By Sarah Koshy Johnson
Gallantry Award of Vir Chakra on Maj Ngangom Joydutta Singh (26 Jan, 1988)
The deployment of the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990 is known to every citizen of this country. There was hardly any reaction time and our forces were airlifted into various pockets of Northern Sri Lanka, to bring an end to the civil war between the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the Sri Lankan armed forces. Unfortunately, they were sucked into an unenviable whirlpool of fighting.
Maj Ngangom Joydutta Singh was a Company commander with the Batallion when they moved to Sri Lanka. The operation was launched on 9th Oct 1987. Bullets were flying all around and our men were fighting many a gallant battle against tremendous hurdles and hardships. Maj N J D Singh was ordered to link up with a column of 13 Sikh Light Infantry (13 SIKH LI) and 10 Para Commando (10 Para Cdo) in the area of Kondavil University. There was huge enemy resistance and heavy militant fire. He and his brave men kept forcibly surging ahead clearing the road blocks and successfully completing the task by dawn. Thereafter, the Batallion was ordered to concentrate at Urumpirai for undertaking further operations. This move was to take place through an urban built up area with large open spaces in between. While this was being negotiated, the LTTE managed to occupy all the buildings surrounding this area, bringing down heavy fire. At this juncture, Maj Ngangom Joydutta Singh Singh with a few of his stoic men, occupied a dominating position, and actively engaged the militants but unfortunately got isolated from his own company due to a high rise wall. His position was being continuously attacked and he radioed the Officiating Commanding officer asking for urgent reinforcements and ammunition. Even while this was being organised, he radioed “I am out of ammunition and am charging through. Good bye and out”. He indeed charged and killed all the 5 men in the LTTE position which was bringing down heavy fire on them. During the charge, he and his men relied heavily on the Khukris. Unfortunately, he was grievously injured and succumbed to his injuries. The LTTE position was silenced. NJ fought true to the maxim -‘ last man, last round ‘. Alas, the King fell just as in NJ’s favourite game – C H E S S.
Hey NJ ( Maj Ngangom Joydutta Singh)
Subadani has diligently completed your unfinished task of bringing up Lira and Punmark. Lira is a petite, young doctor and Punmark is a handsome engineer who plays chess just like you. Lira’s wedding cards have arrived, and it is beautiful. Subadani, Lira, Punmark and all of us from the family of FOFIF will always be proud of you. We will miss you on the auspicious occasion of Lira’s wedding. But I am more than sure, you’ll be there to shower your blessings on her. NJ (Ngangom Joydutta Singh … are you listening??
A grateful and proud nation conferred the Gallantry Award of Vir Chakra on Maj Ngangom Joydutta Singh posthumously on 26th Jan 1988.
As I (writer) reminiscence through the kaleidoscope of the days gone by, there comes to memory myriad different thoughts in many hues. I had joined the Batallion for the first time in 1984 and I was introduced to this couple, not realizing that a wonderful relationship was soon to unfold. I remember that beautiful sun drenched morning in Hasimara when I stepped into their single room accommodation and saw a cradle in the corner of the room, with a lovely angel in it – their daughter Lira.
Ngangom Joydutta Singh was a guy full of irresistible loads of fun and energy and his wife Subadani – a beautiful, demure lady. Little did I know then, that he was indeed living life to the hilt, unable to foresee what lay ahead.
In the course of time, we too shifted to a house nearby. It was aptly named ‘Count your blessings’ by my better half SKH. The name worked wonders on my psyche, because every time I wanted to cry out hoarse and complain, this name caught my eye, etched bold into the wall. The house had no formal doors or windows except for the frames which were intact. But we certainly had expensive curtains hanging on bamboo sticks, substituting for curtain rods! We were immensely proud that we had a roof above our heads and were granted permission to live together in a field area (areas close to the border). With our toddler, these were tough times. The sun’s harsh rays and the wind’s fury were all uninvited visitors who came at will.
One evening, I was told that Ngangom Joydutta Singh and some of our friends were calling on us. I expected the guests to make a formal entry through the so called ‘door’ ! But to my amazement, I saw NJ enter through the window, sitting on the ledge, wishing me a pleasant good evening ! He was a great friend of SKH, and the rest of the evening was spent in riotous laughter, over hot paranthas and andey ka bhujiya (an Indian variant of scrambled eggs) – the ever favourite army quick fix, laced with high spirits over exaggerated stories of angling for rainbow trout in the frigid waters of River Paro Chu !
When SKH was in Cooch Behar, Ngangom Joydutta Singh and his wife were his next door neighbors. One great lesson that the Indian Army taught me was the spirit of sharing – not just in words but in action. This aspect which all religions emphasize, I have seen it being executed extensively in the Army. This husband and wife team were very fond of fish and every time fish was cooked at their home, my husband was a sure invitee.
We were all proudly part of the 4th Batallion, the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) [ 4/5 GR (FF) ], a family which is as close to us as our kith and kin. It is here that I literally grew up from a naive 21 year old learning the joy of giving and sharing. We felt immensely honored to be part of such stout hearted officers and men. The motto of the Batallion, KAFAR HONU BANDA MARNU NIKO (It is better to die than be a coward !) was ingrained into our very existence.
Our famous regiment, the 5th Gorkha Rifles (5 GR), was formed in 1858, with the robust, sturdy and brave soldiers of Nepali origin. Thereafter, they proudly fought every war including the 1st and the 2nd World Wars, and all the wars post independence, with grit, valour and determination. We always revealed in the fact that our officers led from the front, though they paid a very high price in bearing the brunt of the casualties.
History is replete with many examples of the Gorkha weapon, the indomitable Khukri.
The curved shape of the weapon is supposedly the third eye of Lord Shiva. There is a famous saying amongst the Gorkhas that once a Khukri is pulled out, it must taste blood before being put back into the sheath. There is also a funny anecdote that I know of. After dealing a deadly blow, the enemy asked the Gorkha soldier, “Missed” ? “Try shaking your head” was the instant reply*! In the present day context of war, Khukris are pulled out only as a last ditch effort when hand to hand combat is imminent. Our batallion had won the famous battle of Sylhet during the 1971 war when they were heli-dropped right in the midst of the enemy. Some of the operations involved the extensive use of the Khukri, in hand to hand combat.
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# The writer and all friends of Late Major Joydutta who served at Sri Lanka were present in the wedding ceremony of daughter Lira on 25th March 2013.