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Reminiscences of a Soldier Turned Writer

P.R. Chari

By Major General D.K. Palit
Lancers Books, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 660, Rs. 1200.00


Old soldiers like Monty Palit do not fade away. They become prolific writers and lead active lives, both physically and mentally, after retirement. Several of Palit’s books like Essentials of Military Knowledge have sold well, and I believe that his War in High Himalaya: The Indian Army in Crisis, 1962 is probably the best book written about the Sino-Indian border conflict. It is characteristic of the author that he informs us, modestly, in the very first page of this magnificently produced two-volume set of his memoirs, that he has never written one, and wishes “ to record them before I pass on to the continent above.” Characteristically, again, this entire labour has been published by Palit with his own funds for private distribution to his friends and colleagues.   Volume I follows the orthodox route charted by most autobiographies in that it first describes the author’s childhood and education. His father was an IMS officer who transferred to the civil side and served as Civil Surgeon in Orissa and Bihar during the 20’s and 30’s of the last century. There are charming vignettes of life in the districts at that time, which is nothing like what obtains now. Touring and shikar were an integral part of that life. Now touring is minimal, largely confined to escorting VIPs around the district. Shikar, of course, is an ugly word; rightly so to my mind, if one reads the descriptions in these memoirs of the senseless slaughter of animals that occurred in the old days of the British Empire.   This is followed by his Army experiences of his younger years that include being a GC (Gentleman Cadet) at the IMA (Indian Military Academy) in Dehra Dun. Palit informs us that nepotism in the selection of officers was common. Perhaps this was designed to ensure that the Army profession would draw on families whose loyalties to the raj the British were confident about. But it was hardly fair to those with talent and qualifications but no connections. This system of selection was common in those times, deriving from the ‘sifarish’ culture in South Asia that persists to this day. We are also informed of his service years in the North-West Frontier area; postings here were almost mandatory for Army officers to gain military knowledge and skills in that harsh region before Independence.   Volume II deals with his service in the Gorkha regiment and later postings ...

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