The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 18, 2003

A tribute to brave warriors
Vijay Oberoi

Param Vir: Our Heroes in Battle
by Major General Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM. Roli Books Pvt. Ltd,
New Delhi. Pages 225. Rs 295.

Param Vir: Our Heroes in BattlePARAM VIR means "bravest of the brave." This book is a compact and highly readable book written by a person who himself is not a stranger to bravery in battle. The author, Major General Ian Cardozo, a Sena Medal awardee and war-disabled, has covered practically every facet of the highest gallantry award the nation bestows on its bravest sons and daughters, who perform deeds of such courage that it makes the reader wonder how such bravery manifests in a person in battle, and consumes him so overwhelmingly that nothing is allowed to come in the way of the accomplishment of the assigned task. These then are the narratives, spanning over 50 years, of heroic warriors of our country, who did the impossible, with utter disregard to their lives.

The 225-page book has been divided into six chapters. The first five deal with wars the nation has fought, from the 1947-48 war in Jammu and Kashmir to the Kargil war, while the last chapter deals with operations other than war, where also our officers, JCOs and jawans have made the country proud with their prowess, devotion to duty and spirit of sacrifice. Ian Cardozo has put all the details of the singular acts of courage performed by these brave men. He has done well to give the reader a macro view of the theatres of war, as well as the details of the battles wherein these brave men rose to the dizzying heights of glory.


The narrative starts with an insight into an overview of the war in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48 followed by the Battle of Badgam, where the courageous Major Somnath Sharma of the Kumaon Regiment defended the approach to Srinagar. This brave officer single-handedly stopped a major attack on his position and saved the day, sacrificing his life while performing his duty. This informal account is followed by the formal citation, somewhat cold and matter-of-fact, as all official documents are, but nonetheless covering the essentials of the brave acts of this spirited officer of the Indian Army. The author then takes us a step further and gives us vignettes from the life and times of this officer, and how his family traditions and his character shaped him into the brave man that he was—the first recipient of lndia’s Param Vir Chakra.

This methodology is followed by the author as he relates the gallant actions of later recipients, 21 in all, but sadly 14 of them posthumously, of this greatest of honours that the country confers for exceptional courage. It is essentially this methodology that has transformed this book from a cold clinical presentation of facts to a warm and moving personal account of each of these warriors.

The book also acts as a mini compilation of the wars that our nation has been compelled to fight. But essentially this book is not about military history. It is about exceptional bravery, courage, character and sacrifice of individuals, who have etched for themselves a place of honour in the history of our nation. Their astounding deeds of valour will undoubtedly inspire future generations of officers, JCOs and jawans, and will propel them to replicate what these doughty warriors did. But should extraordinary valour be confined only to the armed forces? Certainly not! It is also a must-read for the young men and women of our great nation. They need to read and absorb the exploits of these brave sons of India, so that they too are inspired to do the impossible, in whatever vocation they have chosen for themselves. The book, therefore, is not just for the existing and future generations of soldiers, sailors and airmen, but also for all our countrymen, in whose breast burns the flame of patriotism.

The book is in hardcover and has a striking dust jacket showing the coveted Param Vir Chakra and its resplendent purple ribbon. I will be amiss if I don’t point out some other features of this remarkable book, which have been so thoughtfully included, so that no aspect of the subject is left out. In the introduction, the author has given a brief history of how gallantry awards evolved in India, and the fascinating story of Savitri Khanolkar, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, who had designed the Param Vir Chakra for the nation. The author has also included some thoughts on courage, and rounded off the book with seven annexures, all relevant to the subject, and a fairly comprehensive bibliography.

If the book lacks in anything, it is in the non-inclusion of sketches or maps where our brave warriors fought with such ferocity. These would have helped the lay reader in grasping the essentials of the ground, where our warriors covered themselves with glory. The book, however, does have the portraits of all the heroes, as well as some other photographs, which add value to the book. It is also liberally filled with quotes, which enhance the text. The author has dedicated this book of our modern day heroes to ‘The Unknown Soldier,’ and he rightly laments that even after 55 years of independence, we still do not have a National War Memorial, where we can honour our soldiers, sailors and airmen who have sacrificed their lives for the nation.

This book will appeal not just to the officers and men of the armed forces, or the near and dear ones of the heroes, but to all citizens who care for the brave men and women of armed forces.