Who Is A Hero?

published on October 10, 2007

By Brigadier A.N.Surya Narayana (Retd)


Reading Mr. Ben Stein’s final column of his journalistic career a few days ago (How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today’s World?) (Available at: http://missouritrading.com/stein.htm), I felt the situation is NO different in our nation too! Just sample what he wrote:


 How can a man or woman who makes an eight- figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today’s world, if by a “star” we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? ………….A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.”


When we won the Kargil Operations, the whole country including the Govt, the public and the media were all in a celebratory mood and felt one with the soldier. This was after 28 years of the 1971 Victory. But all of them appear to have since forgotten the lines of the famous Kohima Epitaph:


“When you go home,

Tell them of us, and say,

 For their tomorrow,

We gave our today”


(John Maxwell Edmonds, (1875-1958).


Or of Simonides of Ceos (556-468 BC) the Greek lyric poet who, after the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, wrote as a memorial to the valiant defenders:


      ‘Go tell the Spartans,

      Thou that passeth by,

      That faithful to their precepts,

      Here we lie’


Or of President John F. Kennedy (to members of the First Armoured Division, in the Cuban Crisis) on November 26, 1962:“Many years ago, according to the story, there was found in a sentry box in Gibraltar a poem which said:


God and the soldier, all men adore

In time of danger and not before

When the danger is passed and all things righted,

God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.


This country does not forget God or the soldier. Upon both, we now depend. Thank you.”— (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, p. 840.)


Kennedy knew that an ungrateful nation cannot continue to expect “it” for too long from the armed forces! It is high time that our country & countrymen make up their minds as to who the real stars and heroes of our Motherland are, before it is too late.




Do you know that, our great Bharat hasn’t even built a Memorial for those heroes who laid down their lives in defending our freedom for the past 60 years? Is it because they do not consider the valiant soldier to be a hero? If it not him, who is


Read Jawed Naqvi, a Pak Columnist (http://www.dawn.com/weekly/jawed/jawed.htm) writes in DAWN, 03 Sep 2007: “A notch below the white man, a touch above the black”


“When New Delhi’s India Gate was designed and built by Edward Lutyens, it was originally called the All India War Memorial in memory of the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died in the campaigns of World War I, the northwest frontier operations of the period, including the 1919 Afghan fiasco. ………. the memorial stands as a towering reminder of our erstwhile slavery. And though it got converted into a more contemporary version of war memorial, honouring the Indian soldiers who fought in the Bangladesh war, the walls of the India Gate memorial still bear the names of the fallen victims of colonial wars, not those who fell in 1971.”



Now tell me: is the one who lives in air-conditioned pent-houses with a swimming pool and a change of a mistress every week like change of one’s clothes (to be photographed in half clad dresses in glossy magazines & lead-stories in 24 hour channels), a hero? (Don’t we all know they just mug up a few sentences and spew them and get filthily over-paid for it)? Or is it those who build 28 floor mansions for themselves? Or those who stay at the “Maharajah” or ‘Monarch’ or ‘President’ suites in 5 & 7 star hotels?  Or is it even those misguided young girls wanting to be raging models, who lose their focus (and much more) on becoming “mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters”? (Aren’t they all spoilt brats who are involved each day in committing a new crime, at ages 30 to 45 years)? Or is it those with beacon on their car, racing at 80 kmph, a fleet of escort cars and dozens of NSG commandos, for a visit to some God’s abode or God-man, putting the common man to inconvenience everyday? Or is it that Chief Minister who upgrades his own security within his own state capital on a monthly basis and claimed recently that his security is more important?


Aren’t the young ones (hardly out of teens) the real heroes, who separated from their kin and serving miles away in inhospitable terrain, where even letters and food have to be air-dropped and who put their lives at stake each minute, so that the rest of the nation can sleep in peace: all due to the sheer folly of bumbling Govts and their babu-advisors?


A traffic constable who gets killed while chasing a tempo for not paying his ‘hafta’ gets a planted and twisted story on Page 1 of the newspapers as to how he chased an offender (but could NOT catch him!!), so as to earn him a medal, which gets prominence with his name and photograph. Is it because he has enormous powers to unleash? On the other hand, a brave son of the Army, just 20 or 22 years old, constantly remembers the words of Field Marshal Philip Chetwode, etched in golden letters in the Chetwode Hall of his military alma mater, through which he takes his “Last Step” as a Gentleman Cadet, just before becoming an Officer:-


“The safety, honour and welfare of your Country come FIRST, ALWAYS AND EVERYTIME.


The honour, comfort and welfare of the men you command come NEXT, ALWAYS AND EVERYTIME.


Your own ease, comfort and safety come LAST, ALWAYS AND EVERYTIME!”


He does not even worry about his next meal or rest or the inherent danger in his task; he is totally unmindful of the risk to life; but leads his men and charges at the enemy just to keep the Oath he took on the date of his commission as a 2 Lt/Lt: “wherever and whenever ordered, by land, sea or air……even to the peril of my life”! What does he get for it when he is martyred? Just one line as a statistic on Page 5 or 7: “The killed included a soldier!”


On 28 Nov 06, when valiant Major Manish Pitambare became a martyr in single-handedly wiping out a dreaded Hizbul Commander and in the process, making the supreme sacrifice, it was completely over-shadowed by the debate over Sanju Baba’s new saint-hood: “Gandhigiri Avtar” totally forgetting his well-planned evil deeds at an “innocent” age of 32 in the 1993 Bombay blasts! Even Pitambare’s name took a day to come up on a small ticker-tape on those very 24 hour news-channels that worry only about their TRP Ratings, with those motor-mouth anchors (both male &female)!


