BENGALURU: Rachna Bisht Rawat’s book Kargil: The Untold Stories From the War (Penguin Random House India), is now available on the stands. A former journalist, author and a mother of a teen, Rawat belongs to a family of Army officers. Kargil brings to light the lives of the soldiers, most of who were martyred during Indo-Pak war in May-July 1999.
The author, who now lives in New Delhi, said she wrote the book to keep alive the memories of Kargil martyrs. “This book is an effort to remember the sacrifices of those soldiers, most of who were in their 20s,” she said.
Rawat was a reporter with a newspaper in Ahmedabad and was newly married to Captain Manoj Rawat of 3 Engineer Regiment, when the war broke out. “My husband’s unit was among those that were deployed on the Rajasthan border because of a perceived threat. My brother fought in the war. I was fortunate that the men I loved came back. The book made me visit families whose loved ones came back in coffins. Writing this book was emotionally upsetting,” she said.
Meeting families who had lost the most important person in their lives and yet had their heads held high helped her appreciate what she had. “They wanted nothing from the country except an acknowledgment of the sacrifice of their loved ones. The garlanded pictures of the young boys made me feel that they have left us with a debt that we can never repay,” she said.
She met parents and children of the martyrs for the book. “The children had some hazy memories of their father, who was a stranger in olive green and who left home to never come back. When I asked martyr Lance Naik Bachan Singh’s son, Lieutenant Hitesh, to share some memories of his father, he said his twin brother and he were four years old when their father died and all they remembered was his funeral. Kamesh Bala told Rawat that in seven years of marriage she had spent five months with her husband. He had promised to take the family along in the peace posting that he was expecting but that day never came. Bachan died at age 29 in the Battle of Tololing.
Captain Saurabh Kalia was 22 years old, when he signed the first cheque of his life after being commissioned and had handed it to his mother proudly. ‘Ab main kamane laga hun (I have started earning).’ Mrs Kalia showed me martyr Saurabh’s cancelled cheque. Meena Nayyar told her how their son Anuj would pester them for a new car before he returned from his posting. Anuj was to marry his school sweetheart in September 1999. He was dead in July. Captain Haneef-ud-din’s body lay on the snow in Turtuk for 43 days. When the then Army Chief General Ved Prakash Malik visited his mother and told her that they were not able to retrieve his body because the enemy was firing constantly, she told him she did not want another soldier to risk his life. She even refused the petrol pump offered to her on Haneef’s martyrdom,” Rawat narrated stories.
Having gone through what war does to a family, the author said she marvelled at how men who are fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, lace up their boots and go for war, honouring their responsibility. “I am sure there are heart-rending stories on the other side of the border too. War destroys lives, and leaves behind hate,” she said.
In his last letter to his father, Lieutenant Vijyant Thapar had hoped that the sacrifices of his men would not be forgotten. “This book is a step in that direction. Soldiers don’t die on battlefields, they die when a nation forgets their sacrifice. May the 527 martyrs of Kargil live in our hearts forever,” the author said.
Rawat has also written about the local hero from Karnataka – Col. B M Cariappa Vir Chakra. “After 20 years, he has been posted back to the place where he fought the war. He and his comrades were outnumbered by enemy soldiers and were running out of ammunition. When he realised that they would all either be killed or captured, Carie asked for Bofors fire on his own coordinates. They were prepared to die with the enemy that was 15 yards away but took shelter behind boulders and survived,” she added, saying her book is not military history. “It is an attempt to tell the stories of heroes who fought for India. I hope it will keep these heroes alive in public memory more than what impersonal military histories do,” said Rawat.