Soon the sun would be up gobbling the earth with its red tongue , the sands would burn and the heat would blaze .
Life in this frontier outpost of kutch border wasn’t a joke for these air force men .
They were left alone for days but loneliness after some time was depraving .
It was their job to climb up the huge tower and steer the sights to the target built miles away so that they could asses the angle at which the fighter pilot had made a hit on them ,with two other towers at equi distances from the target giving their calculations all that the officers had to do was to collate the data to find out the markmanship of their ace pilots .
In the early seventies this was the way things were done .
Pillai and Varun Pandey would have been unmatched anywhere but in the Airforce they have been chums for many years so much so that pillai often spoke chaste Bihari and Pandey talked mallu lingo .
They had been posted in this Godforsaken tower with their meager stores for a week now and were hoping that the supply truck would come to give them a reprive .
Their dream came true as the truck laboured down the sand and they were given a twelve hour off and dropped in the nearest town .
They were expected to be ready by dawn the next morning waiting for the truck at the appointed place .
Time flew fast for the soldiers ,the local bar and other colourful entertainment made up for their days of penance .
The drunk men sang raucously as they got out of the thatched cinema hall and retired to their hotel room to sleep soundly .
Morning came and went and so did their truck as the men slept on .
At ten am Pillai woke up with a start and shook Pandey .
They were in dire trouble and could be court martialled for this mistake .
They ran to the nearby bus stand and made enquiries of any transportation to their destination ,a turbaned man told them to rush to the railway station and catch the passenger train which would take them some eight kilometers away from the border ,this was the only option ,if the train reached by late noon they could run the distance and be in their tower by dusk .
They caught the train ,and soon were on their way in a crowded compartment filled with the colors of Rajasthan .
When they reached their destination it was hot and dry .
The station was a single room in the wilderness and the old stationmaster cum porter cum signal man cum guide told them that they had a long hot walk ahead of them before disappearing into thin air .
They jogged ahead the goat path into the wild sands ,made good progress initially ,slowly becoming slower as the sun dipped into the west .
Sunset in a desert was a magnificent sight to behold but the two were hardly in the mood to enjoy the finer aspects on nature ,their throats were parched and their meager water reserve had ran out .
It became dark and cold and like a changing set of an opera show the star studded sky replaced the resplendent sunset .
No tower was in sight as the men trudged wearily ,their doubts of losing their way had become a certainty now .
It was their tough military physique that stood them in this hour of crisis .
They decided to rest for the night and try to find their way in the morning .
They lay down in the sand and went into an exhausted sleep .
At midnight they woke up with a start chattering their teeth in the cold .The cutting wind was icy and knawed into their bones .They put all the dresses they had and tried to build a small fire an impossible task in the open with a blowing wind ,they could hear a werewolf howling nearby .
Pillai could stand the cold no more and started shoveling the sand on himself ,he found this sand tunnel gave him some warmth ,soon both of them had only their heads above the sand and slept with their eyes open for the dreaded wolf .
Morning came at last ,they emerged from their coccon and dusted themselves ,slovenly they trudged ahead as the sun became bigger .
After some time they came across a rustic goat herd and the boy told them in sign language they had come miles away from their tower to another abandoned one near the border ,he also gave them some water .
Reaching the tower they clambered ahead and broke open its shuttered doors ,inside there were two flares as they expected .
They fired one and waited ,there was silence and nothing else ,they fired the second and last one and their final hope of rescue ,as now even the goat herd was nowhere to be seen
The flare brightened the sky in its glow ,still nothing ,they lay down in the dirty tower dejected and worn out .
All that they wanted now was to live ,damn getting court martialled .
Suddenly they saw a return flare in the distance and their hearts leaped with joy .
It was a couple of hours more before their rescue truck came and took them home .
( A true story recounted by Mr. Pillai to me recently ,
names changed of course )