Question of Faith

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I moved to the Kashmir Valley for the first time in the winter of 1979 to rejoin my battalion, located at that time next to a charming, rustic village nestling in the mountains, about twenty kilometers from Srinagar. Terrorism had not yet raised its ugly head in those days and the valley was thronged with tourists from all over the country as also from most parts of the world. My wife and I often travelled on our scooter to explore the countryside with its gurgling brooks and majestic Chinar trees. During our frequent sojourns we invariably came across a host of small tombs called 'Mazars' dotting the roadside, each having a multitude of green flags flying proudly in the breeze. There was no shortage of visitors to these Mazars, believed to be the resting place of ancient sages and reverentially called 'Pir Babas".  An occasional visitor would often put up a green flag while seeking the blessings of the 'Pir' and thus the flags became an integral part of each tomb.
My unit had a mascot, a very large sized goat called Moti. He had been brought up in the unit since birth and as Moti was in the care of the personnel of the pipe band, they trained him to march in step to the beat of military tunes. From there to becoming the mascot was but a matter of time. Moti was duly given the uniform and other accoutrements worn by the band and became an inseparable part of unit life. He even got his lance corporal stripes when he was due for promotion. However, Moti could get temperamental and on one ceremonial occasion, he not only marched to the wrong beat but stepped out of line. The Commanding Officer (CO) was not pleased with this show of indiscipline and had his stripe removed. The pipe band was heartbroken as was the rest of the battalion, though Moti didn't seem too overly upset by the punishment. Anyway, when the mascot did a good job next time around, the CO restored his rank, much to the relief of all concerned.
Unfortunately, age was catching up with Moti, who at sixteen years was approaching the last stage of his life. He was a Sergeant now, having been promoted by previous COs, and still did duties as a mascot, but all of us knew that time was running out for him. When he finally died at the ripe old age of just under seventeen years, he was given a befitting burial near the entrance to the unit area and a small tombstone was erected in his honour with the single word 'MOTI' emblazoned in large letters.
More than two decades later, while on an official visit to Srinagar, I fitted in a quick trip to my old unit location, more to go down memory lane than any other purpose. At the entrance to the unit, I observed a well maintained 'Mazar' and faint stirrings of the events of yesteryears made me halt at the spot. The young Captain accompanying me explained that it was perhaps the tomb of an ancient sage and his unit personnel always paid their respects at the site before moving out for operations. The tombstone was covered in green cloth. I raised the cloth and was not surprised to find the outline of the word 'Moti' still discernible. In typical military fashion, each successive battalion coming to the area had added on to the structure, which now had a gate, a boundary wall as also a roof to cover the tombstone. Time had lent credence to the legends that had spread about the miraculous powers of the revered 'Pir', his efficacy in granting boons and bestowing success. A motley collection of green coloured flags in assorted array sprinkled the area giving it a festive look. 
I wondered if I should reveal the truth about the shrine, but decided against it. Who was I to question faith? And if the act of planting a flag gave succour to some, then so be it. In life, Moti marched to the tune of martial music. In death, perhaps, his spirit played out long forgotten melodies to the many soldiers who visited his tomb, and gave them solace and strength to fight the cancer of terrorism afflicting the Valley.  I took the flag which the Captain had brought for the purpose and firmly placed it in the shrine. When I left, the flag was fluttering merrily in the breeze, perhaps to the rhythm of silent drumbeats of ancient songs. I had a feeling Moti was pleased. I certainly was.

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