An excerpt from 26/11 BRAVEHEART: My Encounter with Terrorists That Night

And this is exactly what repetitions in our training had achieved. We knew how and when to fire at the target as a reflex action. But who would have known that danger would come towards me from a completely unexpected and different direction!

A tear gas came rolling inside the room. It was hurled by my own team. Since they assumed that I was killed, they thought of filling the room with the smoke and choking the terrorists. But I was there in the room too, and alive! Tear gases irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs, and cause tearing, coughing, burning and stinging sensations,   chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Despite its name, tear gas is not a gas, but an aerosol. It is solid at room temperature and mixed with liquid or gas dispersal agents when used as a weapon designed to activate pain-sensing nerves. It was first used in World War I, both by France and Germany, and is frequently used by armies and police forces in controlling unruly crowds or untoward situations. This time, I was at the receiving end of the smoke coming from a ‘friendly’ tear gas. Injured and alone, I was now suffocating. Hardly able to breathe because of the lack of oxygen, I knew my time was over. A bullet injury had already drained a lot of my blood and a defective hand grenade had blown me apart psychologically. The tear gas was proving to be the last nail in my coffin.

I cannot let myself die here. I know I will be dead soon, but I am a commando. I will not sit and wait for my death. I will take it head-on. Marna to ab tay hain (My death is certain). So what was my next plan or as they say what was my Plan B? It was to get up, face the enemy, and fire again. I took out the magazine but soon realized that I had fired fifteen-sixteen shots and so the same number must still be remaining in the magazine I was using. I kept back the new magazine. Oh good, the mind was still active and alert.

With all the strength I could gather from my injured body, I got up. Placing my weapon on the hip rather than the shoulder, I exposed myself to the terrorists and started shooting. The plan was to keep shooting and if I was lucky, even get out of the room. They were waiting for precisely this moment. Volleys of burst shots were fired at me. The first bullet hit my magazine on the right side, tearing apart both my magazines. It didn’t stop there, but entered the bullet-proof jacket and stopped just one millimeter from my body. The second bullet ricocheted from somewhere and hit me near the heart.  The ricochet ensured that the intensity of this bullet was minimized. No further damage to the body. The third bullet tore open my collar and whizzed past my neck. The damage here was again minimal. But it was the fourth bullet that would change my life forever. It hit the corner of the plate  of the bullet-proof jacket, entered my chest, and exited from the other side. By the end of this bullet’s trajectory, I had broken ribs and a punctured lung. My respiratory system had become a whirlpool of blood and gunpowder. The chances of surviving this attack looked bleak.

There is a legend of a Sikh soldier whose tales of bravery mesmerized me when I was young. Baba Deep Singh, a soldier in the army of Banda Bahadur, famously fought the army of Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani in the eighteenth century.

After plundering and looting Delhi, the Afghan ruler was on his way back to Kabul when his army had to face Baba Deep Singh’s men. A fierce fight ensued in which Durrani’s army faced huge losses, the slaves were freed and all the looted material and treasure taken back by Baba Deep Singh’s forces.

The defeat left Durrani humiliated and he took his revenge by ordering the demolition of Harmandir  Sahib aka the Golden Temple. On his orders,  Durrani’s army blew up the holy shrine, defiled its walls, and polluted the sacred pool, or Sarovar. Baba Deep Singh took upon himself the task of avenging the destruction of Harmandir Sahib  and it is said that before entering the battle, he declared, ‘May my head fall at the Darbar Sahib.’ Legend has it that Baba Deep Singh continued to fight and slay the enemy soldiers even when his own head was decapitated.

Excerpted with permission from 26/11 BRAVEHEART: My Encounter with Terrorists That Night, Rupa Publications, Praveen Kumar Teotia

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