Good News Today: Army's first ice band, courtesy locals from Drass.
Fifteen years ago, on this very land, a fierce battle was fought to overthrow intruders from Pakistan. Today, under the shadow of elections, the discourse in the state has predictably veered towards controversial topics of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, encounters and army-to-people ties. But here is a story that has not been told very often. In the second coldest inhabited place in the world, Drass, what else but ice has helped break the ice between the two, often-quarelling ends.
Located close to the battalion headquarters of 10 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) of the Indian Army is the ice hockey ground where youngsters from the town gather to play their favourite local sport. Maintained with the support of the army, it was while seeing an ice hockey game last year that it crossed the minds of three men from JAKLI of doing what has never been thought of - far less achieved - a band performing while marching and skating on the ice! When these men expressed their wish to their senior officers, they were instantly encouraged. "Three of us thought about it and last year we did manage some practice. But it was only this year, from January 15 onwards that we managed regular practice," said a team member.
What made this practice possible, given that the army personnel did not have enough snow boots with skates, were the boots which local youngsters gave the army. Zakir Hussian, a local teacher, when interviewed said, "There is a lot of bonhomie out here between us and the army, in particular this unit since the members of JAKLI are all Kashmiri recruits. When we saw that they were falling short in the number of snow boots, we volunteered immediately." He quipped, "They will even perform during the semi-final of our local ice hockey tournament."
This correspondent witnessed the band performing flawlessly thrice. From the seeking of permission to perform from the senior officer to an enthralling ten minute performance followed by the final salute, the drill flowed in perfect precision. In terms of instruments, the ten member band used the six bagpipes, two side drums and one bass drum.
Apart from it being a task never performed before, the altitude of over 10400 feet imposes restrictions on the quantity of oxygen available thereby directly making bagpipes more difficult to play. "Under normal circumstances, playing a bagpipe is a task by itself. Most experienced musicians will tell you how difficult it would be to do so and then this element of rarified air out here comes into play," said an officer.
The band had to additionally learn skating on ice as well as marching. "The entire experience was like growing up. You learn how to stand first, followed by being able to balance and then move," said one of the band members. Many of them men, whom this correspondent met, had injuries which were covered up by their ceremonial uniform, indicating the tough road they had taken to reach their destination.
This band is slated to soon perform before senior officers of the army. Members hope they will be allowed to showcase this talent before a larger audience as well.
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