Military & Aerospace

Book review of the Book "Nation First"
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Jul , 2023

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Publisher: Hachette India | ISBN: 9789357311663 | B Format Paperback | Pages: 240 | Price: INR 399

This Book is not a historical record recounting the details of the Kargil War of 1999. Nor is it a fiction with Kargil War as its backdrop. Neither is it a romantic Mills and Boon story. But it is an account of the challenges life had flung ruthlessly at a young newly married bride with no background of the ups and downs of the military environment and how this young bride stood up and faced these undaunted by their enormity.

Captain Akhilesh Saxena, an Artillery Officer of the Indian Army, married Shika in February 1999. Shika got a brief introduction to Army life on her first visit to the Unit and was drawn by the strong bonds that existed in a Unit which she later experience distruly a big supportive family. It is so much different from what prevails in the cut-throat, manipulative,job-hopping corporate world where the spouse and family are non-existent entities for a Human Resource Manager, not to talk of the corporate head who is as distant as devil.  

The Author has captivatingly recounted the early life of the each of main protagonists individually and them as a young newly married couple. She talks of the bonds that existed between Captain Saxena and his fellow ‘coursemates’ developed during the rigorous training at the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla. It is what many a reader will relate to quite easily. These bonds manifest in many ways in the later years in their life.

In a couple of months after their marriage, Capt Akhilesh Saxena was posted to join a new Unit in J&K Valley where he had some close encounters during counter-terrorist operations but he came off the better. By end May 1999 the situation in Kargil deteriorated and forces were mobilised for war. Captain Saxena’s Unit too moved into that war zone.

The Author has stirringly captured the gut-wrenching essence of the impossible assaults by the Indian Infantry battalions in the brutally tough terrain at extremely high altitudes in the Kargil sector. The exceptional bravery of those who sacrificed their life becomes palpable through the Authors reverting narration. The Author gives the reader a real-life perception of combat as experienced at the tip of the bayonet – with no exaggeration or embellishments. She deserves credit for articulating the military realties accurately and concisely.

During one of the Infantry assaults that Captain Saxena’s was accompanying as a Forward Observation Officer directing close artillery fire support, he is seriously wounded when hit by a shrapnel from the enemy artillery fire. At first he refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of his injury, but his ‘buddy’ notices it and administers ‘first-aid’. Seeing the grievousness of the injury he forces him to seek medical aid at the base. His ‘buddy’ accompanies Captain Saxena who is a ‘walking wounded’. He trudges for hours to descend to the base and barely reaches a medical centre where a doctor can administer something more than ‘first –aid’.  Due to hisserious injuries there is need for prolonged hospitialisation. The Author has highlighted the traumas of the immediate and extended families had to face in such situations. The support of the organisation to such families further highlights the close knit fabric that the Indian Army is.

New challenges bring new opportunities. Due to the nature of his serious injuries Captain Saxena is assigned desk jobs which a once dynamic lively young officer detests. With full support from the organisation, Captain Saxena is able to prepare himself with necessary qualifications for life once he steps into the world outside the Army.

The Book is heart-wrenching and beautifully choreographed narration bringing forth the unexpected challenges life throws at people and how some dare it and fight to overcome these unprecedented situations out of sheer will power and faith that every trough in the waves of life will also have a crest.  

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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