Vivek Pradhan was not a happy man. Even the plush comfort of the air-conditioned compartment of the Shatabdi express could not cool his frayed nerves. He was the Project Manager and still not entitled to air travel. It was not the prestige he sought; he had tried to reason with the admin person, it was the savings in time. As PM, he had so many things to do!!
He opened his case and took out the laptop, determined to put the time to some good use.
“Are you from the software industry sir,” the man beside him was staring appreciatively at the laptop.
Vivek glanced briefly and mumbled in affirmation, handling the laptop now with exaggerated care and importance as if it were an expensive car.
“You people have brought so much advancement to the country, Sir. Today everything is getting computerized.”
“Thanks,” smiled Vivek, turning around to give the man a look.
He always found it difficult to resist appreciation. The man was young and well built like a sportsman. He looked simple and strangely out of place in that little lap of luxury like a small town boy in a prep school.
He probably was a railway sportsman making the most of his free traveling pass.
“You people always amaze me,” the man continued, “You sit in an office and write something on a computer and it does so many big things outside.”
Vivek smiled deprecatingly. “It is not as simple as that my friend. It is not just a question of writing a few lines. There is a lot of process that goes behind it.”
For a moment, he was tempted to explain the entire Software Development Life cycle but restrained himself to a single statement. “It is complex, very complex.”
“It has to be. No wonder you people are so highly paid,” came the reply.
This was not turning out as Vivek had thought. A hint of belligerence crept into his so far affable, persuasive tone. “Everyone just sees the money. No one sees the amount of hard work we have to put in. Indians have such a narrow concept of hard work. Just because we sit in an air-conditioned office, does not mean our brows do not sweat. You exercise the muscle; we exercise the mind and believe me that is no less taxing.” He could see, he had the man where he wanted, and it was time to drive home the point.
“Let me give you an example. Take this train. The entire railway reservation system is computerized. You can book a train ticket between any two stations from any of the hundreds of computerized booking centers across the country. Do you understand the complexity in designing and coding such a system?”
The man was awestruck; quite like a child at a planetarium.
This was something big and beyond his imagination. “You design and code such things.”
“I used to,” Vivek paused for effect, “but now I am the Project Manager.”
“Oh!” sighed the man, as if the storm had passed over, “so your life is easy now.”
This was like the last straw for Vivek. He retorted, “Oh come on, does life ever get easy as you go up the ladder. Responsibility only brings more work. Design and coding! That is the easier part. Now I do not do it, but I am responsible for it and believe me, that is far more stressful. My job is to get the work done in time and with the highest quality. To tell you about the pressures, there is the customer at one end, always changing his requirements, the user at the other, wanting something else, and your boss, always expecting you to have finished it yesterday.”
Vivek paused in his diatribe, his belligerence fading with self-realization. What he had said, was not merely the outburst of a wronged man, it was the truth. And one need not get angry while defending the truth. “My friend,” he concluded triumphantly, “you don’t know what it is to be in the Line of Fire”.
The man sat back in his chair, his eyes closed as if in realization. When he spoke after sometime, it was with a calm certainty that surprised Vivek.
“I know sir; I know what it is to be in the Line of Fire.” He was staring blankly, as if no passenger, no train existed, just a vast expanse of time. “There were 30 of us when we were ordered to capture Point 4875 in the cover of the night. The enemy was firing from the top. There was no knowing where the next bullet was going to come from and for whom. In the morning when we finally hoisted the ‘Tricolour’ (Indian National Flag) at the top only 4 of us were alive.”
“You are a…?”
“I am Subedar (Rank of a Junior commissioned officer) Sushant from the 13 J&K Rifles on duty at Peak 4875 in Kargil. They tell me I have completed my term and can opt for a soft assignment. But, tell me sir, can one give up duty just because it makes life easier. On the dawn of that capture, one of my colleagues lay injured in the snow, open to enemy fire while we were hiding behind a bunker. It was my job to go and fetch that soldier to safety. But my captain sahib (boss) refused me permission and went ahead himself. He said that the first pledge he had taken as a Gentleman Cadet (at the Indian Military Academy) was to put the safety and welfare of the nation foremost followed by the safety and welfare of the men he commanded…….his own personal safety came last, always and every time.”
“He was killed as he shielded and brought that injured soldier into the bunker. Every morning thereafter, as we stood guard, I could see him taking all those bullets, which were actually meant for me. I know sir….I know, what it is to be in the Line of Fire.”
Vivek looked at him in disbelief not sure of how to respond. Abruptly, he switched off the laptop. It seemed trivial, even insulting to edit a Word document in the presence of a man for whom valor and duty was a daily part of life; valor and sense of duty which he had so far attributed only to legendary heroes.
The train slowed down as it pulled into the station, and Subedar Sushant picked up his bags to alight.
“It was nice meeting you sir.”
Vivek fumbled with the handshake. This hand… had climbed mountains, pressed the trigger, and hoisted the Tricolour. Suddenly, as if by impulse, he stood up at attention and his right hand went up in an impromptu salute.
It was the least he felt he could do for the country.
PS: The incident he narrated during the capture of Peak 4875 is a true-life incident during the Kargil war. Capt. Vikram Batra sacrificed his life while trying to save one of the men he commanded, as victory was within sight. For this and various other acts of bravery, he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (Medal), the nation’s highest military award.