A Soldier Never Gives Up…Saving Naushera

Today, as the new government took oath in Jammu and Kashmir, I was thinking of the price we have paid as a nation for this to happen. Even as the debates ranged from what will be priority, to AFSPA, to the new Chief Minister’s statements, to Sajad Lone becoming part of the government, my thoughts turned back to the time when the problem in Kashmir first hit us.

There never was a good war or a bad peace – Benjamin Franklin.

Starting in October 1947, Pakistan employed regular troops along with militants to attack and capture areas in the Kashmir Valley in different sectors. Pir Panjal Range divides Jammu & Kashmir into two halves. Srinagar Valley is on the north east part and Poonch Valley is to the south west. The Pakistani army and the Raiders had attacked the Uri – Baramulla sector in Srinagar Valley first, where they were defeated and evicted. They started making advances in the Poonch Valley, massacring non Muslims in Mirpur, Kotli, Jhangar, with the aim to capture Naushera. If they had captured Naushera, the entire state, south west of Pir Panjal would have been effectively cut off.

Brig Mohammed Usman

Brig Mohammed Usman

It is important to understand this background before reading about how the Indian Army saved Naushera and the courageous acts of our soldiers.

By 25th December 1947, Pakistani army had deployed troops around Jhangar and had captured it. They planned to attack Naushera from the Mirpur – Jhangar axis and capture it. To save Naushera, the axis and the road had to be denied to the enemy. This task was given to Brig Mohammed Usman, one of the 16 Brigadiers of the Indian Army at that time. He was given command of 50 Para Brigade in December 1947 and was asked to cut off the link for the enemy soldiers.

Major General Cariappa had told Brig Usman that Kot, the feature dominating Naushera, had to be captured and secured. The determined Brigadier launched an operation in early February 1948, code name, “Operation Kipper”. Kot

Operation Kipper

Operation Kipper

was secured and played a significant role in inflicting heavy casualty on the infiltrators, who numbered up to 10,000 just a week later. In one of the firecest battles fought, over 900 enemy soldiers died and the attack on Naushera was stopped. This became a major turning point in the First War of Kashmir and Brig Usman came to be called as Naushera ka Sher or the Lion of Naushera.

The next step was to reclaim Jhangar. This was an important junction joining the roads from Kotli and Mirpur. Thus, “Operation Vijay” was launched in March 1948. He wrote a letter to all ranks of his Brigade, before they attacked. It read, ” Comrades of 50 (I) Para Brigade, time has come for the capture of Jhangar. It is not an easy task, but I have complete faith in you all to do your best to recapture the lost ground and retrieve the honour of our arms. We must not falter, we must not fail. Forward friends, fearless we go to Jhangar. India expects everyone to do his duty. Jai Hind.”

Three days later 50 Para Brigade successfully moved into Jhangar, reclaiming lost territory. This irked Pakistan so much that they announced an award of Rs 50,000 on Brig Usman’s head, while he asked for a charpoy and slept peacefully in months.

Unfortunately, the fruits of success were short lived as far as the brave Brigadier was concerned. The continuing fight with Pakistan denied him the pleasure of basking in that success and he died in heavy artillery shelling on July 3rd, 1948, at the age of 36. His last few words before dying were, “I am dying, but let not the territory we are fighting for fall to the hands of the enemy.” His death was a blow to the Indian Army and his state funeral ceremony was attended by the then Governor General Lord Mountbatten, Prime Minister Nehru, Union Minister Maulana Azad and Sheikh Abdullah. For his bravery of exceptional order, dedication and valour, he was decorated with Maha Vir Chakra.¬†J&K04low

An inspiring leader, he believed in walking the talk. He set an example of personal courage, great qualities of on ground leadership and devotion to duty. His memorial in Jamia Milia University stand testimony to this true son of India.

