Tell me what does the jawan get?
You get your story,
we get our quotes in the newspapers,
what does the poor jawan get?
If he dies, he stops getting
even the pittance he earns as salary.
– Brigade Major Rajeev Srivastava,
Journeys without maps, Sankarshan Thakur
This anthology is a first of this genre for me. Being a fiction buff, I rarely read non-fiction unless the topic in question is compelling enough to hold my attention. And Kargil definitely qualifies as compelling, and then some. I took a far longer time to finish this book because some paragraphs just do not allow readers to go ahead after reading – rather demand an insightful imbibement or reflection. I admit that I may have missed many insinuations that ought to have been picked up but will only reveal themselves in repeated readings, perhaps in the third or fourth attempts.
‘Guns and Yellow roses, Essays on the Kargil war’ is just what it claims. The anthology of ten essays, penned by eminent journalists and writers, covers a wide horizon of versions of what happened at Kargil during those crucial days. What I found interesting were the varied perceptions that either matched or clashed between different groups – the people of Kashmir, the political honchos and the Indian army. Also, the powers that be, political or otherwise, who weave their influence into the happenings of the countries involved, while at war or at peace, is showcased with no holds barred.
Also, the photographs included in each of the pieces add a wholesome feel to the comprehension of the topics discussed by the authors.
The first piece by Sankarshan Thakur is heartrending. ‘Journeys without Maps’ traces the beauty of the landscape that morphs into a warzone, and thus gives the book its title. The changing scenarios and the interviews within the army camps make for an engrossing read. The plight of foot-soldiers who perhaps become scapegoats to the whims or lapses of those in power, cuts into the sensitive readers’ psyche.
Although all the tales have their own impact, ‘It Was Not Our War’ by Muzamil Jaleel is compelling in the questions it raises.
‘The people of Kargil bore the worst
and most direct brunt of the border conflict.
Pakistan shelled their homes
and drove them off their lands.
India failed to provide shelter for them
and ignored warnings of the coming invasion’
The author delves into the reasons for support or resentment towards both the countries, by the local populace of Kashmir. The struggles of refugees are iterated well.
The Kargil war was fought, won and lost…
But in Kashmir, both sides seem to have lost’
Rahul Bedi’s piece ‘A Dismal Failure’ showcases the inability of the over-complacent Indian officials to take the obvious threat seriously until it had aggravated to grim levels is an eye-opener.
‘The responsibility of the higher command
is not to lead men into battle
but to make accurate assessments
and to act on them professionally.’
The essay by Bharat Bhushan namely 'In the Enemy Country' was captivating as well. The journalist echoes the words of the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the conflict with the then PM of Pakistan, Nawaz Shariff. The scenes of the Lashkar rally in lslamabad gives readers goosebumps. The processes of internationalization of the Kashmir issue and the misinformation of the press is explained well in the essay.
However, the last one which is Suketu Mehta’s piece, ‘A Fatal Love’, seems grossly out of place, almost an afterthought addition that need not have been there. Yes, love conquers borders and is all encompassing, but the book on the whole is a narrative on the war aspects of the conflict situation in Kargil.
Hence the inclusion of the theme of Mehta's essay – a contemplation of Bhai Bhai brotherhood or blossoming of love between couples of the two countries, a la-Refugee Bollywood movie style - is akin to forcibly sticking a rose at the end of an ambush rifle.
Highly unapologetic, concise and with no remorse, the book presents the inside stories as they are. There is a lot for clueless civilians to learn from this book. One conclusion that can definitely be drawn at the end of it is that the said issues are inconclusive – there is no single right or wrong answer to the problems that plague the region. The book leaves the reader somewhat frustrated, given that the lack of clear-cut solutions is distinct, despite all the analyses and contemplation.
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