Major Chandra Bhushan Dwivedi of 315 Field Regiment was my father. He was a leader who led from the front. He had a loving and caring nature and was hard to dislike. One day a nervous jawan heard a shell approaching and he jumped straight on to Daddy’s lap in fear. It’s hard for a soldier to act like this with a senior officer, but Major C.B. Dwivedi was not like any other officer. Instead of scolding him, he said to him, “Beta, it’s okay. It’ll be fine.”
He had three daughters – his 31-year-old wife and his two daughters – waiting for him at home, but even an honest man like him was forced to paint a cleaned-up picture of where he was for his family. In his letters, he rarely wrote about himself, but constantly worried about us. We had said goodbye to him already in the first week of May and had headed to Siliguri, West Bengal, to our favourite cousins for our holidays. While we were making the most of our vacation, Daddy’s unit had been deployed to Dras on 13 May. While my sister and I used to wake up in the morning to play in the river in those tough days of May 1999, he would take off every morning from his location, Pandras (village) in Kargil, to look for empty spaces around highways for parking the vehicles and artillery units coming into the war zone.
The only free time Daddy had was spent in staring at the map and devising plans for his regiment’s next move. But he still wrote letters to us. He never forgot to do that.
It was the 1990s, and technology was not so advanced. Therefore the only way soldiers could regularly keep in touch with their families was by writing letters, which were sent via post. The Kargil war may be the last Indian war where soldiers wrote letters rather than send emails or WhatsApp messages.
It could take days before they’d get a reply from the other side, but the wait had become a part of their routine. Knowing you’re fighting a war and that you may not live another day makes you feel deeply vulnerable. Exhausted by the fight they put up, cold and lonely, the soldiers could only express their vulnerability through their letters and their belief in God. Fortunately, every one of those soldiers believed in miracles. Their faith in God was evident in their letters.
Daddy wrote to us every fortnight while he was at war, but the terrible truth was that most of the soldiers’ families never knew whether their son/husband/father/brother was alive when they received his letters. Nor did we. We were busy catching a train when we lost Daddy; we heard the news two days after it had happened. This was after all a time when there were no mobiles and no Internet.
However, there were exceptions. There were soldiers who requested their commanding officers to make one call from the satellite phone to their family as their last wish, before they took their final breath. But chances were that as soon as the exchange would connect the two lines, the dreadful silence which followed on both sides would give away the horrific news of his martyrdom to his family.
Despite their feelings of vulnerability and loneliness, most soldiers never drew a true picture of what they were facing at war.They put on a brave face and wrote that everything was beautiful and ‘normal’about the place they were at. It’s so moving to learn that when faced with immense danger, all these men could think of was how to not get their loved ones worried. So these Indian soldiers learnt to lie and to lie exceptionally well. And then they waited to be one of the lucky ones who could return home and apologize for their dishonesty.