Saturday, June 25, 2005

Watch our War heroes
Amita Malik

Amita MalikIt is strange, but it seems that the film footage on the contribution of Indian soldiers to World War II lay forgotten in a room in South Block, or nearabouts, in the Ministry of Defence. When a few young mediapersons from NDTV got wind of it, they arranged mutually with the Ministry of Defence to make a series of programmes on the Great Battles (the actual title of the series), in which young and gallant Indian soldiers laid down their lives.

Teenagers, some as young as 15 and 16, won the highest awards as well as tackled the cream of the German armies on equal terms. Their graves, beautifully tended, are to be seen in different war cemeteries in Europe. And Vishnu Som of NDTV, who has specialised in defence affairs, and Ajmal Jami, one of NDTV’s ace cameramen (who, it will be recalled, went on filming until a plane in which he was travelling crashed), accompanied Som to make programmes on these gallant Indian soldiers, who laid down their lives fighting Fascism.

They are remembered at least once a year, when wreaths are laid at their graves with senior Indian officers also present.

In the first programme, telecast last week and with Vishnu Som as the narrator, the programme centred on the great battles fought for driving out the Germans from Italy. The footage in black and white, is very well preserved visually and in audio terms and gains from modern digital treatment given by experts at NDTV.

There are illuminating commentaries from British voices. And what lends depth and poignancy to the programme are the personal anecdotes by officers, then young lieutenants and captains, and now retired as major-generals in some cases.

They give personal accounts of not only individual acts of bravery by Indians, who sometimes saved impossible situations, but also of admirable teamwork by groups of soldiers. In one instance, the way the soldiers climbed dangerous slopes to take the enemy by surprise is compared with what Indian soldiers did more recently in Kargil.

As a final tribute to these acts of gallantry by our professional soldiers, we get nostalgic reminiscences from elderly Italians, simple ordinary folk, who recount how their lives were saved by Indian soldiers, who often bore the brunt of difficult campaigns by the Allies.

This series ought to be of interest to the present-day personnel in our armed services. And now, when our more recent war heroes are being honoured with impressive memorials in Chandigarh and other places, it should remind all of us that our fighting men (and sometimes women) are among the best in the world, whether fighting under

the British, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the INA or now, in the service of independent India. It is telecast on Sundays at 10 p.m.

Strain of music

I sometimes find it difficult to continue watching and listening to music contests which are among the most popular on television. They seem, like programmes on crime, very popular with viewers because their audiences, consisting of ordinary folk, feel great appearing on TV. It seems their only chance to do so, and they even indulge in Mexican waves. As a trained musician, I sometimes find the initial choice of participants very odd indeed, although the judges are quite distinguished. The anchors, who do the initial selection process, tend to be overgenerous. One does feel, at times, that such generosity to get the TRPs soaring, is neither professional nor ethical and puts the viewer to undue strain.