War Does Not Determine…

War does not determine who is right…only who is left.

Vijay Path

Vijay Path & Tololing Range in the background

1999. Kargil. 527 brave-hearts dead. 1367 injured. Rest of us are left…far behind.

Two years ago I wrote a piece – A War…Hundreds of Martyrs…A Lifetime Of Memories – when I made my trip to Kargil after 15 long years, to pay homage to our martyrs, among whom were friends I lost. Today, marks the 17th anniversary of the Kargil War.

17 years and the souls of our dead soldiers turn to us to ask. What did they fight for? What did they die for?

  1. They died protecting the land that would have been with Pakistan today.
  2. They died protecting the people who would have suffered in the hands of those Pakistanis soldiers & eventually Pakistani administration.
  3. They fought to retain the freedom of the land which is ours…the freedom & the land.
  4. They fought so people in Kargil, Dras, Leh and the surrounding areas could live peacefully. Not just our generation, but the future generations also.

Are we an ungrateful nation? Yes and no.

No, because there are some who have not forgotten the sacrifices made by the Indian Army. There are some who continue to fight to protect the same land & freedom. Not necessarily from the borders or in Jammu & Kashmir. Some of us fight battles in towns & cities to educate the rest of the population about being grateful. About being thankful that they are Indian & free.

Yes, we are ungrateful, because there is a section in our society that does not think national interest or national security. The ungratefulness comes to the fore when terrorists are eulogised and their killing is called unconstitutional or human rights activists are holding placards asking for humane treatment of those terrorists. My question to such people is have you lost someone close to you, someone who died simply because he wanted to protect you? Quite a few of us have. So, listen to us. For we will tell you what it means. What it means to hear that he will not come back again to meet you, to laugh & share a drink with you, to plan important events in life, to get married, to have children, to eat what his mother cooks, to support his father as he gets on in years…in short to experience life.

Yes we are ungrateful when we allow misguided citizens of this country to take the security forces for granted. Aren’t the security forces human? What gives anybody the right to harm them? And, when they are harmed, why should they not protect themselves? Would you and I not protect ourselves if somebody pelted stones at us? Would we not defend ourselves? Let us allow our defence & security forces to protect the country, instead of protecting themselves from an ungrateful nation. Remember, there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of a thankless country.

As parts of the country gear up to honour our martyrs & their families, it is time for the rest to pause & think about the dead soldier and how it is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organise the peace. Peace has to be organised, otherwise war will not end; and if war doesn’t end, we end as a country. That is not acceptable to a large majority of us.

Sometimes, you have to pick up a gun to put the gun down. I will not mourn our soldiers who die protecting us. I am thankful and grateful we are still a nation that produces such heroes!

We Serve With Pride

 

No matter how much frustration there is,
Fear, trepidation, anxiety or unease.
Despite all the hardships  & adversity aside,
As long as I wear the uniform I endure all with pride.
For service and loyalty are what matter to me,
Honour, courage, respect and integrity
Are the armour I wear to counter all foe
They give me strength when into enemy land I go.
I depend on my comrades, and defend them I must,
They in turn they depend on me keeping the trust.
Together we shall overcome the toughest of test,
Our resolve will never waiver as we all give our best.

Jai Hind Ki Sena! Salute!

 

 

One & Only…Field Marshal Manekshaw

On his 102nd birth anniversary…Sam1

It’s true when they say God doesn’t make ’em like him any more. India’s first Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, popularly known as Sam Bahadur, was truly a quintessential soldier and a gentleman. Those who are part of the armed forces of India and their families will know of this great man. Those outside, may not even be aware of what his contribution is to the history of India & Indian Army.

Without delving too much into his early life, I would like to share some incidents & situations that made him who he was – a legend. Spanning four decades, his career began in pre independent India. Capt Manekshaw, fighting in WW II, led his company in a counter-attack against the invading Japanese Army and despite suffering 50% casualties the company managed to achieve its objective. In the counter attack, Capt Manekshaw got hit in the stomach by a machine gun fire. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division, Maj Gen David Cowan, having witnessed Capt Manekshaw’s valour, rushed to his side. Fearing that the young officer would die, the general pinned his own Military Cross ribbon to Manekshaw saying, “A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.”

