At over 10,000 ft, the air sucks the very breath out of you. Comes another sledgehammer blow, stunning the senses. Many moons ago, on one of my travels driving from Chushul towards Tara Point, a unique War Memorial broke the bleakness of Ladakh’s lunar landscape. This is where on November 18, 1962, Major Shaitan Singh led his soldiers into the annals of history. A plaque in memory of the Heroes of Rezang La sums it all up:
‘How can a man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his father & the temples of his gods.’
We pay our respects to the 114 martyrs of 13 Kumaon who though outnumbered and outgunned fought to the last man, last round, inflicting great losses on the hordes of Chinese funneling down. Their ultimate sacrifice continues to inspire generations of Indian soldiers.
What a pity that editorial constraints left out this glorious tale from this collection. Otherwise, there are 14 action-packed tales of extraordinary courage and fearlessness that provide an insight into the heroism, valour and bravery India’s soldiers display. These take them beyond the call of duty up to the very borders of legend.
Their purpose? To accomplish any mission, anywhere, anytime. The word impossible is not part of Indian Army lexicon. Take the case of the Major who shattered the glass ceiling by catching the enemy napping as he led his warriors to the surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the Line of Control in September 2016.
Or the soldier who eliminated 10 terrorists in 11 days, or the Navy officer who sails across a treacherous port to rescue hundreds from a war zone. And no less is the courage of a wounded pilot who finds himself flying a jet as it turns into a flaming fireball.
Whilst some of these accounts are by people who were there, others are by those who were with them and lived to tell the tale.
Mahatma Gandhi in one of his lesser-known quotes captures the true essence of these acts of courage: ‘Fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral.’
While Rabindranath Tagore
‘Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
For the heart to conquer it.’
As our present Army Chief General Bipin Rawat reminds us in the beginning: “For all the decaying values we tend to be surrounded by, let nobody convince you that true heroes don’t exist.... May India never forget her most fearless.”