That was a man, an officer, a gentleman, a leader..... actually so many things rolled into one. My great fortune to have served with him, seen him in combat.
Fd Marshal Manekshaw was wrong. I know for sure as a first hand witness. Saw your dad under fire and there was no fear. Not every soldier who knows no fear is a Gorkha and your dad certainly wasn't one. Bloody abnormal if you ask me. But then when was he ever happy being normal? Set his own standards and they were always higher than anyone else.
Every time we ended up going to a fire fight, he freaked me out. I was shit scared. Not for myself, but I was scared he would get hit and how would I face your mom? So I did everything I could possibly do to keep him safe while he did everything he possibly could to get involved in the fighting. He truly is a reincarnation of a fighting man. In his previous lives, he might have been fighting with Spartacus, or Alexander, Shivaji and the likes. In the front row.
Actually on the occassions we were in combat situations, everytime something really wierd would happen. I wouldn't be able to cook up these things even if I had a more fertile imagination. Real life around your dad was unusual:
- Once near Nawa Kadal, we had a cordon around a locality and a search was on. One guy in a feran was walking through the cordon. About 100 yards away. After he ignored our calls to halt, your dad asked me to fire a warning shot. A puff of dirt in front of his feet, he didn't stop. He said fire. I fired 5 aimed single shots and all missed him when he was at walking speed. Those days I had 100% hit rate at 300 m. That guy was meant to get away and live.
- Another day, we were walking around in Rainawari when terrorists were firing on 20 SIKH columns from windows of upper floors. I heard some sound behind a building, went around and found a terrorist with an AK. I fired at him with my pistol and missed. He threw his AK down, jumped into the water and tried to swim away. I ran to the edge of the water and started to shoot. Got him with my 4th shot. Later when I was returning the weapon to kot, found that the last case had not ejected and was stuck. This guy was destined to die because if that round missed, he would have got away before I could fix the stoppage.
Whatever your religious beliefs (I was an atheist), around him, in combat situations, you would believe in destiny. Damn freaky 🙄😳
At this time I was engaged. Both families were very keen on early marriage. I kept giving excuses till we reached Dehradun. Didn't know when things could go wrong and didn't want to leave a young widow. I somehow believed then that if I survived the Srinagar ADC tenure and was able to get your dad out safe too, then for the rest of my service, I would be safe. Turned out like that.
- In Kokernag, when he got wounded, he asked me to go around the fire station building and coordinate the fire support when the assault party would move in. I went around and by the time I returned, he was crawling towards the fire station with a JCO and 6-8 men from his escort!!! Maj Gen Mallik of 8 Div was trying his best to control covering fire. Have you ever seen a Lt Gen crawling towards the enemy with a pistol in his hand (he would go towards the enemy bare handed too) and a Maj Gen trying to control 4 LMGs and giving him covering fire? Whole thing was bloody rediculous and both could have got hit. I asked Gen Mallik to stop firing to allow me to catch up with your dad, who by now was reaching the building. I just took my chances and dashed across the open ground and reached him when he was trying to get into the door which was latched from inside. I asked him what he was doing and he said let's go in and get them. The Corps Cdr wanted to lead the charge with a lousy pistol!! The he saw I was carrying 2 grenades and he asked me to hand them over. I gave him both grenades, then jumped up and smashed the glass on the ventilator above the door. He threw in both grens one after the other. I kicked the door open and went in. Behind me was one jawan with an AK and third to enter was your dad. We were going from bright light and snow to a dark and dusty verandah and we're initially blinded. From the other side of the corridor, about 20m away, a burst of AK, bullets going past me. One hit the jawan in his palm, went through, hit the barrel of his AK, splintered and these splinters went like a shower, upward, hitting your dad in his scalp. He collapsed and there was profuse blood from his head. The escort just covered his body with theirs and pulled him out of the building. I took position near the stairs to cover them. Then for the next hour, he was revived by doctor and refusing to be evacuated to Anantnag till I was brought out as well " he may need medical attention more than me". So at some point Gen Mallik and others assumed I was dead, started to bring down the building with RL fire. Truck loads of RL HE rounds were being fired into the building while I ran from one side to the other, ears not functioning after so much blast shock. Gen Mallik then told your dad that I was dead and he could leave. He did not. When I came out much later from the ashes of the building, he was as surprised to see me alive as I was to see him alive. We drove to Anantnag where a chopper was waiting to take us to Srinagar. He was taken to Base Hospital for patching up and I went to meet your mom at home. She had already been harassed by journalists asking her if it was true that Gen Zaki was no more. She had gone through this once in 1965 already so this time she was praying. When I reached her, the sight of me with soiled clothes and blood stains must have confirmed her worst fears. "Aap unke saath the AP, kaise hone diya?" Apparently her worst fear was the same as my worst fear: keeping Gen Zaki safe was not easy. Only an hour later when your dad reached home did she actually believe he was alright.
Lots of bodies were recovered from the rubble, I was the last person to get out alive from the building. Couple of fire department employees had been killed by the terrorists. A school teacher sent in to talk to them to surrender was also killed by them. A Hav of the GR unit which was ambushed by these terrorists and had tried to sneak into the building at night to take revenge was also killed and there were other bodies under the rubble.
I think he shaped my mind more than he did yours. You were the rebel kid, questioning dad, assuming you knew better than him (you didn't then, but he was indulgent too, let you be). I was like a sponge, absorbing every word he said, never once questioning his words, actions or choices. In the end I became somewhat like him. Often in difficult situations, decision dilemmas, I would try to imagine what he would do in that situation. That was my answer. Still is.
When I came back to my unit, everyone assumed I had come back from a ceremonial ADC tenure. Few believed that I was mostly in combat fatigues and often under fire.