Capt Manekshaw was evacuated to Rangoon, and, when the surgeon asked what had happened to him, he replied that he was “kicked by a donkey”.

In 1961, his outspoken frankness got him into trouble with Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon and Lt Gen B M Kaul. He refused to toe Menon’s line and was sidelined, albeit temporarily.

Manekshaw was vindicated soon after when the Indian army suffered a humiliating defeat in North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), now Arunachal Pradesh, the next year, at the hands of the Chinese leading to Menon’s resignation. Prime Minister Nehru rushed Manekshaw to NEFA to command the retreating Indian forces. This had an electrifying effect on the demoralised officers.

In no time, Manekshaw convinced the troops that the Chinese soldier was not “10 feet tall”. His first order of the day said, “There will be no withdrawal without written orders and these orders shall never be issued.” The soldiers showed faith in their new commander and successfully checked further ingress by the Chinese.

In 1964, he took over as Army Commander, Eastern Command in Kolkata. He successfully responded to the insurgency problem in Nagaland, dealt with the Mizo uprising and strived to bring normalcy to the North East. It was here that my father, serving as ADC to Maj Gen KP Candeth, ( commanding 8 Mountain Div) met his Army Commander for the first time. This interaction also taught a lesson that my father has handed down to the next two generations in our family. It so happened that after the day’s work, both Maj Gen Candeth & Lt Gen Manekshaw were relaxing that evening in the GOC’s quarters. My father, being the ADC wheeled in the bar trolley and lifted the bottle of whiskey to pour a drink for both Generals. Lt Gen Manekshaw saw the way this young captain was holding the glass and the whiskey bottle and asked him a question, “Young man, how long have you served with Unni (GOC’s nickname) and do you have a girlfriend?” My father replied, “I have been with Gen Candeth for 8 months Sir. And no Sir, I don’t have a girl friend.”

The Army Commander winked at my Dad and said, “It shows that you don’t have a girl friend by the way you hold the bottle. Remember, always hold the bottle by the neck and your girl by the waist. Never the other round…you will get a kick in the wrong place.” That priceless lesson was handed down to my brother and me and that was the first thing I noticed when I fell in love with my man. He got the permutation right!

As the 8th Chief of Army Staff, Gen Manekshaw’s experience was going to be put to test in 1971 when we went to war with Pakistan. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was yet to understand her Army Chief. When she asked him if we were ready for war, Sam Bahadur’s classic reply was, “I’m always ready, sweetie.” It makes me smile every time I think of the PM’s reaction to a statement like this. Having said that, he also pointed out that our armed forces had to be readied for war and that would take time. He said he could guarantee victory if she would allow him to prepare for the conflict on his terms, and set a date for it. The PM acceded to this and thus, Bangla Desh was born. When the PM asked him to go to Dhaka and accept the surrender of Pakistani forces, Manekshaw declined, magnanimously saying that the honour should go to his Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora.

He was the epitome of soldiering with dignity. After the 1971 War, he was visiting our injured soldiers in hospitals. He met a young man who had three bullet wounds and quipped, “You received three at this age; when I was of your age, I received nine bullets and look—today, I am the commander in chief of the Indian Army.” He ensured that the 93,000 prisoners of war were treated with utmost respect. Officers who served with him were told to maintain the dignity of the captured soldiers. He personally supervised some the PoW camps, which led to even some of the Pakistani officers salute him for is humane approach.

Handsome, charismatic and a razor sharp wit characterised Field Marshal Manekshaw. That he held politicians in disdain is no secret. He was blunt about the views he held of them, the most famous one being, “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter.”

On another occasion, PM Gandhi asked him whether he was planning to take over the country. Pointing to his long nose, the General replied: “I don’t use it to poke into other’s affairs. I don’t interfere politically as long as nobody interferes with me in the Army.”

