Chennai: It’s a cloudy day and the air is cold. As Chennai’s traffic roars, silence however grips Victory War Memorial. Veterans in crisp formals with shiny badges tucked to their shirts and aviators on face the massive stone tower that reads: ‘1914-Victory-1918; 1939-Victory-1945.’
The veterans and their families are here to honour the brave souls who laid down their lives during the Kargil War. 26 July (today) marks the 20th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas. Exactly two decades ago, Indian Army’s ‘Operation Vijay’ was a success as our armed forces regained control of the region infiltrated by Pakistan. Over 559 Indian soldiers died while over a thousand were injured. Every year at the Victory War Memorial, veterans from the Army, Navy and the Air Force attend to offer respect to their fallen brothers in arms.
How’s the Josh?
I am introduced to a group of men who served during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. I meet retired Airforce Commander, Rajaram. “I was the Airforce spokesperson during the ’71 war,” he smiles shaking my hands with a firm grip.
The men may look in their 60s or 70s, but for them, age is just a number. Despite being retired from service a long time ago, they continue to stay fit and disciplined. They greet each other warmly with brisk handshakes. They speak about their former colleagues and laugh amongst themselves. Currently serving young army men – who are here as part of the homage ceremony – address these veterans with a salute and, ‘Jai Hind sir’.
The Last Post
As thick wreaths are laid by veterans and their families, young officers march briskly in unison, saluting their fellow uniformed seniors. ‘The Last Post’ – the iconic tune that is often played to respect the fallen – subtly echoes around the memorial.
How are these men so eager to lay down their lives? I ask Rajaram and he thinks for a moment. “Look at them,” he points out to the young officers standing in attention by the memorial stone. “They can stand here all night,” says Ram. “That’s dedication and commitment. When you are in the armed force, you become very disciplined. And when you are in the frontlines, you don’t think of anything but to survive. When you see your fellow brothers in arms, who are ready to go into action, you think of nothing but to run along with them.”
Honour and pride
A woman carries a wreath with words printed: ‘Veer Naari’. I am informed by a veteran that it means ‘War Widow’. She places the wreath against the stone tower and salutes. Later, a Senior Navy Admiral in white uniform with a black sword and golden hilt strapped around his waist, places a wreath that reads ‘FOTNA’ (Flag Officer Commanding Tamilnadu and Puducherry Naval Area).
As more wreaths are placed, another small group of army men with assault rifles in hand flip their weapon and stamp hard against the earth. The sound claps across the circular corridors of the memorial. Their cries are loud and strong. Soon the final note of ‘The Last Post’ reaches its crescendo and the men yet again flip the weapons in a synchronous motion.
Oh Captain, my Captain
A group of young college students of Rotary Club are also here to offer their homage. “They have written over 200 letters to war veterans,” says Arul Malar who was involved in this gesture. “The students have written to offer their praise, gratitude and admiration to soldiers.” As the ceremony comes to an end, the veterans look at the Indian flag that flutters in the wind. ‘Jai Hind’ they whispered.