Another year already … just another night to go before the nation wakes up to #KargilVijayDiwas2021. I again read a post by one of our war-disabled Kargil heroes Capt Naveen Nagappa SM. ‘THEY DIED YOUNG, TO THEM WE OWE’ he writes, in memory of the 17 brave soldiers of his battalion of 13 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles… and those of 527 bravehearts of the Kargil War, thousands injured and the countless before and the many since……
‘Rfn Moinder singh, Rfn Rakesh kumar, L/Nk Harish Pal, Maj Ajay Singh Jasrotia, Hav Jagan Nath, L/Nk Ranbir Singh, Rfn Pawan Singh, Rfn Ashok kumar, L/Nk Veer Singh, Rfn Shayam Singh, Hav Krishan Singh, Rfn Manohar Lal, L/Nk Krishnan Mohan, Rfn Deep Chand, Rfn Praveen Kumar, Capt Vikram Batra, Rfn Abdul Nazar.’
Capt Naveen was lucky to return alive after being grievously injured, thanks to ‘Shershah’ Capt Vikram Batra’s timely arrival in that battle for point 4875 on 6 & 7 July 1999. A year ago, he poured his heart out in a poem, in honour of his brothers-in-arms who fought alongside and gave their all in that War. Sharing a deeply moving excerpt from his poem with you all today….
It was a horrible fight, you thought you would go to God that night
You did your best, so that peace be upon the rest
You fought for a cause, before your breath took a pause
In the final moments, billions things you wanted to do, million things you wanted to say to your dear ones
You left in a hurry, without even bid good bye to your own
Wrapped in tricolor came back home in a coffin, with a tag on your toe.
The nation saw mothers holding back the tears, fathers kneeling down for prayers. For you were hardly 20 years
For those of us who survived were forever scarred, emotionally, physically but permanently marred.
For every wound there is a scar, for every scar there is a story.
For all the stories that are told, this shall be told of you Dear Soldier
That family in unit, brothers in blood, You were the final option.
For in this life, few things but matter, you left nothing behind but honour, the cause which is so dear.
As long as there is war, the nation must ask and answer, are we worth dying for?
Till my final die is cast, I salute not the national flag
With my face upturned, tears down my eyes, I salute you my dear comrades…..
WITHOUT YOUR SACRIFICE THE CAUSE WOULD BE LOST.
THEY DIED YOUNG, TO THEM WE OWE.
– Capt Naveen Anaberu Nagappa, SM
When the heart is a raging sea of emotions and the mind is cluttered with a million memories that refuse my attempts to archive them, I know the only thing that will help me is to sit down and face my emotions and thoughts. As I get back to writing this blog, my raja beta’s clear eyes meet my own, even if it’s only in his picture on the wall. Somehow Akshay always manages to find a way to help me sort, sift and pen what I feel and what I also want to share.
29th May 2021, young, brave, beautifully caring, committed Nitika completed her rigorous military training in Officers Training Academy and earned her right to wear her own olive green uniform. She made not only her now in the stars braveheart Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhondiyal SC proud but inspired a nation when she marched smartly with her coursemates in the Passing out Parade to be commissioned as Lt Nitika Kaul. ‘All I want right now is a hug from ma’ she said referring to her mother in law. Her own proud parents could also not be present at the Passing our Parade because of Covid restrictions, but surely, the hearts of all parents were brimming, watching virtually, as their children committed themselves to serving the nation ‘to the peril of my life’.
Exactly eleven years on this very day, Akshay at 24 also committed to his love Sangeeta as they exchanged rings… and all of us beamed with joy. Then, four and half years ago to the day, Akshay’s final engagement on earth was a greater commitment…. to protect his nation and people at any cost. The cost of freedom has been very heavy…. 27000 young soldiers, sailors and air warriors of Army, Navy & Air Force have their names etched in stone at the National War Memorial in Delhi. Each soldier’s family since 15 August 1947 has in one way or other accepted the reality of their loved one putting ‘IndiaFirst’.
