Col Mahesh Chadha (retd)
LEST my kin takes recourse to singing paeans of my moderate accomplishments in life, I thought it prudent to write my own obituary. History is replete with such instances: Shah Jahan got his grave constructed next to his beloved wife’s at the Taj Mahal; his successor, the cruel Aurangzeb, a modest earthen grave at Daultabad; and Alexander the Great kept his empty hands hanging out of the coffin. All of them were conquerers and emperors and had their wishes fulfilled, whereas I am Shakespeare’s “a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more”. So, I prefer Ghalib’s “Hue kyon yun marke ruswa, hue kyon na gharq-e-dariya; na kahin janaza uthta na kahin mazar hota” (Why in death did I have to suffer such humiliation; why I had been not swallowed by a river, as there would have been no funeral nor a grave).
Obituaries often cover up what would otherwise be worthless and embarrassing — to say only kind words even if it tantamount to being PB Shelly’s Ozymandias “whose frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things, the hand that mock’d them and heart that fed”, and the pride… “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works and despair!”
I am the child born just before India became free, beginning a ‘once upon riches’ story traversed long distances under fire and piercing knives from Lahore and Shimla to Chandigarh. Facing scarcity of everything, except hard work, self-respect, faith and never-say-die spirit, my parents endured hardships and put me in an English-medium school, emphasizing on character building, integrity and personal sacrifice.
Mediocre at studies and sports, both in school and college, I adored some of the great personalities of that era and their profound thoughts: Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth and the Gita; Rudyard Kipling’s If; Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech; Patton’s “No bastard ever won war by dying for his country”; Churchill’s ‘victory’ sign. I continued to be realistic and dreamy; dominating but flexible; firm but angry; upright and scheming; pure and not-so-pure; virtuous and vile; but ever introspecting and trying to improve myself.
In the aftermath of the 1962 defeat at the hands of China and the betrayal by Pakistan in 1965, I resolved to join the Army — for a promising, bright future. Participating in the 1971 war with Pakistan, at a place where we lost ground, though remorseful, I too joined the victory lap at the dismemberment of Pakistan. A career that had its highs and lows — nothing very creditable — but lent leadership, sincerity of purpose, selflessness and personal sacrifice.
No regrets — no worthwhile social service, no castles built, no bank balance. A simple family man full of love and concern, I have nothing very substantial to leave behind except good wishes and blessings for my lineage, my admirers and my detractors; peacefully fading away like a soldier of Douglas MacArthur.
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