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The Easy Day was Yesterday
The Extreme Life of an SAS Soldier
By Paul Jordan
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Paul Jordan
All rights reserved.
July 2008. I am summoned to the Warden's office by a prison guard — the usual nightshift, Ugly Prick, who speaks to me in short grunts. It is late and almost time to be locked back in the cage for the night, so this is not the procedure I have grown used to. I slip on my flip flops and stagger across the prison yard with Ugly Prick in tow, carefully stepping over the piss drains, rubbish pits and where some bloke, clearly suffering from a nasty dose of bronchitis, has spat a horrible green blob into the dirt. In fact, if you look closely, the yard resembles an oyster farm with green, disgusting mounds everywhere — fucking pigs. I look but don't see. The crowd of prisoners parts and stares as I head towards the wooden door that separates the yard from the administration area. A guard stationed at the door pushes me aside and motions for me to get back to my cell. Well, at least that's what I am able to determine from his hand gestures and the sound, 'arrrrrrgggghhhhhyyy'. But another guard steps in and tells me to go to the Warden's office. The first guard decides I need help through the door and gives me a good shove. I want to turn and give the fucker a beating he will never forget. I want to give him one of those savage prison-type beatings you see in the movies where one bloke just keeps on throwing the hits until the other guy's just a bloody pulp. But then if I do that, I'll never get out of here. So I turn and say, 'Thanks for that, mate.' He grunts, spits and walks off. I shuffle past the two prison clerks sitting behind an old table stained with tobacco juice. They wear a look of concern and whisper, 'Mr Paul, there are doctors waiting to see you, be more sicker.' 'Okay, fellas, thanks,' I whisper back.
I enter the Warden's office and he tells me to sit down. The Sub-District Magistrate (my new friend, Bala) is there and he says 'hello' to me in his very proper accent. I sit in the plastic chair and try to control my breathing. The walk to the Warden's office is only 30 metres, but a diet of biscuits and water for 16 days and doing nothing but lying down all day is taking a surprising toll on my fitness. This, combined with the skin infections, ear infection, rat bites and flu, is really slowing me down. If a chance came to escape, I'd have to question whether I still had it in me.
Bala tells me I am going to court tomorrow. I nod. 'If you plead guilty, you will be given maybe a six-month sentence, but the maximum is five years, so maybe it will be more,' continues Bala as my heart skips a few beats. 'So, you must plead not guilty, okay?' I nod in agreement. Then he introduces me to the other two men in the room. These are the court-appointed doctors who start their medical examination of me while I try to pretend to be sicker than I really am. They take my pulse and blood pressure then examine my various ailments. One doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to my heart and, after a minute or so, declares all to be in order.
'That can't be right,' I protest, 'listen again.' I grab the end of the stethoscope and try to jam it into my left atrium. Again, the doctor says I am fine. Bugger, I thought. This isn't going well. Aside from those infections and some weight loss I was okay, but what I didn't know was that Bala had already made it clear to them that I was to be transferred to the hospital tomorrow regardless.
'Is everything okay, Paul? You don't look well tonight,' suggests Bala with a hint of concern. Oh no, I'm fucking great. There's nowhere I'd rather be on a Friday night than this filthy shit hole. Oh, life doesn't get much better than this, I thought.
'I'm not feeling 100 per cent today, Bala, just a bit tired, I think. This has dragged on longer than I ever thought it would.'
'Well, you should go back to your cell and get some rest, you have a big day tomorrow.'
'Thank you,' I said and, after weakly shaking hands with the less than helpful doctors, I leave the office.
When I get back to the prison yard, it's dark and all the other prisoners have been locked in for the night. I can hear their murmuring voices and see them peering through the bars as I wander back through the ambient light towards my cage. I mull over the proceedings with the doctors. Had I done enough to ensure I would be sent to hospital? Were they convinced I was on death's door? I didn't think so. So I pick the only relatively clean piece of ground in the yard — the concrete area immediately surrounding the old water pump where we all wash. I stagger towards this spot and collapse in a heap. It is a beautiful performance, really something to behold. I go down like a sack of shit; not too hard, though, as I don't want to hurt myself after all. The prisoners watching me erupt into screams. In fact, it sounds like every prisoner is watching and screaming. Roughly translated, they are probably yelling, 'That white bastard has gone down!'
