Knights in shining armour
A collection of extraordinary short stories from the alumnus of Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) - Veerkumars of Rajwada – is a spectacularly engaging book. Right in the beginning, the volume editor Sidharth Mishra, a well-known journalist, gives us a sneak preview of what lies ahead. Elucidating the aptness of the title, Mishra informs that with the Indianisation of the hoary military school in 1960s as a Hindi equivalent the students, who were earlier known as cadets, were rechristened as veerkumars, similar to kumars who were disciples at legendary Guru Dronoacharya’s ashram. Also 'to old timers in Dehradun, the campus which hosts RIMC is Rajwada Camp,' writes Mishra.
There is also a belief that Dronacharya had an ashram in Doon valley somewhere near where Rajwada is located. The tales encapsulate outstanding bravado in line of duty by the alumni – the veerkumars – from RIMC. The cover of the book beautifully captures the hallowed portals through which the students reared at Royal (now Rashtriya) Indian Military College emerge as soldiers.
I must confess, being an Air Force brat I have always been very excited to pick such books as I compare them with the tales of gut and gumption, the ones my father Group Captain (rtd) Ali Ameer had narrated to me as a child. Each of these stories was a heart-wrenching tale of courage and valour from all the three arms of the military – army, navy and air force as well as other security forces. Every time I started reading a new story in the book I recounted my dad – a fighter and transport pilot – smoothly walking out of his hanger in Kanpur, looking smashingly stunning after he had completed his sortie for the day.
One of the stories which I particularly liked is 'Salaam Mumbai' written by Major General Abhaya Kumar Gupta. In this he presents a thrilling real-life account of how the National Ssecurity Guard (NSG) managed to intervene and take under control the situation during the Mumbai attack in 26/11. In 2008, Gupta was on the verge of retirement as the Inspector General of Operations (IG OPS) of NSG, when the call of duty came. He recounts the role the NSG courageously essayed during these attacks. Interestingly, despite the chaotic and terrorising situation which was prevalent, Gupta writes when he met the Mumbai police officials, they didn’t come out as being very supportive even during the hours of peak crisis. Gupta describes the tragic situation and how it was brought under control by the NSG working in tandem with other security forces. The helicopter drop at Nariman House and Operations at Taj and Oberoi Hotel offer a chilling account of the horrifying day that went down in India's history as one of the worst terror strikes.
In a beautifully written emotive tale – 'When Yusuf crossed the line', Brigadier Jasbir Singh narrates the story of a young Pakistani lad who had unknowingly crossed the border into the Indian territory. The entire idea of a waging war between India and Pakistan is questioned, at a time when a young innocent boy crosses over and how his fate shapes up finally. This story is a must-read for all as it questions the insanity of war through the metaphor of Yusuf. Following next is Commodre UN Chitnavis intriguing story – Diving Deep to escape fireworks about a submarine on a stealth mission.
After this the book goes on a roll, Brigadier CS Thapa in 'The Lone, Unknown Tamil in Sri Lanka' has woven intricately the tale of Indian army's intervention during crisis struck Sri Lanka in 1986-87. Thapa writes emotively engaging the reader with facts and events, which are interestingly interspersed. Captivatingly penned this story leaves one stunned at the extent of risk a soldier takes while performing his duties on the field. Again a must-red in this collection. Another well-written piece is the next story in line - 'Kartoos..., let's go save the PM', written by Wing Commander UG Kartha who gives a thrilling account of the crash of then prime minister Morarji Desai’s plane in November 1977 and the rescue done by IAF pilots. Beautifully presented this story intermixes the challenges a pilot faces in a tricky terrain and adverse weather conditions. The collection is lastly sealed by the 'Worshipping Kedarnath at 0.8 March'
The narrative technique adopted by each writer is in first person, which makes the reader experience and feel each of the adverse situations in varied terrains the writers have encountered in their career. I must laud the effort of these contributors, as each of their stories offer a unique tale of real-life tumultuous situations and how each of them managed to conquer it. Lucidly and beautifully interspersing the human angle in each of these stories makes them both illuminating and highly enjoyable.