At the new National War Memorial that opened in New Delhi recently, a young soldier asked my mother:
“Are you looking for someone, Ma’am? Did you lose someone ?” the soldier from the Assam Regiment on duty asked her. She was standing before Sepoy Ashok Kumar from the 13 Kumaon Regiment and looking at a rose left for him by a visitor. My mother, Shalini Yadav, 61, looked teary eyed at the young soldier as she struggled to explain that she too had lost someone.
But on the day she visited the National War Memorial, her tears were not reserved just for her son who bravely laid down his life for his motherland during peacetime in 2015 — Major Dhruv Yadav. Her tears were for the countless unknown faceless soldiers whose bravery and valour was now finally being acknowledged and communicated to the world. Their names are now finally etched in the monument of time.
As my mother and I looked around, we realised we were surrounded by memories of over 25,942 fallen soldiers. And though each plaque depicts just a name and a number, they are so much more than just that. Each name has a story behind it, one that is perhaps eerily similar to the other, filled with bravery, strength and honour that is akin to fictional superheroes of our times.
And yet, each life is also so different from the other.
As we walked through the four concentric circles – the Veerta Chakra, Amar Chakra, Rakshak Chakra and Tyag Chakra of the National War Memorial that is designed as a Chakravyuh, an ancient Indian war formation – we were blown away by the brotherhood among these men in the midst of such diversity and adversity. One couldn’t help but wonder in absolute amazement the sheer grit and mental fortitude these men and women had while defending their motherland to the peril of their lives. Something they had sworn to do.
My brother was a battle casualty too, but in peace time. He was killed in Pokhran during a high level combat training exercise. He did not die in war. The National War Memorial covers the names of martyrs killed in wars in 1947–48, 1961 (Goa), 1962 (China), 1965, 1971, 1987 (Siachen), 1987-88 (Sri Lanka), 1999 (Kargil), and other counter insurgency operations such as Operation Rakshak. Had my brother’s name been etched there along with the others’, my mother and I would also have left a marigold flower every day for him.
As I sat among these fallen brave after having walked through the Chakravyuh; my mind was unusually calm. I thought about our nation’s founders and how they had so painstakingly developed the idea of a “modern India” founded on the core principle of unity in diversity. And as my mind negotiated between that vision and reality, I found myself staring at the very essence of “modern India” that lay at this National War Memorial. Columns of names of soldiers etched side by side, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or region — unified as one in the afterlife having embodied the very essence of “service before self” in life.
Even though, India has fought a number of wars, there was no unified memorial for its fallen soldiers, no commemoration of their sacrifices – until now. The magnificent India Gate designed by Sir Edwin Lutyen was built to pay homage for those who lost their lives in the First World War. In fact, there was no memorial for those fallen during the Second World War. It was then post 1971 that the Amar Jawan Jyoti – the flame of the immortal soldier -was added to the India Gate and has since then served as India’s tomb of the unknown soldier. But for the known, no unified memorial existed.
While memorials are places where loved ones pay a few priceless moments every once in a while with their brave and lost family members, a memorial is intended to be more than just that. It is a place of offering, a place of realization and a place of understanding the sacrifices made for one’s freedom. The National War Memorial symbolises just that. As I saw children and adults walk around trying to grapple with the magnitude of loss, these brave soldiers continued their duty to the nation by reminding us what it meant to be truly “Indian” and that our strength lay in our diversity.
As the sun set and its rays filtered through the arches of remembrance of the India Gate onto the Chakravyuh, it dawned upon me that I would call upon these brave soldiers yet again to teach my son how to be a better citizen, worthy of their sacrifices.
The author is the sister of Late Major Dhruv Yadav.