The battle of Naushera saw some fantastic bravehearts, who laid down their lives to help us save the Valley. Subedar Gopal Singh of 3 Rajput, undeterred by the numerical superiority of the Pakistanis, with his men fought valiantly for seven hours. He and his men were responsible for inflicting heavy causalities on the enemy. He led a bayonet charge to separate the attackers. He got isolated and was wounded in the ensuing fight. Sepoy Sikdar Singh found him and carried him back to his platoon. Havaldar Mahadeo Singh assumed command and continued the firing. However, enemy fire killed him on spot. All three were decorated with Vir Chakra.

Jadu_Nath_Singh_Portrait

Naik Jadunath Singh

Lt KS Rathore of C Company, 1 Rajput was yet anther hero who defended Taindhar Ridge and kept the fight on against approximately 1500 Pathans who had crossed over. He moved from bunker to bunker, aggressively encouraging his men to keep up the good fight. At one stage, the enemy came within 50 yards of of the bunkers. Havaldar Dayaram, part of C Company, adopted an ingenious method of firing 3 inch mortars without secondary charges. He started dropping the bombs within 50 yards of the bunker lines without any regard to his safety. This thwarted the enemy approach and also killed many of them. Naik Jadunath Singh was another determined soldier from C Company who displayed great valour and exceptional leadership. He moved his men to additional trenches that were prepared, in such a way that his small group of men, with controlled firing, brought down the Pakistani army from which ever side they attacked.

At the most critical stage of of the battle to defend Taindhar Ridge, Naik Jadunath Singh, left with no option, came out with his Sten gun and started firing into the enemy lines. The surprised enemy fled in disorder and this valiant Rajput met a gallant death as two bullets hit him squarely in the chest and head. He had made the ultimate sacrifice. Naik Jadunath Singh was decorated with the Param Vir Chakra. Lt Rathore and Havaldar Dayaram were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

The threat to Naushera was eliminated over months and months of fighting in sectors and finally on 20 November 198, Poonch was freed and a link up took place.

The battles to save Jammu and Kashmir have been fought over a period of 60 years. What started as overt fighting, today includes covert fighting to a large extent. We are in a constant state of conflict with Pakistan over this issue. In the bargain we have lost hundreds and thousands of precious lives – on both sides. Today, we have enormous possibilities of new beginnings. cautious optimism, instead of total negativity will save the state from further destruction and pave the way for future generations to reinstate the glory of that beautiful state.

Crazy optimism right…but then I do believe in miracles ūüôā

 

 

 

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.‚Ä̬†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.

The Blood Flows And My Land Turns Red

Death visits the mundane a heightened gravity, making life’s trivia beautiful and everyday weighty. Had Col MN Rai, Lt Col Sankalp, Maj Mukund Varadrajan or the countless others lived, each of them¬†would have¬†grown old with their spouse, experienced the pains & pleasures of bringing up teenage children, cared for their parents, done their bit for society. Above all, they would have lived to tell the tale.

The last year and half has seen many deaths in the Kashmir Valley. Death – that is what it is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. And, that is the thing about death. No one can get used to it.¬†Just when you think you are¬†reconciled, accepted, you hear about it again, and it just hits you all over, that shock.

A lot of my friends had pertinent questions¬†sometime ago, when we were discussing¬†the futility of a war thrust upon a country because of political whims and fancies. Irrespective of how a war happens, one thing is certain…Herbert Hoover said, “older men declare war, younger men fight & die.” One of the questions that came up was, “when we talk of army preparedness and training and strategy, why is it that so many of our soldiers die?” Well, to all those who have that question on their mind, I would like them to read what Lt Gen Ata Hasnain of the Indian Army has to say. He said this in the context of Col MN Rai being martyred yesterday in the Valley.

“In ‚ÄėLast Mile‚Äô tactical level operations for elimination of terrorists there will be casualties and the traditional ratios of own against terrorist losses will rise, at times abnormally. This must not draw the ire of the higher leadership but rather its constant monitoring and advice. Losses occur due to the lowering of guard and failure to take sufficient precautions in apparently simple operations. The return of suicide acts by terrorists, last witnessed in the early part of the millennium, remains a distinct possibility with targets being in the areas closer to the LoC. This has the effect of forcing LoC formations to shed more troops for security at the cost of the counter infiltration grid at the LoC.

