“The Saga Of A Braveheart” (Vij Books India, 2021) is the heart -warming and inspiring story of the late Lt Col Ajit V Bhandarkar, Shaurya Chakra (P), 18 MADRAS (Mysore) /25 Rashtriya Rifles. This courageous officer laid down his life for his motherland battling infiltrating terrorists in the Poonch area of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1999. He killed three of them before succumbing to the grievous injuries sustained in the gun fight. For his courage and exemplary leadership he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra in October 2001.
What makes the book different from most books about soldiering is that it is written by his widow, Veer Nari, Smt Shakunthala A Bhandarkar. It is most admirable that the lady put behind her own deep personal sorrow at the loss of her husband to write this book. That it was written to commemorate Col. Bhandarkar’s 60th birth anniversary and their 30 th wedding anniversary makes this story all the more poignant.
While one cannot generalise, it is true that in India sadly the civilian population, for the most part, have little idea of the life and culture of those in the Armed Forces- who defend our freedom. To this end, Mrs Bhandarkar’s objective of describing slices of life in the Indian Army for a soldier’s wife and family is praise worthy. I do hope that many, many readers will understand from her story not just how difficult it is to be a Army wife but also the magnificent support the Fauj and Faujis provide to their ilk.
The book takes the predictable path of starting from Col Bhandarkar’s childhood and school days, leading on to his experiences in the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy. It continues to track his professional career as a commissioned officer in the famous 18th Battalion, the Madras Regiment (Mysore) till that fateful day in October 1999. However, what makes the story interesting and appealing is that in all these phases, his fellow officers have spoken of Col. Bhandarkar. They have recalled his abilities and character in the different capacities they knew him.
Everyone has praised his integrity, total dedication to his profession and his family, and his ability to relate to others and get the best out of them. He was clearly an effective leader on the path of great achievement.
Despite her personal loss, Mrs Bhandarkar allowed her two boys-who were just 7 and 5 when their father was killed in action – to choose their own careers . Reading about their father, I was not at all surprised that both have become officers in India’s Defence Services. Following his father’s footsteps, the elder boy Nirbhay joined his father’s Regiment 18 Madras while the younger, Akshay joined the Indian Navy.
“Life is a journey and we cannot change destiny” writes Mrs. Bhandarkar. To which level Col Bhandarkar would have risen in the Indian Army can only be speculated. Yet, on reading this book, we feel he would certainly have reached greater heights as he was only 39 when he gave his life for his nation.
I am sure Mrs Shakunthala Bhandarkar’s book about her husband will inspire many young men and women to step forward to serve in the Indian Armed Forces.