His name is Autar Krishen and he was born in 1947. That is how he came to be known as AK-47. The title opened up for him when he entered the portals of Amar Singh College in 1963. He was basically a gentle creature and that is why some of his friends encouraged him to enroll in the National Cadet Corps, NCC, along with them so that he would gain some muscle strength to face his adversaries in daily life. He agreed and acquired the title when by design the Under-Officer put his initials along with his year of birth in the roll-call that he did with all NCC cadets. AK’s combination seemed amusing but ominous. The news soon got around in the entire college and the name stuck to him like a Fevicol Bond.
I had also taken admission in the same college at the same time and somehow we ended up as friends even though I did not join the NCC. We both lived in Ali Kadal and had attended different schools earlier. We used to cycle the distance all the way to college every morning and stayed together even in the class where we were admitted to the same stream of subjects. It was called the Non-Medical line that had Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as the core subjects. The difference was that I wanted to study for engineering later while AK wanted to continue college education and obtain a Masters’ degree in Physics and perhaps a Ph. D to be a college professor that he assumed was a noble profession.
AK was very studious and would always mind his own affairs while most of us were all the time trying to outdo each other in scoring for both study and sports. There was no competition as such but topping the scores was on everybody’s mind. I sure was good in Mathematics but AK was tops in Physics and his desire to obtain a doctorate in the subject appeared to be logical and justified. I think I should give it to AK when I say that he still was a shy person even though he had joined the NCC and it did not make him rude or aggressive. I distinctly remember him wearing his mother’s gold bracelet whenever he had to appear for an examination, mid-term or finals. He said it brought him luck.
I do remember an incident when we were told by our Physics professor that there would be a practical sessions held in the evenings over a period of one week that involved the use of the sextant and gazing at the stars. This had to do with the triangulation of the heavenly bodies and the measurement of distance between these celestial objects in the night sky. Our other classes ended at 4 pm and we could not go back to Ali Kadal at that time and then return at six for practicals, so we stayed back and waited for the stars to show in the sky. During these two hours we would either play badminton or while away time in the library and end up attending the college canteen later for some tea and cream rolls. One day after the practical classes ended we were on way home when we spotted a marriage tea party in progress at Gogjibagh nearby and took an on-the-spot decision to attend. Now we were not invited but were emboldened to join as hunger took over. We stood up the two bikes against a tree and set our books on the carrier and put up a bold profile and entered the venue. We were received with honor at the gate, escorted towards a row of guests sitting and enjoying the fare and we joined in, hungry as wolves. We were served sweets and samosas which was followed by tea and when we left we were offered a “paan” and a cigarette at the gate. No one had suspected us but AK was the one who felt guilty. However it was really fun when both of us lighted our cigarette, a Gold Flake, for the first time ever in our life.
How much courage had AK acquired during his training in NCC was revealed one day when we were on an excursion to Kokernaag and were escorted by our professor who was also our sports teacher. At the venue a couple of students took the decision that we cross over the hill range and visit Verinaag as well. They invited the two of us and two others to join them. Now this was OK if we had taken the permission from our tour escort, the professor, but we did not. May be we thought it was not necessary or maybe we would be refused this adventure or maybe we would not be missed since we would be back before our return trip home in the evening. So we set off in right earnest after we finished our lunch and what followed was a total miscalculation on our part as to the toughness of the task this turned out to be. The two locations were separated by a hill that we had to cross over. The climb was very strenuous and by the time we were at the top we realized we could not make it all the way to Verinaag and be back in time. We were thirsty as hell and we had no water. But the two organizer guys pushed us further and after running down the hill we met a stream that we had to cross to reach the lake at Verinaag. We had no tumblers and so we put our heads into the water and drank like animals until we were full. We did reach Verinaag and stayed there for about half an hour before taking the route back to Kokernaag. We crossed the stream again and climbed the hill and by the time we were on the other side we were so thirsty again that we literally cried out in pain. Luckily we sighted an unguarded apple orchard ahead and crossed over the fencing and climbed up on the trees and started eating apples and stuffing more in our shirt fronts. The apples were sour but our thirst got quenched. We soon realized there was a search party looking for us everywhere and when we were spotted the professor asked us to get in the bus and that we were late by two hours for our return journey. Once inside and when the bus started moving the professor got up with a cane in his hand and started beating us blue. He turned to AK and it was then that AK stood up and confronted the professor in anger who stopped in his tracks. Much later I realized that we had not seen enough of both Kokernaag and Verinaag but I still remember in vivid detail the trail that we followed to get from one place to the other.
A few years later I passed out from the Engineering College and till then had no idea whatever had happened to AK. I soon got an employment with the state PWD. I enquired from friends around and was surprised to learn that AK had finally joined the Army and was posted out somewhere in the Rajasthan sector bordering Pakistan where India had a brief encounter with them in 1965 war. His idea to become a college professor had not materialized. It was perhaps the training in NCC that changed his mind and qualified him for a position in the Army. The brass on his uniform would always shine. I looked forward to meeting him when he came home on leave or on a posting to his home-ground in the near future.
