Saturday, August 04, 2007

Death of a Colonel

Col. Vasanth V, commanding officer of the 9th Maratha light infantry battalion, died on Tuesday, July 31st. He was injured while battling a group of militants who were trying to cross the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LOC) in the Uri sector in Kashmir.

I had met Col. Vasanth briefly in 1991 when I was on vacation in India. He was a soft-spoken man with a good sense of humor. He had surprised me with his knowledge of obscure things by asking whether the culture of the Cajuns in Louisiana was still alive. I hadn't known about the Cajuns before coming to the US, and hadn't expected that someone in India would know about them. So I naturally asked him how he even knew of their existence. Though he couldn't recall exactly where he had read about them, he brushed off my surprise by saying "We used to read a lot of things, including the newspaper the samosas came wrapped in"! I could immediately sense a kindred soul, having been book and library-starved during my childhood. For some reason, that moment of resonance came back to me today, when I heard about his death.

I have often wondered if the chaos of the world of political violence, either within countries or between them, is going to affect me directly. There are so many conflicts in the world that I must count myself incredibly fortunate never to have come within sniffing distance of any. This time though, the violence has come quite close. Col. Vasanth and I had only one degree of separation. He was a long-time colleague and a good friend of my brother.

I wonder if the planners of violence like the generals and spy agencies pursuing "strategic depth" or "balance of power" ever pause to think of the misery they are inflicting upon people. Scratch that. It is quite obvious that they don't. For them, the jihadi groups are pawns in a broader chess game.

We read of the deaths of people in the news reports so often. Yet, when a person we know dies, we are forced to pause and reflect on the tragedy. Our own sorrows, frustrations and hassles start looking trivial by comparison. A death you reflect upon forces you to evaluate life again.