Suave in all his social interactions, Sam Bahadur could charm the pants off anyone, including Bollywood stars. This incident was in Nov/Dec 1999 in Mumbai. A talk & ceremony was organised to honour the heroes, martyrs and war widows of Kargil. The theme was “Lessons from Kargil” and Field Marshal was the main speaker that evening. My Dad had the opportunity to share some of his thoughts and we were in the audience. Some of our Bollywood stars like Raveena tandon & Nana Patekar had visited Kargil just before this event and were also present. It is was an emotianally charged atmosphere and Raveena in her exuberance declared that all soldiers of the Indian Army were like her brothers and wanted to tie a rakhi to Sam Bahadur. He promptly got up from his chair, hugged her and said, “Raveena, a pretty girl like you should tie rakhi to this young General and not me. You and I are friends.” The young General was my father, pushing sixty at that point!

Such a hero was treated shabbily by the government as they did not give him his dues as Field Marshal. His death also showed us how this country views it’s soldiers. Irrespective of how he got treated by the politician & bureaucrats in his life or death, Sam Bahadur will always be loved and respected by the likes of us who have known him or known of him.

And to think he wanted to become a gynaecologist when he was 15 years. When his father refused to send him to London to study, Sam Bahadur rebelled and applied for the entrance examination of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun.

Thank you Uncle Sam for rebelling when you did…because India got one her best and most celebrated army officer!

Quintessentially Indian Army…

“You have never lived until
You have almost died,
And for those who choose to fight,
Life has a special flavor,
The protected will never know!!!”
-Capt R Subramanium Kirti Chakra (Posth)images

Happy Army Day!

Saluting the Indian Army, to which I owe a lot in my life, I have put together some amazing facts for everyone to read. The more I dug into my research & reading, the more I found…I can’t really do justice to what this proud institution has done for Indians & for India. This is merely an attempt to educate the people out there…

  1. Indian army has close to 1.3 million soldiers, making it the second largest army in the world. Numbers do matter.
  2. Indian Army is located in some of the most inhospitable terrains of the world and have never buckled under pressure.
  3. Every scenario encountered in these terrains have been battled and faced by our armed forces.
  4. It is a united army not based on any social, economic, religious or cultural divide.
  5. We are considered to amongst the best in high altitude & mountain warfare.
  6. We are regarded as the best army to deal with counter insurgency operations.
  7. Indian Army controls the highest battlefield in the world – Siachen Glacier.
  8. We have fought four major wars and helped in the creation of an independent Bangla Desh.
  9. The Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 ended with the surrender of about 93,000 combatants and officials of the Pakistani Army. This is the largest number of POWs taken into custody since World War II.
  10. The Portuguese ruled Goa for more than 461 years until 1961. They refused to hand over Goa to India even after the Indian independence. The locals were resisting the Portuguese, but even after many diplomatic efforts, Portugal did not alter their stand. in 1961, India with a massive force outmatched the Portuguese force 10:1 and annexed Goa in just 36 hours.
  11. Battle of Longewala was fought in December 1971 between India and Pakistan, in which just 120 Indian Soldiers with 1 jeep mounted M40 recoil-less rifle held the fort against 2000 Pakistani soldiers backed by 45 tanks and 1 mobile infantry brigade. Indian soldiers held their grounds the whole night giving the Pakistanis the impression that there were around 500 Indians soldiers. When the fire was brought from the sky by Indian Air force in the morning, Pakistani soldiers fled their positions leaving behind 34 tanks.
  12. The Indian Army built the highest bridge in the world. The Bailey Bridge is the highest bridge in the world. It is located in the Ladakh valley between Dras and Suru rivers in the Himalayan mountains. It was built by the Indian Army in August 1982.
  13. The Indian army has a horsed cavalry regiment. It is one of the last three remaining of such regiments in the world.
  14. The Indian Army is respected because it is one army that knows, understands and fights terror on its own soil, daily. We have combat commanders that actually experience  others shoot at them, and soldiers who actually experience the sheer chaos when thousands of men and machines try to kill each other.
  15. Indian troop commanders develop doctrine-strategy-operations-tactics based on their actual combat experience.
  16. India’s unique positioning allows its army to enjoy some of the best of what both West and East have to offer.

