When Manoj Kumar Pandey was asked during his interview for the National Defence Academy why he wanted to join the army, he had replied with a confident one-liner: “I want to win the Param Vir Chakra”. His dream was fulfilled six years later, while he was still only in his 20s, but he hadn’t lived to know it.
Author Rachna Bisht Rawat
The story of Pandey’s courage during the Kargil War, one of 21 other tales of war and valour in The Brave: Param Vir Chakra Stories, is bound to give you goosebumps. For not only was the Gorkha Rifles soldier a valiant young man, but also deeply empathetic, affectionate and selfless. “His story is one of the stories closest to my heart,” reveals author Rachna Bisht Rawat. It was through conversations with Pandey’s mother that Rawat learnt about the martyr, both as a soldier and a child.
The author conducted similar interviews with the families and friends of other Param Vir Chakra (PVC) awardees and gathered insightful stories about the men who put their lives in mortal danger. “They are the real heroes, and yet, we seldom hear about these legends, never talk to our children about them. But it is important to remember them, to tell their stories,” asserts Rawat.
She was lucky enough to get a first-hand account in the case of Bana Singh, who won the PVC for his bravery at Siachen in ‘87, and Sanjay Kumar, who survived the Kargil War in ‘99. “They were so modest about their bravery and insisted that they had done nothing out of the ordinary. Any other officer in their position, they said, would have acted the same way,” recalls the Delhi-based author. The family members of the awardees, on the other hand, wore their heart on their sleeve. Their pride is their badge of honour. They were thrilled to show her photographs and tell her of their sons’ heroism.
The cover of book, The Brave: Param Vir Chakra Stories. Pic courtesy/Monika Rawat
The journalist and author has seen the effects of war at close quarters. During the Kargil War, she reported from villages where the soldiers’ dead bodies were being brought in. “Also, I come from an army family. My father retired as a Brigadier, my brother is a paratrooper and my husband serves as an engineer in the army,” adds Rawat. Well-accustomed to living the life of an army wife, which comes with its set of perks and heartbreaks, she wasn’t still prepared for the emotional upheaval the interviews caused.
Careful about getting the facts right, Rawat approached the army authorities immediately after she was commissioned to work on the novel. “I had accounts from comrades and commanding officers, as well as meticulously maintained war diaries to support the stories I heard from the soldiers’ families,” she says. The book now has the stamp of approval from the Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADGPI). The only thing missing, she rues, are photographs. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have photographs for the earlier wars and had to settle for illustrations,” she admits.