New Delhi, Aug 14 IANS | 4 months ago

Soldiers don't die on the battlefield, they die the moment people stop remembering them, says a writer who has traced the lives of 21 awardees of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), the nation's highest award for gallantry, in a book hoping it will remind people of the sacrifice these men in olive-green made for their country.

Taking one into the hearts and minds of India's bravest soldiers, "The Brave" (Penguin; Rs. 250) is former journalist Rachna Bisht Rawat's attempt to revive the journey of these lost heroes in the memories of the young and old alike.

"Emotional speeches are made and these soldiers are given heroic farewells, but after that we all forget them completely," Rawat told IANS in an interview.

"I hope children will read these stories and so will everyone because for these men, the country came first. It is important to remember their sacrifice and keep
them in our memories for ever," she added.

Coming from a services background - Rawat's father and brother are in army and she is married to an army officer - identifying with the fear of "losing a family" it was easier for her to relate to their loss.

Hence began a year-long journey of meeting families of the PVC awardees.

During this period she realised that while the families might not have received highest compensation for their precious loss, they all are proud of their sons who sacrificed their lives for the country.

So whether it is India's first PVC recipient, Major Somnath Sharma who died while fighting during the 1948 India-Pakistan war or Captain Vikram Batra during the 1999 Kargil operations - Rawat has made an effort to extract personal anecdotes of their lives from their family members.

However, Rawat was not able to trace the families of two soldiers from the 1947-48 war, Naik Jadunath Singh
and Company Havildar Major Piru Singh Shekhawat. Thus, she had to rely on War Diaries and other sources for her research on them.

Otherwise, "tracing the families of the soldiers wasn't difficult because army never forgets about its people. So I contacted all the units and got phone numbers from them," she said.

It was during the conversations she had with the ailing mother of Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, who fell during the 1971 war, that Rawat realised that "the void in his mother's heart" hadn't gone away.

"It was evident. She didn't remember anything about her son. But the only thing she quickly remembered was how she had asked him before he left for the battlefield was to 'fight like a lion'," Rawat said.

Anecdotes like these are aplenty in the book, making it apt reading to mark the 68th Independence Day on Friday.

(Posted on 14-08-2014)

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