The Indian Army is a powerful one, not just in terms of numbers, but also in its resilience siachen-1and ability to handle stress. Our soldiers complete a minimum of 2 years tour of duty as opposed to the American system of 6 months. I have always wondered whether soldiers from other armies would actually survive a 3 month tenure in Siachen?

Leadership in the army by and large focuses on the psychological & emotional well being of the soldiers. Yes, I know the question of soldier suicides is bound to come up here. Very rarely is this work related. Most of these cases are related to problems at home pertaining to spouse, family feuds & financial dealings. It is here that the rich tradition of regimental life has stood the test of time and the strong bonding woven in an army unit, results in high levels of camaraderie. For those interested in reading more about this, I would recommend Lt Gen Ata Hasnain’s blog – http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/india/lt-gen-syed-ata-hasnain/why-the-indian-army-handles-stress-better-than-all-other-armies-14405-1153882.html

Indian Army has its share of problems and challenges. However, I do not think this is the 20141213_LDD-VSK-MN_POP IMA-11a-1-kuFD--621x414@LiveMintday to highlight those. Today, we celebrate the 68th Indian Army Day and raise a toast to all those who fight to keep us alive.

When you see a soldier…
Be sure to shake his or her hand,
Let that soldier know you’re grateful,
For the protection the military affords our land.

But most of all express your thanks,
For every soldier’s personal sacrifice.
In order to serve our country,
They risk their entire lives!

Jai Hind ki Sena!

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 🙂

 

 

 

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.

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 ‘Last Mile’ 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?

 

 

The Race To Dhaka – 1971 & Beyond

Forty three years ago India stood tall on this day as the Indian Armed Forces came of age, from fighting tactical battles to perfecting the art of joint services collaboration and multi-theatre war.The Pakistan army’s surrender was a victory of India’s intelligence agencies, diplomacy and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

On this historical day, Pakistan army’s Commander of East Pakistan – Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi – surrendered before Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, who was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. Lt Gen Niazi took off his lanyard, badges of rank and pistol and signed the surrender document marking the end of a 13-day blitzkrieg. This was the only war that the independent Indian Army planned, executed and carried out with precision and captured 93,000 prisoners.

I am not going to chronicle the war itself today. I write so that some of my readers do not forget what we as a country did and are capable of  image_3doing. Our politicians and governments have all but forgotten 1971. As a result, our younger generation does not know India’s aggressive attitude that was showcased in December 1971.  This war created a lot of firsts for us:

  • First major victory for a young Indian democracy that helped strengthen the confidence of the leadership and population.
  • First time that the Indian leadership took a decisive action on moral grounds.
  • First time that we violated the UN Charter.
  • First time that we stood up to the US of A, China & Europe.
  • First time that we put our heads together to rectify a mistake that the British had made.
  • First time that India decided the Bangladeshi immigration problem must have a solution that would give Bangla Desh legitimate freedom.

A country that won a war, liberated it’s neighbour, resolved certain geo political issues in the region did not celebrate this victory in a manner image befitting a winner. We let go of our position as a power to reckon with and developed a psyche of shunning/ignoring our defence forces, instead of building the capability & potential of our Armed Forces. Lord Meghnad Desai puts it well, “If we continue to be embarrassed about our Armed Forces, we will never be able to establish leadership in Asia. And it is especially relevant now as Pakistan is not a threat, it is a pin prick, our competitive threat lies in China.”

With the 1971 War, Indira Gandhi achieved a lot, bordering on the impossible. She dismembered Pakistan, permanently reduced its territory and humiliated it militarily. A humiliation from which the country has never recovered, so much so that last week General Pervez Musharraf told a Pakistani channel that he launched the Kargil operation as a ‘tit-for-tat’ for the 1971 war. He lost that war as an army chief, and it was a shame that he brought upon his country is something he conveniently ignored talking about. As did the journalist who interviewed him.  image_1

The war also removed any feelings of inferiority of the Indian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, that’s where it stopped. Post 1971,  we have become a country that refuses to acknowledge the selfless contribution, sacrifices and service of the defence of this country. We do absolutely nothing to invest emotionally in a victory that took place after 8 centuries of foreign domination. In fact, as a nation, we have done precious little emotional investment in our armed forces.

