A Soldier Never Gives Up…The Battle At Badgam

Continuing the series on A Soldier Never Gives Up, we move to the next theatre of the 1947 war.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston S. Churchill

As 1 Sikh stalled the attack of the Raiders on the Srinagar – Baramulla highway, it provided tremendous opportunity for the other units to land in Srinagar airport. The impetus to fight the enemy was increasing by the minute. One of the units that landed on 31st October 1947 was 4 Kumaon.

Major Somnath Sharma

Major Somnath Sharma

On 3rd November, fighting patrols under A & D Company of 4 Kumaon, under the command of Major Somnath Sharma were moved to Badgam (30 odd kms away from Srinagar) to hunt down and destroy the Raiders who were hiding in and around the area. Intelligence reports had warned us that 1000 strong lashkar was in the area, with the intention of attacking Srinagar. The Battalion, however, could not find the Raiders. The enemy had used the clever strategy of mixing with the villagers, dressed in local attire. As a result, Major Sharma reports that Badgam is peaceful and quiet, with the villagers going about their routine work. He is ordered to pull his companies back.

At 1400 hours, Major Sharma sends A Company back, but, plans to keep D Company in Badgam till evening. The lashkar was arriving in Badgam in bits and pieces and was led by a Pakistani Major. They had hatched a crafty plan of getting the Pakistani soldiers to mix with the locals, wait for the Pathan Raiders to come to Badgam and then attack the Indian Army. Their plan was to then capture Srinagar, cut off Army access and take over Jammu & Kashmir. It was a well thought of plan.

Troops marching into Battle of Badgam

Troops marching into Battle of Badgam

After A Company is sent back, the “villagers” starting dispersing around the village. Major Sharma was under the impression that the locals were going home. In reality, the Pakistani soldiers and Raiders were positioning themselves around D Company. As soon as they had about 700 men, the enemy attacked us. It was 700 as opposed to 90…we were outnumbered 7:1.

Major Somnath Sharma, with a plastered hand, and total disregard to personal safety, moved from trench to trench encouraging his men to fight. The Company was under heavy fire, yet, they were beating back many attacks and held on to their position for nearly six hours. Holding back tenaciously, urging his men to fight, he radioed for more ammunition, reinforcements and supplies. Those 6 hours, while D Company was fighting valiantly, gave Indian Army the much required precious time to plug the gaps as they built up strength along with Indian Air Force.

Major Sharma’s last message, when he was asked to pull out, as they were heavily out numbered, is testimony to hiscourage and valour. He said, “The enemy is only 50 yards from us. We are heavily out numbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and last round.” This was the brave heart who in the last few moments of being alive, rushed to help one of his men load and fire a light machine gun. While he was doing this, a bomb landed on the ammunition dump next to him, exploding and killing Major Sharma immediately.

Pathan Camp

Pathan Camp

On seeing the enemy closing in with the LMG post, Sepoy Dewan Singh of D Company, stood up with the LMG firing from his hip and killed many of the advancing attackers. His murderous fore stopped many a Raider and Pakistani soldier dead. However, he too died, with his body riddled with bullets. Seeing two of their brave hearts die like this, inspired the rest of D Company to continue fighting. Simultaneously, Indian Air Force Spitfires started chasing the Raiders from the sky, killing many and  forcing the others to flee.

The Battle of Badgam continued and on 5th November the village was captured back by the Indian Army. Bodies of 300 Raiders were conuted, which proved how ruthless the fighting had been. Retaliatory fire had been so harsh that the Pathans had not been able to pick up their dead. It was with this tenacity, fierceness and nationalistic fervour that our soldiers fought to save the Valley. As the Raiders were not trained soldiers, their resolve to continue the fight disappeared and they started withdrawing and pulling back. Srinagar was saved.

Sepoy Dewan Singh

Sepoy Dewan Singh

In this battle, Indian Army lost Major Somnath Sharma, Sepoy Dewan Singh, Subedar Prem Singh Mehta and 20 other ranks. 26 people were wounded. For his gallantry, fierce defence and exemplary leadership, Major Somanth Sharma was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) posthumously. He was the first PVC of independent India. Sepoy Dewan Singh was awarded Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) for his exceptional valour.

I am sure that when Major Sharma and D Company were fighting they had their own fears. When I think about our Army fighting wars, I always wonder what goes on in their minds, in their hearts, how scared are they, how steely is their resolution….and am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” All I can say is thank God we have an Army that conquers its fears and strikes terror in the hearts of it’s enemies.

