THE glowing December sun, glistening waters of the Sukhna Lake, the red and orange colour theme, decorated soldiers, and war veterans made the opening of the Military Literature Festival (MLF) 2018 come alive. Inaugurated on Friday morning by the Governor of Punjab, VP Singh Badnore, at the idyllic Lake Club in Chandigarh.
Open to all, the Festival (December 7 – 9) is a joint initiative of distinguished military historian and Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Badnore, with complete support extended by the Western Command, Indian Army. Singh, however, could not attend the event due to illness.
It was at the launch of Singh’s book, The Battle of Saragarhi, more than a year ago, that Badnore suggested that a Military Literary Festival be curated in Chandigarh and that is how this literary festival was initiated. In its first edition last year, it showcased the indomitable spirit of the people of Punjab and their unparalleled contribution to India’s freedom struggle.
The Military Literature Society, which started last year, organises the annual festival that is in its second edition. Aimed at increasing military awareness and sensitising citizens to the contribution and sacrifice of our soldiers, the festival will have panel discussions on border operations and surgical strikes, India’s contribution to the first World War and Kashmir. Nearly 40 films on wars fought by the Indian Army since independence will be screened at the Clarion Call Theatre. Visitors can also see a gallery display of weapons and medallions.
In his inaugural speech, Badnore reflected how about two years ago, when he came to Chandigarh, he found that no other city that he knew of could boast of so many senior and distinguished retired and serving officers. “I invited them over a cup of tea at Raj Bhawan and found approximately 133 Major Generals and about over 90 Lt. Generals, besides other ranks, are based in Chandigarh. One of the requests that I made was if they could devote time to speak about their valour and patriotism to school children. It was very nice of them to give their precious time to this idea of mine. I am grateful to them for it,” said Badnore.
GOC-in-C Western Command, Lt Gen Surinder Singh, in his welcome address, described India as a land of warriors, with our independence a result of the sweat and blood of our soldiers. The festival, he said, was “a platform for sharing stories of valour, learn lessons from history, and more importantly value our freedom and liberties.”
Lt Gen TS Shergill, Chairman of the Military Literature Society, talked about its intent, and shared his insights on what is it to be a soldier. “A soldier is not a killer, but a warrior, one who is humane, and compassionate, speaks the truth and protects the weak. Even when he saves or takes a life, he does it with righteousness,” he said.
Recalling the sacrifice of Indian soldiers in the World War I and II, Badnore said, “This year is also the culmination centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918, a time for remembrance of the 74,000 Indians who fell and 67,000 more severely wounded, many of whom never recovered and they lie in or their ashes are interred in foreign fields.”
“It was a matter of great pride for the country that sent 1.3 million soldiers in these expeditions. The Indian soldiers proved their mettle by winning 11 Victoria Crosses and significantly six more were won by British officers leading Indian troops,” said Badnore.
“It was a testing time, a time of hope, for having participated in full measure in the Great Wars. Would India be set free… it was not to be. This Military Literary Festival, will not only be limited or confined to the World Wars, but the heroism and unparalleled courage of many, including Maharana Pratap, Shivaji, and other warriors. Such patriots and nationalists have always been a great source of inspiration to our generations. The great Mahabharata, the world’s longest epic, was set in this very region. We will be discussing all this and more,” said Badnore. After the inauguration, he interacted with the participants and also attended panel discussions and sessions. In the run up to festival, there have been several events including vintage and classic car display, birding rally, a golf tournament, and Saraghari light and sound show.
At the festival, an exhibition, ‘Ready and True’, by Prof Prabhjot Parmar features photographs, art and written accounts on life both on and off the battlefields of Flanders and Gallipoli to Mesopotamia and East Africa. “From 1914 to 18, approximately 1.7 million soldiers and non-combatants from undivided India contributed to the war effort and this showcase tells their story,” says Parmar.
Capt J Singh Sohal, part of the contingent representing the British Army at MLF, described being here as a learning experience. “My family comes from Kapurthala and we moved to Britain decades ago. It’s wonderful to be part of this great culture and tradition.”