World over, December 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of the First World War. Homage is being paid to the Indian soldier and his bravery recognized across the European countries. Indian Army’s exploits in Europe, their landing in Marseilles is being celebrated by the French. Israel, even today, celebrates Liberation of Haifa from Ottoman Empire in 1918. Over 900 Indian soldiers became martyrs in a foreign land. Israel acknowledges with gratitude, every year, the supreme sacrifice of those Indian soldiers. It saddens me to say here, in India, we refuse to recognize the victorious exploits of our Armed Forces. 1971 War is all but forgotten by the nation. image_2

A sense of nationalistic pride must be instilled in the younger generation about our achievements and what we are capable of today also. Let us make a beginning by paying tribute to all the known and unknown heroes who have protected India and all Indians for the last 7 decades.

The time has come for us to recognize, acknowledge and salute the soldiers who sacrifice their everything for our something. I felt humbled this morning to meet the war veterans of 1971 at the Vijay Diwas Memorial Service in Bangalore, knowing that they stood tall at our borders, only for us to sleep safely at night.

As a citizen of this great country, I appeal to the 125 crore Indians to pay homage to the Indian Armed Forces, because of whom, we have inherited a favourable geo strategic environment, in which we can build a progressive and prosperous India.

Jai Hind!

The Boulevard & The Screen…Silvery Hollywood

Sinking in a seat as the lights dimmed, the lion of MGM roaring in front of me on the silver screen, I was transported to another world all together. If books help me visualise and let my imagination work overtime, I love the movies for the power they have over the mind and heart. Roman Polanski, a director I admire tremendously, once said, “Cinema should make you forget that you are sitting in a theatre”

Having grown up a staple diet of all time classics like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Sound Of Music, The Good The Bad The Ugly and few more in the same genres, I did not understand the nuances of appreciating a well made film those days. However, you can never escape the influence of a great movie…and that’s what happened to me also!

This sounds like a cliche I know…but they really don’t make them like that anymore!!! When I look at the kind of Hollywood movies released now, I find them revolving around aliens, autobods, vampires, draculas, witches and wizards. Where are normal human beings? One gets a strong feeling that our planet will be taken over by all the above…that’s why we don’t have movies made about normal people like you and me 🙂

Casablanca

I was reading the tribute paid to Eli Wallach who died recently. And I remembered some of the movies I have enjoyed during my teenage years and later too. The genres that I’m a sucker for – romance (that’s easy to guess), suspense thrillers (Hitchcock variety), westerns (gun slinging, crooked cigars/cigarettes in the mouth), war movies (they always bring in nostalgia, poignancy and a smile). You know something…I still enjoy watching them again now…every once in a while, on a rainy afternoon, with a nice cuppa and some popcorn…I’m willing to be transported to the world of Scarlett O’Hara, Capt & Maria Von Trapp, Eliza Do Little & Prof Higgins and the ever lovely Mrs Campbell. So, who are all these characters? It would make sense to write about some of my all time favourites…

Casablanca 

This remains my numero uno as far as romantic movies are concerned. I can swoon every time I hear Humphrey Bogart say, “Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine.” With nearly every line of its script engraved on the collective subconscious, and its central performances of Bogart and Ingrid Bergman defining iconic cool, Casablanca is an exultant classic. “Here’s looking at you, kid”.

Great Escape

Great Escape

The Great Escape

I love a good war movie, especially the Second World War ones. This 1963 American film on the escape and escape attempts of Allied forces prisoners from a German military camp is the right audio visual choice that tickled my palate with intriguing drama and meticulous war and war camp description. The movie has a a classic motorcycle chase sequence featuring the great Steve McQueen. The all-star ensemble includes James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence and James Garner….can one ask for more?

