The adage that fact is stranger than fiction is perhaps best personified by the story of Major General Ian Cardozo of the Gorkha Rifles, who amputated his leg on the battlefield and later was the first officer with a disability to be given command of an infantry battalion and brigade. But that is one story. Cardozo goes ahead to give us many more stories of valour when faced with fear.
A writer besides being a soldier, the major general’s latest offering to readers is titled Beyond Fear, an anthology of true stories on life in the Indian Armed Forces, as the cover states. In 13 short stories, Cardozo takes readers through a gamut of emotions as he retells tales that would otherwise have been forgotten.
The stories are varied, and one wouldn’t expect anything less from this raconteur, who earlier this year at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival kept the audience spellbound with his stories.
If “The Empty Chair” is a ghost story that was related to him by another officer, the one immediately following “The Sign of the Cross” brings out how God can play a part in people’s life.
But these are also not just stories, there is history in them, and perhaps some who read them may be able to relate them to situations that they have read about in news reports and have a better appreciation.
Take for instance the story “It’s Never Too Late” about an air raid on the Sargodha airfield during the Indo-Pak war of 1965, a story that is a personal favourite from the book. It’s about how Squadron Leader Tubby Devayya, a reserve in the air raid, who got in as another aircraft had a technical issue and was at the tail end of the squadron.
His was the only aircraft spotted by the Pakistan defence, and despite instructions of no personal heroics and knowledge that he had just enough fuel to head back, Devayya turned his aircraft around to fight a far superior Pakistan aircraft that was attacking him. He managed to destroy the Pakistan aircraft, but crashed his own and died over Pakistan, while the Pakistani pilot parachuted out of the craft.
It was years later that the Pakistani pilot’s recounting of the air fight was published and read in India, which led to the details of Devayya’s heroism and death being revealed. He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra in 1988, a good 23 years later. Cardozo details the fight in the air based on various accounts by Indian and Pakistani writers.
That is just one story. There are 12 others to read and appreciate. An underlying theme of the stories is, and the title of the collection is a giveaway, how the soldier faces fear on the battlefield, whether on the ground or in the air. There are stories that will make you think, smile, sit up at the valour displayed, and in the end say thanks to the armed forces personnel out there defending the country.
In his final remarks, Cardozo states, “At the end of it all, one may ask whether the joy and the sorrow, the laughter and the tears, the partings and the reunions that are part of the life of the armed forces is worth it. The answer in most cases would be an unequivocal ‘yes’.”
Far from offering a tedious narrative, Cardozo’s book gives a glimpse into life in the armed forces through stories that keep you riveted and turning pages.
BOOK TITLE: Beyond Fear
AUTHOR: Ian Cardozo
PUBLISHER: Penguin Veer