Aren't wars best forgotten? Why write books on them and keep those painful memories alive when we should be embracing peace instead? Let me tell you why, dear reader. Because, in the village of Lakhan Majra, 20 kms from Rohtak, there lives a lonely old man with a paralyzed leg who was once a soldier.
It has been fifty 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 rumble 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 limps out of his house, or sits pillion on his nephew's shiny black bullet motorcycles for a trip to town, the villagers always nod at him and say 'Ram, Ram!' "Izzat karte hain meri," he tells me, and 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 years 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 when the temperature rises. Dafadar Vir Singh was so badly burnt when a Cobra missile blew up his tank 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 melting metal kada clinging to his wrist, his body on fire, he had run naked through the fields till he was found and taken to a field hospital. He didn't expect to live but he did. He now drives a tractor through his fields, his courage evident not just from what he did but from how gracefully he lives with his loss. Do we know his story? Sadly, we don't.
I chronicle wars because we are completely ignorant of the loss late CQMH Abdul Hamid, Param Vir Chakra's widow Rasoolan Bibi has lived with these fifty years. The frail and bent old lady in her eighties raised her children alone after September 10, 1965, when her husband was blown up destroying a Pakistani Patton tank from his jeep fitted with an RCL gun. I tell these tales because while the rest of us enjoy our family holidays, we forget that Zarine Mihir Boyce, daughter of late Lt Col Adi Tarapore, Param Vir Chakra, sometimes still grieves for a father who left her when she was 10.
Wars need to be chronicled because they happened; because they are a part of our history. Because men – who were sons, brothers, husbands, father too –decided they were soldiers first. Because, when the call came, 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 feel grateful for the ones who returned and remember the ones who never could. 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 have to tell these stories, to read them, because we need to learn that in wars, nobody wins.
Someone needs to tell these stories because heroes in uniform never do. 1965 is based on war records, war diaries and interviews with war survivors who shared their stories with me with touching humility. I'd like to believe that it's the closest we could have got to the truth. Wars are not celebrated, we only 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.
(The article was first published on the author's blog It's only words.)