Citizen Kane   

A landmark in the history of movie making. A classic by Orson Welles, this is a brilliant master piece that can resonate with any generation, in my opinion. Surprisingly, it was a box office disaster initially, it generated huge acclaim eventually and continues to thrill audiences even now.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly  

The Good The Bad The Ugly

The Good The Bad The Ugly

Every time Eli Wallach said “Hey Blondie” to Clint Eastwood, I smiled. I loved both the characters…and I think I fell hopelessly in love with Clint Eastwood because of all the westerns. Movies like this and For A Few Dollars More, created a cult following for an entire generation as they depicted typical rough, tough and bold characters, most enigmatically gypsy gang lord like lifestyle and dramatic action. I lapped it all up in the true spirit of adventure. The background scores from most of the westerns are tunes I hum even today and enjoy listening to while driving…yes you guessed right…highway driving 🙂

Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady

It is unfair of me to combine both these movies…but for me they have always gone hand in hand. The lovely Julie Andrews and the suave Christopher Plummer created a different sense of romance all together. On the contrary, the beautiful Audrey Hepburn and sophisticated Rex Harrison brought such a cute, down to earth feeling to romance. In fact, one dialogue Of Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady, “Where the devil are my slippers?” always reminds me of what my man says,”My requirements in life are simple – my slippers, newspaper, my reading glasses & cuppa”. In fact when the children were growing up, these were two movies I got them to watch a few times…singing along with Maria & Eliza 🙂

Psycho 

Psycho

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock movies did not allow me to sleep for a couple of nights at least after watching them. For a very long time after watching Psycho, I would be scared of drawing the shower curtain…those of you who have seen the movie will understand why! Hitchcock movies had this quality of making me look over my shoulder whenever I was alone. Psycho is considered a cult movie in the suspense/thriller category, with its rich, dark & enigmatic quality. I will still recommend the black & white version instead of the remakes that have come recently. A must watch…but don’t blame me if your popcorn just falls off and does not go into your mouth.

Some of the other Hitchcock movies I have thoroughly enjoyed – 39 Steps, Vertigo, North By North west, The Birds and Rear Window.

Schindler’s List

A war movie with a difference and a heart. Schindler’s List tops that category for me. Poignant, emotional and incredibly humane – the war crimes against the Jews is depicted beautifully and authentically shown by Steven Spielberg. It is not for nothing that he is called a master film maker. There are movies about the holocaust and there is Schindler’s List…that’s how powerful it is!!!

Once Upon a Time in the West

This is another epic spaghetti western movie from one of the greatest director of the genre Sergio Leone. This 1968 old Wild West tale came with wide screen cinematography of visual splendour that is so intrinsic to raw western lands and most enigmatic actors in the roles of the bandits and cowboys. This film had been a subject of huge cult following in many parts of the world where it inspired great many masterpieces of the same theme.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Oooh, I cannot miss this western gem for its more matured drama. It is set face to face with the modern legal proceeding with the Wild West cowboy heroes in search of a more successful criminal career, that gives the film a large tinge of thrill with other rich eclectic aspects of western movie. This 1969 western classic by George Roy Hill starring great actor Paul Newman in the lead role, won huge critical reception all over the world as one of the finest movies in the genre. And who can forget, “Raindrops keep falling on my head…”

Roman Holiday

A runaway princess meets handsome man and they fall in love…mush story most will say. Of course it is…but what a mushy romantic story. Gregory Peck became the benchmark in romance for a long time for a lot of women. Audrey Hepburn, as the lovely princess is adorable in this all time favourite of mine.

Four Weddings & a Funeral and Notting Hill 

Notting Hill

Notting Hill

Ralph Fiennes once said, “So much of movie acting is in the lighting. And in loving the characters. I try to know them, and with that intimacy comes love.” He, of course said it from an actor’s perspective…I say it from an audience perspective. And I have loved Hugh Grant’s characters in both – Four Weddings & A Funeral and Notting Hill – the same way. British film makers showed Hollywood how to do romantic comedy in a subtle under played way…which only they can do.