AK had been in Jaisalmar for almost a year now and things looked cool across the desert into the enemy territory beyond. It was close to midnight and he was lying on an army cot outside his tent looking up at the clear starry sky above. He recollected the Physics experiments he did with the sextant and wondered what his friend was doing with his engineering. Perhaps he has finished his training by now, he thought. Then he realized that the sky in the desert looked so vast and there seemed to be no horizon in sight anywhere. The sky he was used to looking at back home was very small and closeted with the mountain range limiting the vision beyond. He remembered his days in college and was sad that he could not pursue his ambition of being a professor when he would have enjoyed his teaching a class of idiots and make them science savvy. His decision to join the Army was instant when he realized that his continuance in his education would be a burden on his family as his father got closer to his retirement with the prospect of shortly marrying his daughter who was couple of years younger than himself. The recruitment in the Short Service Commission was an easy affair for him and it was his training in NCC that helped him seal the deal for an army career. He was now on the verge of receiving his first promotion as Lieutenant from Second Lieutenant and the orders were expected anytime.
The first time ever he handled a fire-arm was at the firing range where NCC held a two day camp in the outskirts of the city near the airport. On the first day all cadets got to practice firing a 303 rifle at varied distances and on the next day they qualified to handle the Light Machine Gun (LMG) when they experienced how to fire rapid shots with it. For him it was exciting and he felt very secure while handling the gun with live ammunition. And to top it all was an impressive score he had with the target practice. An army officer at the camp appreciated his skills and he was given a merit certificate.
What got confirmed was that AK had joined the Short Service Commission when the Indian Army held an emergency recruitment drive after the 1965 war. This happened a year after I left for Baroda for my training. That means AK left his studies half way through in his graduation. There must have been compelling reasons for him to do so and I intended asking him about it when we met. I had also wanted to visit his parents, but my new office routine kept me busy and I was still learning the ropes about my role as an Assistant Engineer, Buildings & Roads. I soon learnt that there were more road projects than any buildings and I was deputed to oversee the projects that were farther away from my home. This kept me away from my family and I got very little time to interact with my other friends as well.
On one of my visits home my father insisted that I marry and settle down. They had been on the look-out for some time about a girl that would suit my profile and zeroed in on a couple of girls and wanted me to finalize the proposal. I was not reluctant but enthusiastic instead and did want to find a soul mate who suited my character. And when a choice has to be made it got to be made. With that intention I met both the girls separately. Then it appeared to me that it was a difficult decision to take on my own as I liked both of them. But I could marry only one. I wished I had AK around and he would have helped me in my predicament. And AK had to marry as well. I wondered if he ever thought about it in his battle dress. It was 1970 and both of us were close to being 23. This was considered as the ripe old age for marriage those days. Now a days they think about marriage only after crossing 30. It was much later in the year and close towards the onset of winter that matters were finalized and the marriage fixed for early summer next year. I was happy and so was the girl that I finally chose.
I soon learnt that my friend AK was promoted and posted in the Longewala sector close to the border with Pakistan. Before going there he had come home on a short visit but I was not in town to meet him. I was deployed at Banihal to oversee the routine maintenance of the Jawahar Tunnel and sadly missed him. I had married in the summer and my wife was with my parents and I had no place to keep her with me at Banihal. I had indicated to my boss to post me back at Srinagar to honor my commitment to my newly wedded wife. All he said was he would try.
Pakistan declared war with India on its western border at Longewala on the night of 4th December 1971 and the war lasted for just four days. India inflicted a heavy casualty on Pakistan Army and decimated its battle tanks at Longewala which came to be known as the graveyard for these machines. AK fought the battle courageously alongside his comrades and on one occasion alone he silenced at least nine enemy souls and had zeroed-in on the tenth when he himself fell to an enemy sniper whose bullet hit his head killing him instantly. He had sadly let down his guard.
And the slug that hit him was from an AK-47. He was only 24.
Shri B.L. Dhar was born, brought up and educated at Srinagar. After getting his postgraduate degree in Mathematics, he decided to venture out of the state and seek an avocation more suitable to his taste. He joined the Civil Aviation sector as a Gazetted officer and finally retired as General Manager from the Airports Authority of India. He now lives in Delhi. He is an avid reader and has interest in writing. He has been writing for Shehjar for many years now.
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Nice story really. Reminds me of those times when an invitation card sent to someone literally meant someone was sure to attend even if the addressee did not.
Added By PN Raina
Another fantastic story uncle. My heart goes to AK for the sacrifice he made for the country. I wish I knew how Amarsingh College really looked like.
Added By Gaurav K
The title attracted me and for the story I say it is awesome.
Added By Aarti Gupta
The narrative is excellent in prose and poise. A great content and an interesting story. Surrinder
Added By SK Kaul