All they have been left with is memories, and some of them they have cherished day after day and year after year. This Republic Day too, Poornima Thapa will sit with her 81-year-old mother Shukla Thapa in front of the television set and recall how smartly her father Major Dhan Singh Thapa of 1/8 Gorkha Rifles saluted during each parade in New Delhi till he passed away at the age of 75.
“My father used to say every soldier who fights a war to defend his nation is a hero. In 1962, we lost the Indo-China war but it was a war against mighty odds. A soldier fights a war as his duty and his right, it is our duty to give him due recognition,” says Poornima, who recalled how proud her family was when her father saluted during each Republic Day Parade.
Poornima is writing a biography of her father — who was taken prisoner of war (POW) after the fiercely fought Battle of Sirijap. She says it was unbelievable when he came back. Outnumbered and ill-equipped, Maj Dhan Singh inspired his brave Gorkhas to fight to the last. Believing he was dead, Maj Thapa was awarded a Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
“My mother somehow knew he would come back,” recalls Poornima, who is still trying to understand what sacrifice means for soldiers fighting in the freezing cold or searing heat and also their wives and family who live away wondering all the time about the welfare of the men on the border.
Maj Thapa features in a book, ‘The Brave’, authored by Delhi-based Rachna Bisht Rawat who has chronicled the heroism of 21 men awarded the Param Vir Chakra — India’s highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy. “I am grateful that authors like Rawat and poet Shyam Kumari are striving to keep the memories of war heroes and freedom fighters alive as an inspiration for us all and the future generation,” Poornima adds.
Another soldier among the 21 PVC winners was Lt Col Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore of 17 Horse, who lost his life in the Battle of Chawinda that was part of the Sialkot Campaign in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. In September 1965, during the biggest tank battle fought between India and Pakistan at Phillora in the Sialkot sector, an enemy shell hit his tank and he lost his life.
Lt Col Tarapore’s 66-year-old daughter Zarine Mahir Boyce, who lives in Pune, still remembers how tears rolled down her mother’s face when she accepted the award. “I was just 16 years old and my mother was 42,” says Zarine, adding: “My heart cramped at that moment.”
Zarine, who could not join the forces as women were not allowed in the Army then, went on to become a teacher. Just back from the Army Day Parade held on January 15, Zarine feels proud to see so many women in the armed forces now and reiterates that people must realise that the Army is not just for providing help during famines or earthquakes. “It will be 50 years since the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and I still feel intensely about our soldiers who have lost their lives for the country,” she says.