The year was 1998 and our hero Sher was on the Line of Control (LC), Jammu and Kashmir. Littered with so called close proximity Posts (manned by 20 to 40 soldiers) and dominated inch by inch of physical and psychological dimensions, the LC is a very intimate, and close quarter battle space.
Within a Post, the troops stay in bunkers that are bullet and shell proof. The additional beings or characters in the ecosystem are dogs, pigs, hens, crows, goats and any living creature which find solace in such islands of life. Sher was one such character, a Murga or a Cockerel who was bought by his foster dad, a young lieutenant, from a nearby village.
As a young chick, Sher was an inquisitive one, pecking around cook houses, store rooms and even amidst minefields. Luckily, being a lightweight fellow, he failed to trigger the antipersonnel mines, which was a matter of jealousy for other heavyweights including the piggies, who ended up activating one of those, very frequently.
The piggies 🐖, kept multiplying by the dozen. The male pig or boar (aptly titled Raspy, short for Rasputin, and modified to Ravi by some bhullas) had many gilts to give company to. He even went to other Posts to find new mates and make them Sows, and add on to the piggie population. The two goats, which again were local purchase, gave each other company. Sher, in comparison was more lonely, as the hens which came in Ration supply, did not interest him much.
From a diminutive and inquisitive chick, he soon grew into a regal, off white Cock, with a royal red comb or a cockscomb. His whittles were red too, and the overall combination of white and red, made him a sensation. His routine started with an early morning wake up call, the persistence of which was hated by many, including the young lieutenant. After a night of sleeplessness, the last thing you wanted was a rooster trying to impress you.
Once Sher got everyone up and about, he used to take a perimeter walk, a sort of ‘securing the perimeter’ during which any being which was out of place got a friendly nudge or a cluck. The perimeter once secured, was followed by a visit to the cookhouse to get his morning breakfast in a designated bowl. As the morning sun got more intense, his location shifted to the highest sentry post from where he kept the Post updated about the activities around, with his vocal responses.
Raspy continued expanding his area of influence, at times even crossing company and battalion boundaries to leave behind a legacy. One such foray resulted in the adjacent company post Sow having ten piglets, of which five were demanded by Raspy’s Post. After much negotiations, a deal of 70:30 was arrived at between the Post commanders. You can see how all beings are taken seriously and accounted for in such a closed environment.
Sher was oblivious of Raspy’s outreach activities, as he continued at his exalted perch and stepped down only for lunch and dinner as per timings laid down by the cookhouse commander. An odd peck or exploration into your backpack was inevitable if you were at the same sentry post. Over a period of time, his clucks and various intonations were rightly interpreted by the post personnel and he was suitably rewarded with bread crumbs or cereals.
He moved out of the Post only when his master, the young Lieutenant made a trip to adjacent Posts. His order of March in such a patrol was fixed and the column was expected to add his pace of advance to the time plan. At such places, he recieved equal attention as his master. Even the dogs, which are a normal presence in such Posts, respected his right to inspect and it was a sight to see Sher majestically inspecting the trenches and the bunkers.
His response to incoming bullets and bombs was another battle worthy act. A mortar bomb remains airborne for few seconds, before it lands on your head, ie.if you are still in the open. Like other personnel of the Post, Sher had mastered the art of ducking into the nearest shelter in those few seconds, combining the act with warning clucks for the rest of the gang. Scorpion and snake bites became a thing of the past, due to his alertness.
With his growing fame, there were demands from other Posts for matching him with a few local hens. That had to be firmly turned down as he was the mascot of the Post and he could not be forced into any activity. But seeing his loneliness, or lack of hen company, special patrols were undertaken to the neighbouring village to get him company.
Two such attempts, saw two colorful hens joining the Post, but their presence was short-lived. Unlike Sher, who had taken on cat’s nine lives amidst all firefights and mine-fields, the hens were less adaptive. One got hit by mortar splinters and the other went missing overnight, presumably taken away by a jackal which used to frequent the Northern perimeter, closer to cook house.
Marriage of Sher became a hot topic over cups of tea and friendly carrom matches. Discussions also went into post marriage arrangements for the couple- whether they would stay at the same Post or shift to the hen’s post. Since Sher and his choice was prime priority, his liking for one particular hen in another Post was given due consideration.
Next day’s patrol went to that Post, under command of the young Lieutenant, and of course the patrol party included Sher. Since, Sher normally walked back with the patrol, they took an overnight halt at the Post to help Sher settle down.
Movement back next day was a silent one. Though Sher was up and about, he let the Patrol party walk back, and watched his ‘to be’ digging around in the kitchen garden. It was a case of happily ever after, as Sher returned to the Post after seven days, having done his duty. Over the next year, this became a regular practice, as Sher too established himself or his legacy in various Posts.
He became part of Company stories and even some jokes. Sleeping sentries claimed to have recieved a peck from him while some claimed that he remained a vegetarian on Tuesdays and Fridays (a local Peer Baba day). It is to his credit, and of course even the other beings, that none of them got hit by splinters or bullets which were quite commonplace on the LC at that point of time. He surely knew the dictum that ‘respect had to be earned’ and his actions within the Post got him both love and respect.
One soldier even went to the extent of fabricating a few crates, to make him a cosy little shed, near the Ration store, where he could comfortably tuck in after a day’s toil. Another used up a tin of boot polish to embellish ‘Sher‘ on that bird house. People returning from leave were seen getting some specialities for the animals of the Post including ‘apna murga‘ which he used to demolish immediately.
His two years plus of incident free patrols and perimeter checks came to an abrupt halt, when he injured his neck in a barbed wire fence. Some say it happened as he tried to battle away an eagle 🦅, but those reports remained unconfirmed. The battlefield nursing assistants tried their best to get the royal neck up again, but were not successful.
Sher soon breathed his last having spent most of his life amidst those soldiers. It might sound odd, but it’s a fact that his absence had a direct impact on the appetite of the Post personnel that day. He was given a worthy cremation and a huge boulder placed over the burial site, to prevent the animals from digging out his mortal remains. Over the next one year, even as other humans and animals came and went, Sher remained irreplaceable for Bravo company.
As the Company packed and moved out after the mandatory deployment, the boulder was left behind like a grave stone to commemorate that cocky soldier who walked those trenches guarding the Nation’s frontiers. Sher he was and a Sher he will remain.
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