It was BBC which promptly announced the killing of Hizbul Mujahidin’s most wanted terrorist ‘Sohel Faisal’ in Anantnag, and of the Indian Major leading the operation losing his life in the process & four others being injured; but the news that swept across all the Indian news channels focused only on Sanju “Baba(!) rising like a Phoenix”! ‘Sirf Munna Not a bhai’ ‘13 saal ka vanvaas khatam’ ‘Sanjay can breathe a sigh of relief as all the TADA charges against him are withdrawn’: screamed the headlines on 24 hour news-channels and the next day’s banner headlines! What else was worth the news that day: Parliament mad at Indian cricket team’s poor performance; Bomb scare in Gorakhpur express; Shah Rukh Khan vs. Big B in KBC and of course, Sonia asking the PM to ‘consider’ reducing petroleum prices!


Immediately on information from his sources about the terrorists’ whereabouts, wasting no time, Major Pitambare attacked the camp and killed the Hizbul Mujahidin’s supremo and in the process lost his life, ironically to bullets fired from an AK-47 (Is innocent 48 year old Sanju Baba listening)?  He too had a wife and an 8 month-old daughter but never said ‘I have a daughter’ nor even thought about having a family and being the sole bread earner, like the pleadings of Sanju Baba before Judge Kode! 


Parents of Major Pitambare have to live rest of their lives without their beloved son; his daughter won’t ever see her father again. Here it is worth quoting from the blog of Rajiv Issar in memory of Major Pitambare: “Definition of a Star has changed Major… it really has. Sanju baba always has a gun in every one of his movies; so in real life if he has an AK47 then what’s the big deal …. Even if one of the bullets from one such AK47’s took a Real Star’s life…but sir bole toh ….. tension nahi leneka. Aapun ko thoda bura laga. Aapun pure din aapke baare mein socha. Sach bataun kya? Aapun dukhi matlab ki senti ho gaya, is liye ye likha.” 


The next time another hero (Colonel V Vasant, one of the youngest serving Commanding Officers, of 700 men, leading from the front), lost his life, news was only about Sanju Baba’s pleadings to the court: sole bread earner; daughter in US and not wearing his lucky blue shirt during the verdict. A convicted suspect was being made into a hero. Channels sympathized with Sanju as to how the son/brother of an MP/ex and on whose name Rs 55 Cr (or is it 75?), hung in Bollywood, would spend his life detached from his usual pleasures and how his daughter would feel. Col Vasant Venugopal of the Maratha Regt laid down his life fighting for his country, but his martyrdom earned just a mention WITHOUT a name (“a Colonel”!!) by running strap-line in very small letters!


Yes, TIMES NOW did devote time and energy and so did Deccan Herald. On the day of Vasanth’s cremation, most of the media and Bangalore’s attention was on Mohd Haneef! Vasanth’s death only proves the hollowness of the claims by top politicians, who want the Army out, claiming things have changed in the Kashmir valley.


Even the CM of ‘Suvarna (Golden) Karnataka’ has still not found the time amid his political maneuvers to go and meet the even braver widow, (who continued with her commitment in another town, to this ungrateful society) and the suddenly-fatherless children! Is it because, the armed forces are not big vote banks? Or is it because, he was not from his “secular” party or caste? Even the family of a victim of a traffic or fire accident gets photograph of a ‘beaming’ VVIP handing over a cheque! The family of a suspect in a criminal case abroad gets a visit from a CM and a statement from the sleepless PM, besides lead news/front page coverage; but never a soldier! But the moment even a whiff of an alleged offence from an army of 1.1 million is heard, all the loud-mouths have Question of the Day or sms poll etc on the integrity of the whole Army! Why don’t they publicize that the Army has taken or invariably takes immediate action, whether it is Tehalka expose or a ration-scam or a Maj Gen’s alleged ‘advances’ to a lady-Capt and gives exemplary punishments. What of the babus, the police, the politicians etc? Difficult or impossible to find one example; they stay for a while on ‘suspension’ and then get even a higher status and retire in comfort! Do you know that the time bar of 3 years after retirement to try a soldier was removed many years ago and that he can be tried till being taken to the grave? Why not the same rule for all govt servants?


It is time perhaps for both our leaders and us as general public, to introspect whether we remember such sacrifices only when we want to, or when it is convenient! Read some extracts from what Ejaz Haider, a Retd Pak Officer, now a columnist, writes in his article: “Whaddaya say, gentlemen!” in the Daily Times  on 17 Jun 2007:


What does the Indian military get for all the good work it does: unabashed scrutiny from the media and the people? ………While God doesn’t seem too concerned about being forgotten, at least He makes no mention of it to the media through His spokespersons, the soldier in some countries, ours being one such, is quite sensitive to being slighted. And why not? After all, it is the soldier who keeps vigil so we can all sleep peacefully. Which is why, I agree with the …. suggestion that the ungrateful civilians be summarily executed for denigrating the armed forces……Now, while we have such respect for the armed forces, what does the Indian military get for all the good work it does: unabashed scrutiny from the media and the people?…..My point is: what the hell is wrong with these Indians? Do they have no respect for the men in uniform who guard the nation while it sleeps and some of who, can cross the line under pressure? Do they not realize how important image is and what it means to bring the armed forces into disrepute?


Let me close this with a quote from T Roosevelt in 1910 on a soldier:-


“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; ……who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement. And at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”


Theodore Roosevelt~ (President of USA, at Paris 1910)”.


Now you decide who is a hero?


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