An Inspirational Read

Book: 21 Kesaris: The Untold Story of the Battle of Saragarhi

Author: Kiran Nirvan

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 248; Price: Rs 399

A few weeks ago, the world leaders gathered in Normandy, France to mark the 75th year of the D Day to celebrate the bravery and gallantry of their soldiers. And here I was reading the book 21 Kesaris wondering, in contrast, how we as a nation — neither know our heroes nor do we care to remember their valour and sacrifices.

“A nation stands on the graves of her dead soldiers; their blood furrows her fertile green fields.” And a nation that forgets its martyrs can do so at its own peril, might one add. The book is about the epic battle of Saragarhi in which twenty-one Sikh soldiers of 36th Sikh regiment in British India army sacrificed their lives and stood as an exemplar for courage, selfless service and fearlessness combating a fierce, terrifying Afridi and Orakzai Afghan tribes’ men.

These twenty-one men valiantly fought and held their ground for seven long hours even though numerically outnumbered by their enemy (10,000 approx) till they met their end in the call of their duty.

This compact book with 192 pages, is both well-researched and timely. It is guaranteed to awaken your interest in our military history. It traces the epic saga which is hardly known to the public in the country that took place on 12th September 1897 at the unforgiving terrains of Saragarhi post.

The book is an easy read and insightful, with various interconnected historical, social and geo-political themes. The colonial era where Britain and Russia had set their eyes to control Central Asia including the Silk route passing through Afghanistan. Britain’s manoeuvres to install puppet government in Afghanistan to keep the occupied territories in India secure from Russian threats. The uprising of ‘marauding’ and ‘ferocious’ Afghan tribes-men who despised Britishers for depriving them of the ancestral rights and cultural freedom.

Adding to that, the internal dynamics of the colonised India: starting with the Mughal tyranny, atrocities on Sikhs, emergence of Sikhism and Khalsa Panth paving way for transformation of Sikhs from passivity into an armed force to fight the persecution, provides us a rich perspective and backdrop. The book is also an attempt to bring to the public knowledge of the exemplary bravery of the Sikhs and the Khalsa heritage.

The book also has some good archival pictures and maps. One of my favourites of course is of those outsized, distinct and mesmerising ‘fortress’ turbans worn by these gallant men. Apparently, the battle of Saragarhi is included as one of the eight stories of collective bravery published by the (UNESCO). The story of this battle was even included in school textbooks in France as one of the most incredible sagas in world military history.

It is a shame that our own historians and text books have failed to bring such heroic stories to the public knowledge and inspire the younger generation of this country.

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