On July 2, 1999, Diksha Dwivedi, then eight years old, learned that her father, Major CB Dwivedi, had been killed in action at Kargil. As the years went by, Dwivedi realised that the stories of the 527 Indian soldiers killed in those battles had faded from people’s minds. She decided to write a book about some of them, a story told through the letters that they had written to their families.
Gurmehar Kaur’s father, Captain Mandeep Singh, was killed in action on August 6 the same year, 1999. This is her response to reading Dwivedi’s book, Letters from Kargil.
The first time I spoke to Diksha Dwivedi was on Facebook after reading her article about her father. I couldn’t help writing a long message thanking her for putting her feelings out there – feelings that resonate with so many of us, the ones who have been left behind.
While we were on each other’s Facebook friends’ lists, the next time we spoke properly was when I got back from vipassana after everything that had happened. There was a message in my inbox telling me that everything would be all right, that I shouldn’t worry and that while she was working in Mumbai, her Delhi house would always be open to me.
When there were polarised views within the fraternity over the events of February 2017, the Dwivedi sisters were on news channels, speaking up for me. Diksha’s messages to me were like a soothing balm on the wound, and that day we ended up talking about life and experiences.
She is much older than I am, and her experience with war was very different from mine. But if there was one thing about our lives that was exactly the same, it was the emptiness we felt growing up. I wasn’t surprised when she told me about the work she does. She founded an internet storytelling website named Akkar Bakkar. Where was the scope for surprise?
Here was another girl just like me, who had found solace in writing and reading because there were hardly any people who could understand the emotions that we went through. Writing became a way of putting those emotions out on paper.
I would like to think I was one of the first people who bought the digital version of Letters from Kargil – literally the minute it came out. I never realised how desperately I needed to read the book till I did.
I will be honest – I couldn’t go through the book comfortably. The stories were far too real and I wasn’t prepared at that point to deal with the emotions they evoked in me. I quickly skimmed through it with my heart beating in my chest and then I closed the window, took a deep breath and went to my friend’s room to distract myself.
I was in the middle of writing my own book and dealing with deadlines. There was no way I could afford to sit and weep that day. I went back to Letters from Kargil after I was done with all my commitments.
That night, as I read the book, I sobbed like I hadn’t sobbed before. I’m studying literature in college and we are reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. It is one of the most heart-wrenching stories ever written about slavery in America, but it’s strange how I managed to keep my emotions in check while reading this hauntingly beautiful text – but not when I read Diksha’s story and the many letters that she brought to us to read.
Her sentences are not the most gorgeous and the most poetic – like any of the books I’m reading in class – but they told some of the most beautiful stories. Her words brought forth a world of war whose existence we have conveniently forgotten only because it helps us sleep better at night, feeling less guilty. That is the beauty of her book.
All my life, while growing up in a small town, I kept looking for someone, a TV show, a book, to relate to, to make sense of my own life. I read The Diary Of Anne Frank, found bits and pieces of my own life. I watched Life is Beautiful a thousand times over to feel comforted. There was comfort to know that I was not the only one suffering a war, that I was not the only one facing the consequences of war.
I wish Diksha had written this book earlier, because an eleven-year-old me really needed it. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for her to put it together, reliving every moment all over again and then pouring it out on paper for everyone else to read. It takes an incredible amount of strength to do that, and after reading her book I know exactly whom she inherited it from.
A letter from Captain Sumeet Roy (VRC) of 18 Garhwal Rifles
This letter was not published in the book.
“26 Jun ’99
C/O 56 APO
Hope you and Baba are doing fine. Received your two letters in time, in fact I had been trying to call you up since long but there are no STD facilities here. So yesterday, I at last managed to get through an ESCON. The unit has been here since May 25, but I didn’t tell you so because you would then unnecessarily get worried. We had some bad time initially, but now things have improved and we are having a lot of success. You must be reading about Tololing and point 5140 in the papers. Well, we were there at 5140 and participated in both the attacks.
We have been again tasked for another peak. Here, the weather is very warm but nights are pretty cold. The altitude varies from 10,000 to 18,000 ft.
My YO’s was to commence from 15 July, but now it has been postponed for three months. I will be going in Sep/Oct. Before that I’ll take one month of leave. How’s the new house? Hope there are no problems there.
I’m putting my investment in DSOPF because the interest is 12%. I wanted to go for a LIC/ULIP. But right now there are no such facilities here. At present we are getting ‘Best of Luck’ cards from all over the country. Residents from ‘Munirka Vihar’ also sent us packets of dry fruits. So the morale is quite high. Rest is all fine here, don’t worry. I am taking adequate care of myself and now I am one of the most experienced ones.
Take care and reply soon.
Lots of love, Kutchi
Letters from Kargil: The War Through Our Soldiers’ Eyes, Diksha Dwivedi, Juggernaut Books.