There are so many movies that have left me wanting for more and I can say truly good cinema – The Great Dictator, Buena Sera Mrs Campbell, Papillon, Chinatown, The Pianist, Forrest Gump, Rain Man, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, The Graduate, Shawshank Redemption, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Tamarind Seed, Singing In The Rain…I can go on a little more.

The one film I have to mention in the last two decades after the phenomenal crime suspense thrillers of Hitchcock all of which had a psychological bent, this 1991 psycho thriller is the right one in every aspect of judgement. The film won Oscars in all top five categories including best picture, best director, best actor, best actress and best adapted screenplay and in considering the huge artistic and critical reception of the film all over the world. The character of Hannibal Lector, who brought new meaning to having a friend round for dinner, raised Anthony Hopkins to an iconic status and terrified a whole generation…and cntinues to do so.

Martin Scorsese says, “Cinema is a matter of what is in the frame and what is out”

Finally, a good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption. The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor’s scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense. Sitting there alone or painfully alone because those with you do not react as you do, you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do. And because movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have, these reactions can seem the most personal and, maybe the most important, imaginable. The romance of movies is not just in those stories and those people on the screen but in the adolescent dream of meeting others who feel as you do about what you’ve seen. You do meet them, of course, and you know each other at once because you talk more about good movies than about what you did not see in bad movies.

Enjoy the cinemas and like the saying goes…the show will continue to go on!!!

 

 

 

 

A War…Hundreds Of Martyrs…A Lifetime Of Memories!

“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” – Sir Winston Churchill.

This was the thought that I carried in my head all along my journey from Srinagar to Drass and Kargil. It is almost fifteen years since we fought the last war with Pakistan…a war in which many a parent lost their child, many a wives lost their husbands, many a children lost their fathers and I lost dear friends.

The last 15 years life has moved on for everyone…everyone except the snowy peaks that saw the bloodshed and those who died in that war. It is true when they say, “For our tomorrow, they gave their today.”

Zoji-La at 11,649 feet

Zoji-La at 11,649 feet

Driving through the icy Zoji-La

Driving through the icy Zoji-La

My journey started from Srinagar at 0700 hours and we reached Drass at 1830 hours. The scenic beauty of the region must be seen to be experienced. No amount of words can do justice to what nature has created. Sleepy villages that echoed of school children’s laughter, apple and apricot trees lining the roads, snowy peaks that were at a distance initially and gradually came closer as we started our climb to Zojila, icy mountain air that was crisp and kept me refreshed all through out, the gushing sounds of the Sindh river as it flowed on our right and the magnificent white glacier on the left. With every turn and bend, I truly felt I was one step closer to heaven…in more ways than one!

A quick stop at Sonamarg for lunch and an interesting chat with the Commanding Officer posted there opened my eyes to the hardships that our army faces on a day to day basis. Having travelled to Jammu and Kashmir many times earlier, I had never been to this part of the state beyond Sonamarg. And when one is young, the romance of life is very different!

Sun peeping behind the Ghumri range

Sun peeping behind the Ghumri range

All throughout the drive to Drass from Sonamarg, I kept thinking about what some of the officers had shared with me. The logistical support of the Indian Army, the medical camps they set up during the Amarnath Yatra and the collaborative work they do with the local administration all through out the year…left me overwhelmed and immensely proud of belonging to a community called “Army Brats.” I can’t thank my Dad enough for having been part of this glorious organization, which has given us so much in life…including the man I love 🙂

As we crossed Zojila, I was awestruck by the beauty of the stark landscape around me. I was sitting in a semi open jeep, so I could indulge in some photography on the way and I wasn’t disappointed at all. As we climbed higher, we saw less and less of human population on the road as the villages and towns are far and few in between. At Ghumri, a roadside board brought a smile to my face…an enterprising local had put up a board of selling “hot momos.” We did look for the shop, but it was closed!

