I'm moved to read in the recent memoirs, written by a distinguished top brass of the Indian army. In the autobiography, he movingly described how the pilot of a Pakistani fighter jet, which shot down a civilian aircraft during 1965 war with the then CM of Gujarat, Balwantrai Mehta, apologised to the daughter of IAF pilot Jahangir Engineer. Soldiers are also human beings with same emotions and sensibilities. ' They too feel and even cry after killing their 'enemies' , wrote British military historian Jeremy Black. And here in this case, the slain ones weren't even 'enemies'. They were civilians, caught in the vortex of war to die.
In Robert Browning's famous poem 'News from Ghent to Aix', Napoleon Bonaparte cried on the battlefield when the young messenger broke the news and died. I remember reading an article in Pakistan's English daily 'The Nation'. A retired Pakistani Air Commodore Shaadaab Mansoor, brother of slain Sq. Leader Imroz Mansoor, who shot down the aircraft of the very brave Nirmaljit Singh Sekho in 1971 war, wrote that, " the three fighter pilots of PAF must have doffed their hats to the intrepid Sekho before joining him to their final journey together, where there's no enmity for anyone, not even for those who killed you."
It has been written very extensively that the Enola Gay, B-52 aircraft pilot who bombarded Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively, died unrepentant. This is not true. He became demented and admitted to having committed a blunder by eliminating so many innocent lives. Nightmares of those heart-wrenching images plagued him till he died. We are all humans and despite our projected ruthlessness and insensitivity, we get perturbed by death and loss of human lives.
Zahiruddin Babar, who called himself a ' lifelong warrior forever on horseback' painfully penned in his autobiography Tuzuk-e-Babri, that he almost fainted when Ibrahim Lodhi's decapitated head was brought before him in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. " I still can't forget that blood-oozing dismembered head of Lodhi. I ask myself, is an empire greater than a person's life? " Yours truly was happy to read that Qais Hussain, the PAF fighter pilot, wrote to the daughter of Engineer after close to a half century. And I'm sure, the lady had forgiven the man who had orders from higher officials of PAF to shoot the plane down.
A very senior Pakistani Army officer of Lt. General rank, wrote in The Muslim after the death of PVC Arun Khetarpal, who died in 1971 War soon after getting commission, ' Why young men are thrown into the furnace of war to be roasted alive? Sad, very sad..." Humanity is still alive because man has not yet become so insensate even if he happens to be a hardcore soldier, trained to kill his enemies at the drop of a hat and the slightest provocation. To quote Ahmad Faraz, " Fauji ke seene mein bhi hota hai dil/ Nam hoti hain ankhein jab ujadti hai mahfil " (Even a soldier has a heart/ He does feel when destruction takes place).
Army is an extension of the society. Soldiers are trained, or one may say indoctrinated, to shoot the enemies down because country comes first. Otherwise, there's no enmity or rancour for the soldiers from other side. Civilians, who think that soldiers are ruthless creatures, must visit Wagah border near Amritsar (Punjab) and despite the ongoing cold war, a kind of perceptible bonhomie could be seen among the Indian and Pakistani soldiers, though ostensibly they are thirsty for each other's blood. The point is, we can't robotise a soldier or an army man. Neither should we think on those lines.
In 1978, when Indian cricket team toured Pakistan after 17 years to play a three-test series, Indian opener Sunil Gavaskar scored magnificent centuries in both the innings of Karachi Test, scoring 111 and 137. After this phenomenal batting display, President General Zia Ul-Haq hugged Gavaskar and jokingly requested him to open the innings for Pakistan! The Pakistani (army) rangers sent flowers and sweets to their Indian army counterparts and all rejoiced as if Gavaskar belonged to the whole subcontinent. This kind, compassionate and benevolent soldierly also emphasises an important aspect that we are all very emotional beings. At the same time, it sends a strong signal that soldiers are as emotional as others are.
If mankind is still intact, it's because of the emotions, sentiments and tender feelings that have been equally bestowed upon us by the munificent nature: Soldiers as well as civilians. I'm reminded of Ambroce Bierce's telling words in his immensely readable book, ' Table-talk,' 'Even an executioner's hands tremble before pulling the lever down to hang a convict.' The emotions are left, however little and sedimentary they may be, in all hearts is a sure sign that world is still not a completely wretched place. It's a desirable place to live in. What do you say?