The greatest acts of heroism and valour often happen when the odds are hopeless and death and defeat are inevitable. Throughout history, nations have always glorified such episodes in ballads and poems, by honouring heroes and commemorating such events. It is the common perception of such episodes in a people’s history that forge a sense of nationhood. Why else would we celebrate the deaths of a Prithviraj Chauhan or a Tipu Sultan? Or a Porus or a Shivaji who battled great armies with little more than a handful of brave comrades and immense courage? Of course we rejoice in the triumphs of an Ashoka or Chandragupta or even an Akbar, but that is about greatness and not heroism.
Even if it is true that the end of history is at hand, we can be sure that the annals of heroism will never cease being written. However endless these may be, the heroic stand of C Company of the 13 Kumaon at Rezang La on November 18, 1962 will always remain a more glorious chapter. The monument that stands at Chushul asks: “How can a man die better/Than facing fearful odds/For the ashes of his fathers/And the temples of his gods.” C Company was fighting for neither ashes nor temples, for there were none at Chushul. The loss of Chushul would not even have had much bearing on the ultimate defence of Ladakh. But in those dark days of 1962, Chushul became a matter of national honour.
Pivotal frontier point
Chushul is only 15 miles from the border as the crow flies and had an all-weather landing strip. It was the pivotal point of our frontier posts in this sector as it was astride the second route into Tibet from Leh about 120 miles further west. The road built after 1962 rises to nearly 17,000 feet, crossing the Ladakh range at the desolate and windblown Chang La pass, steeply descends into Tangtse and then goes on to Chushul. Between the...