate banta hun. (Meaning that he wishes to lay down his life prior to mine) You are young, I am old. You have a life ahead. Let me end my life here for you. Agar tu muj se pehley shaheed ho gya to men teri MAAN ko kya mun dikhaun ga?’ I replied ‘Sir! If I let you die before me, what would I say to your family? Your family knows I can’t let you do this.’ So we were ready when orders came that we would have to retreat to the base. Today I am standing before you, alive”. We civilians were listening to him with our jaws dropped and were on the verge of having tears when that officer smiled out of toughness and blurted out, “Haha! Here we are to lay down our lives anytime we are ordered to. No ifs and buts.” “But Sir! Why did you leave flying forever? I mean is it that you have had enough of time in air or have you started disliking it?” I inquired. The reply was still soaked in wonderment, “No! I wanted to have a life. Flying like a bullet does have a charming thrill though. But spending 74 hours continuously in air during the Eid days is something heavyweight on the petal of soul. No wonder I haven’t seen my family for the last 6 Eids. I just remember the names of my children. I die to see how they look like when they are grown up.” And there we were, trying to gather words that would describe the greatness of a person like him “Awesome, amazing, salute, inspirational…Just WOW!” Trust me all this came straight from the heart; Respect be to our soldiers who sacrifice so much to let us enjoy a sound sleep. (Perhaps we, civilians, oversleep. In fact, as a nation.)
This is the story of almost every man who is honest with his job over there. We also happened to interview a couple of cadets about how their day passes. And that is what we could hear: Waking up at 4 am, no matter how much late you sleep. 2.5 km running has to be done before the Fajar prayers. Then physical drills followed by the breakfast. If someone makes a delay of even a single minute, he would be made to drag/roll himself on the ground or be a cock-mode- stroller for quite some time and weigh the knuckles out. Duty timings are strictly stipulated. Official punishments/penalties are awarded if any cadet is caught with a mobile phone during the duty timings, if the uniform is not clean, or even if a cadet forgets to salute his senior official. Not to speak of the spanking a beginner gets after his flying training as a freshman, alighting from the plane with swollen eyes, punched cheeks and aching backs.
“Sir! Would you still recommend me to join Pakistan Air Force if I want to?” I asked, expecting a no.
“Absolutely, yes” an officer replied, proudly.
*Deep pangs of sympathy, awe, and everything that triggers the swallowing reflex*
They do appear robots. But Rashid Minhas wasn’t a robot. Hey listen! They have got a purpose in life. They are the guardians of our motherland. They are the ones securing us, letting us live our way. Now let us throw a glance on ourselves. Go take the ordeal of seeing the mirror. What we ordinary people have as a purpose? Or do we even have one? If yes, do we possess the courage to stick to it? Machines don’t have an aim in life. Who is the real robot then? And who is the real human being?
See, we are doctors. We can be soldiers still. A soldier is a state of mind, boundless, free of constraints of any profession or place. Let’s be soldiers in our respective professions.
From the chest of a soldier,
There is a rising sun,
For we are the chosen one!