CHENNAI: On a fine December day in 1971, Flying Officer Sekhon at the Srinagar airfield flew his best and last encounter. The airfield came under sudden attack by six Pakistan Air Force jets, Sekhon rolled his Gnat fighter for take-off even as the first bombs fell on the runway.
In a battle of one against six, he managed to hit one jet, and set another ablaze before getting hit. The wreckage of the Gnat was found in a gorge, but despite search efforts, his corpse was never found in the mountains. Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon’s bravery, flying skills and determination earned him the Param Vir Chakra. Now, over 40 years later, a documentary Air Battle of Srinagar will premiere on EPIC channel this Independence Day, which showcases his valiant efforts to protect his airfield against all odds.
“There used to be an ecosystem for sustaining bravery in this country. Singers would go around from village to village with their ektara, singing battle songs of Prithviraj Chauhan and others. That has disappeared and a vacuum prevails that the entertainment industry hasn’t filled. That’s why we, at Adithya Horizons, decided to create a series of war documentaries on the famous battles of India,” narrates Major General Gagandeep Bakshi, a retired army officer from the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.
Eighteen documentaries titled Great Battles of India have been planned on post-independence wars and the Air Battle of Srinagar is the third in the series, and portrays a frame-by-frame account of what transpired at the Srinagar Air Base during the 1971 war and reconstructs Sekhon’s heroism. “Flying Officer Sekhon, single-handedly, took on six enemy Saberjet fighters. He laid down his life to defend the airfield,” states Major Bakshi.
The director of the film is Aditya Bakshi, who gave up a career in the merchant Navy to make documentaries of war and valour through emerging mediums. It was filmed in four months, which included shooting outdoor and recreating the air-battle scenes using animation techniques and DFX effects.
With the documentaries being planned for release on Independence Day and Republic Day, Major Bakshi feels this is the only way to remind people of the true heroes of our nation. “The freedom fighters have been forgotten. I’m talking of the Indian National Army and the 60,000 soldiers who set out to make India free, of whom 26,000 died. Their names have been wiped out and we are told we got our freedom through ahimsa. You carved not a line, raised not a stone, but you have forgotten and left them alone,” he rues.
A war veteran, Major Bakshi joined the army two years after his 23-year-old elder brother was martyred in the 1965 war. “He was part of the 11th battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir rifles, the same as my father. We didn’t even get his body. Despite my parents’ tears, I joined the NDA in 1967,” he says.
Since then he has been in every battle for the past 37 years, having fought in Jammu and Kashmir, Kargil, Kishtwar, and has also led counter-terrorist operations in Punjab. He has won the Vishisht Seva Medal and Sena Medal.
His voice mellows as he recalls the days in the field; people beside him being shot right in front of his eyes, dying soldiers holding his hands and asking for water, etc. “With typical sardonic military humour, the only thing you can be grateful for is that you’re alive and that you got a chance to do something for your country,” he says.
During the Kargil war, when their sheltering village was being shelled, Bakshi found a young girl and her pregnant mother, who’d been hit in the stomach. “They were screaming in terror. That is the worst nightmare I get. Those are the sights you have to see every day, on the line. That’s what war is all about, it’s not pretty,” he avers, leaving us to reflect on the true meaning of Independence Day.
Whether a peace-lover or non-believer in war, there’s one thing we can’t deny — the freedom with which we live today, we owe to the many brave men and women who put our country before their own lives.
Watch ‘Air Battle of Srinagar’ on Epic channel, August 15 at 3 pm, 6 pm, 8.30 pm and 10.30 pm