Man’s best friend!

(A work of fiction)

It happened during Op VIJAY in 1999. Tololing had just fallen. I had moved my field company to Drass. We moved into the heights of Sangro between Tiger Hill and the long Manpo La Ridgeline. I shared a bunker with a Maj Ajay, the company commander of Sangro Main where we were constructing field defences.  Maj Ajay  belonged to Alpha company of the GRENADIERS battalion which clung onto the Sangro ridge despite everything the Pakis could throw at them. Our post, Sangro Main,  was regularly shelled by the Pakistani Observation Post at Pt 5109 to the North.

The Company Commander’s bunker at Sangro is on the crest of an exposed knoll connected by a hundred yard corridor to the nearby mountain side. Each day we had to get out of the bunkers carefully at unexpected intervals and scuttle along the ridge to the mountainside. For, if we dawdled or were seen, the ever watchful Pakistani OP would lob a few arty shells at us. On each of these hair-raising excursions, we were accompanied back and forth by Bozo.

Bozo, was a large biscuit-coloured Bhutia. He, and not Ajay, was the real king of Sangro.  He would sit on top of  the Company Commander’s bunker basking in the warm sunlight while we cowered inside or crept along the mountainside. When shelling began, he would yawn, stretch himself and cock his head to peer at the explosions. If he felt they were a mite close, he would amble inside the bunker. Not for Bozo were the jawans bunkers nestled safely amongst the rocks. No, his domain was the company commander’s bunker, the most exposed of all and the favourite target of the Pakistani Mountain Howitzers whose life’s sole mission, it seemed, was to land a shell squarely onto it and blow us all to smithereens. So far, it had not happened and Bozo being the Raja of Sangro naturally chose the Company Commander’s bunker as his home.

Bhutias - fierce protectors and loyal companions. (Image credit - Ms Kishmish)

Being the Tiger’s dog, Bozo was the mascot of Alpha company and the choicest scraps were reserved for him. These he accepted with great dignity from Ajay’s hand only. The rank and file he ignored. It took me a long time and much effort before he deigned to grace me with the permission to pat his head!  Bozo would lord over the other dogs who dare not show their snout anywhere near our knoll. Bozo accompanied Ajay everywhere. He was the apple of Ajay’s eye and they were inseperable. I marvelled at their affection for each other.

In war, bunkermates become bosom-buddies and I soon came to know Ajay quite well. A courageous and competent officer, Ajay was undergoing great personal strife – he was accused of failing to press home an attack on a nearby feature.

Ajay’s company had been tasked to crack a particularly difficult nut, Pt 5200 which had a long flat exposed approach. Just as his company attack had reached the objective,their stealthy approach was noticed by one of the ever-vigilant Pakistani OPs and Ajay’s company were straddled by salvo after salvo as they tried to bunch up for the final assault.  Ajay was knocked unconscious by an arty shell. After the accurate arty fire forced the company to retreat with a large number of casualties,  the local commander blamed Ajay for this debacle, ignoring the fact that the next attack by an infantry battalion was also repulsed by the Pakistanis. Ajay was to face a Court of Enquiry and a possible Court Martial. In those dark days, Ajay seemed to have no friend in the world, except for Bozo who lavished affection on him.

The type of terrain where the attacks go in! RIP our brave martyrs!

One fateful day, Alpha company was ordered to capture Pt 5109, our nemesis. As the troops moved up after dark, Ajay soon found that he was not leading just a company but also a large brown dog. Bozo, happy to do something new, was following him. Shooing him away had no effect. A well-aimed stone drew a whimper and it seemed that Bozo had returned to Sando. An hour later, as Alpha company crouched behind rocks with fixed bayonets, Ajay was startled by a warm wet tongue licking his face. Bozo was intent on assaulting with the GRENADIERS. There was nothing to do but go on. The company moved out silently and soon battle cries and barks surprised the Pakistani outpost which was quickly overpowered. Alpha Company tasted victory for the first time and that too without a casualty. The troops attributed this to the luck that Bozo brought with him and this time Bozo permitted all and sundry to pat him on the head.

Pt 5109 is ten yard narrow ridge with sangars on both sides and a trench in between. The Pakistani shelling soon began but either overshot or fell short. Later that night, a fog crept up and it became very cold.  The troops huddled together, tired and miserable after the gruelling climb and adrenalin rush of battle. An hour passed. Suddenly Bozo stared into the fog and began barking loudly. Ajay immediately stood to with his men just in time to repulse a Pakistani counter-attack which had used the cover of the fog to get close to the post.  Once again the GRENADIERS pushed back the enemy without a casualty.

