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At Siachen, at 5 am, on February 3, 2016, the 400-ft-high, Bana ice-wall collapsed on the 10 Veer Madrassis of 19 Madras (including a nursing assistant). Led by Braveheart CO, Col Om Gurung, Maj Vipin Kumar and his team armed with avalanche experts, dogs, Xavar radars snow-cutters, and guts dug tunnels through tougher-than-steel ice slabs, driven by radio calls from the buried men. Maj Gen Raj revisits the courage and valour of Veer Madrassis, for Different Truths.
Trivandrum is a verdant, emerald-green capital city. The salt-laden sea breeze carries heavenly smells of asafoetida, sambar, dosa, and seafood. It has an ancient culture that once linked the Malabar Coast via Malacca to China for lucrative spice-silk trade. Europeans, sensing a business opportunity, muscled in and the British stayed on till Gandhi, salt, a walking stick and a bit more freed us.
Travel through the old-new city with low-rise colonial structures and dignified modernity through litter-and-noise-free streets to its quaint Pangode Military Station and you come face to face with disciplined, right-angled intersections, rainforest greenery, buff barracks and ace heroism. The Veer Madrassis have been around since the French first harvested their guts, grit and soldiering skills in 1731 and are as relevant today as the city’s cultural and trading heritage.
It takes some imagination to soar from fertile sea-coast cities and well-laid-out military stations to Himalayan snows, but it helps when you have a driven young, qualified-for-Staff-College Major telling you why heroism is never irrelevant. He should know: he was there when an avalanche struck Sonam Post overlooking the vital Bilafond La at 19,600 ft; a world-class tale of heroism — 40-ft-deep and minus 60-degree blue-ice slab debris had been tunnelled and 10 Veer Madrassis dugout with their weapons; one of them miraculously alive….
This was the kind of grit that led the future victor at Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated (the iconic Duke of Wellington, Maj Gen Arthur Wellesley) to tell the world with oft-repeated, pride about the Veer Madrassis on the killing fields of Assaye on September 23, 1803, and say: ‘For your tomorrow they gave their today — and with a smile; they are the best troops I have commanded.’ Mauled by marauding Maratha Cavalry and brilliantly exploited Maratha cannon, the brave but baffled 74th Highlanders had the Veer Madrassis and the 78th Highlanders charge the Maratha cannon and Cavalry with their 17-inch bayonets and cold courage led by the inspirational Duke and win, but at a cost.
This DNA resurfaced at Siachen at 5 am on February 3, 2016, when the 400-ft-high, Bana ice-wall collapsed on the 10 Veer Madrassis of 19 Madras (including a nursing assistant). Led by Braveheart CO, Col Om Gurung, Maj Vipin Kumar and his team armed with avalanche experts, dogs, Xavar radars snow-cutters, and guts dug tunnels through tougher-than-steel ice slabs, driven by radio calls from the buried men.
Eureka moment happened at 1610 hrs on February 8. A post-mortem revealed that two men had died an hour before the rescue, hanging on grimly, even as they reported hearing rescue-machinery sounds. What was stunning for the rescuers and the alpine/medical world was that L/Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad was alive when dug out. He died of multi-organ failure on February 11 and was posthumously awarded the SM.
How did the Unit respond in their grief? They immediately rebuilt Sonam Post, occupying it with gritty Veer Madrassis. Their DNA is like that — Assaye class, even when quartered in the snow.
This article had appeared in The Tribune, on April 23, 2018. It is republished as per the wish and kind permission of the author.
©Maj Gen Raj Mehta
Photos from the Internet
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