Guards come running, as do some prisoners who haven't completed their daily duties and are yet to be locked up. As I lie there with people fussing about, I feel like a big girl. How has this become my life? I'm in prison, for fuck's sake. I'm in prison in the poorest state in India for something utterly ridiculous. I thought I was better than this. Man, I really fucked up. Big time.CHAPTER 2
The rickshaw ride was massaging my tired bones and calming my overworked brain. Standing up for six days teaching Nepali journalists was good fun, but bloody tiring and I was relieved to have 24 hours off to catch my breath. The training had finished after lunch and we were flying to the new location late the next day. Before Nepal, I'd been doing the same in Japan for a week, so I was really looking forward to a day off when I could just mooch around, catch up on sleep and not talk to anyone.
Ujwal, my Nepali interpreter and general guide for the duration of the training, suggested we get out of the hotel and maybe take a rickshaw ride to look at the Indian border. Ujwal wanted to show me the border and do a little shopping for his wife. Frankly, I couldn't be arsed, and when I found myself still lying on my bed at 3.00 pm, I thought he'd forgotten about the whole idea. The border might have been interesting, but I just wanted to stay where I was and do nothing but catch up on sleep. A few years ago, I was in Lahore, Pakistan, and visited the border with India. There they have a parade on each side of the border where they open and close the border gates with real pomp and ceremony. The enormous soldiers from both countries try to outdo one another with their perfect drill. It's quite a spectacle, draws lots of tourist and they even have tiered seating to allow people to get a better view of the display. But today I really just felt like relaxing and then maybe taking a lazy walk around town after a nap. I went for a decent run the day before but, on the final 200 metres, I managed to pull a muscle in my calf. I had a little bruising and a limp, so I was using this rest time to get my leg up and onto a bag of ice the lads in the kitchen brought for me and, yes, I felt like an old man. Ten minutes later, Ujwal knocked on my door, poked his head around the edge and said, 'Shall we go?'
Ah bugger it, I thought. Perhaps a ride in a rickshaw might be interesting and at least I can say I've seen the Indian border from two different countries.
'Yep, I'll just grab my bag.'
I always carried my pack with me everywhere when travelling overseas, particularly in Nepal. The hotel we were staying in was the best in Biratnagar, but by normal standards it was very ordinary and the lock on the door wasn't the best. So I always carried my valuables and lifesaving kit with me. My rationale was that, if the hotel was destroyed in my absence, I could still survive. So I carried my passport, plane tickets and money. This would ensure I could at least leave the country if everything else was lost. I also carried some bottled water and my camera for happy snaps.
Ujwal managed to secure a couple of rickshaws for the princely sum of about two bucks each, so away we went, with Ujwal and his rickshaw leading the way. We'd only travelled about a kilometre when we left the built-up centre of Biratnagar and travelled through beautiful flat farmland. The paddocks were green and the grass about two feet deep. If they didn't worship cattle this would be great beef country. Not only was there plenty of grass, but there were waterholes every hundred metres or so. The cattle would thrive here; they'd be fat, lazy and happy. The cattle back in Australia have to walk all day for a reasonable feed and then all the way back again for a mouthful of water. This would be like a cattle version of a health spa for Australian cattle.
Water buffalos bathed in the muddy waterholes along the roadsides, farmers tended their rice fields and children played games on the verges. I managed to snap off a couple of shots of the scenery — it was unbelievably peaceful. Ujwal's rickshaw stopped and he took my camera, getting some shots of me travelling along in my tiny, uncomfortable rickshaw. After three or four kilometres we started to move into more civilised areas. The open spaces and farms gave way to sporadic food stalls and houses until the farms were totally gone and we were in a crowded market area. I felt totally relaxed and was enjoying the ride as we wove our way through the crowds of people in the market. I got some good photos for the collection and decided just to chill, forget about work and enjoy my day off. I even managed a quick call to Zac (my youngest son) and told him where I was and that I'd be home in about five days. The markets were alive with smells, colours and sounds — these are the things I love about the subcontinent and they reminded me of the extraordinary markets in Karachi.
Ujwal's rickshaw pulled up, so I directed my driver to pull up next to him. Ujwal was deep in conversation with his driver, so I sat there for a moment enjoying the hustle and bustle of the market. A frenzy of high-pitched chatter filled the air as 20 different people haggled for a better price with 20 different shopkeepers. I loved it and was glad I had got my lazy arse out of bed to have a look at this place. I was just thinking about doing some shopping for the kids when I heard Ujwal stop talking.
'Wow, this is a great place mate, what's the plan?'
'Ahhhhh, we are at the border,' Ujwal replied, his voice tinged with concern. 'Really, where is it?' I asked, looking south for something that would identify the place where the two countries met.
'Behind us,' Ujwal pointed to a boom gate with a raised arm, completely concealed by a massive mango tree.