Except for one, that is. Bozo was found bloody and cowering at the bottom of the trench after the attack. A piece of shrapnel had neatly sliced off his front right paw. He was quickly fitted with a first field dressing and the Company waited for daylight when a company of SIKHS climbed up to relieve them. Bozo was carried down by Ajay in his own arms, no mean feat since Bozo weighed over 20 kgs.

Victory!

Bozo healed rapidly and soon adapted a three legged gait. He moved slowly, but with the same dignity and once again accompanied Ajay everywhere. He was still the Raja of Sangro. With Pt 5109 falling to the GRENADIERS and Tiger Hill falling soon after, we could now sit in the open and enjoy the sunshine on Sangro knoll along with Bozo.  I can still recall, in my mind’s eye, Ajay and Bozo sitting beside me as the last rays of the evening sun fell on our faces and the waters of Pariyon Ka Talab glinted in the distance.

Soon, Ajay had to leave for his Court of Enquiry and he bid a tearful farewell to his best friend. I assured him that I would look after Bozo for him till he returned. Soon I shifted to a bunker on the nearby hillside next to the camp of my field company. Bozo continued to live in Sando but often visited me at mealtimes to the great delight of my sahayak who kept the choicest marrow bones for him.

In early October, Ajay returned. He had finally been exonerated, but his battalion was moving out to a peace station in the desert. He resolved to take his best friend with him. I kept silent as he first retrieved his luggage, then collected Bozo’s collar, dish and blanket and loaded them in the 1Ton. As he turned to get Bozo from where he was basking in the evening sun at his usual spot atop the bunker, I placed my hand on Ajay’s arm. He looked back enquiringly. I quietly reminded him that Bhutias are dogs of cold weather and high altitude and that Bozo would definitely not survive the desert summer. Ajay’s eyes mutinously but silently refused to acknowledge the truth of what I was telling him. But in the heart of hearts, Ajay knew that what I said was true, and now deep sorrow filled his eyes. My hand dropped from Ajay’s arm. He walked over to the knoll and sat next to Bozo. They spent a few moments together and then after petting him for the last time, Ajay returned. He shook hands with me. We could not look each other in the eye. Without looking back Ajay got into the 1Ton and drove away. Bozo was still sitting on the knoll enjoying the evening breeze,  the undisputed three-legged king of Sangro.

..like Bozo, a well-earned rest in the sun..(image credit - Ms Kishkish)

Soon after, my field company finished our task and we too moved on.   I have not yet been able to find anyone who could tell me how Bozo is at Sangro. Thus ended one of the finest friendships I had seen between man and beast. Truly, in those dark days, Bozo had been one man’s best friend.

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10 Comments on “Man’s best friend!”

  1. vidwansa Says:

    keep them coming sir, your certainly have the knack of making them extremely interesting and endearing.

  2. Ranbir Says:

    I was commanding Sup Depot Kargil between Jun96 and July 98. I know what you are talking about. I know these places and I can understand the sentiments. Way to go buddy. It is important to chronicle the incidents so that future generations can draw from it. I loved it.

  3. Ava Says:

    Your stories are really wonderful. I hope you have many of them.

  4. vikram Says:

    ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN

    1. On 10 Sept 07 I lost last of my five dogs within four years. They were almost same age groups and named Pedro, Lyeka , Donny, Ginny and Snowy and they all died within 8 to 14 years of age. They were real companions to me in all my field tenures, looked after by all of us , wife and parents and grew up with my son as a toddler playing with them. It is needless to say that among many losses or personal pains, I value loss of Dogs life as utmost.

    2. The purpose of my writing this piece is to make readers/ dogs lovers aware of some causes of Dogs death as out of ignorance I could not read the symptoms initially .

    3. The basic reason a dogs dies is of an organ failure. Usually it is a kidney failure and it comes as a shocker without any warning signs. One of Dog Donny was hale and hearty till one day he stopped eating , i took him to vet who smelled his nose, some odor was coming, he ordered blood urea and uric test and he told me my dog will die a horrible death by evening unless I don’t give him a euthanasia as uric acid was above 40 compared to normal 8 and was entering blood stream and it was matter of time it goes inside his brain. Imagine my plight when I got him back and that hale hearty looking dog was going to die within next few hours. His condition worsened and late night he passed away with self forcing myself to call a vet late night to give him euthanasia as he was in a pathetic frenzy stage . I cursed myself for not being careful or reading any symptoms of his kidney failures. The euthanasia was very difficult form me, When you feel that your dog has given up and you decide that the time has come to release him to the bridge, do not feel guilty. Many dogs will “ask” to be put down. This is a decision you and your dog will make together. You must honestly ask yourself, “when does his quality of life end?” Euthanasia may be the kindest thing you can do for your dog under the circumstances, knowing you supported and aided your dog to live his life fully in the company of someone who loved him.

