Thursday, February 16, 2006

An officer and a gentleman

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. 
~Mark Twain

Feb 16, 2005 Lt Col Muhammad Sayed lost his lone battle with life. I am sure, he must have kicked the bucket laughing. That is what Colonel uncle always did. Laugh at life's myriad complexities. With an incredible bounce for life, Col Sayed, as locals would lovingly call him, walked straight in a place where people often stoop very low. He was a decorated solider, a gallant officer and a spunky gentleman. One of the very few people who served in the Indian army -- that too at an officer rank -- from Sopore, a tiny Kashmir township famed for its excellent fish and fierce separatist sentiment. To exist -- as an army vetern -- in such a place at the height of insurgency was in itself quite an achievement.

I don't know how old Colonel uncle was. Must have been in his late sixties. With a balding head and a daily-shaven face -- an army hangover perhaps -- he didn't look a day older than fifty and a half. He would joke with me in a palsy manner and his pat on the back was more friendly than avuncular. Colonel uncle talked to me in English -- again an oddity in Sopore -- and I had to follow suit. 'Hey, young man!' he would holler. The words still reverberate in my eardrums. 'Hey there, Colonel,' my standard response, I recall. No plebian sensibilities. Simply informal -- man to man. Army style.

I reckon he helped a lot of people with his connections in the military. Often enough during the difficult militancy years when one or the other army units world apprehend innocent young boys, on suspicion of being involved in militancy, it would eventually fall upon Colonel uncle to have the fellows released. He would do it -- being a neighbour I know it for a fact -- again and again. Like a guardian angel. On cold nights and wintry mornings. Colonel uncle once told me he had a gun -- M4 US Carbine -- which I sadly never had the chance to see.

Two years back, Uncle was given charge of arranging a tea and cake function -- for 100 people -- at a neighbour's home in which a death had taken place. At night he realised that all things done, the Waza had not ordered milk for the tea. Now -- in the Subcontinent -- milk is the most important thing in your tea. The party was supposed to begin at the crack of dawn since people were expected to arrive after attending the morning namaz in the local mosque.

Uncle called the Waza. The poor boy was shivering. Everyone was quiet. It was like a court martial. Colonel began, I remember vividly 'You bloody civilian',  'What is a tea-party without milk?' And then added in his wry humour, 'It is like my M4 Carbine without bullets, which I would have gladly pumped into your stupid arse right now'. The milk was arranged pre-dawn, thanks to Uncle's ingenuity. The Waza's rear was saved!

I hope he fires his gun at pheasants in the Paradise. And misses all the shots.

Lt Colonel Muhammad Sayed Yosufi
My neighbourhood uncle,
And a very fine gentleman

God speed, officer.