PRELUDE– 10,000 Feet altitude, a snow-clad valley painted in white, hostile weather, high probability of avalanche i.e. a treacherous terrain – 5 Heroes, 5 antagonists. This is a story of Subedar Sanjeev Kumar, Havildar Davendra Singh, and Paratroopers Bal Krishan, Amit Kumar and Chhatarpal Singh of 4 Para SF. But this is a story which will be probably told like this once… just once… Lest we forget!
Did it cross my mind before to share my meandering thoughts about a league of extraordinary humans, unsung heroes or as I call them LEGENDS? I think it must be lingering in my head since past 1 year because as I was down with a high COVID19 fever of around 104 F, my mind was racing back to these 5 men who probably redefined the meaning of leadership for me. That also made me wonder what was so different about them? Why it impacted me so much that at a time when my mind was hallucinating, somewhere it was going back to that endless white expanse of snow…
1245 Hrs, 4th April 2020: When the entire country of 1.3 billion people was in an unprecedented COVID19 induced lockdown, fretting over frivolous tirades over how their life has come to a standstill due to this unprecedented move. A vast majority of the folks forgot that while the situation may be inconvenient for them but probably was required to save them from an unknown invisible thing which was potent to take lives and at last they were sitting in the cozy atmosphere of their homes near their dear ones (not everyone though) . There were these 5 men who had a different plan and decided to defy all odds in the face of adversity. In line with the ethos of their Para Special Forces commando training, they decided to look enemy in the eye (literally), in a temperature which can freeze a fossil for eternity and eliminate them before making the ultimate sacrifice.
So, was it their grueling commando training that gave them nerves of steel? Or was it a sheer grit for glory which made them do the impossible for us many or rather most? Well too hard to decipher that but I am certain it was their destiny to inspire many who would fathom the true meaning of leadership in action.
In corporate parlance, I have often witnessed, we loosely use words like Strategy, Operations, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Execution etc. yet we have a few people who live their entire life, yes you guessed it right – living them. There is a reason why these words find their origin in military because these words are so deeply ingrained in military ethos, that imbibing them almost becomes akin to eating food for them.
Moving on, these 5 bravehearts were airdropped and in the cover picture one can see that one commando was waist deep in the snow. As they followed the fresh footprints of the ultras (terrorists) in the snow, the squad followed them and accidently stepped on a cornice (an overhanging mass of hardened snow at the edge of a mountain precipice) which broke due to the weight of two soldiers. The soldiers fell in the deep narrow gorge and as luck would have it, found the terrorists hiding there – at point blank range.
Now till here all the uninitiated can get ample amount of information around web which is for the ones who would get interested in this unfathomable, unimaginable and unbelievable heroic saga after reading my blog. But my intent is to also visualize the journey here on. Imagine for a moment you are looking in the eye of adversity, the odds completely against you – your entire training, planning and skill suddenly just becomes a matter of mind’s imagination and coordination. In Mike Tyson’s words “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. So, what do you do in those moments?
Well in these moments you probably make a choice, a collective choice, a choice that you had rehearsed in those countless moments you had spent with your comrades, your team building that camaraderie devoid of any biases. Probably in this scenario these soldiers had made this choice long back and now they were on the brink of executing the same. Within a split second, understanding the impromptu situation of their brethren, the remainder of the squad voluntarily jumped in the gorge. Hence in close range encounter these soldiers neutralized the enemy before succumbing to their indiscriminate firing leaving behind a story to inspire generations to come. A lesson on selfless & situational leadership!
Metaphorically, I feel these are the moments that define what kind of leader you are. Because in these moments only your true character comes out vehemently – no matter how hard you try to hide. In famous words of Robert McKee “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure”.
Coming back to my COVID19 situation of 104F fever incapacitating my body and pushing me hard for my mind to surrender. My limbs disagreeing with me for any movement whatsoever but still spirits inside me pushing harder than ever to share my thoughts on this story once I recover well.
EPILOGUE– While I was trying to sleep on the night of May 5th 2021 (a year after this fateful incident) at the peak of my Covid19 infection, suddenly there was a flash with image of white snow everywhere surrounding and immersing my senses with these 5 heroes, standing waist deep in snow, challenging anything to everything coming in their way & marching hard to execute “Operation Randori Behak”…
-Manish Sharma (Currently working as a Director in Gov Tech practice with a Big 4 consulting firm. He has 10+ years of experience in leadership roles)
(Views expressed in this piece are personal)