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Sikhism Battle for the Khyber Pass by Tejwant Singh

Discussion in 'Book Reviews & Editorials' started by Admin Singh, Mar 29, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Behind the Battle for the Khyber Pass
    by Tejwant Singh

    To buy visit website: Home Page - Tejwant Singh - Battle for the Khyber Pass


    I have always been fascinated by the Khyber Pass, which lies near my boyhood home in Punjab. Today, America, Pakistan and Afghanistan are fighting over this magnificent mountain area, while within it, native tribes use terror tactics against one another as well as against outsiders. As a soldier and a writer, I feel that in order to understand Muslim terrorism, the Khyber Pass is the key.


    In my new nonfiction narrative, Battle for the Khyber Pass, I explore a battle that took place there eighty years ago. It seems that each generation struggles to bring the rocky crags of the Khyber under control. The Battle of Michni Maidan, described in my book, pitted the Sikhs fighting for the Raj, against the Pathan Muslims.



    To acquaint North American readers with the thinking of the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in this area over the last century, I offer a blog, Don’t Mistake Me For a Muslim. This blog introduces the historic basis for violence in the Khyber Pass. I write about this famous landmark, where every stone is soaked with blood, to honor all the soldiers who have tried to bring stability to this dangerous place.


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    Sample Excerpt from Battle for the Khyber Pass
    Chapter 10
    Like a flash, the answer was revealed to Subedar Ram Singh. He saw his own past, himself as a boy standing next to a sugarcane field at night. He saw flashes of horses charging superimposed with the thunder of gunshots without any sparks. The flash of visionary power reminded him, ‘I have heard horses charging and gunshots a long time ago. Yes. It was long time ago before I joined the army.’
    When Ram Singh finished meditating upon the issues, all of Ajaib Singh’s questions had been answered. Instead of explaining to Ajaib how the answers came to him, he simply said, “We’ll stay here until this battle ends. Then we will look for German Singh and Amreek Singh, chhetey-chhetey.” Chhetey-chhetey means quickly-quickly Ajaib Singh was puzzled by his officer’s decision. He dare not question him, so he expressed his concern in another way, “I hope they’re okay, Saabji. We have not seen any distress flares from them.” Saabji is mispronounced Sahibji meaning Honorable Sir.
    “They’re fine. They’re not fighting anyone.”
    “Then who’s fighting?” Ajaib spoke in a whiny voice as if he were asking something from a parent.
    Ram Singh had turned to look at the young Ajaib and was thinking how much to tell him when his thoughts were interrupted by another volley of gunshots. He saw Ajaib immediately raise his gun and put his finger on the trigger, ready to fire. Subedar Ram Singh continued to look at the Jawan -soldier- admiring his sense of military duty. Then, after a few seconds, Ajaib turned to look at him and said with a very serious look on his face, “Saabji, I think Amreek Singh and German Singh are fighting with the Pathans. There were many more shots this time.”
    Subedar Ram Singh asked him, “Ajaib, if I tell you who is fighting with whom, will you promise not to tell anyone?”
    Ajaib Singh shifted the weight of the gun from one arm to the other and looked at Subedar Ram Singh for sometime before he realized that he was supposed to reply. Then he obediently nodded. There was no question of saying ‘No’.
    Subedar Ram Singh ignored the sound of battle in Michni Maidan and told a story as if he was telling it to his son at bedtime, “Ajaib, it was almost thirty years ago when I was a teenager before I joined the army. My village, Ferozeshah, is two miles south of Sutlej river. My father had a farm and a canal brought water from the river. As you know, all farmers shared the water each paying for a certain time slot of fixed duration.”
    Ajaib Singh understood because he was himself the son of a farmer. I heard a thought cross his mind, 'My village also gets water from the same river like Saabji's.' Ajaib smiled. Looking at him I knew why he was happy to find something common with his officer. This was something that he could brag to his friends about.
    Subedar Ram Singh started his story, “Since I am the eldest son in the family, my father made me responsible for supervising the flow of water into the fields.”
    Ajaib Singh smiled again and I heard his mind, 'I am also the eldest son of my father like Saabji. And my father had asked me to take on similar responsibilities when I came of age.'
