Monday, August 4, 2008

Being Vishal

Cut the crap, you guys are not here on a picnic” were his opening remarks the first time I met Vishal. He perfectly defines arrogance and can intimidate even the most confident person, yet simply loved by everyone he would have ever met.

Impeccable voice modulation, great narration skills or a speech in ‘shud’ Hindi can make you believe that he is a ‘voice over’ professional, but this Indian Military Academy (IMA) 97 pass out has more to his credit than what he really comes across most of the time.

Bike crazy Dehradun boy (not any more - he is too old for bikes) followed the family tradition and joined the Indian Army. IMA was just next door, all his miscreants on the camps just stayed within the camps at all times. Quite good at sports, he was part of the Boxing, Volleyball teams and did his company proud.

On passing out from IMA, he moved to the infantry attachment for 3 years with the 16 Grenadiers (Sholah), first at Pathankot and later went to complete his winter warfare courses (Basic & Advance) from High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS). He was on a normal posting at Drass and went on leave only to be called back, there was something big happening, his mom just kissed him good luck. It was firsthand experience of a war zone, en-route to Drass was the line-up of Bofors guns, which gave a 'teaser' of the events that were going to happen in the next few months, it was the Kargil war!!.

Many of us would have never believed that there would be a war in the 21st century between India and Pakistan. 16 Grenadiers were in the thick of the war, pushing back the infiltrators as they
scripted tales of courage.

As an Army outsider, I can never relate to war or ever imagine how selflessly the Indian Army fought to save our country on one of the most difficult terrains on earth. Vishal easily brushes it off saying they were trained and prepared to it, and they were doing just their duty – ‘save the country’. I guess that is the sprit of a true Indian solider.

What really touched me the most was what he said on NDTV (when Barkha Dutt covered the war), that, “during the war every one seem to be concerned about the soldiers, once the war is over the same concern has to be shown to those people who lost their loved ones fighting for the country”. Yes, we as a country have a very short public memory; there are many of those soldiers whom we have been forgotten forever.
Check NDTV interview in a bunker, in middle of the war

Post-war he completed the mountain warfare courses at HAWS, and later spent few years at HAWS as an instructor and running between ammunition courses, skiing, expedition and training. Not to mention that he is an excellent skier.

For someone who had such a long stint in the mountains and glaciers, a posting at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) was more of a natural progression; so Maj Vishal Thapa landed in NIM during the summer of 2006 as its Vice-Principal.

He runs his course in the true Army ishtyle, but I have not met a trainee so far who had nothing good to say about him or his way of functioning. He never compromises on the quality of training or on the delivery of results. He gives his best to every single course and drives everyone to do well; at the end of it the man has his heart in the right place!

If at all one gets to play Volleyball on his side of the team, then it's better to pull a chair and sit down as he will cover all the shots across the court. He spends his free time listening to music or beating someone hands down in a game of billiards, no one really takes ‘panga’ with him in a ball game.

At NIM he has quite a (female) fan following (fff), never realized the intensity till he gave his mobile number, standing on a podium (he refuses the podium part, so to be more accurate it was a 1.5 ft elevation). Point to be noted was the aftermath of his stupidity, for the next 45 days Shalini (his sweet wife) waited with an ice-axe each time he answered an fff call.

He did really survive a big bully like me, be it critics on his weather session or cocky questions on the GPS (which of course he took 3 days to figure it out), he took it all in the right spirit. The ‘Gang’ (Kranti, Bianca, Jigna, Deepika, Payal, Suchitra and Me) made his life miserable on the mountains in every possible way but he endured it all. We would never forget the support and encouragement he gave us at all times, that really pushed us to give our best throughout.

Aditi (his little daughter, affectionately called Adi) is probably the only one who can keep him ‘grounded’ or match his temper and Shalini is more than happy that Adi is his check-point :), for once the guy is under control.

Major Saab’ as I prefer to address him, is preparing for the Everest expedition in May 09. Wishing him good luck and hope he lights a cigarette on top of Everest in true “Vishal style”. Hope he does many more 8K’ers in years to come and be the “Real Mountain Boy”.

Many a times I feel that I live my dream through my friends in the Army. After all, that was the only dream, which stayed as a dream for ever.

- Kavitha Reddy