It’s been well over a year of this cruel, heartbreaking pandemic that shows no signs of letting mankind go back to what was once ‘normal lives’. The second wave of Covid_19 was far more devastating than the first and so many of us have lost family, friends and colleagues, even as innumerable caring citizens pitched in to assist in the response. The warriors at the forefront this time have been our doctors, nurses, researchers, other health and sanitation sector workers, the police, and also, just as in every disaster that strikes us, the armed forces & paramilitary have been at the forefront in aiding the Covid response.
For countless families across India and the world, it doesn’t matter any longer whether they are separated by thousands of miles…. or live just a few minutes away from homes of loved ones. Meeting and bonding continues to be limited to phone conversations and virtual hugs. All we can do meanwhile is stay safe, help others stay safe and pray for the peaks to fall and not rise like this ever again. For Girish and me, it’s the first time in four and half years that we did not have Naina to cuddle and spend time with for over a month and half. As we connect on family video calls, we see Naina enjoying being big sister to Buddy, the naughty little spaniel Sangeeta and Anirudh gifted Naina, while the older pet Bingo, Akshay’s ‘beta’, watches the two of them frolicking from a safe distance!
It is that time of year again when 22 years ago, Kargil War was fought and won to defend our nation. For over 2 months, our braves gave their all against impossible odds, on icy peaks and treacherous mountains, to ensure our safety and freedom. From the battle for Tololing on the night of June 12/13th which became the turning point of the Kargil War, our young officers, JCOs and ORs scaled one peak after the other while fire rained down from entrenched enemy on top. Point 5140 was recaptured on June 20th, Tiger Hill on July 4th Jubar Heights in Batalik by 7th July. By July 9th, Biharis had captured Pt 4927 & Tharu, Gorkhas had Pt 4821 & Kukarthan, Paras were on 4100 & Muntho Dalo, Garhwalis on Bumps I, II & III, north of Pt 4927. Enemy was reeling. Vijay was imminent. And tomorrow, the nation will be commemorating 22 years of Kargil Vijay. My old post on Operation Vijay to regain the heights is on https://wordpress.com/post/findingnewmeaning.blog/1111
As Ive said before, the indomitable courage of our young officers and soldiers inspired a generation, including Akshay, to join the Armed Forces. As a tribute to our soldier heroes and to make India’s children more aware of the contribution of Indian Armed Forces to nation, Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust(MAGMT) decided to announce contests for school students. It was hugely satisfying to be flooded with entries from most states, a lot of work to decide on the winning entries in the essay contests and the poster contests! Contest winners have been announced, as promised, before Kargil Vijay Diwas of 26th July. We also take this opportunity to congratulate all 900 plus students who sent in eligible entries.
The year 2021 is also the 50th year of India’s unprecedented and historic war victory over Pakistan which led to the liberation of Bangladesh as an independent nation on 16th Dec 1971. Celebrations planned as part of ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh’ (Golden Victory Year) are expectedly low key because of the pandemic. However, that shouldn’t take away from us honouring the courage and sacrifices of soldiers who fought that war to end the tyranny of Pakistan’s cruelty on their own people. As a child who experienced part of the 1971 war with my mother in Jammu while my father fought that war as CO of 6 Garhwal Rifles in the Sialkot Sector, I feel it is my duty to motivate the younger generation to know and value the grit, sweat and blood that it takes for our soldiers, our family members, to defend our hard fought freedom.
This war was thrust on India because of Pakistan’s internal issues. Political oppression of East Pakistan by the ruling elite of West Pakistan since 1948 led to simmering discontent followed by unrest. After over a decade of Martial Law, when elections were held on December 6, 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League shocked Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP, winning a clear overall majority in the House. But that was not acceptable to the arrogant leaders of West Pakistan. Instead of accepting him as Prime Minister, General Yahya Khan again declared Martial Law and arrested Sheikh Mujib. Civil war broke out and lasted right through 1971.