    Ram Singh rambled along, “My father was allotted the swing shift, the early part of the night, from eight until two in the morning. It was a cold wintry night. A fog had crept over our farm and a full moon was dimly visibly through the fog when I went to the fields. I stood on the edge of a sugarcane field wrapped in a coarse shawl, checking the watering.”
    I was amused when Ajaib's mind said in wonder, 'Amazing similarity! We also grow sugarcane in our area.'
    Ram Singh’s voice droned on, “I heard a horse and I assumed it was our mare. She liked to come up behind me and nuzzle me for some shakkar -jaggery. I turned around but the trot I had been hearing became a gallop. And then all hell broke loose around me. A voice yelled ‘Charge!’ in the same way we shout now.”
    I looked at Ajaib Singh's face. The smile from his faced vanished when the similarity of his situation with his officer came to an end. He mouth fell open and he gawked at him as if he was a little boy
    istening to a story. He blurted out when Ram Singh paused to breathe, “Then what happened, Saabji?”
    “As I was jostled around, the sugarcane leaves made a sound like shuushshiiinnnnng as if they were being blown by a wind. But there was no wind.”
    “Then, Saabji?” Ajaib's eyes were wide open in wonder.
    “Then there was gunfire. I was startled. And yes, I remember there was no flash when I heard the shot.”
    “Really, Saabji. You actually heard gunshots then as you did tonight and there was no flash?”
    “Yes, Ajaib. I have actually heard them. Just like what we are hearing now.”
    “Then, Saabji?”
    “Then the fog thickened. And I heard all sorts of sounds, gunfire, rumble which resembled heavy artillery fire from far away, in the same way as we hear nowadays. There were all kinds of shouts. Some were even moaning and some were clearly like our Jaykara -victory call- which we have heard a while ago.” Jaykara is the victory call of Sikh soldiers in battle.
    “Really, Saabji?”
    “Yes. The sound of swords clashing, of horses neighing and of gunshots lasted for a long time. But it stopped when I looked down and saw that the sugarcane field was full of water. It was time to divert the channel to the next field. As I walked over to the next field the sounds of battle faded away.”
    “Saabji, were you not scared?”
    “No, Ajaib. I was puzzled”
    “Then?”
    “The next farmer to take his turn from me, an old man, was waiting at the canal junction. When he took over from me, I asked him if he had heard anything. He smiled and told me to go home and sleep it off.”
    “Did you ask your father, Saabji?”
    “When I spoke to my father the next day, he told me that our village had been the site of a battle between the British and the Sikhs seven decades before. At that time our village was part of British India. The southern boundary of the Sikh empire went up to the river. The Sikh army had crossed the river to invade British India and liberate it. They had fortified our village and placed their artillery guns aimed towards the British army towards the south. After hearing him, I understood that it was a British officer I had heard yell ‘charge!’. He must have ordered his men to attack the Sikh artillery guns.”
    “Saabji, was it something like what we are hearing now?”
    “Yes, Ajaib. It was something like this.” After a pause to breathe, Ram Singh added, “When I heard the battle in the middle of the night, I believe it was the seventieth anniversary of the battle.”
    “Anniversary of the battle?”
    “Yes. And my father said that I could expect it to happen on a full moon night in the month of December every year.”
    “He must have also heard it himself on the night of a full moon in December.”
    “He must have, because when I told him what I had heard, he smiled as if he knew.”
    “Fascinating, Saabji, your memory of that night battle is vivid. Is such a thing possible so many years later? Today is full moon here in Michni Maidan also.”
    “Yes. It was something like what we are going through now.” Ram Singh spoke with confidence.
    Ajaib was excited, “Saabji, I will not tell anyone. Please, tell me some more.” Then he turned his head to look over his shoulder as if he was looking for someone. “Now this haze looks even more mysterious after hearing your story.”
    “I know and I can feel it even now. That soft touch of a hand leading me into the haze, that invisible wall that we banged up against when we tried to return to the mound and that feeling of time having stopped: All that adds up to some important event being rehearsed — like an anniversary. I wonder which event took place here in this rocky Maidan.”
    “Must have been a gruesome battle judging from the sounds we are hearing now, Saabji.”
    “All battles are gruesome. Some more and some less. Fighters from both sides fight because they feel they are right. And how so ever ghastly they may be, all empires come to an end ultimately. As the Sikh empire ended, so will the British Raj end. It is a matter of understanding and accepting this fact.”
     

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