Spice of life: Tigers who earned their stripes

  • Avnish Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 25, 2015 13:30 IST

The tiger population resurgence in the country is welcome news. The largest cat species earns its reputation as the king of jungle by its sheer personality that embodies strength, courage, gumption, and poise. Only a few of us have seen the jungle tiger in action but one can’t miss the tigers among us.

In January 3, 1981, after passing out of the Indian Military Academy, I reported to my unit, then out on a tactical war exercise in the desert of Rajasthan. The moment our jeep entered the camouflaged camp, the sign postings gave me a feeling of having entered a jungle abode. Arrowed signs spelt every prominent beast until I came across one indicating tiger’s den, a dugout with a comparatively bigger camouflage net.

Shy of shooting questions immediately on being born as an army officer, I asked the senior subaltern (senior-most lieutenant), nonetheless, who was this “tiger” supposed to be. “Mister, (a newly commissioned second lieutenant is addressed by his rank only after the young officers course), the CO (commanding officer) is the tiger,” he said. I realised soon that the CO had an aura of authority, and was a rare sight.

The unit moved to the tank firing range. During the battle run, where live shells are fired on the move, the CO’s tank led the battle formation, with him in command, to set an example of fearlessness for the regiment. One of the tanks reported a live 105-mm shell stuck in the main gun barrel, a dangerous situation requiring delicate and cool handling. There was a risk of the shell’s bursting in the barrel, with the crew getting roasted in the 40 tons of cast iron.

The CO took charge and ensured defusing and unloading of the errant shell, displaying high standards of professionalism. A tiger indeed!

Kargil War hero captain Vikram Batra was called “Sher Shah” by colleagues. He sure lived up to his call sign. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the 26/11 antiterrorist operation fame displayed calm leadership when he told his troops: “Don’t come up, I’ll handle them.” Colonel MN Rai, with an insatiable hunger to demolish terrorists, fought like a tiger and sacrificed his life. His daughter, like a true cub, saluted her dad’s valour with pride and poise.

Brave heart cop MC Sharma led from the front in the Batla House encounter. IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal and Bulandshahar district magistrate B Chandrakala, both upright and fearless in their stance, personify physical and moral strength of tigress.

Honest cab drivers Laxman Narula of Mumbai and Indian-Australian Lakhwinder Singh Dhillon refused to gorge on huge money left behind by their fares. A true tiger feasts only on a self-earned prey.

The 24 children who received bravery awards on the last Republic Day share a will to survive in the adverse environment of helplessness, evil, and injustice. They are the tigers of tomorrow, which we need to protect.

The writer is a Chandigarh-based retired army officer

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