Pakistan army led by Gen Tikka Khan, now famously known as the ‘butcher of Bangladesh’, cracked down on the Bengalis of East Pakistan killing, raping and plundering innocents. Over 80 Lakh refugees streamed into India. For over six months till October 1971, PM Indira Gandhi wrote to world leaders, visited Moscow and undertook a 21-day tour of Europe and the US appraising them of the situation on the Indian border. India tried to arouse the world’s conscience over the merciless butchering of the civilian population in East Pakistan and the savagery of General Tikka Khan. No one paid heed. Even the UN did not intervene. In East Pakistan, the freedom movement became stronger with Mukti Bahini fighting for Independence from Pakistan. India decided to help and Armed Forces were readied for War.
War broke out on 3 Dec 1971 when PAF attacked airfields in India. India’s strategy was to go on the offensive in the East and defend along West Pakistan. The Indian Army, Navy and Air Force proved their mettle in this war.
4th December belonged to the Indian Navy which used strategy, speed and stealth to attack Karachi port. As Operation Trident, its vessels Nipat, Nirghat and Veer attacked and destroyed 4 Pakistani vessels (PNS Kaibar. Minesweeper Muhafiz, Shah Jehan and a Merchant Vessel Venus ) and fuel storage tanks in Karachi were set ablaze.
Pakistan tried to attack India in the West and North to deter India from helping East Pakistan break away. The Indian Army supported by the Air Force fought many battles in those 13 days. The more famous land battles with air support are the Battle of Longewala, Basantar and Chamb. Indian army also entered East Pakistan.
The first ever Heli-Borne Operation of the Indian Army was not a pre-planned operation. It just popped up, out of nowhere and was executed exceptionally well jointly by a Gorkha Battalion led by Lt Col Arun Harolikar and a small team of 10 Mi-4 helicopters led by Group Captain Chandan Singh. The operation was a brain child of the legendary Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh who saw a window of opportunity to tie down enemy forces in Sylhet of East Pakistan and subsequent capture of the town. The IAF Helicopters with troops of 4/5 Gorkha Rifles(FF) took off from Kailashahar & Kalura near India-East Pakistan Border and flew into Sylhet in East Pakistan on 6-7th Dec 1971.
Even before they landed, they were being targeted by enemy fire and they hit the ground fighting. The BBC broadcast made a mistake saying ‘a Brigade of Gorkhas has landed’ and the Battalion decided to take advantage of this error. They spread themselves thin and fought for 9 days with hardly any food or ammunition, using their khukris to good effect. At the end of fighting, on 16th December, two Pakistani Brigades and the Sylhet garrison with about 8,000 troops surrendered to less than 600 soldiers of 4/5 Gorkha Rifles.
In one of the swiftest military campaigns in history, India liberated Bangladesh in just 13 days. Pakistan was routed and when Gen AAK Niazi signed the unconditional Instrument of Surrender on 16th December 1971, it lost half its population and 1/3rd its country by area. But the war victory came at a price, even for India. Reports say over 2500 Indian troops were killed in action. Thousands more were injured and many disabled for life.
I would really like to recommend a terrific book by war hero and disabled soldier Maj Gen Ian Cardozo. Titled 1971: Stories of Grit and Glory from the Indo-Pak War, the book brings alive 14 battles fought by real soldiers of Indian army, navy and air force who fought for India’s victory. Believe me, the book is unputdownable. Each story will make you feel part of the action and has lessons for all of us in today’s challenging world. Available on https://www.amazon.in/1971-Stories-Grit-Glory-Indo-Pak/dp/0143454552
Bangladesh was born, Pakistan humiliated and victory celebrations began in Bangladesh and India. Which takes us to what happened after India’s war victory. Saddest fact is that while India returned over 93000 Pakistani POW, 49 years after the 1971 war, 54 of India’s braves continue to be ‘Missing in Action’(MIA). Many among them are believed to have been taken prisoner of war but never declared and jailed illegally in Pakistan.