A Soldier Never Gives Up…You Can Only Die Once, So Make Sure It’s Worth It

You can only die once, so make sure it’s worth it.

For a long time I have wanted to write about the bravery, never say die attitude of our soldiers. Two movies actually pushed me to start the process – American Sniper and Baby. Both these movies brought home the truth that there is something about a soldier that inspires, motivates and propels us along. George Patton said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”

I am sharing with you stories of those brave hearts who bore arms for India, fought to protect her and us, allowing us to enjoy our freedom today.

The First Braveheart – Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai

A Pakistani historian wrote, “Two tricks of fortune conspired to cheat Mohammed Ali Jinnah of Kashmir – the loss of a day and half of pillaging in Baramulla and the reckless bravery of one Indian army officer, who…made an attack on the invading forces as if he had the whole Army Division at his support.”

That Indian officer was Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, the first Commanding Officer (CO) of 1 Sikh, who became a trail blazer in our first war with Pakistan.

Prior to the accession, Maharaja Hari Singh had realised that Pakistan had no intention of honoring the Standstill Agreement he had signed with them. October 1947 saw a revolt by deserters of J&K State Forces, aided by the Pakistani Army and the tribesmen from Northwest crossing the border into Kashmir. Pakistani raiders

Raiders killed people mercilessly.

Raiders killed people mercilessly.

captured the border town of Uri, Mahur and started pillaging Baramulla. The looting was beyond human imagination.

It is this attack on the people of Baramulla that distracted the Pakistani raiders from their objective of capturing Srinagar. That the situation was grim became an understatement. A country that had fought for independence from the British, was now fighting internally to save her citizens and territory. The acceptance of accession came with the responsibility to protecting people & property of J&K. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26th October 1947 and the Indian Army landed in Srinagar on 27th October 1947.

Challenges that the Army faced were enormous:

1. Shortage of time and resources – mobilising & moving Army Units long distance in a short span of time was the first hurdle.

2. Difficult & unfamiliar terrain – Jammu & Kashmir was unfamiliar and difficult terrain for our troops. Unfamiliar because they had never battled there, difficult because it was winter and the severe cold climate had adverse effects on men & weapons.

3. Pressure of war – Indian Army did not have any time to prepare for a war of this kind. We had gained independence two months prior to this and were still sorting out internal political, social and economic issues. This was a firefight – either we fight now or we have nothing left to fight for was the message.

Under such circumstances, 1st Battalion Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh) was chosen to be air lifted & inducted into the burning

Troops landing in Dakotas.

Troops landing in Dakotas.

Valley. Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was the CO who was ordered to take his Battalion from Gurgaon to Srinagar. His briefing at Army HQ prior to departure included just two points –

1. Uri was captured by the Raiders & Baramulla was being pillaged by them.

2. 1 Sikh was to protect the city of Srinagar and facilitate subsequent landing of Indian Army units at the airport.

Never in the history of warfare had such an airlift taken place…with so little notice and planning. 30 Dakota aircrafts with men, weapons and equipment landed. Reliable communication or intelligence was wishful thinking at that time and Lt Col Rai had to prioritise his tasks and devise methods of executing also.

Baramulla when pillaged by the enemy.

Baramulla when pillaged by the enemy.

Some wise man had said a long time ago, “Fortune favours the bold.” The CO took the bold decision of seeking, fighting & destroying the enemy in and around Baramulla, away from Srinagar city and airport. This tactical engagement of the Raiders was to earn more time for our troops to land. Adequate men were left behind to protect the air field and the rest of 1 Sikh moved to Baramulla on 28th Oct.  Lt Col Rai chose to occupy a delaying position between Patan & Baramulla to prevent the enemy from advancing towards Srinagar. A fierce battle ensued between 1 Sikh and the Raiders…more than a thousand Raiders against approximately 180 – 200 Indian soldiers. These bravehearts fought with disregard to their own safety and delayed the enemy movement towards Srinagar.

In this conflict, the Raiders presumably spotted the CO and a few men moving from one position to another and fired incessantly on them. The CO and those few men with him were all killed.

Indian soldiers fighting to save the Valley.

Indian soldiers fighting to save the Valley.

The courageous Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai inspired his men to give their best in the wake of enemy attack, even when they were out numbered. This “reckless bravery” helped us gain more time and allow more troops to land in Srinagar. As a result, we were able to protect the city also. Lt Col Rai became the first Commanding Officer to land in J&K after the accession, the first CO to achieve martyrdom and to be decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra.

