War fiction which resembles fact

The novel is based on the life of a young army officer Lieutenant Bharat involved in operations against militants in Manipur followed by Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka during the period 1987-89

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Apr 16, 2021

The novel is about the life of a young Indian Army officer, Lieutenant Bharat, involved in operations against militants in Manipur followed by Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka during the period 1987-89. Bharat gets baptised by gunfire while on his first patrol when he is able to kill a militant. But his ever-cautious commanding officer still has apprehensions about his capabilities. Other day-to-day operations are also interestingly described till his unit moves to Sri Lanka.

The story of induction into Sri Lanka and coping with the fears of mines is narrated through conversations. On reaching Batticaloa the protagonist participates in a raid on a Tamil Tiger camp in a hurriedly planned operation, which almost turned into a failure. The success is further exploited by leaving a small stay behind party led by Bharat. Next day when he is heavily outnumbered by the Tamil Tigers, he repels them with mines, firearms and guile.

The novel brings out the paradox that the Tamil Tigers whom the Indian Army was fighting, were trained by the members of the same army. The soldiers also question the wisdom of the government who at times is seen to be in secret talks with the Tamil Tigers. Also depicted is the pain of losing men in combat and its after-effects on the minds of the tactical leaders.

Details about excellent training, tenacity, dedication and endurance of the Tamil Tigers are narrated through the interrogation of an apprehended cadre. In one incident, the Tamil Tigers almost lure the protagonist into a trap, but an incident of indiscipline saves the day.

Bharat gets to command a group of ill-disciplined men. With his dedication and hard work he is able to keep them motivated for the operations. A number of challenges of man management crop up which he handles maturedly. An incident also describes the loss of 14 soldiers in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast because of the mistake of a senior commander.

On de-induction, Bharat gets to know that his girlfriend has deserted him. Yet, he stoically takes that in his stride.

Although the author calls it fiction, the situations which he has penned could be and probably are based on true and honest account of on-ground incidents. A fast paced, absorbing and unputdownable novel, it avoids lengthy descriptions and military jargon, but keeps the reader hooked with the interesting plain and honest conversations narrated.

After the Galwan incident on 15 June 2020, super-surprise occupation of the Kailash Range on 29-30 August 2020 and the Sino-Indian military standoff in Eastern Ladakh, it has become amply clear that tactical leadership, meticulous planning, coordination and teamwork are the ingredients for success. Also, these incidents and some other earlier ones like the surgical strikes, the bull’s eye bombing at Balakot and the capture and repatriation of an Indian Air Force officer have resulted in the Indian public holding the Armed Forces with increased respect. All this is certainly going to make the novel more attractive  

 While the book is an interesting read for everyone from mid-teens onwards, it will also be inspiring to young military and corporate leaders alike and even young readers, who may learn some lessons on leadership.

Published only on Kindle, the modestly priced novel is free for the Kindle Unlimited subscribers and well supported by reader-friendly info-tech apps.

The author is a senior army officer, with a vast experience in the counter terrorist operations in Manipur, Sri Lanka and Jammu & Kashmir. He has also handled intelligence and information warfare assignments. Educated and brought up in various parts of the country, he is a post- graduate in History and Defence Studies. Hailing from a family of soldiers, the author is the fourth generation serving in the Army. He published a novel in 2018 ‘Soldiering a Life on the Edge’ which narrates the life of a Captain in counter infiltration and counter-terrorist roles. While another novel by him christened ‘Lies and Deceit of Pulwama to Balakot’ could not be published. he frequently writes short stories related to army life.

(Stalking Shadows in Manipur and Sri Lanka by P.S. Gothra; Kindle edition; Pages 123; Price Rs.115)

(The reviewer is a former spokesperson, Indian Army and Ministry of Defence. He can be contacted at wordsword02@gmail.com)

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