Horribly proverbial but rightly predicted I feel. It takes away nothing from Late Col MN Rai’s valor and leadership. Most casualties occur either in the first TWO MINUTES of a contact or then, in urban ops, during attempts to break in by the Search elements. In this case it was neither. I recall a similar situation at a village called Batpura, on outskirts of the Old Airfield, where in a long stand off with six to eight LeT trts in 2000, the then GOC Victor Force forced me (I was then Col GS) against my advice to take him to the Cordon to witness the search operations. We were watching the operations without Bullet Proof Jackets and standing on a vantage point provided by the terrace of an incomplete house. Suddenly, I found two trts breaking the close cordon and running towards us, firing on the run. The fire raked the building around and we could just pull the GOC out of harms way. The valiant soldiers of 6 SIKH then eliminated the two trts. I learnt my lesson of not interfering with ops of ground troops.

Late Col Rai’s action is not akin to the above. He was providing frontline leadership. It is usual in the RR for the CO to move to the spot with his QRT and take charge. Let us not fault him on that at all. I am not aware whether he was wearing a BPJ; he must have been because that is an SOP. Possibly, for a momentary break in SOPs he stepped out from cover to examine for himself where the target area was. That is when possibly he was shot at. A case of sheer bad luck but then people have to realize that officers of our Army have this passion to be there with the men and facing the same odds that their men face. If it is not so, no individual under fire is going to raise his head. The presence of a CO with them energizes all ranks. That is the risk that Late Col Rai took and no one can fault him for it. Given the situation I would have done exactly what he did. There is an element of such risk which goes with your responsibility. That is why we are all saying that Late Col MN Rai, YSM, sacrificed his life in the finest tradition of the Indian Army. Such acts need not be faulted, for the sake of the officer – man relationship which exists in our Army.”

Leadership in the army is walk the talk. Harold AcAlindon once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.¬† ”¬†That is exactly what our brave soldiers do, when they are battling the enemy. They leave a trail behind them, a trail that few us can comprehend, much less follow. To such an army, what tribute or homage do I pay? My eyes are filled with unshed tears,¬†knowing that while they lay down their lives to protect us, their families miss them in the everyday routine. A song heard, a festival celebrated, a birthday party hosted, a movie watched…how does one get over the vaccuum. The absence of that one person in the family leaves a void that can never be fulfilled, a dark gash that cuts through the family every time they think of him. I have lost friends who died fighting for us. The families feel proud….yet, there is an emotional part that dies with the soldier. A mother whose youth snapped over her son’s death, a father who weeps silently rocking himself on a chair, grandparents who keep wondering why it couldn’t be them, instead of their grandson, a wife who feels is presence in everything around her.

For my part, I can only spread the word, share my feelings and help build an awareness of what is it that our Armed Forces are all about. Remember, we have a confirmed threat against our country and I for one am grateful for the Indian Armed Forces sitting in deserts, on snowy peaks and plains all through out the year. I see three commonalities.

(1) Passion. The Indian Armed Forces runs on this one factor…passion to serve the nation, passion to protect, passion to be the best.

(2) This brings me to the second commonality…we are all Indians. Yes, we fuss, we have differences of opinions, but we are all Indians and not hyphenated Indians.

(3) The third and most important commonality is the fact that we all bleed red.

And from where I am, it is the same red blood that is seeping through my land, turning the colour of the soil, choking me, numbing me and a silent cry…how many more, how many more?

