Waiting for a loved one is an awful feeling. But if you have to wait for them, knowing that they are in a very dangerous place, is a feeling that cannot be explained in words. You live and die every second, praying for the phone to ring, hoping for some news, any news. Keeping your feelings bottled up so that you don’t alarm the family; trying to utter positive words, which ring hollow because you don’t believe them yourself. And the relief that you experience when the loved one returns safe is beyond expression. It is like your soul is restored to your wretched body.
But for those who lose loved ones far away from home, it must be anguish to say the least. One cannot even start to imagine the horror that the families of those serving in places like the Gayari Sector, Siachen experience when the news that their loved one is probably in danger, first comes in. They probably go through several phases of shocked disbelief, hoping and praying that things are not be as bad as they have heard. They try to make contact with various departments to confirm the news, while simultaneously trying to get through to anyone stationed nearby if not at the spot, hoping for survivors.
The vague replies from those they contact, probably only helps sooth their anxiety for a fraction of a second only to be replaced by ‘facts’ or ‘half facts’ revealed on the media. As it is, anything linked to the armed forces is shrouded in so many layers that it is hard for even the family to find out anything at times. These are the most excruciating time anyone can go through. Uncertainty is a killer, and one is distraught until they get some concrete information of the situation or talk to their loved one.
In my 14 years of marriage, I have experienced the stress of not knowing and sometimes unable to find information about the safety and whereabouts of my husband, who sometimes would be posted in areas where communication was extremely difficult. These situations are enough to fray the nerves of any person, and they certainly altered my emotional threshold many times.
I remember the emotional agony that I experienced once when my husband was in Siachen some ten years ago. Of course I never let on that I was extremely worried about him all the time. Like most women in my situation, I had read up everything I could about the region and I was aware of all the dangers that lurked around my husband on a daily basis, even if he didn’t leave the ‘comfort’ of his tent.
Communication was extremely rare, and the little we had was a crackling weird connection that ended up in his voice echoing in the distant without making sense. But this was enough to tell me he was fine and alive.
Every phone would make my heart skip a beat expecting the worse. I started closely monitoring news from Siachen and the region around it, especially the weather. And many nights I stayed awake thinking of avalanches just like the one on April 7. I would silently weep as I tucked my year old daughter, scared that she may lose her father.
My husband and his friends had unconsciously told me before he had even known he was going there of the harrowing Siachen experience that their friends had had. Siachen wasn’t just the highest battlefield for me in those days, my husband was there and it had become very real for me.
I couldn’t shake out the images of the soldier that they had told me during one of these story telling sessions, floating in the crevices of the great icy mountain, who had been found by a team of mountaineers years later. He had probably taken a wrong ‘step’, as the gentleman had put it. Now when I say crevice in this context, you have to understand that this is a huge mountain of ice, and the crevices are several feet in width and many, many feet deep. The movement of the ice sheets covering this area is unpredictable can cause a gaping hole and swallow anything in its path. Everything is dangerous there; even the weather has a ferocity we can’t even imagine. An exposed part of the body could be extremely vulnerable and there could be amputations because of exposure to extreme temperature, whereas simple tasks like shaving is a painful experience. If nothing else, the high altitudes were enough to kill.
The day my husband returned from this icy world, was one of the many I would cherish for the rest of my life.
It was only in conversation later with his friends, that I found out that my husband had many near death experiences throughout the course of our marriage, which brought back the fearful déjà vu of the days spent when he was in dangerous zones. But as wives of men who indulge in danger often do, I hid my fear from my husband merely because I knew he would wander into another dangerous situation again, and I didn’t want him to be weak because he was aware that I was scared to death at home about his safety. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.
I feel for the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the men we lost in Siachen and pray that they find peace in the beyond. And it is time to urge the governments of both India and Pakistan that a ‘battle’ in such extreme conditions is futile. India and Pakistan have to come to some sort of agreement for a ‘cordial’ relationship as far as at least Siachen is concerned. No more men should be made to live in inhumane environments to battle man as well as the ferocity and unbeatable challenges that nature throws at them.