His valour and sacrifice have inspired all ranks of the Sikh Regiment and the Regiment continues to be one of the highest decorated regiments of the Indian Army, with 72 Battle Honours, 15 Theatre Honours and 5 COAS Unit Citations besides two PVCs, 14 MVCs, 5 KCs, 67 Vir Chakras and 1596 other gallantry awards, The history of the Regiment spanning 154 years is replete with heroic deeds of bravery and courage which have few parallels if any.

 

Because Love Is All There Is…

“Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I’ve known you so many years?”
“Because I like you,” she said, “and I don’t want anything from you.”― Ray Bradbury. 

I chanced upon an article in New York Times and it has left a deep impact on me. And because it is about love, Valentine’s Day seemed the right day to write about it. This is the story of Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova. For all my readers who do not know them, Isaiah Berlin was a 20th century political theorist, philosopher and Anna Akhmatova was a great pre revolutionary poet. Berlin met Anna in Leningrad in 1945 one night, when he was hanging around with a friend.

Berlin walked into the apartment to meet a beautiful woman, powerful, but wounded by the atrocities of war. Her HVDhusband was executed in 1921 on false charges. She had stood for 17 months outside the prison, vainly seeking news about him. Like all strangers meeting, Berlin and Anna met. Their conversation was restrained, talking about war experiences and British Universities. People came and went.

By midnight they were alone, sitting on the opposite sides of the room. She told him about growing up, her marriage and her husband’s execution. She recites Byron’s “Don Juan” with such passion that Berlin turned his face to the window to hide his emotions. She then recited some of her own poems, breaking down as she described how they led the Soviets to execute one of her colleagues. By 4.00 in the morning, they were talking about the greats – Pushkin and Chekhov. Berlin was impressed with the light intelligence of Turgenev, while, Anna appreciated the dark intensity of Dostoyevsky.

Deeper and deeper they delved in their conversation, baring their souls. Anna confessed to her loneliness, expressed her passions, spoke about art and literature. Berlin did not want to break the spell of that conversation…so he refused to go to the bathroom also. Both of them had read the same things, knew what the other knew, understood each other’s longings. That night, Berlin’s life came as close to as it ever did to the still perfection of art. When he finally pulled himself and went back to his hotel, it was 11.00 am. He flung himself on bed and exclaimed, “I’m in love, I’m in love.”

The night Berlin and Anna spent together talking stands as the ” beau ideal of a different sort of communication.”  It’s that communication between individuals who felt that knowledge most worth attending to does not need data, but, in  great HVD 1
works of culture, in humanity’s great storehouse of inherited emotional and existential wisdom. Both came from a culture that encouraged people to possess a certain intellectual scope to lead an interesting and fulfilling life.

My own experience has been when you have such life altering conversations, it is because my man and I have done our reading, discussed big ideas and big books (classics & neo classics) that have actually taught us how to experience life in all it’s richness, make subtle emotional and soul searching evaluations…and not judgements. This can happen when both are spiritually ambitious, combing through the common language of literature, written by amazing geniuses who understand us better than we understand ourselves.

That night, Berlin and Anna experienced a beau ideal of a certain kind of bond. A bond that is felt once or twice in a lifetime. Just that much, because I would like to call it a sort of love bond that depends on a lot of coincidences. For Berlin and Anna, it was piecing of the jigsaw puzzle…a puzzle that seemed incredibly complicated when they were introduced in the early part of the evening. As the night progressed, they discovered they were the same in many ways. There was such harmony that all inner defences crumbled in one night. This communion that was intellectual, emotional, spiritual, created a combination of friendship and love. It was an important night for both. For Berlin, it was an event that left him HVD 2totally changed. For Anna, it later turned in to suffering. The Soviet government tortured her for cavorting with a British spy. Her son was imprisoned and Anna expelled from the Soviet Writers Union. Yet, she never once blamed Berlin for all this. Instead, she continued to write about the luminous magic of that night.

I am not sure how many people want this kind of a relationship or life today. How many actually look beyond the transactional aspect or the utilitarian moment of our lives? How many couples or partners can say “I am all the more enriched, fulfilled and empowered because of this one person, who liberates me in more ways than one?”

I can say that with a big smile on my face, and…in my heart!

Happy Valentine’s!!!