This one isn’t a story. No fabrications. No proverbial twists in the tale. Just the truth. Journalist Srinjoy Chowdhury's "Despatches from Kargil" is an account of the armed forces that fought and died in the most recent conflict between ever-sparring neighbours India and Pakistan. Of course "conflict" is a polite word...the situation barely stopped short of blowing into a full-fledged war, and this book takes us where the action was and gives us a glimpse into the lives of the people to whom we owe our safety.
Divided into separate sections (Drass, Mushkoh valley, Kargil and Batalik being some of them), the book paints a vivid picture of soldiers fighting for their lives, dodging heavy enemy fire and lugging massive loads of ammunition and supplies at altitudes where merely staying alive is a Herculean task. The book speaks of treacherous mountain terrain, where no living beings save for the most sure-footed of animals venture. These men braved it all, struggling for their nation under these unimaginably hostile conditions. For once, the phenomenal acts of bravery (some to the point of foolhardiness) and complete disregard for one’s personal safety have not been woven by some master storyteller’s fanciful imagination; in "Despatches From Kargil", we read of real heroes.
All the information provided is factual; the author was present in the aforementioned areas through a large part of the war, and was an eyewitness to almost all the incidents recorded in this book. Though this book is replete with technicalities (names of artillery weapons, infantry regiments et al), one has no trouble following any of it (as was the case with Hawksley's "Dragonfire", a similar war-based fiction.) Everything seems to fall into place here...although the images conjured are far from pleasant.
"Despatches from Kargil" tells us everything Chowdhury saw and felt during the war. Through its pages, we glimpse not only the brutality but also the spirit shown by everyone ranging from the soldiers to the refugees to the army cooks. By the time one is through, one realizes exactly how consolidated an effort it was to overthrow the intruders. Gruesome in parts, touching in others, the book brings to light effortlessly, the horror that was Kargil.
Most importantly, it gives us a chance to know the ones who died fighting, or were grievously injured, as well as those who survived the battle, while we sat on our sofa-cum-beds at home and channel-surfed. The war becomes more than a news bulletin or a front page story in some leading newspaper; it metamorphoses into a harsh reality. Our reality. Think about it...it could have been you fighting for your life on the Siachen glacier. If it wasn’t, you’ve been lucky.
This book really hits home; do go ahead and read it, especially if you missed A.R. Hussain's "The Fifty-Day War".This article was first published on 23 May 2001.