Major General Ian Cardozo in his book Beyond Fear, recounts thirteen stories that inform the reader that fear is not exceptional. It is common to all human beings and how military personnel overcome it. One such story unfolds the life of Naik (Corporal) Jai Singh from the 16th Light Cavalry, shedding light on the futility of war and the enduring impact it leaves on families and what they can do to achieve positive outcomes from the tragedies that war can cause.
Read this exclusive excerpt from Beyond Fear to know more about Jai Singh and the promise that was made to him.
‘Once upon a time,’ he began, ‘my grandfather was fighting in Burma during World War II. He had become ery close friends with another soldier named Jai Singh. Both were part of a medium machine gun detachment of their battalion that was supporting an infantry brigade, which was struggling to beat back the Japanese at the Battle of Kohima.’ The soldier was referring to a battle that would eventually turn the tide in the battle for Burma.
The Japanese had reached Kohima, which was a gateway to India from the north-east and is today the capital of Nagaland. A historic battle was fought there, with objectives captured, lost, recaptured and lost, and won again. This battle had important possible outcomes.
If the Japanese won, India would be open to the Japanese Army. If the Allies won, it would mean a hard slog back into Burma to wrest it back from the Japanese and then on to Malaya, Singapore, Siam (now Thailand) and the Dutch East Indies.
The soldier continued with the story as narrated to him by his grandfather, whose name was Mohan Chander.
‘It was during one of these battles that Grandfather’s friend Jai Singh got wounded. A piece of shrapnel from a mortar bomb ripped open his abdomen during one of the Japanese counter-attacks. Two members of the detachment carried Jai Singh away. My grandfather had to carry on with beating back the counter-attack, manning the machine gun on his own. After the attack had petered out, he went looking for Jai Singh and found him lying in the open. He was beyond help. There was nothing that my grandfather could do except apply a first-field dressing on Jai Singh’s abdomen to keep the contents inside.
‘Grandfather lifted Jai Singh into his arms and took him to the shade of a tree. Jai Singh opened his eyes and said, “I knew you would come.” He had lost a lot of blood and had become very weak. After a long silence, he told Grandfather that just a few days earlier, he had received mail from home. The letter had been written two months earlier. His wife could not write, and the letter had been penned by the local schoolteacher so nothing personal could be conveyed. She had, however, managed to convey to her husband that she prayed daily at the temple for his safe return.
‘Jai Singh smiled ruefully and said that could no longer happen. He would never return. My grandfather tried to assure him that professional medical help was on the way and he would soon be well again.
‘Jai Singh looked at my grandfather and said, “We both know that I will not survive. It will be good if you remain with me until the end. I don’t want to go away alone.”
‘After a while, he said, “It will be nice if you could visit my wife after this war is over and tell her that my last thoughts were of her. Tell her that I am sorry it had to end this way, but there was nothing I could do about it. Please do what you can for her. Please see that she gets her family pension.” He was silent for a while, and Grandfather thought he was about to lose him, but Jai Singh had only closed his eyes because he was in great pain.
‘After a while, he continued, “It would have been nice if we had a son. He would have looked after my wife. Now that I will be gone, there will be no one to take care of her and to continue my bloodline. With me, my name will die.” He sighed and closed his eyes once again.
‘My grandfather kept quiet for some time and then said, “Jai, I would like to assure you that your wife will be cared for as though she is part of my own family. If my wife and I have a son, we will name him Jai Singh. If we have a daughter, we will call her Jaya.”
Jai Singh smiled. He was getting weaker by the moment. “Thank you,” he whispered. A little while later, he was gone. Jai Singh had joined his forefathers and his God. For him, the war was over, but he had not been able to live to tell the tale. Grandfather decided to sit with Jai Singh’s body till the stretcher-bearers arrived.
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