S-t-r-e-t-c-h as a habit

If you have ever wondered why some people get more out of life than others given the same set of circumstances, you only have to read the story of Colonel Subhas Bakshi.

Stretch as a habit[Colonel Subhas Bakshi went eyeball-to-eyeball with death twice – and the other guy blinked. He made Stretch a habit, benefiting not just himself but thousands in the hinterland of Ranchi where he lives today. Here is an excerpt of his interview.]

Two instances where my life was saved can be attributed directly to the concept of Stretch.

I was on an Army posting near Sikkim in 1964. One of my assignments was to inspect the terrain around Nathu La Pass. I had a team of eleven with me. While we were walking through the area, there was a landslide. It happened so suddenly that we had no time to react or take over. I was luckier than my colleagues who died immediately – from the waist downwards I was buried in the snow. From the waist upwards I was out of the snow. But this first slice of luck was no guarantee of survival. So I did two things – I began shovelling the snow from in front of me to would create some hollow which would enable me to escape. However, the hollowing only arched my body lower into the pit I had created, making breathing difficult. So I had to scoop all the snow back into the pit and lie flat again. By the end of it, I was in serious danger of getting a frostbite so I decided to lay still.

Lying still created its own complication. I was in the danger of falling asleep. At that temperature, sleeping would have meant death. So I kept talking to myself so that my mind would remain occupied – for 18 hours. Until the search party spotted the debris and identified me under it.

This will to stretch is habit-forming. The following year, I was posted in the front near Sialkot in the war against Pakistan. A bullet went through my neck and the doctor who inspected me considered me to be too useless a case for even medical attention. I was refused place on the ambulance that would have got me to the nearest hospital 40 kms away. The doctor’s logic: he would rather allot the place to someone who had a chance to live.

I begged the doctor would permit me to sit on the steps of the ambulance just outside the door. He said he didn’t have a problem: I wasn’t going to eat into anyone’s sleeping space inside the ambulance and if I fell during the course of the journey, I wouldn’t be his responsibility either. I survived the journey. I begged the nurse in the hospital to treat me first since I was on the verge of collapse – and survived that as well.

Today, I am retired from the army and have dedicated my life to social welfare in one of the poorest regions of India. I work in bringing crops to regions that were never arable, perennial water to areas that could never hold the rain, electricity to villages that had never ventured beyond candles and education to people who had never gone beyond their finger-prints. Not easy. Considerably more difficult than when I lay facing death under the snow or on the edge of the ambulance more than 50 years ago. If I have been able to succeed, it is because Stretch can really be habit-forming.