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Hero of Kashmir

One evening while returning from a routine patrol and on the outskirts of Jada Village, I saw a group of youngsters returning after a cricket match and discussing the conduct with a lot of enthusiasm in their local Pahadi dialect. As we crossed each other they waved a salute as is a norm in the area displaying the bonding between the civil population and the men in uniform, I stopped to shake hands with them. As we interacted some other villagers also gathered there who were returning home after the day's work mostly as porters, some of them with their ponies as well. All of them were from village Jada, which is in the neighborhood of our unit along the Line of Control. During the interaction I got to know that there is an old man who is more than 100 years of age and is still fit enough to do his daily chores. Since it was already dark we returned to base while discussing this centenarian all along the route amongst the patrolling team. The very next day out of curiosity we decided to find out, if there were others as well, who are more than 100 years of age in the region. Lo and behold an interesting fact came to light that there are 13 locals who are more than 100 years of age in the 11 villages which are in the area of responsibility of our unit, 10 were males and three females including one individual who is 120 years of age. This was a fascinating piece of information and therefore we decided to meet these centenarians and find out about their state in terms of physical and mental health and the secret of their longevity. It was a bright and sunny Sunday when we set our foot into Jada village to finally interact with these extra ordinary elders. Village Jada seemed to be glowing extraordinarily with the bright sunshine, the tall walnut trees emerging outstanding with patches of snow on the slopes of the mountain face made the site majestic. The stage was set and all including the Sarpanches of the nearby villagers, school children from nearby schools, some government officials and my Commanding Officer, self and some others in uniform were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our guests. Everyone had an image in mind with different characteristics mostly pertaining to our imagination of such old age. However, as they arrived all imaginations were superseded by the look of these old men and women but not as old and challenged as we all thought. What followed was a site to actually witness.

Their arrival was applauded by the many people present in such a manner that it instilled a bright spark in the eyes of these guests and I could even see a difference in their gait. As we set on our mission to hear from these centenarians, we were awestruck to find that these centenarians were keeping well physically and some of them were much fitter and independent than expected. As they were made to sit on a stage and words spoken for their welcome, I was in a different level of imagination trying to figure out how would I be if at all I reach this age? Will I ever be able to reach this age? What is the maximum I will be able to make? etc. While amidst of these days light dreams I was attracted by a very heavy and dusky voice and to my surprise Mr Laldin, the 120-year-old centenarian from Phagwan village was on the microphone and was sharing anecdotes of the pre-independence era and the way he has seen the Karnah Valley prosper and develop to the present state. No breathlessness, no trembling and no wavering as he spoke with passion. I was still wondering is it a dream or a reality. But this was just a trailer. As the microphone was passed on from one centenarian to other the range of topics did change but there was no change in the mode of delivery. Someone talked about the pre-independence days of peace harmony and prosperity, some talked about the difficult times during the conflict with the neighbouring country, some became emotional narrating instances when they lost their near and dear ones during shelling from Pakistan Army and some spoke about the development which has happened over the last few years in the Karnah Valley.

One thing which was common in their narratives was the faith and the love for the Armed Forces and the huge expectations which people have in their hearts and minds for The Indian Army and the men in uniform. We could feel goose bumps and the rush of adrenaline for the expectations these locals had from the men in uniform. We were proud to be part of this great organization which provided us the opportunity to make actual differences in the lives of our country men in these remote areas. Once the individual speeches were over, which obviously took much more time than we thought, we interacted with all these centenarians, asked them questions about life, health, social changes and their expectations. The more we asked the more they wanted to tell. As if they were waiting for such interaction for a long time. It was heartening to see the school children and the men in uniform interacting with these brave hearts in different groups. The vibes were different so was the day, time and place. Like they say all good things have to end, so did this heart-warming experience and the time came for us to bid adieu to these live wire elders. We extended our gratitude to them and before they left we made them plant one tree each as a token of remembrance of the day and the interaction and as their blessings to this beautiful Karnah Valley. As we drove back to the base, we were in a reflective mood as we absorbed the day’s events and what we witnessed. What exactly changed in me I don't know, but I felt more relaxed, calm, positive and blessed with the experience and will always cherish these lovely moments with the lively centenarians of the Karnah Valley.

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