The Sudden Peace
Siachen Base Camp, Partapur. The sinking sun brings its own miseries here. It’s end August and the mist swallows and vomits the road like a gluttonous tunnel demon. The drop in temperature is so sudden that it seems someone’s suddenly slammed the freezer door on you. Evening also falls suddenly as the sun disappears behind the last village on the border.
We are lodged inside a dorm of corrugated metal sheets. There are two rows of beds inside. This is where the soldiers break their journey, to and from Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield. This is just weeks after ‘Kargil’, the war that caught us unawares. The soldiers are still not used to the peace, that came as suddenly as the war. Conversation revolves around friends’ families, who now have to live without them. Someone’s young kids, someone’s ‘just-married’ wife, old parents; everyone is remembered. The departed friends are just mentioned in passing.
Sleep descends like anesthesia. We’re all very tired. The soldiers from their downward journey to the base camp. And we, from riding our bikes uphill from Leh. It’s too cold for mosquitoes. A lone naked bulb is our beacon of civilisation in the middle of a cold and dark battlefield. Everyone, soldier and civilian, sleeps deep and soundlessly.
Morning at the base camp is pleasantly warm. It seems there are some advantages of being hoisted up at over 11000 feet, above sea level. Morning brings its own intrigues.
Out on the flat, drill field—possibly also the world’s highest—the base camp dogs have collected. They’re about eight in number, variously mixed but mostly thick-furred Bhutias. They’re barking at the smell of some as yet unseen excitement.
Then four soldiers walk to the middle of the field with four steel cages. Inside them are big fat bandicoots.
The dogs circle around the caged bandicoots, who’re now beginning to crawl desperately inside their meagre cages, which are actually biggish mousetraps. The barking has now transformed into clenched teeth yelps, like muffled ‘attack signals’. The soldiers swing the cages over the dogs, to get them acquainted with smell of bandicoots.
And then the cages are opened. The dogs move back, the barks stop and ears stand up like snake hoods. They know going close to the cages would mean an end to the game.
The bandicoots are cunning too. They may not be able to smell the dogs as well as they can smell them but they know escape from the traps won’t be easy. But they are fooled by the silence. They come out gingerly, sniffing the air. The dogs are dead silent. The bandicoots begin to run towards safety. There are no bushes, no places to hide. And the bandicoots aren’t fast enough. The dogs, on the other hand, are trained for this.
In no time the special ration-fattened bandicoots are torn to shreds by the base camp dogs. All eight get their trophies, which they drag and maul against the gravelly field till the carcasses look like wet woollen socks. The game ends there. The dogs are whistled away for breakfast. And the bandicoots lie dead under the warming sun, waiting to be picked up by passing birds of prey.