Monday, November 20, 2006

Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai ?

For how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temple of his gods.

Quote at a war memorial in Tawang where the names of all the Indian soldiers who died in the 1962 war are listed.

Until I visited Arunachal earlier this year, the 1962 India-China war was just a number in a history textbook to me, one among many to be mugged up and repeated when asked for. I had no idea about the magnitude of the conflict, or of the extent to which Indian borders had been violated.

Somehow reading about a war or even watching documentaries / movies about it never brings it home to one as forcefully as actually visiting the battlefield does. Though we started out on a trekking plus tourism trip, we ended up getting a forceful introduction to our history, a reminder of our tenuous existence as a nation and a sense of gratitude to the army for being there.

It began one cold morning when the only place we could find that would give us breakfast was an army canteen at a height of 11,000 ft - nothing builds loyalty as fast as hot food and piping hot tea on a cold morning ! Then we drove on, higher still, and reached Sela Pass which was covered in snow. After having spent an arduous two days trekking in snow, watching army jawans at the camp made me really sympathise with those who have to live and work in such conditions for months on end.

A bit ahead of Sela Pass is the Jaswantgad war memorial, a memorial to Jaswant Singh, a Garhwal Rifles Soldier who helped by two local girls, defended his post against the Chinese for three days. I am sure that were this memorial to be in a park in a city somewhere, it would not have evoked strong emotions in me. But here in this lonely, desolate, grand, majestic setting, one cannot look at it, shrug and walk on; something tugs strongly at you. And you

realise that a soldier from an alien land had attempted to own this piece of land, maybe even strutted about somewhere close by assuming that the land would soon be his, and you begin to feel …………angry, hurt, bewildered.

Bewildered because I never realised till then how far into India the Chinese army had advanced, and am amazed that our history books so lightly gloss over this fact. Bewildered because I realise I do not know my country and it’s history at all. Bewildered when later on I see bunkers on the hillside and realise that I never before understood the difference between bunkers and trenches properly. Still bewildered when we drive past Tawang town the next day and find the hillside dotted with bunkers – somehow a sense of the enormity of the war grows on me day by day.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.

Another quote at a war memorial for the Indian soldiers that perished in 1962



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