How India lived during lockdown is how Army lives everyday at 18000ft in sub-zero freeze

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Lt Col HS Dullat (Retd)

Patiala (Punjab), July 6, 2020: The pandemic spread by COVID-19 has put almost the whole world under lockdown. Life seems to have come to a standstill. The fear of the unknown is also affecting the common man. On the positive side, the necessity is proving to the mother of invention. While the industry is coming up with cheap models of life-saving ventilators and sanitizers, the common man too is not lagging by manufacturing very cost-effective face masks and other products. 

While the working class is finding it difficult to work from home, the youngsters are itching to break the curfew to go out and the housewives are missing their maids and kitty parties, the situation takes me back by thirty years while I was deployed in the Siachen Glacier at the height of 18000 feet. Compared to the present pleasant weather, the temperature during those December to March months was minus 50 degrees Celsius. While here I can do my morning walk in my hundred feet long drive-in, there I was confined to 9×9 feet prefabricated hut which served as my bedroom cum office cum dining room. One took bath only once a week and hesitantly took a head bath once a month.

One didn’t have the luxury of 24×7 electric supply. Maximum reading of 10-15 days’ old newspapers was done during daylight or partially at night under a kerosene lamp at the cost of spoiling one’s eyesight. In the absence of television and the internet, the only means of link with the outside world was through the good old radio transistor. The news of one’s near and dear ones reached through the inland letters dropped by helicopters, whose arrival was at the mercy of weather Gods. One wrote home every day but the dispatching of the letters to reach the destination was again dependent on someone going down to the base camp or the occasional landing of Cheetah helicopter to pick up some seriously sick soldier or bringing some essential spare part for the snow scooter.

During lockdown here, the medical facilities in case of an emergency are just a telephone call away but up there in the snow-clad mountains, the weather conditions dictated if you can be evacuated or not and that too during daylight only. One is reminded of a seriously sick officer of a neighbouring unit who met his Maker because for four days he could not be picked up from his post due to bad weather. By the time the helicopter landed on the fifth day, it could only carry his mortal remains. Another one from my unit suffering from acute high altitude sickness was lucky to be picked up just at last light under adverse weather condition to survive and become a Major general later. How demoralizing it can be for the comrades to see his colleague dying for want of timely medical help just because of bad weather. 

As regards the food, less said the better. As it is, the high altitude kills one’s appetite to a large extent. One can easily lose seven to eight kg of weight without any exercise or dieting within three months. Though there was no dearth of rations both in terms of quality and quality but most of it was frozen, dumped months in advance during summers. Occasionally, fresh meat and vegetables were dropped by helicopters which too get frozen within twelve hours. Tomatoes and onions have to be put in boiling water to make them eatable. Imagine eating a hot onion with your meals.

So dear citizens, let’s take this calamity in its stride. We are comfortable in the confines of our homes in the company of our family members. We are also well connected with everyone across the globe through audio/video calling and internet. If still feeling uneasy, think of our soldiers performing duty at icy peaks away from their families and also of the medical staff attending to COVID-19 patients at the risk of their own lives.

Lt Col HS Dullat
Lt Col HS Dullat

This too shall pass. Stay safe. Stay at home.

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