Approaching Drass, a feeling of melancholy crept over me. I was excited to be there, yet, the thought of our army standing guard, fighting to protect us from an enemy who actually wasn’t an enemy 70 years ago, brought home the futility of war… for war means fighting and fighting means killing. As we entered Drass and were driving to the place where we stayed a couple of nights, my driver pointed out and said,”Madam, Tiger Hill!” That was enough to get my adrenalin rushing…finally I had reached the place where I had come to pay homage, not only to the friends who had died fighting, but all 543 martyred soldiers and the 1000 plus who were injured. The ones who are alive continue to carry the horrors and scars of those fateful days.

Vijay Path & Tololing Range in the background

Veer Bhoomi

Veer Bhoomi

Drass War Memorial

I’m not going to recount what happened between April – July 1999. Historians have chronicled the Kargil War very well and my readers can refer to that if they want to know what the war was all about and how it was fought.

I am writing for my fellow Indians to realize they have forgotten that there are soldiers out there who have sacrificed everything, just so that we live peacefully where ever we are. When I meet people in urban areas who have no clue about what it is to live at altitudes ranging between 10,000 feet to 21,000 feet and eat tinned food for 7 – 8 months in a year, not talk to your family for the same period, bear temperatures from 5 degrees to minus 40 degrees…I keep thinking that every Indian must make the effort of travelling to such places to experience a wee bit of what our Indian Army goes through. Just the road trip should suffice to understand.

Tiger Hill, Rhino Horn & Batra Top

Tiger Hill, Rhino Horn & Batra Top

Walking through the gates of the War Memorial, as I tread softly on Vijay Path, I could not control my tears. So overwhelming was the emotion that I broke down. I wept for the martyrs, for the families who had sacrificed and the families who continue to sacrifice . The officer, a young Major,  who was briefing us about the Memorial, had just completed 7 months on a snowy peak at 18,200 feet altitude and had come down to Drass after that rigorous stint. What could I say to someone like that…all I could do was listen to his experiences and feel humbled. Havaldar Razak’s ability to narrate the events of April – July 1999 had all the listeners weeping…there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience. Such is the ambience at the War Memorial.

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”. 13 JAK Rifles, 18 Grenadiers, 2nd Rajputana Rifles, 8 Sikh, 1/11 Gurkha Rifles, 14 Sikh, 2 Naga, 12 Mahar, 17 JAT and soldiers from other regiments and battalions have more than proved it. The army believe in only thing completely – that they are here to protect the nation at any cost. It is because of that single minded focus that the rest of the country is able to live in peace. A look at our immediate neighbour is proof enough for us to be grateful for such an army Like Alfred Tennyson opined,

All our heroes!

All our heroes!

Operation Vijay

Operation Vijay

 

“Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die”

My Dad, who served 37 years in the Indian Army, who has been part of various wars and conflicts, once told me, “What you don’t know going in is that when you come out, you will be scarred for life. Whether you were in for a week, a month, or a year—even if you come home without a scratch—you are never, ever going to be the same.

When I went in, I was twenty. I thought it was all glory and you win lots of medals. You think you’re going to be the guy. Then you find out the cost is very great. Especially when you don’t see the friends you were with when you went in. Living with it can be hell. It’s like the devil presides in you. I knew what I had signed up for then, yes, and I would do it again. But the reality of war—words can’t begin to describe it.”

For such an army, let us salute whole heartedly. Let us not forget what they endure and support them in whatever way we can. I ask everyone

Sunrise outside Drass town

Sunrise outside Drass town

Sunrise while driving through Drass

Sunrise while driving through Drass

who is reading this – have you ever stopped to ponder the amount of blood spilt, the volume of tears shed, the degree of pain and anguish endured, the number of noble men and women lost in battle so that we as individuals might have a say in governing our country?

As I left Drass that early morning, I felt a sense of calm and peace that came to me for I had discovered one more purpose in life. A mission of creating awareness about the army I love and respect, of  the humane aspect of being a soldier, of the stoic and sensitivity of the men in uniform.

Honour the lives sacrificed for your freedom. I thank the Lord above everyday for giving me this life that is protected by such a gallant & brave army. Thank you Indian Army!!!

Jai Hind!