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Unknown soldier... to you I bow

Penning down the intrepid tales of 21 prized winners of the country's highest gallantry award in his maiden book, "Param Vir", Major General (Retd) Ian Cardozo laments that the country does not even have a "decent" war memorial to honour the valour of the faceless soldiers who lay down their today for our tomorrow. SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY writes... .

Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

Saluting the men on the line of fire... Major General (retd) Ian Cardozo at his residence in New Delhi.

MAJOR GENERAL Ian Cardozo superannuated a decade ago, but even today, as if a strong fire bursts within this aging Chief of Staff of a Corps if you happen to incite that nostalgic itch in him about life in the Army. Full of anecdotes of Army men, their families, their work, he emphasises, "soldiers are soldiers, traineds in the culture of service before self." As if that is not emitting enough idea, he gets up to pull out a book from his collection of tomes to quote a line or two to make you feel "the actual psyche of a soldier."

"Every soldier is trained to kill. But, being human, each undergoes bouts of fear only to be taken over by the commitment to save the honour of his regiment before anything else." He took pleasure in leading his battalion from the front, the proud officer states, "Each regiment lives like a family. The soldier looks up to his Commanding Officer as the ultimate boss who in turn looks up to his senior for the final command and so on. The officer never lays down orders, he says, follow me." Well, gazing at him as he mouths these statements, for a minute, his sentiments get contagious, only to remember the next moment to ask him a thing or two about his maiden book, "Param Vir - Our Heroes in Battle" released by Roli Books this week.

"My book is about the men under fire, of the courageous Indian soldier inspired by his officer. While war is an extension of the politics of a nation, it ultimately falls to the lot of the soldier to face combat on the ground. Though some of the soldiers' deeds of valour are rewarded, many more need to be remembered," he says. But the Major General's book, he insists, is also to dig into what makes these men the way they are. Laying down in his over-200 page book the valiant tales of each of the 21 Param Vir Chakra awardees, he has also ventured into discussing in short each battle post-Independent India fought, lacing it with a plea for at least a "decent" war memorial to honour the unknown soldier who lays down his today for our tomorrow.

In fact, this Mumbai native's story by itself is no less admirable. Losing a leg while fighting the battle of Sylhet in Bangladesh in 1971, he no way settled to beome a spent force and instead jumped on to become the first disabled officer in the Indian Army to be approved for command of an Infantry Battalion and the first war-disabled officer to command an Infantry Brigade. His gallantry on a patrol in NEFA in 1960 won this Gorkha Rifles officer the Sena Medal. Not willing to settle down into a retired life yet, he is today actively involved with the Spastic Society of Northern India.

"Also, I am onto my next book on the wars fought by the pre and post independent India. Besides, I plan to write the history of my regiment, the Fifth Gorkha Rifles," says this Army man, whose family has been serving the force for the fifth generation in a row. "My son, who is soon to be married, is posted in Siachen Glacier," he adds. As you appreciate his share of gallantry, he, instead, wants to read out his poem penned for the unknown soldier:

"I am the unknown soldier, forgotten and ignored

When once the war is over and peace and quiet assured...

... Although we have left earth's orbit and need to rest in peace

Our souls are not past caring, our pain will never cease

Till you and the country's leaders created a haloed space

For a fitting War Memorial, on valour and honour based."

"Look at any country, they respect their soldiers so much. Britain, America, Germany, Italy, France... name any nation, they have a war memorial. Even the English rulers had the decency to pay tribute to colonial soldiers. The India Gate is a proof. We should do more than just a token Amar Jawan Jyoti," says the author. But, lost in the fog of self-seeking and power hungry politics, do our band of decision-makers have a slot left to reflect on saluting the soldier in the manner that fits him best? Anyway, let's hope, Defence Minister George Fernandes, present on the author's book launch in New Delhi, heard his plea.

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