'What! Are we across the border? Are we in India?' I blurted out in disbelief. 'Yes, the border is just there, we rode through no man's land. I didn't know.' 'Fuck me!' I spat. I got out of the rickshaw and took a pace back towards no man's land and Nepal.
A man yelled at me from a small concrete building about 25 metres away and further across the border into India, so I stopped and looked at him. Then I had second thoughts: nope, screw you buddy, I'm outta here. The noise of the market seemed to fade and die as people paused in the midst of their haggling to watch what was happening. Two policemen stepped into my path. I contemplated running straight through these two fat coppers, but felt that twinge in my calf. Fuck it. The police directed me towards the angry man who was still yelling at me in Hindi. Again, I thought of running straight through the cops. Each brandished a very old .303 rifle and I was sure that, even if they took aim and fired, I'd still be safe at a distance of 10 metres. But then I reconsidered. I hadn't done anything wrong and, besides, Ujwal was still sitting in his rickshaw and would be caught and the cops would eventually find me in Nepal.
Apparently the Nepalese and Indians are allowed to cross into each other's countries freely, but the same laxity certainly doesn't apply to foreigners. I was probably the first white man ever to sit in this rickshaw, so the drivers would've had no idea that I couldn't cross the border. And where were the border guards and immigration? The seating and parade ground? Where was the fence or formidable barriers to indicate I was entering a different country? That old boom gate behind the tree surely couldn't be it!
I was now more than a little concerned and wanted to kill Ujwal and the rickshaw drivers although, really, this was my fault. I shouldn't have dropped my guard. I should have known exactly where we were. I should have briefed the rickshaw drivers and Ujwal so we all knew exactly what was going to happen this afternoon. I didn't do any of that. I simply placed my destiny in the hands of virtual strangers and that was a mistake and something I would never usually do. I had been complacent and my complacency had led to this trouble. Damn, what an idiot!
'No problems Paul, I'll pay them off and explain it was a mistake, we'll be okay,' said Ujjwal as we walked towards the angry man and what I thought must be the immigration office, with two large police in tow.
As we approached the office I assumed it would be quickly sorted with a few laughs and a 'fine', but I was still filthy for putting myself in this prediccament. I mean, we had crosse about five metres into India and hadn't even got as far as the immigration office, so I was sure this wanker just wanted some money. Ujwal and I stepped into this small, dirty concrete building and were directed to two plastic chairs on one side of a tiny, filthy wooden desk. I took the seat next to the wall and Ujwal took the other. Then the angry guy just went off. He yelled all sorts of obscenities at us. He was a tall guy, maybe 185cm, in his late fifties, with thick grey hair combed back over his head. He had a wispy white beard that was well trimmed and obviously suffered from a terrible case of vitiligo that left his face marked with sporadic patches of uneven pigment. He spoke good English and spat words like 'criminal', 'terrorist' and 'spy' at me, all the while continuing to sell himself, and the very sheepish guy next to him, as immigration officers. Then he started on Ujwal, calling him a motherfucker and cunt and seemed poised to launch himself at Ujwal. The smaller, quiet guy next to him said nothing and seemed very embarrassed by everything, even trying to stop the abuse with calming hands. The angry man demanded my passport and, despite having it in my pack, I said I didn't have it on me as I had no intention of coming to India. I thought if I gave it to them I'd never see it again. On hearing the news that I had no passport, he reeled back as though he'd heard something just too offensive to imagine. He frantically rummaged through his bag, fumbling around in search of something. Finally, he produced a recording device, put it in front of me and asked me to say that again.
'Say what?' I asked. Ujwal also started to say that this was ridiculous. The angry man interrupted by calling Ujwal a sisterfucker and telling him to shut the fuck up if he knew what was good for him.
'Mister,' he began, 'am I threatening you?' He didn't wait for my answer. 'You must answer the question, do you have your fucking passport you terrorist cunt?'
'I'm not sure what you mean,' I replied, stalling for time to consider my position.
On hearing this, the angry man entered a new level of rage. His face turned from spotted white and brown to bright red. He started to froth at the corners of his mouth and appeared ready to boil over. Then he let out a high-pitched scream.
'I'M ASKING YOU IF YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT YOU FUCKING TERRORIST CUNT! DO YOU HAVE IT OR NOT?'
Ha, interrogation, I thought, is that the best you can do, you ugly old prick? I've been interrogated by much better people than you and managed to survive 72 hours, so good luck trying to break me, you old wanker.
'Sorry, what is it you want?'
Excerpted from The Easy Day was Yesterday by Paul Jordan. Copyright © 2013 Paul Jordan. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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