Chapter 3 Maanav ‘Bullet’ Deshmukh

 

In the frigid expanse of Siachen, where temperatures plummet to a bone-chilling -50°C amid relentless blizzards, 2 men struggled to maintain their forté. The high-altitude glacier’s fierce winds howled through the icy landscape, testing their resolve in a realm of perpetual winter.

They had exhausted their physical energy long back. Muscles were barely aware of each foot as it placed itself ahead, making its imprint on snow and their lungs seemed to have a mind of their own. Sticking their ice picks on the unfathomable mountainous terrain, they hauled themselves up. They searched for crevices to stick in their gloved hands to get a hold… and to fix their pitons. Their spindled climbing ropes ran through the pitons, holding them precariously as they fought gravity. The Indian Army soldiers were on the other side, but these two were not a part of them, and yet they were.

Maanav ‘Bullet’ Deshmukh wheezed in a breath and looked at the point they could relax their unfeeling muscles before their next accent. At the same time, they had to camouflage themselves, blend in the pristine glow of the white gold spread before them. The Army was official… they weren’t. He felt lifeless even as the tabletop of the range was in sight. Besides him, his best friend for years, Avinash ‘Razor’ Thakur rasped in a breath and he could hear it when the slight blizzard took a respite.

He knew irrespective of the outcome of their clandestine mission, if things went down south, Avinash would have his back. The government would disregard them and leave them to rot, but his close friends wouldn’t. Even at this point his other close friends Shiv ‘Shadow’ Chouhan and Avinash’s twin Anandi ‘Lolita’ Thakur were watching their backs secretly. Shiv had launched the Special Protection Services (SPS) a while ago. It was a front for bodyguard services but in reality, it dealt with operations that couldn’t get any sanctions and even the other covert organisations like RAW couldn’t tackle because of bureaucratic hassles.

While Maanav and Avinash were still employed with a special ops group, a secret branch of the Indian Army, Shiv had invited them over to join him. Anandi had already done so and Avinash was considering as well. The four had been best friends since the days of ‘Sainik Shala’ a gurukul that taught them a lot besides academics. Another common factor was their family background which left a lot to desire. They all came from broken homes, so probably that was the first factor to blend together.

Maanav’s foot suddenly skidded on a patch of snow and he veered precariously. Avinash was there in the next instant and stabilised him. Maanav watched his hot vapourised breath freeze in faster than his next inhalation! He couldn’t afford to lose focus even due to fatigue… their mission would be compromised and the life that was dependent on the duo would be snuffed out in an instant. In usual circumstances, Avinash would have given him an earful but he knew they had to save every ounce of energy to complete the climb.  The only sound he heard as they continued the last stage of their climb was the soft clink of the metal on rock and their heavy breathing.

The morning Sun was climbing out of the deep snow-well but still the cold was brutal and killing.

They finally made it to the rest zone and lay on the white snow, undeterred by the cold seeping in through their thick overalls. Their bodies were numb after two hours of excruciating climb that began before dawn. But the only feeling they had was of their will… the will to succeed despite unending tiredness, their heart bursting with pride… They saw a neighbouring peak scaled by the Army and re-conquered years ago and the proud tricolour fluttering away to glory.

Maanav sat up and sighed. This particular peak was a no man’s land and that’s where the special ops group came in. The Army had pledged support but there was little they could do since they had no jurisdiction. Maanav recalled the case they had to memorise. There was nothing on them that could give away their identities. Right from unregistered firearms to no walkie talkies. But unknown to their handlers they had transmitters on them courtesy of Shiv. These were high-end and only Shiv had their coordinates.

The task at hand was such. The home minister’s niece was kidnapped and was currently on the other side of the border. Intelligence had found out her location to be near Skardu located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan and serves as a logistical and administrative hub for the area. The problem was the Home Minister, a confirmed bachelor had a problem with revealing the incident to the world. Maanv through Shiv had found that the niece was actually the man’s illegitimate daughter brought up by his reluctant sister. The girl barely out of her teens was wayward and doped all the time. She probably had no clue where she was or what had happened to her… or that there were men risking their lives to save her.

