This happened a year ago. I was travelling by train from Indore to Mumbai. I had just concluded a hectic six day workshop at one of the city's premier schools.
As I stowed my suitcase under the aisle berth, I looked forward to a good night's sleep.
The coach was an A.C 2 tier, and the four passengers in the coupe were already in their seats. Two men, two women. Perfect.
One of the men, the younger one, looked a little weird, I thought. His face was a little lopsided, with the symmetry slightly askew. He had very short, almost crew cut hair.
Not wanting to stare, I hung my handbag on the peg above my berth, and settled down on it. I then pulled out my mobile phone and dialled my husband's number to give him a "sit rep"('situation report').
While I was on the phone, three well built young men came in and plonked themselves on my seat. Asking my husband to hold the line, I looked enquiringly at them. One of them pointed to the berth above mine, signalling that it was his. I nodded and went back to my conversation.
As I spoke, the three, while laughing and joking amongst themselves, slowly started hogging up more and more of the berth, while I shrunk more and more into one corner, until I reached the extreme limit of shrinking. Extremely cramped, I cut off my phone conversation, and declared to the three that I wanted to lie down and would they please move out?
One of them pointed to a notice stuck above the berth that said that passengers could use the berth to lie down only after 9 p.m. Until then everyone had to sit.
Before I could give a fitting reply, several of which were on the tip of my tongue, and without my realising it, the young man with the lop sided face was beside me. In a very soft, calm manner, but with a cold gaze, he asked the three to get up and move to the next coupe. The three men looked at my 'rescuer', one of them looked ready to say something, but one look at the young man's eyes, and they quietly moved out.
I turned around to thank the young man, and his "Not at all, Ma'am", gave away, to me, his profession.
"Are you in the services?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Infantry. Came to Mhow for a short course."
"My father and father-in-law were both in the Army."
One question led to another, and our conversation soon turned to the current situation in the country, and especially in Kashmir.
By now our co passengers (excluding the young man who had left with his friends) had joined in. None of them had ever been north of Delhi, and they more than I, wanted to get a first hand account of how bad things were in the valley.
The Army Major (whose name I shall not disclose) then held us spell bound for the next couple of hours with his experiences, of which a few are mentioned here.
As a young officer, his first day in the unit was also the first time he killed a man (a militant), that too at close range. After the incident was over, he was distraught, and it was the care and counselling of his seniors that brought him out of his depression.
He spoke of the utmost trust and camaraderie that he shared with his unit members, which was more valuable than any money in the world, because that was what their lives depended on.
Like a true soldier, he also spoke of values and just behaviour, even towards the enemy.
Once during the Kargil war, his unit had surrounded a post occupied by Pakistani soldiers. They fought fiercely, and finally overcame the enemy. The Pak soldiers, though in mufti, fought with all their medals on, as they knew they were going to die, and wanted to die a true soldier's death. After it was over, the Indian Major had his men identify the soldiers from their I- cards, and sent a letter to their unit in Pakistan praising them, requesting that they be honoured accordingly. It was later learnt that the request had been carried out.
His own face was lop sided because it was shattered by shrapnel during the Kargil conflict. He had a rod in his back and legs, which is why he could not offer his lower berth to one of the lady passengers.
He was full of praise for the Army doctors, who reconstructed his face, and "made it almost as good as new". We all asked him what his family had to say about his new face.
"My wife and six year old daughter feel I look more handsome now", he said with a laugh.
He said the toughest job was to flush out militants holed up in houses in villages. (I was reminded of this while watching the recent Mumbai carnage).
"It's a game of extreme patience and vigilance. The exercise takes place mostly at night and entire villages are cordoned off for the task."
While the army personnel grew more experienced at tackling them over a period of time, the militants too became smarter.
"These days they aim not for the chest or head, but for the thighs, where the main artery is located. At times, if a soldier injured in the thigh is not rushed to medical help immediately, we risk losing him."
I listened spellbound, my sleep long forgotten. I could see the other passengers similarly engaged; horrified, but unable to break away. It was almost an 'ancient mariner' kind of scenario.
At one point I asked him whether he had received a bravery award for all he had done.
"Ma'am, if the Army had to give out awards to everyone who has done what I did, they would soon run out of medals. "
His answer stumped all of us. What we thought of as extraordinary bravery was in fact an everyday and routine affair for most Army personnel in Kashmir and other insurgency-hit areas.
I sat quietly, reflecting on a real life example of selfless service.
"What motivates you people?", asked one of my fellow passengers.
"Love for our country, its people, and pride in being an Indian."
This simple statement brought out the goose pimples on my arms.
I remembered how as a child whenever we went to see a movie, the National Anthem played at the end, when we all stood up to attention.
Independence Day and The Republic Day were never holidays meant to sit at home, but to go out and march and hoist the national flag.
"Jai Jawan Jai Kisan", was the slogan that popped out almost everywhere, worshipping the two different kinds of people who protected and respected Mother Earth.
We still need these two people, one to feed us and the other to protect us.
"Love for our country, its people, and pride in being an Indian."
I'm sure each one of us has the same pride buried somewhere deep down inside. Its been in the attic of our minds for far too long.
It's time we brought it out, dusted it, and displayed it proudly in the mantelpiece of our hearts, so we can see and feel it with every beat, and have our actions governed by it on a daily basis.
"Jai Jawan, jai Kisan, jai Hind."