First Person | Matter of Choice

In the end, we are all cogs in the wheels of nation-building

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

I am getting into a sensitive territory here. A large number of FORCE subscribers are from the Indian Army and I cannot afford to offend or hurt them. In any case, in the last eight years I have come to see the young uniformed fraternity from such close quarters that I only have deep empathy for the work they do and in the circumstances they do. Yet, I am taking a chance here because I care. I am writing this in the hope that it will be read in the spirit it was intended.

In the last few months, I have been a recipient of several email forwards sent out by various army officers, both serving and retired. Even though the nature of the mails has been different — multimedia, videos and text — the essence has been the same: Lamenting how the noble Indian army men are let down by the rest of the countrymen. The refrain is that a young man who decides to wear the uniform does so because he has consciously taken the decision to shun the pleasures of life in order to protect the country and the rest of the ungrateful countrymen. The one which I found particularly disturbing is supposedly written by a fourth generation young officer. He writes that the country does not understand what he does and hence does not respect the sacrifices he has made by choosing to be an army officer and not a corporate executive.

If this particular officer indeed decided to forego a career in the corporate sector because of the desire to protect the motherland and all its selfish denizens, all I would say to him is: Wake up kid! Honestly, I have not come across a single young officer who joined the army for this reason. And I have met many of them. A large number of those whom I have interacted with joined the services because it is more like a family tradition and they have not known any other kind of life. Many told me that they thought army would be adventurous and a few joined because they had no interest in further education. In fact, a few told me that had they known they would be required to study so much in the army they would have never joined.

I remember my first visit to an army formation. The year was 2003, and I was at the brigade headquarters in Uri. We were working for the inaugural issue of FORCE. In the officers’ mess I saw various plaques and battle honours, some dating back to 1947 and some even before. It was a curious mix, Indian soldiers serving British officers, dying for a cause that had nothing to do with India. The brigadier was an extremely pleasant man. Amused at my comment he said, nobody dies for the country. You die first for your men and brothers-in-arms, then for the honour of your unit — he used the word paltan — and after that comes the country. “Nationalism is an amorphous concept,” he said later in the evening. “Your colleagues and the unit are more realistic and immediate. Hence, you connect with them faster.”

Reading these forward mails, I was reminded of this conversation, not because I thought the brigadier was suggesting that the soldiers are not patriotic, but because I understood what it takes to consciously put one’s life in danger. It is the sense of belonging to a unit which has a history of valour and honour that makes a person rise above others in the battlefield, charge at the enemy and sometimes take an astounding number down with him. Of course, all this is eventually for the country. Just as in my mind, by writing on issues of security, injustice and apathy of the political classes I feel that I may be creating some kind of awareness. Perhaps, someone will take notice of my writings and take some action. Isn’t this for the country as well? Or a social activist who works with urban slum-dwellers or tribal people in the forest. Isn’t that for the country? Or an industrialist who creates jobs through his enterprise. Isn’t that for the country? Aren’t all these people cogs in the wheels of nation-building? the wheels of nation-building?

As adults we all make our choices. It is sad if we are forced to choose something against our wishes. But that’s just it, sad. We cannot hold others responsible for the choices we have made or have been forced to make. Neither do we do any favour to others by our choices, so why should they carry the burden of our choice. I chose journalism over business, even though journalists are paid much less, even today. (Media is not television alone. Today, an officer earns much more than a journalist in a vernacular press.) I cannot hold a grudge against my classmates who drive bigger cars than me and live in better parts of Delhi for the career choice I made. So why must I be burdened by the angst of a soldier who thinks the world has been unfair to him. Yes, soldiers lead tough lives. But it’s the life they chose. I admire that. But I cannot be grateful.


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