Books | My Only Intention While Writing This Book Was To Encourage Young Military Officers To Read… There are many extremely important military lessons ensconced within the book

Maj. Gen. Vijay Singh, author of POW 1971: A Soldier’s Account Of The Heroic Battle Of Daruchhian


Maj. Gen. Vijay SinghWhat are your earliest memories of your father being a PoW?

I actually have no memories of my father as a PoW and the credit for that goes entirely to my mother. Whatever she was going through, she successfully kept it away from us. We had no idea of her personal travails at all. My earliest memories are of the excitement of waiting to welcome my father back at the Delhi Cantt Railway station on, I now know, 2 December 1972. I clearly remember the press insisting on my father lifting me up for a perfect photograph of a joyful reunion. It was really quite chaotic! My father with his injured hand struggling to lift me up and the press insisting for retakes!

I also vividly recall the sad memory of seeing an old man on the station refusing to believe his son was dead and pestering my father to reveal his whereabouts. His son had actually died in front of my father.


When did you first realize that there was a book in these memories and that you would like to record these?

I think sometime after 1989 or so. My grandfather, Maj. Gen. Kalyan Singh, spent a lot of time with my parents as he grew older. I enjoyed his company tremendously. He would regale me for hours with interesting anecdotes of his war experiences, while participating in the World War II in North Africa and life as a PoW in Italy. After he passed on, I realised that he had not shared his memories with many, and I had not made any notes either. As a result, those precious memories were lost with his passing.

I did not want this to happen in the case of my father. As it is, given his reticent nature, no one, including those close to him, had any idea what he had faced in battle. As young children, my brother and I got just one opportunity to hear about his experiences in the battle of Daruchhian, and it moved us tremendously. Since then, I was certain his memories needed to be recorded. But I also knew it would be difficult to make him speak about himself. We had been working on him for a long time. Thankfully, he finally relented and agreed to share his story with the world. Finding time for the project was a challenge for me due to service commitments. Finally, the Covid lockdowns provided me the opportunity to finish this project.


Memories acquire a life of their own over a period of time. Did you cross-check, cross-reference whatever your father remembered, given the sensitivity of the subject and you being a serving officer? Basically, how difficult was the writing process?

You are absolutely right, memories do acquire a life of their own. Luckily, early in my service life I stumbled upon some very relevant material amongst my father’s files. These were reports of the battle submitted by him immediately on his repatriation to India. Not only were they detailed but included authentic records of his radio communication in chronological order. This made recollecting his side of the events easy. All that remained was cross checking and cross referencing his version with the various versions available from sources that I have quoted in the book. I was very conscious of the sensitivity of the subject and have tried my best to ensure accuracy.

Since the other three company commanders were killed in action, my father was the only company commander alive who had actually fought the battle of Daruchhian. By the time he was repatriated to India (after a year), an account of the battle had already been recorded. I felt extremely guilty rekindling his traumatic memories during the process of cross checking and cross referencing. This was the most difficult part of the writing process, as far as I am concerned. It gave my father and myself sleepless nights.

Another challenge was trying to make it readable and interesting to a reader without a military background. The technicalities and military terms had to be reduced. It helped to have an in-house editorial team in the form of my wife, who has taught English at school and college level and my daughter, who is a journalist. I was also fortunate to have a very professional and experienced publisher in Speaking Tiger. Their suggestions have been invaluable in ensuring technical correctness, balance and objectivity.


Brig. Dalvi has written about his experience as PoW after the 1962 War. He also recounts the disillusionment with the debrief process in India upon his return. Did these processes, both treatment of PoWs by the capturing country and debriefing by one’s own country, change over the decade? In an ideal world, how should nations treat PoWs?

In my opinion the 1971 Indo-Pak War and the 1962 Sino-India War were different in many ways and should not be compared. My father’s debriefing experience was bearable, as it was short and not too intrusive. In fact, it was exactly as promised by Gen. Manekshaw during his interaction with repatriated Indian PoWs at Delhi Cantt. I think in this aspect the experiences of 1962, which Brig Dalvi wrote about, helped in improving the processes.

My father spent about 50 per cent of his time in Pakistan in hospitals. He received good medical treatment and was reasonably comfortable. His only grouse was that he was kept in isolation, away from other Indian PoWs, as he was believed to be a commando.

At PoW Camp, Lyallpur the facilities were basic and the treatment meted out was satisfactory. Given the overwhelming numbers of Pakistani PoWs in India, there was no option for the Pakistanis but to treat them well. Besides, when some of the Pakistani PoWs were repatriated back, they paid glowing compliments to the treatment they had received in India. When some such Pakistani PoWs met my father in hospital they were embarrassed to find the needless restrictions being imposed upon him.

As far as treatment of PoWs in an ideal world is concerned we need to look no further than the Geneva Convention.


Since it’s a very personal book, how did you, as an author, distance yourself from the subject to get a more objective perspective of what was happening?

This is indeed a very relevant question. I was conscious of the need to put across an objective perspective. But it is also true that our entire family was affected from the experience. I wanted to allow a bit of this in the narrative.

However, there are two factors which helped me maintain a balance. Firstly, my father’s humility. People who know him well would understand what I am saying. He is very comfortable being in the background, allowing his achievements to remain understated. It would be a great disservice to him, if I didn’t catch this part of his personality in the book.

Secondly, I would like to give credit to my family and my publishers who advised me to make suitable amendments in the script, whenever I was found losing objectivity due to my personal connect with the subject.


Is writing about victories easier than campaigns which were lost? If yes, why?

I am not really qualified to answer this question. This is my first book and I have little experience in this field. But I will say this, and I must add, it’s only an assumption—one will probably find many people ready to share their stories of successful campaigns. Lack of material will not be a constraint. However, in battles where success has not been achieved, one may not find too many primary sources of information. No one likes to speak of failure and records may be equally hard to find. In that aspect I was lucky, as in my father I found a credible source.

My father’s audio recordings, diligently carried out by my niece, were a priceless resource for the narrative. Being much younger at that time, I am not really sure she fully understood the sentiments of what he was saying during their conversations. Personally, for me, listening to him was profoundly moving. I don’t really know whether I have been able to carry those emotions into the pages of the book.


Your book was released by the COAS. Do you think this could be classified as an official historical record?

No, not at all. It definitely does not qualify as an official historical record. The COAS has always encouraged such literary pursuits. By releasing my book, he has honoured a veteran and our family. We are extremely grateful to him for that.

My only intention while writing this book was to encourage young military officers to read. I have, therefore, resorted to a very simple readable format. There are many extremely important military lessons ensconced within the book. These are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. If non-military readers find the book equally interesting, I will consider it an achievement.


Finally, having been bitten by the writing bug, do you see yourself as a full-time writer in the future? A military historian perhaps?

Well, maybe, I am not really sure. While writing this book I have learnt about the amount of effort writing book involves. Whether, I have it in me to become a writer or a military historian in the future will depend largely on the feedback and the response POW 1971 receives. For the moment I can only say—it is but a humble beginning!





Call us