Anaahat Naad

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Book Review: Roll of Honour

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Amandeep Sandhu’s novel “Roll of Honour” gives an account of the state of Punjab during the turbulent period of early 1980s. It narrates the life and times in Punjab when the state was gripped with the Khalistan movement (i.e. the secessionist movement for creation of separate Sikh country). The novel addresses a tumultuous chapter in the history of Punjab. The author blends his personal experiences with the political situation in Punjab during 1980s and rolls out “Roll of Honour”.

Roll Of Honour

The novel, a semi-autobiographical one, is set against the backdrop of militancy in Punjab. The protagonist of the novel is a Sikh boy, Appu who is studying in 12th standard in a military school in fictional town of Jassabad, Punjab. He wants to get his name listed in the school’s hall of fame, the ‘Roll of Honour’. Appu aspires of getting into National Defence Academy so that he can serve the nation by joining Indian Army.

In the meantime, the situation in the state of Punjab turns vicious. Indian Army at the behest of the Indian Government carries out ‘Operation Blue Star’ for eliminating the Khalistani militants who are holed up in Golden Temple. In the operation, Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, the chief advocate of Khalistan, is killed along with his associates. These happenings affect the environment in the military school as well. The Khalistan movement splits the students of the military school along the sectarian lines i.e. Hindus and Sikhs. The supporters of Khalistan movement in the school deify Bhindrawale and want to tread the same path while the others want to be part of nation India. Appu, who wanted to join the Indian Army, doesn’t seem to be interested anymore after seeing the wrong doings by the forces in Punjab.

The people especially the Sikhs viewed Indian Army with distrust after having entered the sanctum-sanctorum of the Golden Temple. The innocent Sikhs who didn’t favour the idea of Khalistan were also seen as militants by the security personnel. The turban defined who was militant and who was not.

Appu is confronted with the questions of authority, identity, dignity, sexuality, and friendship. In the military hostel, the seniors indulge in sodomy and bullying so as to dominate the juniors. In between, Appu tells about his current life. The past-present transition in the novel is smooth.

The observations made by the author are striking. “Of all that transpires in the heart, hope is the meanest because it tints one’s understanding of reality.” Another one, “I realized with time that we are all potential chameleons changing our colours according to where we belong, who pays us, what keeps us safe.” This observation is superb, “Words are not only combinations of letters of the alphabet and symbols; they are vehicles of intent that come from deep convictions, from intuition. Sense does not come from reading letters but by listening to one’s intuition.”

Amandeep Sandhu’s novel “Roll of Honour” questions the authoritative power. It is about different identities an individual takes in different phases of life on the basis of colour, religion, community, language, and nation. The author is blunt in describing the events and the experiences (and even the abuses). The characters of the novel are bit confusing some times. The cover page is fine, so is the paper quality and font size. One should read this novel to get an insight about what the youth went through during troubled times in Punjab. I hope the author has found peace with himself and his past after writing the novel.

(Originally published in Niti Central)

Written by Varad Sharma

April 27, 2013 at 8:00 pm

A national memorial for martyrs

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“Shaheedon Ki Chitaaon Par Lagenge Har Baras Mele, Watan Par Mitnewale Ka Yahi Baaki Nishan Hoga” wrote Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil, revolutionary Indian freedom fighter and poet, long ago before India’s independence. It means that the annual fairs at the tombs of the martyrs who die for the nation will be the only testimony of their existence. Does India have a national monument in the memory of the martyrs who fought for the country?

Many lives have been sacrificed for protecting the integrity and sovereignty of the Indian nation. Much blood has flown to defend the idea of India i.e. Bharat. The country has paid a very heavy price for achieving the independence in 1947 from the colonial British empire marked with partition into two nation states ─ India and Pakistan. Since independence, India has fought five major wars with its neighbours, Pakistan and China, in 1947-48, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Further, India is fighting war against insurgency and terrorism almost every day.

Thousands of soldiers have achieved martyrdom for the sake of our nation. The fathers and the mothers of our country have sacrificed their heart-throbs for the country. Be it Kashmir, north-east or any other part of India, the soldiers have fought with valour for the republic of India. In the memory of the martyred soldiers, one can find memorials at several places in the country. But India doesn’t have a national memorial for the dead soldiers; an integrated memorial for all the martyrs till date.

We don’t have a place to pay obeisance to the martyred soldier. Where should one go for laying wreath to the fallen soldier? A martyr’s memorial characterizes remembrance for the dead soldier. It is a salutation to the martyrdom of soldiers who have died in the conflict; be it war or counter-insurgency operations. We are sitting in comfort zones only because the men in uniform are wide awake and ensuring our security.

At present, the martyr’s memorial of the national status is India Gate. The monument, originally known as All India War Memorial, was built in 1931 to commemorate the martyrdom of more than 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives while fighting for the British Empire in World War I. Under the arch of India Gate, there is ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti’ (the flame of immortal soldier) which was unveiled in 1971. After India-Pakistan war of 1971, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, paid homage to the dead soldiers on the eve of 23rd Republic Day and the custom continues till date.

If the British can make a memorial for Indian soldiers, why don’t we have one even after 65 years of India’s independence? When we can have statues and parks dedicated to politicians, why not one for our defence personnel? It is astounding.

A national memorial should be a place where one can go and relate with the martyrdom of soldiers. A national memorial will be an honour not only to the soldier but to the families of the martyrs. It connotes the honour and dignity of the nation and its people. The national martyr’s memorial will serve as inspiration for the citizens of our country especially for the youth who want to join defence forces. It will showcase the essence of the soldier. The nation should know who the martyred soldiers are. It should be part of our culture.

The least one can do for martyrs is to remember them. And for remembrance, we should have a symbol; a memorial. The country must have a national memorial for the unsung heroes. A national martyr’s memorial will be link between civilians and soldiers. The existence of the martyrs is symbolized through memorials.

The martyrs remind me of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lines ─ “They are dead but they live in each Patriot’s breast. And their names are engraven on honour’s bright crest.” 

(Originally published in Rediff)

Written by Varad Sharma

August 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm