Why you stand alone, o’ the bravest of all

When the impending mission foretells ‘of course, you will come home to keep date with loved ones, though maybe wrapped in the national flag’, there is no panic or regret, only calm acceptance of reality, the preordained destiny. After all, didn’t you yearn for it – “Dil maange more.” At these defining moments, count yourself to be blessed, the chosen one.
While the intellectuals engage in fiery debates to define the contours of nationalism and patriotism, and peers in the academia are raring to start the second freedom movement, you, barely in the early twenties, remain level-headed. Given the steely resolve, unflinching conviction and spirit of sacrifice, you are ever-ready to face the unforeseen eventualities to safeguard the country’s sovereignty. You make a rare case study for the motivational gurus.
It is in mid teens that you made up your mind to join the National Defence Academy (NDA). What drove you to make this choice out of the many you had? Passion, of course. You made the cut after a tough selection process; one of the 300-odd among a few lakh aspirants. Selected on pure merit without having to use quota, you held your head high. You got a level playing field, where your only identity was ‘a proud Indian’.
Once in the academy, you train to be a leader; to lead the men with courage and élan. The ethos “nation, mission, team, self” in the given order get engrained in your DNA. To deliver under the heaviest odds at any cost becomes the norm. After a gruelling three-year training, you graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), followed by a year at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), where you earn the spurs of a battle-ready sub-unit commander.
Many have the honour to open the account straight on the battlefield; although some may not be fortunate to draw the first paycheque. A case in point – our 39 NDA/48 IMA course, baptised on Day One itself, in the 1971 war. Leading upfront, inspiring the men, you vindicate what general George Patton had said famously: “Wars are fought with weapons but won by men; the spirit of those who follow and the one who leads is what decides victory.”
Your operational bandwidth is almost seamless; varying from conventional to “low-intensity” conflicts; entails combating insurgency, militancy. and terrorism, besides taking aid and relief to the stranded during natural or manmade calamities. You are always there to take the call, without qualms, true for the last hope in catastrophic situations.
Despite being short changed by the system routinely, you take it silently, not making any hue and cry. Your grace and decorum in the fight is an example. Soldiering is not transactional, as life is beyond compensation. You tread on the thin edge, live to fight another day, get up again after every fall, accept the challenges, and make do with whatever available. You have earned universal respect as a hardcore professional.
Unmindful of what the nation or society owes to its soldiers, you carry on regardless. Fired up by the missionary zeal, you not only preserve the legacy of the likes of Vikram Batra and Manoj Pandey but enrich it further. Pawan and Tushar, latest in the line-up of martyrs, bear the testimony. It’s a pride to be the nation’s flag-bearer and to keep the flame of freedom glowing.
Often you defy death and sometimes cheat it. You are the real winner, selfless in letter and spirit. The kith and kin honour your perspective of family, which transcends the bonds of blood and lineage. This is why among the billion odd, you are miniscule minority that demands no special status, because you choose to stand alone.

Maj Gen GG Dwivedi (retd), Hindustan Times, Chandigarh