At last, the darkness began to lift with daybreak. The fateful mid-December dawn was preordained to be the most cherished one. Capture of Bandar railway station on the outskirts of Dhaka the previous night proved to be a hard nut to crack. The only way to approach Bandar was along the railway line as it was hemmed between the swampy water bodies on both sides.
The attack which commenced after last light made extremely slow progress because of enemy automatics, which were sweeping the rail track effectively. It was around midnight that a close contact was made with the forward bunkers. Leading echelons did manage to gain a foothold, but in the process suffered heavy losses.
Due to the extremely restricted space, it was a classic close-quarter battle and scales could have tipped either way. Had the logjam persisted, the defender was certain to gain an upper hand.
Passing through of reserves to press home the attack was a nightmare. Evacuation of casualties added to the chaos. Somehow, we did manage to break the stalemate. By the wee hours, the defender's resistance began to weaken. It was early morning when Bandar ultimately changed hands.
While we were consolidating our positions and looking forward to a well-deserved pause, orders were received to resume advance as the race for Dhaka was in the final lap. No sooner did we prepare for the assault than a communication was received to postpone the operation till further orders. We pulled back.
Finally, we got the orders to call off the operation for good as the enemy was negotiating for surrender.
We removed our fighting gear and helmets. My ever-efficient platoon havildar was soon passing around a steaming tea kettle. With full mugs, we raised a victory toast to celebrate the moment, yelling our regimental war cry 'Jat Balwan, Jai Bhagwan'.
Choked by emotions in the hour of triumph, with goose pimples and moist eyes, I scanned the battle-scarred faces of my men. Each one was an epitome of courage, bravery and humility. Some not in the frame were immortal heroes, having gone down making the supreme sacrifice.
Likes of me, barely 20, commanders of smallest sub-units, were given rather crisp mandate: "Just lead up front, rest will follow". We had little insight into the larger picture, how history was being made on the sub-continent and the posterity would go on to mark this day of 1971 -- December 16 - as Victory Day.
In war, victory comes at an exorbitant price. It is measured on foot, "ultimately by the faceless soldier, the man behind the gun", who at the end determines the fate of the war - the destiny of a nation.