An Open Letter to an Indian Soldier

Dear Soldier of the Indian Armed Forces,

While the whole nation today is busy debating the contours of nationalism, I’m writing to you – whom I believe to be the best example of someone who works unconditionally for the good of the nation. I’m writing to say those three magic words they taught us as kids – thank you, sorry and please. And because I know you prefer straight talking to needless drama, I’ll keep it direct.

Indian flag

First and foremost, I’m shouting out a heartfelt “THANK YOU” for all you have done and continue to do for me and my countrymen and our country. Over the past many years, I have witnessed your unflinching resolve to do what is right, your willingness to go the extra mile and your constant putting of others before self. I have marveled at your readiness to venture into deadly territory because it’s the only way to protect this motherland and her citizens, despite the fact that many of them stay indifferent to her and to you.

Next, I’m offering an equally deep apology and saying, “SORRY.”

  • I’m sorry for the fact that you and your near and dear ones have to undergo such hardships to ensure people like me wake up secure every morning.
  • I’m sorry that people who know nothing of your tribulations and have not experienced even a minute of your life, sit in judgment on your eligibility to qualify for a pension that you’ve earned a thousand times over.
  • I’m sorry on behalf of all the armchair analysts and media dimwits who think they have the aptitude to pronounce your actions inept and careless and question if you deserve to be honored when you fall in the line of duty.
  • I’m sorry that there exist some people who are the anti-thesis of what you are and what you stand for – people who advocate separatism and shout slogans of chopping our country to pieces and say every day in a nation is a plebiscite and yet, complain of their freedom of speech being snatched when someone so much as counters their insinuations with hard facts.
  • I’m sorry that one among you has to cry on national television to make us common citizens, the beneficiaries of your sacrifices, aware of what the National Flag should mean to us. And mixed in with this grief is anger at some mediapersons who ask what the drama is all about when they are the ones who don’t hesitate to milk every distressing incident in the country for their TRPs.
  • And I’m even sorrier that a few members of my so-called noble profession choose to misguide young minds onto paths that advocate an anti-national mindset.

And now, finally, I’ll tell you why I decided to write this letter.

When I was young and studying in college, I attended a leadership seminar and that was my first brush with the Indian Armed Forces. No, the Indian Navy did not host or sponsor the seminar. It did not put up a stall to sell the idea of a glorious future which – in every sense – it does provide. All It did was send a cadet …a chap still a little green behind the ears, still a work-in-progress, to attend that eminently forgettable seminar. There’s not much I learned about leadership during those two days at the seminar. But a chance meeting with that cadet has meant a learning of a lifetime.

I watched the journey he made in the Indian Navy over the last two decades in bits and parts from the outside of the arena he chose to inhabit. Perhaps because my interactions with him were sporadic over the years, I’ve been able to appreciate the spectacular unfolding of an exceptional individual, a maturing of the intellect and the heart, under the tutelage of the Indian Navy. And this experience, along with all the other things I mentioned at the beginning of the letter, leads me to view the armed forces with utmost veneration.

Over the past few months, I have watched a rare cynicism begin to tinge the comments of this exemplary soldier towards us civilians. What he finds infinitely hurtful is the apathy of the silent, indifferent majority. He tells me we are a jingoistic nation, not a patriotic one. And I’m inclined to agree. And I’m also afraid that if the scenario today can do this to someone like my friend, imagine what it must be like for someone sailing in the middle of the vast open sea or patrolling the Siachen glacier or toiling in the Thar desert  to guard his country’s borders?

But “PLEASE”, please do not let these people make you cynical about your countrymen. I agree, many of us are slumbering, lost in our own petty problems of day to day living, with nary a thought to spare for our country and you, her guardians, and for whom, Lance Naik Hanumanthappa is nothing more than another statistic.

Some of us are a shade better – we are armchair patriots who put up few Facebook posts and send out a few Tweets when we’re episodically moved by the exploits of our Armed Forces. Standing for the national anthem in the comfortable environs of a multiplex or cheering loudly when India beats Pakistan in a cricket match is the outer limit of our patriotism.

But dear soldier, let me also tell you that there are some of us who try very hard to serve our country in whatever way we know best. We try to stretch out of our comfort zone and reach out to the needy in society and try to fulfill that need, or empower them to grow out of that need. We work to educate our people about the greatness of this nation and what she stands for. We want India to forge ahead and take her rightful place in the global order and we cherish the vital role your sacrifices play in letting us dream on. We are the people who are doers in million small ways, but you won’t find our stories on any national news channel or in any newspaper. We have not much time to spend on self-marketing on social media either – in fact, some of us don’t even know of its existence. We don’t form part of the condescending elite who view India indulgently as if she were a unique specimen worth chuckling over or ridiculing for her apparent contradictions.

We only know that it is a great fortune to be born in this land that gives us such freedom of thought and action. And we know also of the pain that comes when someone is indifferent to our cause or sits in biased judgment over us.

We are ever grateful to you and moved and touched by the way you perform your duty unflinchingly. If ever you look at happenings in our country and wonder what you are struggling for, remember this letter, dear soldier. And know that there are others too working for India’s good albeit in an understated way that can never match your heroism. We too are working without any reward or recognition, together with you, but by different methods and levels of effort towards the same goal.

Today, every single member of the Indian Armed Forces is prepared to give up his life for the nation. The day each and every citizen of this country shows this same willingness to sacrifice everything for the motherland, that will be the beginning of her glorious future.

I thank you for reading this through to the end, dear soldier. God bless.

—A patriotic Indian

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