A soldier's daughter on Kargil war and India's neglect of Army
Diksha Dwivedi's 'Letters from Kargil' documents a daughter's grief and the soldiers' love for India.
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Diksha Dwivedi's Letters from Kargil starts out as an emotional outpouring from a soldier's daughter but ends shining the light in the finest way possible on the Army, one of the few institutions we can still feel pride for.
Dwivedi, founder of the storytelling platform AkkarBakkar, lost her father in the Kargil war and through his letters home, and that of other soldiers, she is able to piece together the unwritten history of a war for which we were ill prepared and under equipped. It is a searing indictment of everyone who tries to make political capital of what the army does for us – protect us and our borders, unasked for, barely rewarded for.
In the pages of this book, you see a daughter's grief, the soldiers' love for India, and India's neglect of them. “Hopefully there won't be another Kargil war for the Indian army ever again,” says Dwivedi in an interview to Kaveree Bamzai. One can only agree.
As you say in the book there is not much serious work on the Kargil war. Why do you think that is so given the chest thumping that goes on about the Army?
There has been serious work but not recent work. There were some very honest books that released right after the war, but there are no books that the masses can relate to, and that's why Letters from Kargil was born as an idea.
Chest thumping is seasonal, you know it, and I know it. I think it's time every citizen is just educated about what it means to be in the army and what are the consequences of war.
Photo: Juggernaut Books
One of the most shocking revelations in your book is how ill-equipped and ill-prepared our soldiers were. How did you feel about it, as an Indian and as a soldier's daughter?
It's an extremely helpless situation when you think about the surprise attack because there's nothing you can do today but I'm glad the lesson has been learnt and hopefully there won't be another Kargil war for the Indian army ever again. A very heavy price was paid for this lesson but like I've said in the book, sense of pride has taken over most of our heads and hearts over the sense of loss.
When did you see the letters from your father to your mum? At what age? And what emotions did you feel?
I don't clearly remember the age; I just remember feeling restless because his letters were just so real. It felt like he'll just jump out of it and say something to us. Mummy felt shy for the longest time making us read the letters but then we became friends as we grew up and learnt to remember him as an angel rather than a departed loved one.
How did you manage to convince the families to part with the letters? They are so intimate, and so haunting? Which ones are the most haunting for you?
I can never get over Captain Kenguruse's letter. He told his secret to his parents in that letter, something he couldn't have probably ever told them in person. All these letters make you feel so restless.
How do you feel about OROP?
I feel we should value a soldier's life and it can't be weighed in terms of what year you retired or when you lost your life for the country. That's all.
You end the book talking about guilt – survivors' guilt? Does it ever go away?
Well it's more complicated than that. One is a survivor who's a hero. Second is a survivor who knows what he did there. Only soldiers know what they did/didn't do in the war-zone, but the truth is you and I are still people sitting in peace so I can't imagine what they must feel like. I'm sure PTSD is real and I wish I could step into their shoes and feel the guilt, then I could've answered this question. Unfortunately, I can't. I haven't yet
Will you always in some part of you be the little girl asking her daddy for green jeans?
Yes, every time I think of him I remember the green jeans. In fact right after July 2, 1999, he came in my mother's dream and asked her to get me those green jeans. I'll never forget how she told me about the dream.
Letters from Kargil is published on Juggernaut Books
How did this process of writing the book change your perception of your mother, yourself, your country?
I rewrote this book in a month and so it taught me how strongly I feel about this subject. It all came so naturally to me, as if it was always in my subconscious mind and I had to just puke it out all on paper to just share a piece of my heart, and anxiety.
I didn't realise this through my book but I realised it while I did my master's in the UK that my mother is an inspiration, she's the strongest woman I know. I can't imagine myself in her shoes because even though today I like to call myself an independent woman, I can't even imagine my life without her.
My sister and I have been so dependent upon her all our lives that we'd feel completely lost without her. If this is us, she was 100 times more dependent upon my father, he passed on the responsibilities to his pampered (house)wife and boy did she do the best job at raising his and her daughters.
About this country, with the reactions I'm getting, I realise there's so much they don't know about the defence. With time I'll get to know more.
Tell me a little about yourself?
That's a very broad question but I'll try and answer. Professionally I'm the founder of akkarbakkar.com, India's first open storytelling platform. I'm a writer, editor, entrepreneur, and all of these because I've always chosen risk over regret. Tomorrow I'd hate to wake up to the feeling of "what if" – it's my biggest fear.
How long did the book take to write and did you ever feel like giving up?
I signed the contract last year November; gave my first draft in February because research took a long time. However, the structure of the book changed completely in May 2017 and I rewrote the book in a month and made final changes in July!
So technically, it has been written in a month but process went on for about 6-7 months.
Giving up? So many times! I wasn't happy with how many letters I could bring together, I wanted to use each one of them but the challenge was to think from the reader's POV, you obviously want everyone to finish reading your book, which means you have to keep it interesting and engaging.
I remember Chiki [Sarkar, the publisher] saying "So we have a technical issue here, that we can use only these many letters and journal entries, so we have to work a way around it."
And that's when the rewriting started! Earlier the book merely had comments from me, but it quickly changed to I have to do more writing and less curating. And I realised writing on this subject came so naturally to me, it was a cakewalk then.
(Letters from Kargil is published on Juggernaut)