 

 

On The Road…For A Hat Full Of Sky

I was wondering what random thoughts I would write about now on my blog as I was talking to my man¬†one night. I asked him and he said travel. That caught my attention…I do follow a couple of travel blogs and I find them fascinating. The writers pour their heart into their writings and manage to transport me to their world. ¬†¬†Travel 1

Travel has always fascinated and interested me. It fulfils a deep yearning of the wanderlust in me. The sheer joy of going to a different place, meeting new people, exploring the culture, the cuisine and the countryside…all give me an adrenalin rush. The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he wants to see. It’s a very profound statement that GK Chesterton made. And this only people who are travellers will understand. A mere vacation person¬†will never know the pleasure of travelling to a destination to enjoy the travail. I know I may sound arrogant when I say something like that…however, I have experienced check list vacations and have hated every minute of it. I realised that I enjoy my travails more than quick holidays.

This prompted me to go down memory lane and think about all the travelling I have done and enjoyed. I have done my fair bit of domestic and international travel. What strikes me while the international travel has been fun, I want to share with all of you out there some of the places I have visited in India that have left a deep impact on me in terms of beauty and culture. I don’t think I will ever forget those experiences.

1. Sonamarg, Kashmir

The whole state of Jammu & Kashmir has been described as “heaven on earth”. I particularly fell in love with two places. Sonamarg or Sonamargliterally “meadow of gold” is one such place. Sonamarg is backed by the might Himalayas and the lovely Sindh river meanders through the valley. My first impression of Sonamarg was during autumn and the all the hues of the season against a bright cerulean sky, with fluffy white clouds…I will never forget!!! The crisp mountain air would keep me outdoors most of the day and I would love walking through the valley exploring different things locally. Many a times I had some food packed for me, with a couple of books and my music, I have spent blissful hours reading, gazing at Mother Nature’s marvels and just…day dreaming.

 

 

2. Ladakh, Kashmir

Two thing that struck me about Ladakh were – stark and crystal clear. The desert landscape is so stark that it touches your soul deep down yak-ladakhsomewhere and forces you to introspect about so many things in life. My first trip to Ladakh was a bikers trip with friends and the pristine beauty of the place left me wanting more. Which obviously meant I was going back for more…

My second trip was trekking and camping and discovering the place on foot…again with some friends. Ten days through Hemis, Latza Kongmaru, Tilut Sumdo and finally arriving at Padum through Zangla not only helped us bond as better human beings, but, also brought about clarity in so many things that I was doing in life. You see, while communing with nature, I had nothing to do but think of myself and my life :). It’s funny how the noise and pace of the city life keeps you superficially connected with yourself…one trip at 11,000 feet is enough to get you to listen to your heart more than your mind.

 

3. Pondicherry

What is that feeling when you are driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? That was the feeling I had when I left Shrikant and his family after my travail into Pondicherry. My first visit to this lovely state was purely business and theHotel Pondy Pondy first evening when I set out on foot to explore the city of Pondicherry I fell in love. So, I went back again…

I fell in love with the slice of France that co exists with varied slices of India. The time that I spent there was indeed “gimme a break” time and my friend Shrikant and his lovely wife Sharada,¬†helped me take that break. The French part of the town, with its boulevards, white and ochre buildings, clean roads and inhabitants on cycles…all reminded me of my trip to the villages of Southern France. Auroville, the area where Aurobindo Ashram is situated is such a peaceful place. The silence and quiet calm of the Ashram once again plucked at my heart strings for this was the final resting place of a great soul who was not only a freedom fighter, but also a spiritual guru – Shree Aurobindo Ghosh.

 

4. Shivas, Cliffs & Kapu Beach Lighthouse, Karnataka

On a visit to Mangalore for my company’s recruitment drive, I met Prasanna Shetty who introduced me to the virgin coastline of Karnataka. His description of the 40 odd kilometres of drive along the Bhatkal coast piqued my curiosity enough to plan my¬†exploration in that region. And I did not regret.

Kiran surfingThe three places I have mentioned, Shivas, Cliffs and Kapu Beach Lighthouse are relatively unheard of for a regular tourist or vacation person. I also discovered that these three places are a surfer’s paradise in India. I know, I know…a lot of people will say…”surfing? here?”. It’s true…I got to meet surfers from France, US & UK while I was beach combing for crabs, shells and other oddities that you can find only in such places.

