Brig N.S. Sandhu believes in looking adversity in the face, and moving on
Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta (retd)
There are heroes and there are heroes. So goes the popular perception of brave-hearts. In the military sense, heroism is often an event, an episode or a happening quite often unplanned but sometimes planned as well. This is when there is an opportunity; a chance to do something unexpected; something out-of-the-box; something extraordinary either individually or in a buddy pair, sub team or team action. The person gets involved in a manner led by gut instinct, grit, enterprise, cold courage tested almost always against impossible odds. Such a brave-heart is led by selflessness and unit/country-first ideals, always and every time.
So, there are heroes… and there are heroes. By implication, this means that some heroes rise above heroism itself. When they do, they need to be respected, admired; placed on an altar where only the finest examples of humanity belong: deathless heroes. The writer is proud to indicate that he has come across one such person who meets this stringent entry requirement for deathless heroes: IC-6638 Brig NS Sandhu, MVC.
Brig Sandhu was in command of 10 Dogra in the climacteric Battle of Dera Baba Nanak (DBN) during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. This 3 Cavalry veteran of the Battle of Khemkaran (1965 Indo-Pak War), who had delivered a stunning, gritty performance during that battle (his ‘C’ squadron destroyed 14 Patton tanks) which saved Punjab for India, handled the enormously complex challenge of capturing a strategically important bridge in the 1971 Indo-Pak War in DBM enclave as only a high grade war veteran could — with enormous presence of mind, grit and situational awareness of an exceptional kind.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong but then Lt Col NS Sandhu was that kind of person who brought order to a convoluted battlefield situation which was rapidly spiraling out of control. He did this on a pitch-dark night amidst elephant grass (sarkanda) driven disorientation of vital battlefield force multipliers; accurate enemy ground and Artillery fire. He did the only right thing then possible. He took charge by leading from the front; reacting to amorphous tactical battlefield problems with the gut instinct of a seasoned soldier; making sound decisions, and, more importantly, ordering movement instead of ‘taking the counsel of his fears’ as the Great British-Indian General, Bill Slim, had learnt the hard way while converting ‘Defeat into Victory’ (his classic book by that name) in Burma during World War II. Narinder Sandhu achieved spectacular success despite casualties to his officers/men; despite he himself getting wounded in combat. It came as no surprise when the DBN Bridge was captured by 10 Dogra on the misty morning of 6 December 1971. It came as no surprise either when he was awarded the MVC for his exceptional leadership in combat.
This was a narration of his heroic acts in two successive wars but we were talking about heroes and heroes, remember? About deathless heroism?
22 November 2016 was a day when the young research team, Directorate of Defence Services Welfare, is unlikely to forget in a hurry. On this day, Brig NS Sandhu, MVC was host to the research team at his gracious, well-appointed home in Chandigarh. The association of young researchers with a real-life hero goes back to the time in early 2015 when the Punjab War Heroes Memorial and Museum research work began and they were raw research rookies. He was the veteran who always met them with a smile, encouraged them with motivational words, leaving them spell-bound. The meeting on November 22 was pre-programmed and intended to be a brief ‘get well sir’ visit to check on his health which had been under severe scrutiny.
Dressed in a French grey jacket-and-black-trouser combination with a peach pocket square to match, he was waiting in his lawn with a smile that matched his jaunty pocket square. Expecting to find him bed-ridden and surrounded by tubes and catheters, the research team was far too shocked to ask about his well-being because the inquiry seemed so irrelevant. It was only later that the young researchers learnt from their deathless hero how he had combated grave adversity without losing his infectious smile, composure or equanimity.
There are heroes after all… and there are deathless heroes.