Soldiers for the most part have a penchant to write about the wars and conflicts they fought and to the events that they were witness to. Books in this genre, such as William Slim’s ‘Defeat into Victory’ or Brig. Dalvi’s ‘Himalayan Blunder’ give great insight into what happened at that time and indeed have a special niche and pride of place all their own. But once in a while, a soldier picks up the pen to write about his time in the army, while donning the uniform, and in the process, paints a beautiful landscape, stretching through the decades, depicting in vivid imagery, the life and times of a generation that has passed gently into the sunset. This autobiographical account by Lt Gen. Baljit Singh is one such story, told by a man who loves sports, adventure and the wide open spaces and who has the uncanny ability to wield a pen as deftly as he wielded the gun.
The General’s story starts in the early fifties, when he was commissioned into the Artillery Regiment. His mother, who was standing at the porch to receive him, just could not believe that he was an officer now, and would be drawing a princely salary of four hundred and fifty rupees every month. Such indeed were those times, when an officer walking in uniform, would be looked at in hushed respectful admiration. The early years were full of fun and adventure, where the author as a young man could indulge his passion for travel, trekking, hunting and mountaineering. His account of meeting Brig. Pritam Singh, who was then the Brigadier Artillery in HQ Southern Command, is riveting, bringing into sharp focus, how propriety and ethical conduct can leave a lasting impression on a subalterns mind.
It is the small things that leave the deepest impressions. His fairy tale romance and marriage to Chappu, to whom he has dedicated this book, brings out both the pangs of separation and the joys of being together once again. It is a life which could well be made into a blockbuster Bollywood movie, intermingling as it does from life in remote areas, living in simple hutments to the more refined spaces of the Flag Staff house while in command. The description of people, places and events is by itself a love story – for the author was certainly also in love with nature and with the environment – a passion he still exudes.
Told with disarming candour and honestly, it is a journey through time, which leaves one pining for an era gone by. It provides an insight into a world, where deprivations are faced with a smile and camaraderie and friendship is the sine quo non of unit life. There are aberrations too, where some people have not faced up to the standard expected of them, but these are few and far between, and by not glossing over them, the author has added great value to the book.
This book above all, is a rendition of a story, which showcases the world of the soldier and his family in a manner that brings out the charm and romance of Army life. And it very simply answers the question why our Army is so special. It is because we have leaders, who are a cut above the rest. A wonderful book which is unputdownable – and must be read by the younger generation.