The 17-year-old braveheart
Claude Arpi, the writer of this ode, is an expert on the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He was born in Angouleme, France. After graduating from Bordeaux University in 1974, he decided to live in India and settled in the South where he is still staying with his Indian wife and young daughter. He is the author of numerous English and French books including `The Fate of Tibet,` `La Politique Francaise de Nehru: 1947-1954, `Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement' and `India and Her Neighbourhood.` He writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations.
He was a 17-year-old who was enrolled as a Jemadar (Junior Commissioned Officer) in the Indian Army in 1948. And he won his first Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) at that very age. Ever heard of this hero?
The late Chewang Rinchen, a Ladakhi from Nubra Valley, went on to rise to the rank of a Colonel by the time his long and glittering army career came to an end in 1984.
Born in 1931, Chewang could have spent his entire life in the remote village of Sumur, at the confluence of the Shyok and Nubra rivers. But the visit of the Kalon (minister) of Leh changed the course of his life. The official spotted the spark in the 13-year boy and, after gaining the approval of his parents, decided to take him to the Ladakhi capital and educate him.
It was here in Leh four years later that Chewang first encountered the Indian Army.
On March 13, 1948, Col (then Captain) Prithi Chand and a few of his Lahauli companions lowered the Union Jack and hoisted the Indian tricolour shouting `Ki Ki So So Lha Gyalo` (`Victory to the Gods` in Ladakhi) and `Hindustan Zindabad`.
Captain Chand`s 2 Dogra Company had reached Leh before columns of raiders could make it to Ladakh in one of the most daring operations of the 1947-1948 war in Jammu and Kashmir.
With 20 men, the Captain had managed to cross the Zojila pass in winter.
Everybody at the headquarters had branded the attempt `suicidal`. But the headstrong Captain refused to pay heed to them and on March 9, he was in Leh. His heroism and leadership helped the Buddhist region avoid the fate of Skardu, which had been besieged for several months.
The good Captain soon became the mentor of the young Rinchen, who twelve days later underwent a ten-day military training under Subedar Bhim Chand, Chand`s second-in-command.
Rinchen then recruited 28 of his friends from the Nubra Valley and thus the Nubra Volunteer Force (later Nubra Guards) came into being.
Picture courtesy: Chewang Rinchen`s family (Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited)