That was a breathless read, and apart from naming names, you had them all there: the Alampil ops where Col Bakshi left us, Gurkha Bn, the Guards Cdr, Jaspal, 1 Para who died when I was on my second day in SL… etc.
Thoroughly enjoyed the book, reminisced about those very fateful days. And I agree with you about the strategic mistake of the LTTE in holding ground. I also agree with you regarding the IA being unwanted in SL… so very unwanted, it was palpable.
Thanks for that, enjoyed it as always.
The Beckoning Isle:
I have often wondered about how jaded a reader I have become in the past decade or so.Fiction seems incapable of engaging my mind anymore, which groans “ been there, done that”, even at the best formed twists and turns. And non fiction is oh, ever so opinionated!
It was after decades that I got a book in my hands which I felt compelled to read cover to cover, in two two hour sittings, seperated by the necessity of my six hour beauty sleep. The Beckoning Isle by Abhay Narayan Sapru, part of a four book set I gifted myself for my birthday, reached serendipitously just a day prior and turned out to be amongst the best gifts ever. I am always skeptical of the reviews and review ratings but this short but extremely gripping saga of one of the forgotten wars that Indian Army has fought, probably forgotten even as it was fought, the Sri Lankan war, vindivated them in my eyes. Probably because it so seamlessly wove together fact and fiction, two bete noirs of a jaded reader, separately, but holding immense charm adding upto more than the sum, when brought together.
The story follows the lives of two protagonists, soldiers both, one in uniform and heart, the other just in heart but equally good. Tracing the destinies, of Harry, short for Hariharan, son of a special forces colonel himself who traces his father’s footsteps and Shiva an unlikely but brilliant soldier who joins the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the story moves through numerous twists and turns when the two are pitted against each other. The story ends in the final showdown where one dies leaving the other to tell the tale, the story teller being the thinly disguised author himself. Abhay is breathtaking in his rendition of a tragic ( and not only because it was so bloody) war between an oxymoronically named Indian Peacekeeping Force and Sri Lankan Tamils. His narrative is gripping from the first page and never lets the slack down till the last one. The amazing part is the felicity with which he describes soldiering, with all its feisty, almost childish view of the bloody game war,to the highest perspective where involvement of politicians and intelligence agencies skewes realities and confuses lines. There are no holds barred, no moralities cherished and no delusions of heroism harboured, just an honest soldier’s honest tale, one we all love telling over rum and paani. Abhay tells it as it happened.
For me personally, it was a day to relive all memories, feelings, perceptions, joy and sadness that I had felt in my own 19 month stint in the Emerald Island. It was uncanny how close I could feel to Harry as he related his expriences, with even one of my battalion posts in Mannar described in the book. In those four hours, the blood, gore and grime, faces of comrades lost and friends made, of the thrill of adrenaline rush that only hunting while being hunted can give, of the best and the worst of human behaviour that I witnessed, all came gushing back. One more exorcism ritual maybe.
I wish the best to this book, which comes across as a thrilling chase by a shark, not just skimming the surface like a seagull nor plodding deep waters like a whale. The master stroke lies in the imagery interwoven in the theme. In Shiva, re christened Silvam by the LTTE, being killed
by the son of the Indian Army officer who had trained him. Symbolises the real tragedy of the War. My respect to the author for the soldier lIke regard he pays to the Tamil soldier. He was amongst the finest and one can only feel sad to have fought on opposing sides.
‘The Beckoning Isle’ is narrated in same singularly erudite fashion by Major Abhay Narain Sapru as his first novel ‘In The Valley of Shadows’. ‘The Beckoning Isle’ is in the setting of the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, while ‘In The Valley of Shadows’ is in backdrop of countering Pakistan sponsored terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. Abhay, a Special Forces officer, has had extensive experience in counter-insurgency / counter-terrorism including in Sri Lanka and Jammu & Kashmir. How he keeps you engrossed from the first to the last word is because he has operated on every inch of the ground he describes. This plus his classy writing style gives you the experience of a virtual 3-D walk through.
‘The Beckoning Isle – the real Special Forces story’ is a novel, but as close to reality as it could be. The story revolves around Captain Hariharan, the Indian Special Forces officer combating the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and Colonel Silvam of LTTE trained at Chakrata in India; both respecting each other’s combat skills but intent on killing the other. The story takes you through a bit of history and the intrigues of politics, human behavior, emotions and tribulations, fear and death that surrounded the conflict between the IPKF and the LTTE. The dense, dank mines and IEDs infested forests of Sri Lanka plus various accounts of action packed encounters are real or near real to what actually happened. These include the ill-fated IPKF raid on Jaffna University and action by an infantry battalion in the Nayaru Lagoon.
‘The Beckoning Isle’ describes induction of Captain Hariharan and his troop into Kumulmunai post and Nayaru Lagoon post the infantry battalion reverses. The post came under LTTE attack, which was eliminated by a daylight daring action by Hariharan and his boys. Later, they were part of the IPKF operations in attacking the main LTTE camp in Alampil Forest, where Prabhakaran and Mathaya were reportedly holed up. Not many would know that the Captain Hariharan in these actions is actually Captain (later Major Abhay Narain Sapru). I, being his Commanding Officer know this. Abhay, performed exceptional well in Sri Lanka and won a Sena Medal for gallantry.
Silvam finally meets his end at the hands of Hariharan in the Alampil Forest close to the main LTTE camp, eventually shot by the same G-3 rifle he lost to Hariharan in an ambush described in the opening chapter of the novel, their paths crossing in between as well. This gripping novel would make an excellent feature film both at home and abroad.
How many writers do we have in India who would write a war story or an historical fiction on Indian army and its operations? Not many or nil. However Sapru is easily stepping in the role with this second book of his. And it’s not the chest thumping, rhetorics filled stories with a superhero fauji but a normal, thinking though motivated protagonist who makes mistakes, looses some wins some but tries his best. And the enemy isn’t a die hard, thoroughly black hearted villain but again a normal person with his own story behind all the mayhem he’s creating. And mind you, he’s brave, intelligent and believes in his cause with equal fervour if not more! You may get to sympathise with him and may even at times wish that he wins!
A thoroughly enjoyable read and brings the lesser known IPKF operations in Sri Lanka out in the open.
Sapru, write more and maybe I’ll put you on a pedestal somewhere near to John Masters!
Rarely have i read a book from start to finish without putting it down.My father commanded an Infantry battalion in the IPKF and would often tell me his version of the battles.The similarity of rhetoric in this book was so similar, it had to come from a seasoned veteran of war, a thinking solider who understood the futility of war, yet never hesitated from a warrior’s call to arms.
Though it’s claimed as fiction, I am sure every incident here is true but for the names of those involved.
I have to read Abhay’s earlier book, which I am ordering right now.
An excellent account, delivered with an intuitive punch. Its great to have a subject like this narrated in a gripping format that all will find interesting. Coming from Mr. Abhay Narayan Sapru, who has seen and experienced the Sri Lankan conflict and situations surrounding it up close and upfront, ‘The Beckoning Isle’ is full of veritable moments of insights about IPKF & LTTE. The book is truly ‘beckoning’ in that sense. A must read in current times, to get a real peek into the life and workings of our respected armed special forces and their human side. A big thank you to Mr. Abhay Sapru for bringing this to us !!