No one wants wars. Least of all soldiers and their families. They are the ones who end up paying the highest price for them. Aren’t wars best forgotten then? Why write books on them and keep those gruesome memories alive? Isn’t it best to stay away from the hysteria, the jingoism, the pain that battle accounts provoke? I agree.
Why then do some of us chronicle battles that most of us would much rather forget? Let me tell you why. Because, in the village of Lakhan Majra, 20 kms from Rohtak, where buffaloes wade in shallow ponds and women cover their faces before strangers, there lives a lonely old man who can barely walk. It has been 50 years since Risaldar Major Daya Chand Rathi (Retd), Sena Medal, shot down Pakistani Patton tanks in the Battle of Asal Uttar as a gunner in C Squadron, 3 Cavalry; yet he still wakes up in the middle of cold winter nights from the throbbing pain in his bullet-scarred legs. Lying awake in the darkness with his eyes shut, the 77-year-old hears the rumbling of enemy tanks and the boom of machine gun fire. His doctor calls it Gunners Disease but for Rathi it’s a memory trigger that takes him back in time to 1965, when he was a young soldier fighting a war on the Indo-Pak border. Rathi has lost his wife to cancer, he does not have any children and he spends most days just sitting alone in his courtyard reading the local paper.
Yet, on those rare days when he shuffles out of his house, or sits behind his nephew’s shiny black bullet motorcycle, the villagers always nod at him and say ‘Ram, Ram!’ That means a lot to him he admits, smiling a toothless smile. They know he is a war hero. We don’t. I chronicle battles so that people like you and me, who Rathi also went to fight for, don’t forget his sacrifice.
I chronicle battles because in Chingar Kalan village, Dasua, a proud 78-year-old Sikh soldier with dark piercing eyes, a crisp upturned moustache and a flowing white beard says he suffers the pain of a thousand needles pricking his skin every summer. Dafadar Vir Singh was so badly brunt in the Battle of Phillora that he lost his eyesight for many months. He recounts how he had climbed out of his burning tank with skin, hair and clothes burnt off his body. Screaming in pain with his melted metal kada clinging to his wrist, his fingers twisted back, blinded by the heat of a deadly Cobra missile attack, he had run naked through the fields till some soldiers took him to a field hospital. He never thought he would survive but he did.
He now drives a tractor through his fields, his bravery evident not only from what he did and suffered but from how he survived. Do we know his story? Sadly, we don’t.
I chronicle wars because we need to acknowledge the loss of late CQMH Abdul Hamid, Param Vir Chakra’s wife Rasoolan Bibi has lived with these 50 years. The frail lady in her eighties has been looking after her family ever since September 10, 1965, when her husband was blown up destroying the seventh Patton tank from a jeep fitted with an RCL gun.
I tell these tales because we should know that Zarine Mihir Boyce, daughter of late Lt Col Adi Tarapore, Param Vir Chakra, has been grieving for a father who left her when she was just a little older than 10. I chronicle wars because, they happened; because they are a part of our history.
Because certain sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, decided they were soldiers first. Because, they unquestioningly strapped on their boots and put their lives on stake, for a country that belonged not just to them but to us too. We need to remember how these wars were fought, under what conditions, often on empty stomach, by men who hadn’t slept for days, whose grime covered pants were cutting into their skin at every step, who had been subsisting on stale shakarparas. We need to feel grateful for the ones who returned and remember the ones who did not.
Because that’s the least we can do. We need to do it on both sides of the border. Because, the enemy who died left behind broken families too. We need to remember these stories not to whip up hysteria but because we need to learn that in wars, nobody wins. And also, because heroes in uniform get embarrassed talking about what they did.
Someone will have to do it for them. Wars need not be celebrated but we need to commemorate them. And that is what this book aims to do too. I hope it will be read in the spirit that it was written.