A HUMBLING STORY
Vivek Pradhan wasn't a happy man. Even the plush comfort of the
First Class air-conditioned compartment of the Shatabdi Express
couldn't cool his frayed nerves. He was the Project Manager and
entitled to air travel. It was not the prestige he sought, he had
tried to reason with the admin guy, it was the savings in time. A PM
had so many things to do!
He opened his case and took out the laptop, determined to put the
time to some good use.
"Are you from the software industry sir," the man beside him was
staring appreciatively at the laptop. Vivek glanced briefly and
mumbled in affirmation, handling the laptop now with exaggerated
care and importance as if it were an expensive car.
"You people have brought so much advancement to the country sir.
Today everything is getting computerized."
'Thanks," smiled Vivek, turning around to give the man a detailed
look. He always found it difficult to resist appreciation. The man
was young and stocky like a sportsman. He looked simple and
strangely out of place in that little lap of luxury like a small
town boy in a prep school. He probably was a Railway sportsman
making the most of his free traveling pass.
"You people always amaze me," the man continued, "You sit in an
office and write something on a computer and it does so many big
Vivek smiled deprecatingly. Naivety demanded reasoning not anger.
"It is not as simple as that my friend. It is not just a question of
writing a few lines. There is a lot of process that goes behind it."
For a moment he was tempted to explain the entire Software
Development Lifecycle but restrained himself to a single statement.
"It is complex, very complex."
"It has to be. No wonder you people are so highly paid," came the
This was not turning out as Vivek had thought. A hint of
belligerence came into his so far affable, persuasive tone.
"Everyone just sees the money. No one sees the amount of hard work
we have to put in." "Hard work!" "Indians have such a narrow concept
of hard work.
Just because we sit in an air-conditioned office doesn't mean our
brows don't sweat. You exercise the muscle; we exercise the mind and
believe me that is no less taxing."
He had the man where he wanted him and it was time to drive home
"Let me give you an example. Take this train. The entire railway
reservation system is computerized. You can book a train ticket
between any two stations from any of the hundreds of computerized
booking centers across the country. Thousands of transactions
accessing a single database at a given time; concurrency, data
integrity, locking, data security. Do you understand the complexity
in designing and coding such a system?" The man was stuck with
amazement, like a child at a planetarium. This was something big and
beyond his imagination. "You design and code such things."
"I used to," Vivek paused for effect, "But now I am the project
"Oh!" sighed the man, as if the storm had passed over, "so your
life is easy now."
It was like being told the fire was better than the frying pan. The
man had to be given a feel of the heat. "Oh come on, does life ever
get easy as you go up the ladder. Responsibility only brings more
work. Design and coding!
That is the easier part. Now I don't do it, but I am responsible for
it and believe me, that is far more stressful. My job is to get the
work done in time and with the highest quality. And to tell you
about the pressures!
There is the customer at one end always changing his requirements,
the user wanting something else and your boss always expecting you
to have finished it yesterday."
Vivek paused in his diatribe, his belligerence fading with
What he had said was not merely the outburst of a wronged man, it
was the truth. And one need not get angry while defending the truth.
"My friend," he concluded triumphantly, "you don't know what it is
to be in the line of fire."
The man sat back in his chair, his eyes closed as if in
realization. When he spoke after sometime, it was with a calm
certainty that surprised Vivek.
"I know sir, I know what it is to be in the line of fire," He was
staring blankly as if no passenger, no train existed, just a vast
expanse of time.
"There were 30 of us when we were ordered to capture Point 4875 in
the cover of the night. The enemy was firing from the top. There was
no knowing where the next bullet was going to come from and for
whom. In the morning when we finally hoisted the tricolor at the top
only 4 of us were alive."
"You are a..."
"I am Subedar Sushant Singh from the 13 J&K Rifles on duty at Peak
4875 in Kargil. They tell me I have completed my term and can opt
for a land assignment. But tell me sir, can one give up duty just
because it makes life easier. On the dawn of that capture one of my
colleagues lay injured in the snow, open to enemy fire while we were
hiding behind a bunker. It was my job to go and fetch that soldier
to safety. But my captain refused me permission and went ahead
himself. He said that the first pledge he had taken as a Gentleman
Cadet was to put the safety and welfare of the nation foremost
followed by the safety and welfare of the men he commanded. His own
personal safety came last, always and every time. He was killed as
he shielded that soldier into the bunker. Every morning now as I
stand guard I can see him taking all those bullets, which were
actually meant for me. I know sir, I know what it is to be in the
line of fire." Vivek looked at him in disbelief not sure of his
reply. Abruptly he switched off the laptop. It seemed trivial, even
insulting to edit a word document in the presence of a man for whom
valor and duty was a daily part of life; a valor and sense of duty
which he had so far attributed only to epical heroes. The train
slowed down as it pulled into the station and Subedar Sushant Singh
picked up his bags to alight. "It was nice meeting you sir." Vivek
fumbled with the handshake.
This was the hand that had climbed mountains, pressed the trigger
and hoisted the tricolor. Suddenly as if by impulse he stood at
attention, and his right hand went up in an impromptu salute. It was
the least he felt he could do for the country.
PS: The incident he narrates during the capture of Peak 4875 is a
true life incident during the Kargil war. Major Vikram Batra
sacrificed his life while trying to save one of the men he
commanded, as victory was within sight.
For this and his various other acts of bravery he was posthumously
awarded the Param Vir Chakra - the nation's highest military award.
Story sent to me by Mr. Satish Dhall