Maanav knew it better than to question the logic in this case. Politicians all had skeletons in their closets and they preferred to keep those cupboards closed all the time. Maanav cared a damn… his father was an Army man to the core and beyond and he knew the nuances better than anyone. But at the moment it was upto Avinash and him and the girl’s life depended on their quick thinking.

Avinash signalled that it was time to leave. He had the feeling of urination threatening to burst his bladder but knew it was futile… the urine would freeze before it hit the snow and give him a literal case of blue balls! That would be the end of them.

He chuckled at the thought and they began their downward climb on the other side… they would soon reach the neighbouring country and they had to hide themselves from prying eyes and drones. The neighbouring country had people struggling with poverty and extreme inflation but they had all the money in their coffers for technological advancement in warfare that they used anyway but judiciously.

This climb down was more challenging than the climb up. Besides being under the enemy’s radar directly, the mountain was extremely rocky and steep. Avinash was the expert in the area and strong and they had decided to do it in one go. Avinash signalled again with his hand and the duo began their descent. A few minutes of rapid climb down passed uneventfully. Maanv felt something amiss… Avinash too probably as he halted and looked at Maanav through the anti-fogging goggles. He didn’t have to see Avinash’s face to know what the guy was thinking. The 4 of them were attuned to each other so well.

Suddenly he heard something zoom past him and chip off the ice next to him. And another right next… Gosh they were being shot at. Their cover was blown. Their overalls were bulletproof but there was only so much they could sustain. Avinash signalled and they moved on a side and hid behind the jutting ice rock. The bullets were still coming in.

They had to wait it out but that meant spending more time in depleting oxygen and depleting energy reserves as well. They had only a royal meal of Maggi noodles and chicken broth an hour before they began their climb that morning and were famished by then.

Maanav had to make the decision. The ground rule of covert operations involved low casualties since they couldn’t call for attention. But now they didn’t have a choice. Maanav was the expert here and as if hearing his thoughts Avinash nodded in agreement. Maanav took position even as Avinash gave him the needed footing. Their ropes couldn’t take much load and if the bullets hit them continuously, the ropes would eventually give away and the two would fall to their deaths.

Maanav aimed the Sako TRG 42, the high-end sniper rifle he had customised to lighten the weight for his climb. He stuck the nozzle though the gap in the rock and tried to look through the eye piece. Bingo… he found the morons. They were 4 and were hiding behind barracks… how typical of the enemy! They always attacked in stealth.

So stealth it was… he wasn’t called ‘bullet’ just in the name. He took aim and in the next minute all 4 were felled. He saw the commotion as the enemy troopers scampered to their fallen brethren. He used the chaos to shoot a few more and changed his footing and direction in the process to help the bullets ricochet and hit the enemy from unexpected quarters. The enemy only kept guessing from where the shots were fired. The men soon retreated probably to get reinforcement and this was the opening the duo need.

Avinash and Maanav resumed the drop and without any problem they managed the rest of the feat.

The ground level now posed a new challenge.  The place was barren and rocky and probably landmine infested as well…

They had to be extra careful. Avinash took out a device used to find out if there were any active IEDs so they didn’t get blown up before their mission got over. Thank fully there were none and slowly they made their way to a hut hidden amidst a cluster of other huts, they were local tribals.

One of them was their contact point in the enemy land. These missions needed help from some  local person for their ultimate success. The old man whom they knew as chachajaan served them hot kahwa and broth. They were famished and wolfed them hurriedly. Maanav didn’t know the true identity of chachajaan but their higherups had their research in place and every terrain had some helper. It wasn’t Maanv’s place to find out these details.

Chachajaan gave them local outfits that had seen better days. But to go in a disguise they had to look as authentic as possible.

A while later two ‘older’ men with sticks made their way out of the settlement. They wore ragged long tunics with black Shalwars and a heavy wooden cloak they wore was great to conceal the arms they hid beneath. They covered their heads with thick skull caps and beneath there was a long rag covering their face from the frequent blizzards. Herding yaks would have called for attention given how poor the region was. So they chose sheep… the unsheared animals were easy to conceal what they wanted to.

