A Garud Legacy

The unusually heavy rainfall in the southern Indian state of Kerala has led to the worst floods in a century. Almost all the river dams within the state were opened to let go of the excess water. More than 300 people have died and over 7 lakh people have been rendered homeless and are living in camps managed by the Indian Navy and a large number of charity organisations including the Gurdwaras.

Armed forces, the National Disaster Response Force, the Indian Railways and scores of other organisations have been toiling round the clock to provide succour to a people in distress. The helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy (IN) have been dropping food packets for marooned people. They have been evacuating people to safe locations.

The print and electronic media, the social media included, are replete with news in pictures and videos on the mayhem caused by the floods. They also talk of the yeomen service being provided by all the agencies involved––uniformed men rescuing people in boats; helicopters dropping food supplies….

One such picture (and the video circulated by the India Today Group) that has caught my eye is that of Wing Commander Prashanth, a Garud of the IAF. He is seen rescuing a child in a daring winching operation by an IAF helicopter. “Well done Prashanth! Well done Garuds! The country is proud of you. Keep up the spirit! Keep up the good work!”

Garud child rescue prashanth Kerala

I see that picture and the video with a sense of déjà vu. In fact, that picture, and the video, have sent me on an errand a dozen years back in time.

Around 2005, Garud (IAF’s Special Force) was still in its infancy and I was the Commandant/ Chief Instructor for a brief period. The Garud Regimental Training Centre (GRTC) had just relocated from Air Force Station, Hindan to our new (permanent) location at Chandinagar, an abandoned airbase in the middle of nowhere. New infrastructure––classrooms, firing range, training apparatuses, messes and dormitories––was coming up. The existing facilities were in a dilapidated state.

We had to make do with the available resources till conditions improved.

Although it sounded oxymoronic, I had ordered Shramdaan (voluntary service) to clean up the thick undergrowth that had come up due to years of neglect. The entire station was at work through the afternoon. Men were scything the grass, lifting stones and clearing the paths. After about an hour of hard work in the sun, one of my officers spotted a dry well without a boundary wall. It was fairly deep, maybe 40 to 50 feet. Despite the broad daylight it was difficult to see the bottom.

It was imperative that we secured the well to avoid an accident. As we began piling stones and logs of wood to form a temporary barricade, a Garud trainee observed some movement at the bottom of the well––it was a dog that had fallen in and was showing signs of life.

Using nylon ropes meant for slithering, we lowered a basket containing bread and milk for the wretched animal to eat. Scared and hurt (due to the fall), the pariah dog declined the offerings. Left to itself, the fellow would die, so I suggested that we hauled him out. It meant that one of us would have to go down on a rope to the bottom of the well and physically bail him out.

There was an air of apprehension: One, the dog might bite its rescuer. Two, there could be insects and/ or snakes. And three, there could be lack of breathing air and, worse still, there could be a poisonous gas.

“Sir, after all it’s a dog,” someone murmured. “We can let him be there.”

I did not want an opportunity to test our skills and abilities to be baulked by doubts. “It is a dog today; it’ll be a human being tomorrow.” I stressed that it was a rare opportunity to rehearse a possibility. There was a need to rescue the poor animal. The questions and the doubts dissolved in the ensuing discussion.

In my assessment, there was no risk at all if one took the necessary precautions but I didn’t want to employ a reluctant messiah for the task. Besides, it was an opportunity to set an example. So without ado, using a nylon rope and an improvised harness, I got myself lowered into the well. Not fear, but an eerie sensation gripped the crowd as I proceeded. Once at the bottom, I grabbed and held the dog in a tight embrace and howled orders to pull me out. In less than two minutes, the dog was rescued. That incident marked a modest beginning.

The Garuds today are carrying forward the legacy.

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