I spent last Winter at a cut off post with nothing but snow-clad mountains all round and just packed/ tinned food to eat. The most I walked in those 6 months was the 300 meter stretch for the maintenance of the helipad. Deinduction from the post seemed like the best journey I ever undertook. Who could have thought that just the sight of green grass could bring such peace to me and that I would be so happy to see strangers for the sole reason of them being humans apart from the 20 comrades with whom I spent the winters with. It was the month of June and I was given the responsibility of Company Commander on the valley floor in Gurez. I was quite excited for the same as there would be different challenges and lots of work. The biggest challenge was to establish the rapport and gain the confidence of the population to build up a mutual understanding and respect towards each other. The older people were more accommodating as they had been around for a long time and knew that the Army was there to help and thus were supportive. Whereas, the younger lot was like what they generally are, anywhere in the country questing things and ready to stand for what they think is right. With the introduction of network in the valley it became much more important to help them understand that we were here to help and we were nothing but friends.
The good old saying is ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. We used to play cricket as part of the games parade in front of our camp, even though most of the Gorkha men were novice to the game as just 5 to 6 of them actually had played it earlier. At some distance there used to be another match being played by the boys from the villages. Unlike us they were good at it as they had been playing it since childhood. It continued the same way for the week and at times few individuals from either group would just visit and watch others playing till their teams were on the pitch. One fine day I walked up to the boys and asked them if they would like to play a match with our teams on the next Sunday. The decision was a result of many reasons. The first one being the love for the game. Apart from that it was a great opportunity to know the boys which otherwise was difficult due to the limited interaction with them. So the day was fixed and a match day was fixed. I selected a team amongst my men. It included few who were actually good at it and a few who had held the bat akin to any Gorkha Soldiers holding his personal weapon. But we weren’t going down without a fight. So, over the next few days before the match we made sure that everyone was learnt the basics of the game. We could see the boys from the villages preparing daily as well.
Finally, the day was here. The match was to begin at 1000 hours but the excitement could be measured by the fact that both the teams were present on the ground by 0900 hours and already practicing. There were elders and even a few ladies from all the villages, some of whom have decided to take a day off from taking their cattle to the jungle and some, to skip collecting firewood. There were others who had travelled from villages 5-10 km away with thermos in hands to enjoy the match with sips of ‘noon chai’.
The coin tossed in favour of the boys’ team and they decided to bat first. Both the teams moved to their respective dugouts to get ready for their part. The batsmen reached the pitch and the bowler at the start of his run up. At the signal from the umpire the first ball was bowled and it flew off to the boundary. The runs were being scored a good run rate and it was only in the 4th over we got the first wicket at a score of 45 runs. The men put in every bit of energy to stop every ball that moved towards the boundary as they weren’t aware of doing something without giving their 100%. The match continued and the score kept moving. The captain of the local boys’ team hit a half century and at the end of their innings the score was 108/4 in 10 overs.
After 10 minutes the match resumed and we were to chase a huge target. Their bowlers got an early breakthrough. I went in as the next batsman. Me along with my partner tried to take the innings ahead and with a few good shots the score was 48/1 at the end of 5 overs. But the very next ball my partner was bowled out. In the next three overs we scored 35 runs. But in the 9th over we lost 2 successive wickets, including me and now we required 18 runs of the last over. We lost the match by 5 runs. I didn’t know how to react but as I looked around I saw everyone jumping and celebrating irrespective of who won the match. The local boys and our soldiers were hugging and complimenting each other’s game. The match was lost but hearts won. We played as two different teams on the ground but the game made us a single team with a bond so strong never to be broken. That was the beginning of a tenure where I and my men were never allowed to feel away from home which followed with numerous great games of Cricket thereof. But that first match was always remembered as the best of them all and the game that connected hearts. As it is rightfully said that play ground unites all.