Cramped in his trench within the range of hostile fire at the Rugari outpost, Jagtar Singh stays awake all night looking out for the flash of artillery.
Bullets chambered in his heavy machine gun, safety clicked off. Straining through his night-vision goggles, Singh’s gaze rambles hastily over hillside positions where there has been a build-up of rebels barely 300 yards away.
In a war being fought as if it were some kind of Nintendo game, the Indian soldier shoulders a heavy res ponsibility: He is the LoC separating the Congolese army and rebels.
As he settles into a tense wait in the pre-dawn darkness, the blue-turbaned peacekeeper reveals he’s from Bhagat Singh's village Khatkar Kalan in Punjab.
Up until mid 2008, matters weren't so serious. The peacekeepers woke up every morning to the sounds of church bells. Now, the wake-up call comes in the form of rockets and mortars, winds blowing cordite into their nostrils.
A neatly folded Tricolour resting in a sideboard at the Indian brigade headquarters stands testimony to the pressure on Indian soldiers. The flag was ripped apart by a hail of machine gun fire. He grins, “We were lucky to have escaped ... Mortar rounds thumped into the post. I thought of my wife and infant son.”
Two Indian helicopters — a Mi-35 gunship and a Cheetah, almost went up in a fireball after being smacked in the belly by anti-aircraft fire in separate incidents around the time the IAF marked its 76th anniversary on October 8, 2008.
Group Captain N.J.S. Dhillon, commander of the Indian aviation contingent, was almost prophetic when he said, "The war is at a critical juncture. We are watching our backs."
The staccato babble of the machinegun is not Jagtar Singh's only concern. Nature's fury can be dangerous too.
Sandwiched between Nyiragongo volcano that spewed out lava in 2002 and the exploding lake Kivu, Indian soldiers are fighting someone else's war under a 15-minute evacuation plan.
(The correspondent was reporting from Congo in Sept-Oct '08)