It is an honour to meet Mrs Damayanti V Tambay, wife of Flt Lt Vijay Vasant Tambay MIA since 1971 war. Since age 23 when her fighter-pilot husband and love of her life went missing after his plane was shot down in the war, she has spent 50 years fighting along with other families like hers, to do everything possible to try and get our government to find and bring home our 54 heroes who were never returned. If I needed inspiration to never give up on efforts and hope, I know Damayanti ji is that person. Meet her once and her spirited, mature cheer will fill you with energy and push you to do your best no matter how terribly unfair and sometimes uncaring this world can be. On her visit to spend time with her brothers family in Bengaluru, we meet over lunch and chat like old friends- the wife of an IAf Pilot, missing in action and the mother of an army combat engineer killed in action.
I learn about the highs and lows of her remarkable journey – from being India’s National Badminton Champion as Damayanti Subedar, to a young wife at 22, loved and encouraged by her handsome fighter pilot husband, to keep at her game, going back to winning the National Badminton championship even after her husband went missing in the 1971 war, because proud husband Flt Lt Vijay Tambay had always wanted his wife to win the title as Damayanti Tambay as well. The Arjuna award and a career in JNU followed, even as she continued the search for her husband since she was just 23 year old, making two visits to Pakistan as part of an Indian delegation, and continuing to remain hopefully to this day at age 73. Only a woman of indomitable strength and substance could have taken all this in her stride and never given up.
Her journey has not seen a happy ending though…. along with many other wives, children, old parents & siblings…. 50 years, 5 decades… waiting to bring back those among the 54 MIA who may still be alive and hoping to return home from a Pakistani jail. Today, as the President of the War Widows Association, her compassion and grit to be there for other Veer Naris is truly inspiring. I know I am blessed to feel a special connection with Damayanti ji.
Sad that successive governments and we as people of India have not done enough to ensure that each of our brave POWs were returned home. It should be a blot on our collective conscience. There can never be closure for families who waited decades in hope and anguish. My heart and mind are in conversation. Would I have ever been able to sleep had we not seen our beloved Akshay one last time? Not had him back home, even if he came draped in the Tricolour? The answer needs no voicing.
Today, in an era of Netflix, Amazon Prime and what not streaming in all kinds of content, I would urge you to watch a movie I just finished feeling….. a movie with real people… not just ‘based on true life incidents’…. It is true life itself. Called ‘Hope Dies Last in a War’ it is a movie every Indian must watch…. to be there for our soldiers and for one another in our toughest times…. And especially for learning to be citizens worth fighting for. Here is the link. https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/hope-dies-last-in-war
Some scenes from the movie will remain deeply entrenched in my heart. One where the daughter of a pilot father missing in action is watching the movie ‘Border’ with her young son on her lap. The toddler, enjoying the action of fighter aircraft towards the end, excitedly says ‘Yay… did your papa fly this plane mummy’?! The young woman’s expressions are hard to describe. In another scene, Damayanti ji in the audience asks a question to Minister Mr Jaypal Reddy on stage ‘Kya mein jaan sakti hoon kitne netaon ke bacche fauj mein hain? Kya aap sirf desh-seva ka paath padhayenge, ya seva kar ke bhi dikhayenge? (How many children of politicians are in the armed forces? Will you only preach service to the nation or also practice it)?’
I look again at Akshay’s pictures on our walls and the tears spill out. It takes a while to be able to get back to ending this post…. raja beta’s all-knowing look…. ever-encouraging…. makes me smile again.
The pandemic that has affected almost every family and taken away loved ones in many homes continues and we can’t let down our guard until every Indian is vaccinated. Life is limping back to some semblance of normalcy and yes, despite the many challenges, together we shall overcome.
Let us always honour our brave and keep hope alive.
May we all remember to stay strong and stay safe, be resilient, complain less and smile more.
Happy to see that many people share pride in our soldier heroes and reach out to their families.
God bless. Jai Hind.