-, almora, uttarakhand
Nov 19, 2011-
If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once famously made this statement. It may sound much-vaunted but the actions and
leonine audacity of Gurkha soldiers over decades have really corroborated their unflinching courage.
Last week, when offered an opportunity to interact with the veterans of a Gurkha Regiment in the Indian Army at a hilly hamlet of Uttarakhand, this scribe immediately grabbed it, discarding other crucial assignments. The simple reason was that I have always been fascinated by the courageous history of these Nepali expats and the dignity they have earned across the globe.
The occasion was the 125th anniversary of the Second Battalion of Fifth Gurkha regiment which was celebrated at its base in Almora—some 350 kilometers from New Delhi and around 250 kilometers from the border town of Mahendranagar in Nepal. Though the history of a Gurkha regiment
can be traced back to 1815 AD, this
particular battalion was raised in 1886 in Abottabad, recently famous by the killing of terrorist organisation Al Qaeda’s chief Osama Bin Laden.
It is the only battalion in the Indian army to be thrice awarded the Victoria Cross for their unprecedented bravery and ferocity against the Japanese during the Second World War in Burma. Hence the sobriquet ‘VC Paltan’ has been bestowed upon this battalion. Sergeant Gaje Ghale won the first VC in 1943 and a year later Subedar Netra Bahadur Thapa (posthumously) and Corporal Naik Agansingh Rai earned that highest military award.
Inspiration from these three ferocious soldiers continued to propel generations ahead. The battalion which chose to be in the Indian Army after India got independence from British rule in 1947, was also bestowed upon a galore of highest Indian honorary military awards. The battalion which played a key role in the Hyderabad police action in 1949, the 1965 and 1971 wars, and numerous counter-insurgency operations, bagged two Maha Vir Chakras, three Vir Chakras, one Shaurya Chakra and several other accolades.
Hundreds of ex-servicemen gathered in Almora last week to relive this glorious history along with the serving Gurkha soldiers. One among them was Sergeant Pahal Singh Thapa who retired in 1964 after 23 years of service. “The Japanese army had nearly killed us. We were running out of arms and ammunitions. But, without letting our guns down, we managed to fight back bravely with our khukris and jettisoned them,” recollected Thapa, who fought the Second World War in Burma along with VC winner Gaje Ghale .
Like Ghale’s son Keshar—a retired official of Indian Home Ministry, many family members of the serving and retired soldiers also attended the celebrations of the battalion. To a surprising revelation, among those attendees, most are found to be settled in different parts of India and they hardly visit their ancestral home in Nepal. None seem to be happy to be away from the motherland. But most of them concurred that their apprehension for their children’s future and the facilities in India have, to an extent, driven them here.
Nonetheless, while they are far from their hometowns, it is the Nepali language, culture and food that give them real joy. Programmes were organised where a variety of Nepali dishes were served—from momo to mutton curry. Almost all attendees were heard conversing in Nepali. The scenes of Indians speaking Nepali, though a little uneasy, were interesting to watch. Moreover, Gurkha soldiers clad in smart blazers and Nepali caps—Bhadgaole and Dhaka topis—stole the show inclusive of Nepali folk song performances.
At one corner of the masses cheering those performances, the scribe heard a voice of a soldier singing a popular Nepali song:
Jaso gara, J gara, Jata sukai Laijau malai, yo maan ta mero Nepali ho...
(Wherever you take me,whatever you do, my heart will remain a Nepali…)
The gathering of Gurkhalis getting nostalgic in a hamlet in North India felt like a ‘Little Nepal’ of sorts. Hundreds of kilometres away from the motherland, this was an honourable opportunity where I got to share moments with our very own modest and affable Gurkha brothers.
Published: 19-11-2011 09:07
- Mahesh Acharya