The unsung soldier
"Please stay within sight," Major Ram Singh cautioned my brother Khemchand as they neared our house. My brother entered our own home alone and with great trepidation in his heart. Just a week ago, my family and I had fled our home in Tandalianwala in undivided Punjab, in British India, as the partition of the country seemed imminent. Hari Chand Aneja writeschandigarh Updated: Aug 16, 2013 22:43 IST
"Please stay within sight," Major Ram Singh cautioned my brother Khemchand as they neared our house. My brother entered our own home alone and with great trepidation in his heart.
Just a week ago, my family and I had fled our home in Tandalianwala in undivided Punjab, in British India, as the partition of the country seemed imminent. My parents refused to accept that the country would be bifurcated. So, they were adamant about not leaving home. My elder brother and I thought differently. So as a first step we escorted our families, younger brothers and sisters to Amritsar to ensure their safety.
We were desperately worried about how to get our parents to India. The situation along the border had worsened with augmented rioting. So we approached Indian army officers, who said that a convoy, led by Major Ram Singh, was visiting our area to rescue Indians, and one of us could travel with it. Within hours, my brother boarded the army truck.
The next morning, the convoy reached our house. My brother headed straight for the bedroom of my parents. They lay there, slaughtered in the mindless mayhem that had gripped post-partition Punjab.
However, there was no time for grief or tears. The violence was continuing unabated. All our neighbours had fled. There were no friends or relations to help with the funeral arrangements. The soldiers helped my brother. He collected the furniture in the house and cremated our parents.
It was dark when the army convoy commenced its journey back to Amritsar. A jeep led the convoy of three trucks, cramped with refugees. The soldiers peered with sharp eyes, alert for snipers.
The refugees in the trucks were in a state of shock. They had seen their homes looted. They had a dazed, vacant look in their eyes.
Suddenly, the still of the night was shattered by crackling noises, resembling gunshots. Within minutes, the convoy ground to a halt. Then, a soldier came and reported, "Major Ram Singh has been shot. Some people were hiding in the trees on the road. They fired at our convoy and fled." The soldier's face was taut. After about 30 minutes, another soldier came and announced, "We are moving."
"How is Major Ram Singh?" my brother later asked the soldier. The soldier turned away and replied. "He is no more." His voice was choked.
It was another three-hour drive before the convoy reached Amritsar. The body of the Major was wrapped in a blanket and placed in the lead jeep.
In Amritsar, we had been waiting at the army office for Khemchand and my parents for hours, since we did not know when exactly the army convoy would return. So when we saw Khemchand disembark alone from the truck, we knew something was amiss. He told us about our parents. We were devastated.
Later, he also told us about how Major Ram Singh lost his life, rescuing the refugees. Our grief was compounded. I shuddered at the thought of the pain of the family of the young soldier who had laid down his life in the line of duty. There was so much sorrow and angst all around as a new country was taking birth.
Over the years, I have often admired the courage and sacrifice of the unsung Major who led from the front and took the first bullet, when rescuing some helpless refugees.
So as India celebrates its 67th Independence Day, it is also time to salute all those who lost their lives, in creating it. Hopefully the memory of their sacrifices, will spur us to building a strong and honest country.