Book Reviews

A stirring tale of heroism in the frozen heights of Rezang La

Colonel Arun Hariharan | Updated on September 24, 2021

Kulpreet Yadav’s emotional retelling of the battle fought by Charlie Company 13 Kumaon in the 1962 war with China is a poignant story of valour

One of my most piquant memories of childhood was watching the 1964 B&W war classic “Haqeeqat” starring Dharmendra and the very majestic Balraj Sahni among others. The film left a lasting impression on me simply because it very starkly brought out the trials and tribulations of the courageous men who fought in the ill-fated war with China in 1962 with almost everything stacked against them including numerical inferiority, poor and inadequate equipment and clothing and above all indecisive political leadership.

The movie was loosely based on a battle fought in the icy heights of the remote post of Rezang La in Ladakh by a handful of ill-equipped, poorly kitted out and grossly out-numbered yet valiant soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment against the Chinese men. The battle went down in the annals of military history as one of the greatest last stands of all times – comparable probably only to the famous Battle of Saragarhi, in the Indian context.

Kulpreet Yadav has attempted to re-tell this very heroic tale of Major Shaitan Singh, PVC and Charlie Company 13 Kumaon which literally fought last-man, last-bullet standing defending the Rezang La pass from the advancing hordes of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) having only (to quote the author)-‘each other, outstanding leadership and love for the motherland’.

Yadav has been able to capture the spirit of the battle in a smooth and lucid manner- mainly because of his deep understanding of the nuances of the subject of the book, being a Naval veteran himself as also due to the painstaking effort put in by him in research and meeting some of the surviving veterans and their kin to get a near first-hand account of the battle. The buildup to the battle, including logistic challenges and inspired leadership against all odds by military leaders at various levels has been beautifully described in the book which has lent a flow to the narrative.

The tale begins about two months before the actual battle when 13 Kumaon sets up base in the picturesque town of Baramulla in Kashmir. It then moves on to the preparations to move to the Chushul Sector of Ladakh as relations with China worsen, as does the situation in the border. The camaraderie of the officers and the men of the battalion as they get mentally and physically prepared to move to the new location, fully knowing well that they would face an imminent battle with a numerically and technologically superior enemy, has then been described along with realistic accounts of the meticulous and detailed preparations undertaken by Major Shaitan Singh and his Company once they reach Rezang La.

Major Shaitan Singh, who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, is definitely the hero of this chronicle. However, the author has not shied away from describing the valour of others such as Naib Subedar Surja Ram, the Commander of 7 Platoon, Naik Ram Kumar, the Section in-charge of the three Inch Mortar, Company Havildar Major Harphul Singh, Lance Naik Singh Ram and many others.

The meat of the book is by far, the description of final battle, which started in the wee hours of 18 November 1962 and ceased only much later into the day when most of the soldiers of the company including Major Shaitan Singh had made the supreme sacrifice defending Rezang La till their last breath after repulsing seven waves of unrelenting attacks by the enemy- thereby saving the strategically important Chushul airfield from falling into enemy hands and preventing a possible occupation of the entire Ladakh region by Chinese troops.

The author has described the fateful moments as a near eyewitness account, from the mortally wounded Major gallantly leading his men till the very end and the moral dilemma faced by CHM Harphul Singh and few other surviving soldiers whom the former ordered to fall back and reach the Battalion HQ so that at least someone could go back and tell the world the poignant story of the valour exhibited by the rank and file of Charlie Company in the frozen heights of Rezang La.

The one thing this book stands out from other accounts of battles or military history volumes is the emotional and human angle which has been interjected from time to time as the story unfolds, which makes the readers connect better with the protagonists. Trivia about the overall geo-political situation of the time and other historical facts related to Ladakh, Tibet etc. inserted by the author at the end of each chapter also enables the reader to understand the larger canvas better.

The book is definitely well researched and makes an excellent read for a military history buff or a casual bibliophile alike simply because of the fact that it is able to engage the reader with a tight and well-knit narrative. Moreover, it is not too replete with military jargon and clichés - making it easily comprehensible for everyone. I for one,while reading this book definitely got a feeling close to what I got when I watched “Haqeeqat” for the first time as a child!

(Colonel Arun Hariharan is a military veteran and an experienced security and business continuity professional)

About the Book

The Battle of Rezang La

Kulpreet Yadav

Penguin Veer

304 pages; Rs 299

Check out the book on Amazon

Published on September 24, 2021

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