Sunday, 2 November 2014

Book Review : The Garud Strikes by Mukul Deva



This book review is dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces, and its brave personnel, who sacrifice their all for our nation...




THE GARUD STRIKES

BY MAJOR MUKUL DEVA {Retd.}


The True Story Of The Officers and Men of The 4 Guards And Its Indomitable Commanding Officer - Lt Col Himmat Singh {later, Lt Gen Himmat Singh PVSM Retd}. The 4 Guards were among the first units to enter Dhaka during the 1971 war. This is their true story and history - told by the people who created the aforesaid history!


  • Lt Col Himmat Singh
  • Major V Uppal
  • Major Chandra Kant
  • Major S.P. Marwah
  • Major I. P. Kharbanda
  • Major A. S. Chouhan
  • Major V. K. Dewan
  • Captain Surinder Singh
  • 2nd Lieutenant B. B. Midha
  • Guardsman Nahar Singh
  • And many others... 

This is their story... embellished, teased out and filled out by the skill of Mukul Deva, himself an ex-Army Major...

The narrative is controlled by Major Mukul Deva {Retd}, and is a deeply moving and brutal account of the war as seen through the eyes of the men who fought it... this is a tour-de-force from the pen of the author, who is much better known for his fiction works. Well, this is a book that reveals a lot more about the man Mukul Deva, as well as  the retired Major. I guess it is true - you can take a man out of the Army, but you cannot take The Army out of a man...

The book is a very important contribution in the literature on Indian Wars - there are very few, with the only other mainstream book that I recall being Kargil penned by Gen VP Malik. This is a rather unfortunate reality, that there is a dearth of quality literature on our contemporary military history - a fact that is just plain indefensible! I shall explore that aspect more fully in a subsequent blogpost, so let us continue, for the moment, on our journey into the experiences of 4 Guards during 1971

The book focuses on the wartime exploits of one battalion - The 4 Guards, commanded by Lt Col Himmat Singh, an officer who subsequently rose to the rank of Lt Gen. It takes a unique approach - one which is laudable as well as exceptionally powerful. It tells the story through the memories of the soldiers who actually fought the war. The  plot is unfolded in a meeting of the war veterans, who reminisce about the sequence of events, interspersed with a normal story-telling style. The combination is powerful - it takes you into the trenches of the war, and into the minds of the soldiers. For the first time, you get a glimpse of the mind of a soldier as he rushed towards what may be certain death!

For the first time in my life at least, I have got a glimpse of what it takes for a man to go to war. For the first time, I get a glance into the mind  of a soldier. And this is done in what I can only call an extraordinarily adroit fashion, which takes nothing away from the pace of the story, and in fact adds to the story as well as helps in creating the right atmosphere. I have read other war books - Russian, and Western; but not one comes even remotely close to this one. Not even close. 

This is a story whose narrative is controlled by the author - but is told by the men who actually fought the war. This is a story of the war as it was fought, as it happened - not as a post-mortem, or a statement of historical events told in an impersonal manner. This is a first-person account, nostalgic yet racy and fast-paced, full of emotions, feelings, rage, honour, disgust and nostalgia all rolled into one. That is what makes this book a tour-de-force; the style adopted by the author has many, many advantages, a few of which have been mentioned above. The author lets his feelings, his  thoughts, his emotions and his analyses seep into the narrative in places, strategically chosen in the plot; these act as powerful punches that hit you straight in the gut, leaving you at a complete loss for words or response. 

Yet another factor that hits you - and hits you very, very, hard - is the blunt and factual telling of wartime wounds, deaths, killings etc in an unedited form, as is. At that time, you realise what war really is - unlike the other honour and glory-filled movies and books.  This is not a sunday morning walk through the park; this is war. Real war, brutally narrated in all its glory as well as gore. The justification for the war is also present; making it a complete picture. 

The difference in the two armies - our Indian Army and the Pakistani Army has been clearly brought out in a few telling episodes, and a few authors' thoughts. The stark difference in the two makes for chilling reading from the POV of  a civilian. For instance, sample this thought from the author, in the context of a short but graphic description of the brutalities carried out by the Pakistani Army in Bangladesh : 

"The anguish in his voice was raw to this day. I tried to visualise what he had described, and failed. My mind could not grasp such a reality. I tried to understand the pain and horror they must have experienced, but in vain. But then I correlated it with the news of the day, when Pakistani soldiers beheaded an Indian soldier, and I could easily see that the Pakistani Army had lost its soul a long time ago. This is not the way soldiers behave. Warriors the world over live by a code of conduct, and such animal behaviour is not part of it. There can be little hope for the nation when its Army {its pride and glory} stoops to such bestial behaviour"

The book is filled with such brutal indictments of the Pakistani Army, which are nearly impossible to refute. And yet, they are narrated in a manner that fail to ignite anger; only an indefinable sadness. The picture you get is of an amoral and soulless force without any link to human decency, as even recent events like the torture of Capt Kalia and his men bear testimony to. It also lays bare the hatred that the Pakistani Army has for India, as well as the fact that this is not a new post-1971 phenomenon. It lays bare in no uncertain terms what our India has been through - for no fault of ours. Just because we have a neighbour filled with rage and amorality!

This is a book that will shake you to the core of your existence with its powerful narrative, and force anyone with any notions of peace with Pakistan in the near future to face the reality that is the Pakistan Army, its animal instincts and inhuman behaviour, its lack of control and honour, and its soullessness. This is not something you will  find in other books, especially western books with their toned-down and one-sided narratives. 

Coming back to the narrative, this books helps you understand how India pulled of what the London Sunday Times called : "It took only 12 days for the Indian Army to smash its way to Dacca, an achievement reminiscent of the German Blitzkrieg across France in 1940. The strategy was the same : speed, ferocity and flexibility". Although this is not a story of the 1971 war, you get a fuller appreciation of how the Indian Army pulled off the impossible, through ingenuity, courage, leadership, camaraderie, raw guts and inhuman hard work. You understand this through the stunning exploits of this battalion during the war. It is a story of how Indians overcame the numerous shortcomings that faced them, and, with classic Indian ingenuity and bravery, achieved the impossible. For that is what is was : Impossible. 

Read this book to understand how The Indian Army made the impossible, possible. Read this book to understand the sky-high standards of honour, valour, integrity, decency and professionalism that define The Indian Armed Forces. Read this book to truly feel what they go through for us... and, in the epilogue, read to find out just how atrocious is our treatment of these heroes and their families... something documented only recently by NDTV as well, in another case!

But, most importantly, read this book to understand how The Indian Army made the impossible, possible

This is a book that can be the core of a superb war movie script... 

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