The unassuming title of the book expertly hides a heart – touching and true – story of a distinguished, brave and decorated former Army Commander, and Colonel of the GRENADIERS, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Y N Sharma. He wrote this book to pay a special tribute to “the great Indian Army and the GRENADIERS” and of course his lovely wife, Despina.
The slim author-signed copy of the book got me glued to it from the word ‘go’ and made me emotional more than once… especially at places where he described his childhood, awkward adolescence and the initial years in the Army during which he also met his beautiful wife, Despina. The officer met the bubbly Greek girl in 1958 while both were serving with the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) deployed in the Sinai Peninsula to keep peace between Egypt and Israel.
Their courtship period was full of awkward moments and even disastrous, writes the author. However, that did not deter them to fall deeply in love with each other. They could not fathom the future problems that eventually knocked on their doors. So great was the challenge that the military maverick had to put in his papers to get married to the love of his life. They were married in a simple ceremony in August 1960. The gamble paid off and for the next fifty years the officer and his wife overcame all life–challenges together. Despina played a very important and active role in Gen. Sharma’s service life – especially as the first lady of the GRENADIERS. She continued to work and contribute towards the welfare of the regiment till the very end. The author himself remarks that her love and commitment to the Grinder family (his regiment) was so strong that he himself could never match it.
The book is also full of anecdotal references to Gen. Sharma’s service life in a totally honest and candid manner – at places he has described events in such an amusing way that it may make many retired oldies feel nostalgic about their ‘good old days’ and the young officers, laugh out loud in total agreement.
Sample this –
“After commissioning my friends and I went to Kashmir on a voyeuristic trip. It was peak tourist – time in the Valley. In the picturesque Moghal garden skirting the Dal Lake, we spied a senior from the Academy swaggering with a girl in his arms. He was a former Service cadet (from the ranks); they are treated as love gurus by the NDA types!
Our hero decided to find a soothsayer to predict his love life, and we followed! The con man fed each one his ego pill till my turn came. He took one look and predicted ‘someday you may also find a girlfriend; take help from family!’ After this snooty – snub, I chose to focus on matters military only.”
The brilliant thing about the author is that he calls a spade a spade. And describes even the difficult phases in his service tenure with equal candour and courage. There’s no superficial treatment, excuses or hiding facts.
“Life was never a smooth ride. A bump at step – one of my higher command did not surprise me. It seems that whenever I take a double jump, I trip and fall!
…for three weeks I went around IMA, as Deputy Comdt – designate, wearing a Lt. Col’s badges. I diligently saluted all full Colonels with a twisted smile and a wicked thought about the role – reversal a month later! Some may see humour in the farce but I felt like the hero of a Greek tragedy with a bruised ego.”
In all fairness, I must also mention that the book may be a difficult read for those who have no connection with the Army or Defence forces. Too much usage of technical words and phrases diminished the effect of the otherwise smooth storytelling. However, what I admired the most in the book was the warmth, indomitable spirit of soldiering, humanness and humility of the military maverick so easily reflected in the story.
Reviewed by: Sujata Parashar – a novelist, poet, short story writer and social worker.
Author(s): Yoginder Sharma
Publisher: Partridge India
Release: May 2016
Genre: Non Fiction/Biography
Buy from Amazon – Please use the affiliate link below & share the love!