    4. My other dog Pedro also died of similar organ failures and basic symptom was they stopped eating, we generally ignore presuming he is doing play acting for wanting chicken. Please don’t ignore this aspect. Another common cause of which my female dog Ginny died was Pneumonia , which also had no symptom and it came within a day and next day she went away peacefully.

    5 One of my other female dog Lyeka died in old age due to acute arthritis, she could not walk in her last month. Later I came to know, high protein diet was basically responsible for it especially eggs. She also underwent two deliveries and probably I should have given her some calcium in her initial years.

    6. My last dog Snowy lived up to grand 14 years and was the most healthy dog living his old age . However he was struck with paralysis of rear limbs Degenerative Myelopathy and died within two days. The vet suggested Euthanasia since his condition was very bad but this time I refused since his brain was ok and he could hear me and respond to me , he died in my arms in front of my small pvt mandir in my home.

    7. I came to know from vet, usually German Shepherd and Boxers ad old dogs suffer from this disease called Degenerative . Myelopathy. DM can be divided into 4 progressive stages:

    a. Toe dragging or knuckling over.

    b. Crossing of the back legs and mild loss of side-to-side hip control.

    c. Moderate to severe loss of side-to-side hip control to the point of no control.

    d. Total hind end paralysis.

    8 To date there is no cure for DM, however, there are several additional measures you can take that will help slow its progression, therefore maintaining your dog’s quality of life. Keep your dog at his appropriate weight. Extra weight will make his symptoms worse and add more stress to his joints

    9. I had lost all my dogs a year back with a grand association with either of them in last 14 years and I don’t think I am ready to get a new friend till I settle down/ or grow old to give him complete time. All prospective dog lovers must take a decision of looking after a dog like own child. Dogs cannot talk but understand everything , our moods ,. I remember all my dogs used to hear a distinctive beat of my bullet motorcycle and start barking, telling my wife and kid of my arrival when I was reaching home but still away from home a couple of blocks. I have been extra careful in traveling with my dogs , if by air which is a few hours of being capative only, the Aircraft cargo bin is fully AC and journey is comfortable if dogs is in a comfortable cage. The problem is if traveling by train, the cage is very hot and humid then one has to ensure spending maximum time in guard room, I used to read a best seller in guard cabin with my dogs sitting next to me outside the cage . The train guard usually permitted me especially in afternoon when I took them out of cage and sit with them in guard wagon . My wife and child used to be in 2 AC with me jumping from 2 AC to guard room now and then.

    10. A dog also helps in stress buster, companions at remote post like I was at Tuting, Manchula at NE or Kiari in Leh. They adjusted themselves with every hardship of my tenure winters or deserts, but we were a great group all of us including our time we spend at CME and MCEME with my wife and child taking the for walks in college campus. A dog is also a combined family responsibility with our better half taking utmost care in our absence. I thank my wife and parents for their support in my absence to look after them.

    11. I am sure they are all happy above and one day when I go up, I will certainly meet them or maybe in this life in some other form possibly as human beings.

    12. Hope this info on care for our best friends helps. Let me know if I can do something for any CLOSE KNIT, CARING GROUP in animal welfare . IF any reader has TO DEAL WITH any DISEASE, IT’S EASIER WITH SUPPORT….. MAY ALL OUR DOGS LIVE A THOUSAND YEARS.

    13. Today I have again four dogs two are adopted as abandoned (Itchy and Browny), one an old Lab again iIfound him lost ( I named him Shadow) and my very own sweet heart Golden Retriever ‘Sparky’. The stories about each one of them next time…………….

    They are good stress busters and loving friends

    Vikram Bakshi


    • Thanks for the detailed comment, Vikram. You have shed light on a subject most pet owners would not like to think about – the future demise of their beloved pets. I hope your dogs continue to give you the same happiness that your old friends gave you.

  5. Ajai Shukla Says:

    A story that only a dog-lover can understand. I had a similar dog at Surankote (a Gaddi, as they are called there), but I refused to leave him behind. I gave him to our mess waiter, Umed Ram, who is from Himachal Pradesh.

    Sheroo still lives happily in Umed Ram’s home in Himachal.

    Let’s raise a toast to all those magnificent dogs who live (and patrol) with the army across all those thousands of kilometers of our borders!


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