The small town of Maravanthe where I stayed at a homestay, has one stretch¬†of the beach where a two lane highway runs parallel to the ocean within 15 meters of the water’s edge and on the opposite side of the highway is a big fresh water lake.¬†In the lake are several islands with villages on them and there is an ancient 2,000 year old temple. The entire stretch along the sea reminded me of one of my favourite book series – Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. The five friends who go from cove to cove, discover adventures and solve mysteries…while I didnt solve any mysteries, I went from cove to cove, discovered white sand beaches, stretches of water that made me realise what a small place I occupy in the world.

 

5. Harsil, Uttarakhandharsil-sunrise

Situated in the lap of the Himalayas, on the banks of the river Bhagirathi, I discovered Harsil on my way to Gangotri. While the world hears of Gangotri as a one of the pilgrimage and tourist attractions in Uttarakhand, Harsil is the poor but beautiful cousin no one has heard of.

The place is a nature lover’s paradise, with dense deodar forests, chirping birds, gushing waters of the river, salubrious & serene environment. It also offers innumerable trekking routes that allow you to explore the mountainside and experience beauty like never before. I fell in love with the state of Uttarakhand…but Harsil remains a never ending passion. During the 70 odd kilometres of drive from Uttarkashi to Harsil, the green mountains were dotted with an occasional spot of orange. I later realised that these trees were called flames ofHarsil bridge the forest. The roads are dotted with apple trees and during the harvesting season the air is heavy with the smell of apples – quite intoxicating¬†is all I can say.

An unexplored territory, Harsil was however featured in a Bollywood movie I was told by the locals…a movie called Ram Teri Ganga Maili! ¬†I thought to myself a career as a location hunter in a movie production house is a good option if it allows me to travel, discover & explore.

 

6. Forts in MaharashtraJanjira

I love history…I love the romance associated with the stories of yore. A road journey to some of the lovely forts in Maharashtra allowed me to soak in Maratha history in such a way that no classroom had done in all those years of studying the subject. Maharashtra alone boasts of 350 forts of varied sizes…a treasure house I can say. I haven’t visited all of them…the ones I have, left me with echoes of the past and the impact it has had on generations after.

Starting with Shivner Fort, the place of ¬†the Maratha emperoor Shivaji’s birth, we travelled to Sinhagad Fort where he lost is trusted and most brave commander in chief, Tanaji. Purandar Fort, the capital of the Maratha kingdom has a quaint charm of its own and is about 40 kilometres from Pune, the culture capital of Maharshtra.¬†Shivneri

The twin forts of Sindhudurg and Vijaydurg off the coast of Mumbai were built by Shivaji in the 1660s to protect the land from coastal invasion. The Mumbai Fort is also part of the same vintage and today has only parts remaining in the business district of Colaba in Mumbai.

The fort of Murud Janjira, near the small fishing town of Alibaug was also constructed for the same reason by the rulers of Ahemdnagar. Ahemndnagar itself boasts of a lovely fort, which falls into the old fort category – more than 600 years old. Our journey then took us to Lohagad and Visapur Forts, near Malavalli, Pune. These two forts that are separated by a ridge are relatively newer – constructed in mid 18th century.

Sometime in the future I will write about some of the other places I have travelled to in India. To me India is a cornucopia of delight where you Travel 2discover something new every minute, at every turn and bend and never get disappointed with what you discover!!! My restless roaming spirit does not allow me to stay home very long…a wanderlust at heart. I realise that the best journeys¬†answer the questions that in the beginning you don’t even think to ask. I want to travel far & wide and one day when I sit and recount my travails to people around me, I would like to say “I have left my heart print on the world map”

The icing on the cake is when you have a family that loves to travel as much as you do. I am lucky that way. The man in my life loves it as much as I do…if not more! In fact, one of the things that keeps our relationship going is our love for discovering new places, new experiences. That the children love to indulge in this with us is an added joy. The one thing I keep sharing with him is,”I want to make memories with you all over the world”…and do that we will!