Tunes of glory

In ‘The March Ahead’, the author establishes himself on the canvas of the great churning period in Indian history and reflects on his journey from the water world of Nabinagar in today’s Bangladesh to the Indian Military Academy. The narrative of the first few chapters transports the reader to a long forgotten era. It brings out the sterling character of the author who, having gone through the discrimination at the hands of his extended family from Sylhet to Shillong, eventually emerges as a resolute and determined individual, steadfast in his resolve to achieve and desire to excel. 

This steely resolve takes the author from the picturesque tea garden locales of Mariani Junction to the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun and on to building bridges over the mighty Brahmaputra. He also facilitated the transportation of artillery guns in a sensitive sector in Arunachal Pradesh shortly after the Chinese aggression of 1962. In fact, Maj Gen Paul’s deep involvement in engineering projects of strategic importance, such as the Mumbai and Vishakhapatnam Naval Docks and building air strips in the North-East and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, have been highlighted with professional pride. He gives us a rivetting account of the conceptualisation of such projects in the immediate decades after the Chinese aggression and of the personal involvement of the then Service Chiefs with them. 

In the second part of the book, India’s struggle for freedom has been narrated with a soldier’s precision and sincerity. Maj Gen Paul has woven together the contributions of extraordinary people with extraordinary resilience, vision and fortitude to guide the destiny of millions of people to achieve freedom. He has feelingly recounted the struggle of the nation in endeavouring to shake off the yoke of slavery. Having felt the pain and pangs of partition himself, the author highlights the brutality of the tragedy, which left permanent scars on millions of people. He bluntly questions the inaction of great leaders of the times in preventing partition as also the break up of Jammu and Kashmir into two. 

The treatise on Subhash Chandra Bose is particularly instructive. The author showers profuse praise on the immense contribution made by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to India’s struggle for independence. The warm camaraderie between Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji, despite major political differences, makes for an interesting reading. Independent India’s quest for economic prosperity, military prowess and equitable distribution of wealth and resources has been skillfully analysed. He is deeply concerned that India’s economic development has been slowed down by having to fight serious internal and external security threats. 

On the whole, this book is a very frank and stimulating account of a great period in India’s history from the standpoint of a combat engineer, whose own contribution in building the new nation has been praiseworthy indeed. This book is a must read for young leaders and army personnel for it provides interesting insights into the leadership qualities of army officers of that era in overcoming formidable challenges with minimal resources. 

Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi, and Rohit Singh is Associate Fellow, CLAWS