The Lone Wolf celebrates the life and times of Maj. Ashok Tara VrC
Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta (retd)
My attention was first drawn to this unusually titled book, The Lone Wolf, by the online magazine ‘Coffee and Conversations’ run by author/ blogger Rashmi Nayar. Written by Neha Dwivedi, a doctor, childcare specialist and army brat, The Lone Wolf is her second book. Her late gunner father Maj. C.B. Dwivedi was a Kargil martyr. Neha’s first book was about Capt. Vijayant Thapar, VrC whose poignant ‘Dear Mom’ letter before his death in Kargil underscored his bravery and EQ.
The Lone Wolf, set largely against the East Pakistan crisis and its climacteric rebirth as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, is about Major (later Colonel) Ashok Tara, VrC, the young, brave, proactive and unconventional Infantry officer who, besides other ‘lone wolf’ adventures/incidents dramatically rescued Sheikh Hasina, the fourth time PM of Bangladesh and eldest daughter of Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and her family members from certain death at the hands of their trigger-happy Pakistani captors in Dhaka. They were unaware that their Army had surrendered en masse to the Indo-Bangla Forces.
Being second generation military brats, the Tara children grew up in the then developing, laid back 1950’s Delhi to implicitly believe their World War II veteran father’s ethic that ‘fear is just a state of mind’. Their ‘shikari’ raconteur maternal grandfather permanently engraved the rambunctious children’s anti-fear psyche by advising the playful outward-bound children that if confronted by a wild animal while walking through the deserted Ridge area in the Aravalli foothills, one should hold still and stare back.
Returning home from his Standard 4 school classes one hot afternoon; walking alone through the dense Ridge forest without elder brother Kirti who had stayed back for a football match, nine year old Ashok’s fearlessness and Granpa’s prescient advice were severely tested. Unexpectedly coming face-to-face with death in the form of a snarling full-grown wolf, Ashok displayed peerless guts and stared back fearlessly at the animal 30 meters away. His boldness led to the dangerous animal’s retreat. Fearlessness became Ashok’s calling card.
Nobility, independence of mind, fair play, respect for elders, strong character, finding out-of-the-box solutions to critical challenges which demanded bold action and thinking-on-the-feet were traits routinely on display on both the maternal and paternal sides of the Tara family which the book painstakingly recalls. What emerges is Ashok; a puppy-friendly football aficionado with an attractive mix of easy friendship, sports and intuition.
Militarily inclined since childhood, Ashok quietly applied for OTS entry in college without informing his parents, his ‘secret’ getting revealed when his Army HQ call up letter reached home. Commissioned into 14 GUARDS in Oct 1963, he trained at the Regimental Centre, Kota as per norms. With Naga insurgency revving up, he was posted to 3 GUARDS then located in Nagaland. His pro-active persona, whipcord fitness, unconventional thinking and decisive action helped him access Churachandpur; the notorious Naga insurgency hub and obtain high-grade intelligence.
A short exposure as a young officer in the Gadra-Munabao desert sector brought the reality of war home to Ashok. Post war, he was posted as Commando Instructor after which he was seconded to newly-raised 9 Para Commando.
Inducted into Agartala from Mizoram in July 1971, Ashok’s Alpha Company 14 GUARDS was involved in a skirmish with Pakistani troops; his innovative thinking making the Pakistanis seek peace. In a November 1971 action at Dhalai Tea Estate, his company and Unit conduct was lauded.
His brigade during the Bangladesh War was tasked for capture of the Gangasagar communication node. His CO after initial hesitation accepted Ashok’s unconventional plan formulated after his bold and observant reconnaissance of the objective; Gangasagar Railway Station. His ‘infectious’ and bold ‘follow me’ leadership led to the award of VrC for him. 16 December 1971 morning found 14 GUARDS securing Dhaka Airport.
The lone wolf in him beckoned at 0900 hrs 17 December when his CO tasked him to proceed with two escorts and a Mukti Bahini informer to rescue Sheikh Mujibur’s family held captive by Pakistani soldiers. Walking past the bullet-ridden body of a journalist who had vainly sought to interview the captive family, Ashok went in unarmed, alone, with just his savoir faire. He locked eyes in ‘lone wolf’ mode with the flustered sentry whose rifle barrel poked at his heart. His people-skills and fact-based talk that Pakistan had surrendered; that it was game-set-match won. Slowly pushing the rifle barrel away, Ashok only then thought of his young pregnant wife.
Honours and awards followed. On 20 October 2012 he was awarded ‘Friends of Liberation War’ honour by PM Hasina Begum in Dhaka. On 8 April 2017, he was honoured in Delhi by PMs Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina. The lone wolf had come full circle.
While astute readers will note that officers, lone wolves or otherwise, don’t carry rifles; but pistols/ sten-guns; the book is worth a read.
THE LONE WOLF: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE RESCUE OF SHEIKH HASINA
Penguin eBury Press, Pg 224, Rs 243