They gradually made their way to run an errand… directly to the wolf’s lair. The settlement always provided the troops with food and other essential requirements so they were loyal to their army because of the business they brought in. However some of them like chachajaan liked more moolah… They could not be trusted and if someone looked into the hut they would find chachajaan missing and a few days later, his decomposing body under the floor of the hut.

 

Maanav and Avinash treaded along and finally reached a two storeyed heavily guarded building. The place was a fortress and surrounded by barracks were the troops stood guarding the place. There was no other building for miles around the acrid area.

Maanav addressed the man at the outer barrack in Urdu infused with the Balti language. His line of work needed him to blend and language and dialects played a major role in hiding his cover. The man nodded and spoke on the walkie talkie to his comrades and soon a couple of them came up… they touched the two of them to check for hidden weapons and Maanav and Avinash had been prepared. They only had milk jars strapped to the three sheep as far as those soldiers were concerned.

Right then Maanav pressed a button strapped beneath the skull cap and the tiny devices they had dropped along their way to this place began to explode sending the clouds of dust all around. The due joined the screaming and fell on the floor pretending to be scared for their lives. Meanwhile they took out their arms hidden in the wool beneath the sheep belly that these morons hadn’t checked. After all the sheep from the settlement were marked for recognition.

Maanav used this chaos to shoot the nearest men and in the cloudy confusion, the others scrambled for safety trying to look out from where the attack was happening. Avinash nodded to Maanav and he crouched towards the building. The timed devices were blowing up and confusion prevailed. Avinash launched a grenade on the other side and the confusion only snowballed into ballistic shooting. Avinash ducked under a bunker and waited… there was no point in fighting so many people together. He had to wait for the opportunity and as per their calculations the rangers would be there in the next 10 mins. They had that much time to bring out the girl.

Maanav was inside walking in the shadows and stood silent watching the confusion play out. He was on the second storey and held his tiny pistol the only one he had managed to carry upstairs. As expected Avinash had created enough distraction and the men from the building were downstairs trying to secure the perimeter till reinforcement arrived. This was the time gap he had… He peeped into one of the two rooms and saw his target… the young girl was gagged and tied up and lay slumped on the chair. Oh hell… this was going to be tough, carrying dead weight. He had no choice but to put plan B in action. It would cost him his job but he had to get this job done… save the girl. He looked around for a communication device and found a crude one. He pressed in the special codes and then a few more to scramble them across channels… and waited. Shiv would have received the coordinates now and a waiting helicopter would be there in 5 min. He just hoped the time window would work out.

He walked in slowly and untied the girl. She was dead weight and he laboured to carry her in a fireman’s carry across the balcony crouching all the way to avoid detection. He was panting heavily because of the cloth covering his face to conceal his disguise and there was no body part that wasn’t aching or getting numb with cold… Would he survive this? There was a buzz and then a roar and he knew the helicopter was close. Would Avinash make it? He didn’t doubt the guy and rightly so, the lean bulky oxymoron of a man was besides him in a jiffy. Avinash took over the load of carrying the girl and Maanav shielded the duo with pistols in both his arms. Avinash handed him a grenade, their last one and Maanav dropped it at the entrance since the troops would now close in hearing the helicopter nearing the terrace of the building.

As they barged into the terrace they were in for a surprise, there were two men stationed there. Avinash rolled along the ground. Maanav’s disguise disintegrated and his face was revealed… He shot the two point-blank but not before getting hit on the chest. He only felt the heaviness settling in the chest when the Helicopter landed and Avinash rushed towards him.

Pressing a cloth on his chest Avinash whispered heavily. “Hang in there, Bullet….we have to see this through together….”

He felt his ass being hauled on the helicopter and as the bird flew higher amidst the sounds of bullets from automatic weapons, the mother of all pains shot through his being. He felt a prick…probably the doctor on board injected something. All he could see as his vision blurred was Avinash animatedly speaking something…

As the world around him began to fade he remembered his past… his childhood, his father and the special friend whom he had to betray… his little Nitya.

I am so sorry Nitya….

 

©priyanayakgole

(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

 

 

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