An officer and a gentleman: Why people in Burhan Wani's Tral backyard love Major Rishi

Out by the Eastern end of South Kashmir, is a bowl called Tral. With the Khrew-Pampore bowl to its north being famous for saffron, and Pahalgam to its south famous for tourism, its claim to fame is its notoriety for being the base of Hizbul Mujahideen militants, its most famous son being Burhan Wani, whose elimination lit up the valley for five months.

Major Rishi R. Image obtained from army sources

Major Rishi R. Image obtained from army sources

Not many know that this bowl has also produced a Major General of the Indian Army among many other government officials and regular toppers in many exams. But this post is not about what a contrast this place is. There is a unit that holds this bowl and among the many brave and competent officers in its stable leading a very fine set of soldiers is a brooding Malayali. Forever brooding, stocky frame, beard permanently adorning his mostly stoic face, very economical with words and very liberal in his courage and quest for competence.

His Malayali-twanged Hindi, backed by the ability to speak and make friends with anybody and everybody, resulted in many friends among the locals notorious for spitting on patrols in the area. In a short time, he had turned the area around, smiling children waving and old men and young greeting the patrols became a regular feature.

In the worst period of the aftermath after Burhan's elimination, this was the quietest area with no stones thrown at his post or patrols. And Burhan's house was in his area. He has a good network, busting many terrorist modules before they could execute a strike, which is the holy grail.

On 4 March 2017, Aquib, one of Tral’s longest surviving terrorists, was trapped in a house along with one of the rabble that is regularly sent across from our friendly neighbours. Being one of the oldest serving and regarded as a thorough professional, our brooding Malayali was one of the first ones to be called up and his very competent QRT (quick response team) quickly settled into the cordon, bringing a sense of calm in the very tense moments prior to raging gunfights. Short, crisp radio messages are his signature and they crackled across the airwaves, adjusting the cordon, plugging gaps and occupying tactically advantageous ground.

The newer stock in the stable always defer to him, for he knows his beans. There is usually a set pace to these firefights, with the placing of the IED to bring the house down being the most dangerous and challenging. He volunteered for the first hit, leading his very professional QRT into the firefight. He placed the IED and blew up a portion of the house. This pushed the terrorists back into rear rooms, giving the cordon tactical advantage.

Major Rishi with members of his unit 42 Rashtriya Rifles.

Major Rishi with members of his unit 42 Rashtriya Rifles.

Then, he volunteered again for the second hit. There are many that are in the battle, but a handful make it. What sets them apart is the courage to face danger and go forth no matter what the situation. He sallied forth again, placed the IED inside the house and crept back outside. Ever the perfectionist, he realised that the IED has a better chance to do its work if placed a bit further away. So he crept back in and placed it where he wanted to.

Gunfire shattered the tense night as the terrorist inside opened up on him. Hit in the face, with part of his nose, upper jaw and cheek badly damaged, he retaliated.

Any soldier will tell you that when hit, life preservation instincts take over. Not for our brooding Malayali. His topmost priority was the men of his beloved QRT right behind him and he knew if the terrorist got past him, it would mean casualties to his men. Bloody face et al, he turned his wrath on the source of fire, shredding him. Then, he crawled out and led his QRT away. The RMO quickly patched him up and sent him to the hospital where surgeons laboured over him through the night.

Three suns later (at the time of writing this), he sits upright, communicating by hand written messages. It will be a long haul for him with surgeries lined up. But he is strong in spirit and body. There are more calls from civilians of the area enquiring his health than any other place.

So while the world descends upon the Army, questioning ethos, commitment, leadership, and attitude of the officers towards the soldier, etc, we have young officers like him making sense of what Chetwode said many moons ago. Rest easy, we have a brooding Malayali in our stable. And many more from where he came from.

Thank you, Major Rishi R, For showing us what it means to be soldier. Get well soon.

The writer, who wants to be anonymous, is posted in Tral, Pulwama district, with 42 Rashtriya Rifles, as is Major Rishi.

This story of an Indian Army soldier striking a chord with civilians in the terror bed of Tral is in complete contrast with the one about the pointless death of six-year-old Kaneeza, killed by a stray bullet. Together, they represent the realities of a complex situation on the ground. Read Kaneeza's story here.

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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2017 15:20:57 IST

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