Fauji’s have had many stints of deployment in isolation, in God forsaken places, cut off from the world but emotions did flow. As an Officer, one had to control them. Men missed their families and so did the Officers. After all, we all are human beings. When it came to disclosing and sharing your feelings, whom could an officer share it with?

Your buddy was closest to you. Most of the times he would make out from your reactions that there is something amiss. ‘Aj Saab bahut garam hai’. Why Saab got garam? That Saab only knew. Let me confess, long spells of separation from one’s family used to be a big reason, especially, if you were deployed in Counter Insurgency Operations. Pressures of professionalism used to compound things, if one had family pressures too.

‘Aj saab bahut khush hai’, possible reason could be, ‘Memsaab ka chitti aya hai’. At times you were in operations and this letter would be left unread, as moment you returned from an eventful night, there was another operation to be launched. If you didn’t know that a letter had come, it was alright, but if you knew it was lying on your table, mind used to be unsettled. The news of a militant was as important as news form home. To carry a letter in operations was out of question. Chances of losing it or dropping it were more. It was a norm to come back and read. Letters had to wait, emotions had to be controlled.

Leave was one thing which could affect you emotionally. You applied for leave for whatever reasons. Compassionate, passionate or for that matter no reason. Suddenly, you realised that you were the most indispensable man on this side of Suez. Generally, leave was not an issue but yes some bosses used to test you emotionally. Bureaucracy used to creep in. Has the 2 IC sanctioned it? Whom have you handed over things to? What about this-that & all and sundry. Naturally, ‘Saab ko gussa to ayega’.

As leave was not granted, you were checking the lines and langar more often. There could be a few other reasons, one genuine, two, there is an inspection coming, three, out of frustration. Boys used to discuss, ‘lagta hai Boss ne apne saab ki kit laga di hai’. But then one could not be a heartless emotional fool. Men also understood & never let you down. You had to be emotionally much stronger than them. After all they were your extended family and their lives were in your hands.

Recently, I came across a case where a labourer had come back to port after three weeks of tough deployment at sea. He was cut off from the world on the ship. With a basic phone and hardly any signals deep into the sea, he was bound to be home sick. Then this Corona thing happened. His three weeks became six weeks. His recharge over, staying under a make shift shelter of a tarpaulin, catching fish and boiling rice for all three meals and being stuck with the same ten people is emotionally taxing.

No one asked him if he had old parents. Was he a newlywed? Was he attached to his small baby? Did he have any money? Or was he just home sick? Security won’t allow him out of the gate for obvious reasons. His contractor was also stuck away from the port because of lockdown. What will a person in that mental state do? He dialled 100, police came and ‘reddened’ his backside for wasting their time. Finally, he could leave the port with his contractor yesterday. With no transport plying, I doubt he will be able to make it home walking.

Imagine all these people stuck in the big cities who desperately want to go home. What must be playing in their minds. Ten people stuffed in three feet by seven feet bunks. Bunks sufficed, as they worked in shifts, which is not happening anymore. What should they do now, Social distancing & Yoga?

No work, no pay, no food, no transport, no basic amenities, away from home. His survival is at stake. This man, say, was a security guard in a mall. At least he could use the toilet there. Where does he go now? His Kholi in the Jhopadpatti has no Shauchalaya. Even if it has, it won’t cater for so many. Something needs to be done for this man stuck in every metro.

Life has been tough, shall get tougher as “encaging” has been extended, subject to audits for the virus. Animals can stay in zoos for years, as they adapt themselves very fast. Man is not used to it. Can he stay encaged for long? I wonder!

Lt Colonel Noel Ellis is retired from the Indian Army.