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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Middle - Chess on LoC

Jupinderjit Singh

MY first visit to Uri town, the latest target of a terror attack, was some 13 years ago. I was visiting the Valley as a journalist and not a tourist. The situation was such that from Jammu to Srinagar, there was fear of a terror strike. Only two dhabas were open. At one of the dhabas, a group of soldiers nearly took away our taxi, saying they were in hot chase of militants. The taxi driver pleaded against it. Fortunately, I had an Army letter authorising my visit to the forward areas. It saved the driver for that day. 

The Brigadier at Uri was warm and welcoming. He had deputed a young Captain to look after me. “Be safe, no adventurism,”  the Brigadier cautioned me in a chilling voice and a smile that gave me goose bumps. We drove in a Jonga on the zigzag road that climbed one hill and came down the other. The Jhelum, the de facto border between India and Pakistan, criss-crossed the Valley, flowing beautifully in the deep gorge. We passed tiny hamlets and apple and apricot orchards. 

The destination was an advanced military camp near a village called Sultan Dhakki, a few hundred metres short of the LoC. I was thrilled to inhale the aroma of roasted meat that wafted from somewhere in the vicinity. The Captain pointed down the hill towards two large vessels, where food was being cooked by soldiers in the open in the village common ground. That would be our dinner. 

 I was delighted. But still worried about the night stay in bunkers. I needn’t have. After a few turns, we stood in front of an opening in a rocky hill. It was a khul ja sim sim experience. I could have fathomed that the Army had burrowed into the hills and created an accommodation, no less than a five-star stay. 

After bathing, we sat outside for a cup of tea and snacks. The spot was at a safe angle from the enemy behind the hills. “You will see Diwali at night as  rockets will fly,” chuckled the officer. His soldiers grinned. 

As we talked, the conversation veered around on how soldiers kept their mind off death and bullets. “I play chess,” the Captain said. “Voila! I too,”  I exclaimed. Soon, two armies were set in black and white on the chessboard. It took me no more than 10 moves to grab the rook and the queen. The officer was visibly hurt. He was losing in front of his jawans, who sat around us in a semicircle. He lost the second too, after much struggle. One last game, he said, ordering meat for both of us in a tone that expressed his anger. He won the third. 

Back in the lodge, he sipped beer and remarked: “I was flustered. It was not about losing or winning. It was about you killing my army while it had not moved from its squares. No jawan would like an officer, or for that matter a government, that lets this happen to them.”
first published in The Tribune Sept 23, 2016

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