QUEEN’S ROAD:On the occasion of Republic Day, author Rachna Bisht recalls for City Express, memories of her meetings with the three surviving winners of Param Veer Chakra who will be marching on Rajpath today, their medals proudly pinned on their chests.
The valorous three
On republic day, three soldiers in the Indian Army will wear the Param Veer Chakra; a gallantry award that the President also gets up to salute.
And he will do it this Republic Day too when Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Bana Singh, PVC; Subedar Sanjay Kumar, PVC; and Subedar Yogender Yadav, PVC, lead the parade down Rajpath to the sound of marching bands, stomping boots, fluttering paper flags and cheering citizens of the world’s largest democracy.
Today also happens to be the day when Shoorveer- Param Veer Chakra Vijetaon Ki Kahaniyan, the Hindi translation of my book The Brave- hits the stands.
In all the wars it has fought since independence; right from the marauding Lashkars of 1947 to the tragic unprepared event of 1962 to the glorious victory of 1965 to the heroics of the young officers of Kargil who walked up treacherous mountains with Insas rifles, unflinching in the face of flying enemy bullets; India has recognised 21 Param Veers - the bravest of the brave.
Most of these heroes did not come back alive from the battlefield but we still have with us three who did. Which makes their presence at the parade even more special and the fact that we know who they are and what they did even more important.
The bravest of the brave
Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Bana Singh, fought a battle at 21,153 feet in Siachen, where men find it difficult even to breathe, and pushed back Pakistani intruders.
Subedar Yogender Yadav, defeated death and crawled his way back to warn his battalion of Pakistani presence, with 15 bullets lodged in his body, his mangled arm twisted and tucked into his belt and Subedar Sanjay Kumar pulled out blazing enemy machine guns with his bare hands so that his men could stage an attack. And yet each time I expressed respect for their acts of bravery all three told me the same thing: “It was our job; any soldier in our place would have done the same.”
What I’d like to say about the 21 PVCs whose stories I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to write, is that they were brave men; just as every soldier is who goes to the battlefield knowing that he might not come back.
The danger seeker
But if you ask me to pick one who came closest to my heart, it will have to be Capt Manoj Pande, PVC, who died at 24 years of age outside the last bunker of Khalubar with his khukhri still in his hand.
Manoj came from a poor family. When I interviewed his mother, she told me (breaking into tears so many times) how he would not ask for new copies till he had used up every bit of space on his notebooks; how he would darn his clothes and never demand new ones since he knew his father was poor; how he begged her to buy him a flute at a fair when he was three and which he played tunes on till the time he left for Kargil never to return. Yet he always wanted to be a soldier. During his stint at Siachen, he asked to be sent to the toughest post; during the Kargil war he performed one act of bravery after another.
He was amongst the first troops to reach there and would often climb up icy mountains using socks as gloves.
He put his life at risk to retrieve the bodies of fellow soldiers. He performed these unparalleled acts of bravery one after the other, not because he was looking for a reward but because he was born brave.
His story convinced me that heroes don’t become heroes on the battlefield; they are heroes since childhood; the battlefield just becomes a place where this is proved in the eyes of the world.
Children need to be exposed to the stories of these brave soldiers so they can find role models for sacrifice in a generation increasingly turning materialistic.