PHOTOGRAPHS: MAHESH NAIR
My journey with the Indian army began in 2007 with an innocuous question over a drink. I was with my childhood friend and a few of his fellow officers at an Electrical and Mechanical Engineers mess in a place that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere in Ladakh. My friends from the army posted in cities appear to lead peaceful, almost civilian lives. But this was different and we weren’t even on the Siachen Glacier. “So what do you guys do when there is no war?” I blurted out.
The subsequent discussion was a revelation. I learned of unknown, remote and inhospitable places in which the Indian army operates – where we lose soldiers not to the enemy, but to the vagaries of nature. In terms of inhabitable conditions, these places are similar to or worse than Siachen!
The discussion lingered in my mind as I continued my journey through Ladakh. Later, on the same trip, I noticed a school in a place that I would call ‘way beyond the back of beyond.’ A casual chat with the principal revealed that the school catered to kids from the surrounding villages – all extremely remote – and that it had been built by the army as part of its Sadbhavana project. This was the first time that I heard of such a project.
A single trip uncovered my ignorance about the lives of our soldiers and I consider myself a well-educated, interested and aware citizen of India! That realisation and my curiosity triggered a journey to discover the ‘real Indian army’ across various terrain and conditions. An interesting, eye-opening journey that lasted over six months resulted in this book.