The year was 1988, exactly three decades ago, I was fresh from the hallowed precincts of the Indian Military Academy and was on my maiden posting at a place called “Bum La”, on the Indo-China border, in Arunachal Pradesh, the land of astounding beauty. For those dis-oriented with the geography, Arunachal is the northeastern-most state and for those not conversant with the terms, “La”, in Tibetan language means “a pass” between the two mighty mountain ranges. Bum La was around 14000 feet above MSL and was characterised by nerve-wracking weather conditions, round the year. It took us 8-10 days ( including acclimatisation period ) to reach our post from Misamari, the nearest railway station. This furthermost Army post was a strategically significant post, in that, it was through this pass the Chinese came uninvited in the year 1962! Not a blade of grass grows at such heights and all that a soldier had for company were few feet of snow and a couple of yaks! The only ones who came to meet and greet us on a daily basis were, a Sun in the morning and a Moon in the evening. The technology had not kept pace with our posturing and hence had no luxury of a TV. A Philip or a Bush, when in mood, took care of our boredom on the icy peaks and in freezing temperatures. That was my first year in the Olive Greens and hence none of these trivial discomforts, including the scarcity of oxygen, distracted me and my men (around 120) from the role & responsibility that we had to shoulder. With just about few kilometers between the Indian and Chinese soldiers, we were more closer to foes than friends. With no mobiles and smart phones, communicating with the ‘near’ and ‘dear’ ones was a gargantuan task. While the ‘near’ ones were not ‘dear’, the ‘dear’ ones were not near!! Our only way of communicating with our family and friends was through the “ Forces Letters”. These were primarily the in-land letters, red ones for officers and the green ones for others. Sitting at that lonesome height where we felt we were more closer to heaven than earth , we had to compulsorily pen two letters home, every week. Understandably, they were censored ‘en route’ for security reasons. Hence, we could not write about what was happening in front of us and since we were totally cut-off from the world, we couldn’t write about what was happening behind us. We were assured of our daily supply of the news papers but by the time the papers reached us through their five days arduous journey up the winding roads they were more like history sheets than news papers. Hence, to fill up these letters was more challenging than the enemy across the LAC ( Line of Actual Control ). Sending a blank letter or not writing a letter or not filling up the entire space was not an option, one had to render an explanation for not writing. Since I was an artistically challenged soldier, unlike few other soldiers, I resorted to writing bigger alphabets in the letter. That was the only way I could fill up the three pages of an in-land letter, every third day! I had cautioned my father of my AGP ( Actual Ground Position !! ) and requested him not to either take my letters on face value or read too much between the lines!! Since we had to communicate under compulsion, I started referring to them as “Forced Letters” instead of “Forces Letters”. I stayed atop these icy peaks for over one year before moving to Sri Lanka, my next posting.
Now, after thirty long years and as many summers, the difference today is, while the LAC has remained where it was then, the ‘dear’ ones are ‘near’, the then ‘near’ ones are yet not ‘dear’!!
But, as regards the memories of Bum La, the body has returned, the military mind is still hovering around there!!