The novel is about the life of a young army officer Lieutenant Bharat involved in operations against militants in Manipur followed by Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka during the period 1987-89. Bharat gets baptised by gunfire while on his first patrol when he is able to kill a militant. But his ever-cautious commanding officer still has apprehensions about his capabilities. Other day to day operations are also interestingly described till his unit moves to Sri Lanka.
The story of induction into Sri Lanka and coping up with the fears of mines is narrated through conversations. On reaching Batticaloa the protagonist participates in a raid on a Tamil Tiger camp in a hurriedly planned operation, which almost turned into a failure. The success is further exploited by leaving a small stay behind party led by Bharat.
Next day when he is heavily outnumbered by the Tamil Tigers, he repels them with mines, firearms and guile.
The novel brings out the paradox that the Tamil Tigers whom the Indian Army was fighting, were trained by the members of the same army. The soldiers also question the wisdom of the government who at times is seen to be in secret talks with the Tamil Tigers. Also depicted is the pain of losing men in combat and its after- effects on the minds of the tactical leaders.
Details about excellent training, tenacity, dedication and endurance of the Tamil Tigers is narrated through the interrogation of an apprehended cadre. In one incident the Tamil Tigers almost lure the protagonist into a trap, but an incident of indiscipline saves the day.
Bharat gets to command a group of ill-disciplined men. With his dedication and hard work is able to keep them motivated for the operations. A number of challenges of man management crop up which he is able to handle with maturity. An incident also describes the loss of fourteen soldiers in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast because of the mistake of a senior commander.
On de-induction, Bharat gets to know that his girlfriend has deserted him. Yet, he stoically takes that in his stride.
Although the author calls it fiction, the situations which he has penned could and probably are based on true and honest account of incidents which happened on ground. A fast paced, absorbing and unputdownable novel, it avoids lengthy descriptions and military jargon, but keeps the reader hooked with the interesting plain and honest conversations narrated.
After the Galwan incident on 15 June 2020, super-surprise occupation of the Kailash Range on August 29-30, 2020, and the Sino-Indian military standoff in Eastern Ladakh, it has become amply clear that the tactical leadership, meticulous planning, coordination and teamwork are the ingredients for success. Also, these incidents and some others earlier ones like the surgical strikes, the bull's eye bombing at Balakot and the capture and repatriation of an Indian Air Force officer have resulted in increased respect for the Armed Forces by the Indian public. All this is certainly going to the novel more attractive
While the book is an interesting read for everyone from mid-teens onwards, it will also be inspiring to young military and corporate leaders alike and even young readers, who may learn some lessons on leadership.
Published only on Kindle, the modestly priced novel is free for the Kindle Unlimited subscribers and well supported by reader-friendly info-tech apps.
The author is a senior army officer, with a vast experience in the counter terrorist operations in Manipur, Sri Lanka and Jammu & Kashmir. He has also handled intelligence and information warfare assignments. Educated and brought up in various parts of the country, he is a post- graduate in History and Defence Studies. Hailing from a family of soldiers the author is the fourth generation serving in the Army. He published a novel in 2018 called Soldiering a Life on the Edge which narrates the life of a captain in counter-infiltration and counter-terrorist roles. While another novel by him called Lies and Deceit of Pulwama to Balakot could not be published, he frequently writes short stories related to army life.
The reviewer, a strategic analyst and former defence ministry and Indian Army spokesperson, can be contacted at [email protected]
Stalking Shadows: In Manipur and Sri Lanka
By P.S. Gothra
Kindle Direct Publishing, Rs 115