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On the Death of a Soldier…

The following article was written by Paula Mariwala

Bombay is hundreds km from the beautiful valleys of Kashmir. In spirit, however, it is much further than this geographical distance. Sure, Kashmir touches us occasionally through Bollywood. The Kashmir problem is good script material. Good enough to cast the leading stars and make a film, but not to make an issue that touches the soul of its citizens. Lt. Nawang Kapadia, a 24 year old South Bombay lad died a heroic death fighting Afghan terrorists in the jungles of Kashmir on November 11th. An exceptionally heroic death, because he succumbed to the bullet of a sniper sharp shooter while trying to rescue another injured soldier of the platoon led by him. Far away from his home, that war ravaged “heaven on earth” claimed yet another life. A precious life – as all lives are!! Precious to his family, friends, teachers, colleagues and indeed to his nation!! The army gave him a beautiful, moving farewell with full honours on 14th November – Children’s Day!! The sounds of last post wiped a few tears from his mother’s eyes. The solemnity of the occasion reflected in the stunned silence of the crematorium.

The city, however, barely noticed the 16 gun salute or the silence that follwed. At 10 AM on Tuesday morning, it was in the midst of its busy, bustling self.

It should have been the task of the city’s “leading” newspapers to bring this news to its “elite” readers – who form a large chunk of this nation’s “intelligentia”! Well, instead, The Times of India carried a small report on page 5 (How many actually read page 5?) while the front page was consumed by the sensational murder of the Sena Corporator allegedly at the hands of her own husband – a known gangster!! A dastardly act, no doubt, but certainly, not an inspiring one nor of national or human interest!! However, this continued to consume the publication along with its sister publication Bombay Times. A South Bombay boy going into the army, choosing to go to the borders is a story in itself because of its uniqueness!! Certainly something for Madames De, Chandok, Sanghvi and co. to sit up and notice. This city does have people who are not part of the social climbing glitterati that seems to consume some of the print media!! Media, which claim to be representing this city’s interest. And it is shame on us that we continue to sustain and encourage them!! There are people in this city who aspire and achieve beyond the narrow confines of the South Mumbai Ghetto. Obviously, what this young boy did away from the cozy comfort of his Carmichael Road residence, in the service of his country, in pursuit of a passion, with grit, determination and selflessness, was not worth any significant notice. After all, he had not been photographed in the right crowd before he left to take his commission in the 4/3 Gorkha Regiment!! Mid-day, the “Local” Mumbai paper carried only a photograph, with no words wasted!! The front pages all consumed by the Sena Corporator murder followed by the even more sensational saga of the greed of our national heroes – Azhar & co.!! The poor Mumbai boy, who died in Kashmir, need not affect the pampered lives of this city! Of course, Kashmir is too much of a serious issue for some papers, but they can at least use the “human element” in this story to bring something positive about this city to its inhabitants. After all, the boy did belong to your city!!

Once again, we can take pride in the smallness of our vast, powerful city!!

It must be pointed out that the vernacular media covered this story in great detail, and also brought forth the larger issue of the Kashmir problem. One may or may not agree with war but one cannot deny its existence. We are all paying for it by lives and money!! The only ones reaping the benefit of the war are our mighty politicians. Can the media not take a lead in addressing this? The US President has had to answer for every life lost in the Gulf War. The Vietnam Memorial, the treatment given to the war veterans in the US- this is testimony of the respect that human life has. We have reduced our people to statistics. Statistics cannot create history. History is made of real people.

Nawang Kapadia was a Bombay lad. Maybe that’s why it hurts enough to enrage us. But it is not his name or story that are important. It is only the priorities and standards we have accepted in our media, our people, our lives that sadden us.

Alas, the pen is mightier than nothing!! It only succumbs to the succulent sensations of a juicy story!!