JAISALMER: IT’S 50 degrees Celsius in Baldev Singh’s bunker in the afternoon and he has his sights trained on a swathe of barren land ahead of him, punctuated only by a clump of xerophytes here and there and three Pakistani posts beyond the Zero Line. This is the desert out of Jaisalmer, and it will likely be six hours before he even sees another human being.
A Beretta, a pair of binoculars and a wireless set is all the company he has in this oven-hot border post. His only task is to keep an eye on the Bilal, Taqbir and Tamachewala posts, in which presumably a Pakistani Ranger is undergoing a similar ordeal as his — across the Zero Line.
At times during this daily six-hour tedium, thoughts of home creep into Baldev’s mind, of children growing up, parents’ ill-health, loans unpaid. The satellite phone call in the morning had been urgent, even desperate.
But thoughts of home and family and children are a distraction in this ceaseless vigil on India’s borders, particularly in the wasteland of Rajasthan and Baldev Singh’s hand goes back to the Beretta and the eyes sweep the vast sandscape once again.
This is the Border Security Force’s(BSF’s) Bawliyanwala post on the India-Pakistan border, some 145 km from Jaisalmer. The Rajasthan border is a different kind of frontier. Unlike in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and the northeast, no farmer tills this land, no tractor rumbles in the distance and no bird flits across the vegetation. And there’s no one to say howdy to a man from the boondocks who lives a life of excruciating loneliness and calls it a living.
For border guards like Baldev Singh, the only link to civilisation and folks back home is the satellite phone. Access to one used to be precious but as loneliness was proving to be a killer among the ranks, the officer allows jawans to use them to talk to family whenever they want, sometimes everyday or even twice a day. The calls are charged `1.50 per call, a highly subsidised rate. Normally, they are about
`6 a call.
Morale takes a beating in these conditions, especially when there’s a serious problem back home. For officers shoring up morale is as important a duty as keeping the troops on their toes. The officers have to be counsellors as much as company commanders. Sporting activity, meditation and even television watching have to be mandated and monitored as much as the diet. “When all this fails to work, we push soldiers to take leave and go home, attend to their problems and return. Pondering over problems at home can have disastrous consequences,’’ said an officer.
The jawans prefer patrolling to standing a post, mainly because they get to team up with another trooper to recce an area. Each patrol is given a stretch of 3 km to cover. The partners start the patrol at either end, either on foot or on camels. There are floodlights in place and visibility is very high.
From Baldev Singh’s Bawliyanwala post, the nearest Indian village, Tanot, is 20 km away. On the Pakistani side, the nearest village from the border is Kandera Tod, 13 km away. The next, Rehimyar Khan, is 75 km away. The desert in between supports no human population, and instances of infiltrators attempting to cross and dying in the process are not unknown.
"Isolation is indeed the biggest problem here on this border,” BSF deputy inspector-general Amit Lodha told me. The problem grew so acute that the top brass decided to allow families to stay close to the border posts for a few months every year to ease the stress on the border guards. The idea was tried for the first time around Diwali last year when several families came down. The jawans were delighted by the experiment and are once again looking forward to the festive season when they can call their families over.
Summers are the biggest challenge for the border soldiers. When temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius the hot wind from the Thar kicks up swirls of boiling sand and blows it into the face. No one can even touch the desert sand. Summers are a test ofresolvinge right through to October-November when winter sets in and brings an exactly opposite challenge.
Infiltration attempts are infrequent across this border, certainly not as high as in Jammu and Kashmir or Punjab. Except a 32 km stretch, the entire 1,048 km Rajasthan border with Pakistan has been fenced, which has solved the problem of infiltration to a great extent though there have been exceptions when some infiltrators sneaked through the fencing. But the inhospitable desert is a deterrent to infiltrators as much as it is to the border guards.
‘’Someone who is determined to infiltrate will make an attempt. But the person has to be really fit and tough; he needs to carry a lot of water and food to survive.”
How loneliness kills
Did you know that loneliness could kill? Research from across the world has found that it does. Here’s how loneliness affects humans
Lonely individuals bear 30 per cent higher risk of premature death than those who are socially active
Loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism
Loneliness can up the chances of persistent smoking, excessive drinking and drug use
It may lead to a rise in blood pressure, researchers have found
Researchers found that individuals who are lonely reported higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same level of stress as socially active people, even when they are relaxing
Loneliness disrupts sleep pattern, and by extension, mental alertness