The colours of courage

Innumerable battles, countless sagas of bravery... Capt. D.P. Ramachandran of Colours of Glory Foundation tells DEEPA ALEXANDER why the heroism of our men and women in arms needs to be celebrated

Updated - December 02, 2016 04:19 pm IST

Published - November 18, 2016 04:01 pm IST - Chennai

Capt. D.P. Ramachandran (Retd.) at Victory War Memorial PHOTO: R. RAGU

Capt. D.P. Ramachandran (Retd.) at Victory War Memorial PHOTO: R. RAGU

It’s a windy morning and the road outside the Victory War Memorial is busy with the sounds of daily living. Within what was once called Cupid’s Bow stands a flag post with the Tricolour aflutter, and a squat tower that lances the sky. Beyond the red-and-gold pennants that line the path are steps that lead to a plaque replete with the names of men from the Madras Presidency who fell in two World Wars and those that followed Independence.

To the rare visitor, they are names, insisting to no one in particular their place in the long litany of the nation’s war dead, but to Captain D.P. Ramachandran (retired), veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pak War, they bring alive the faces, the laughter and the courage of these young men who lived, fought and died years ago.

Ramachandran, part-scholar, part-soldier and founder of Colours of Glory, was a regular Alleppey boy whose parents wanted him to be a doctor. He joined the Officers Training Academy in 1966 when he was 20, and was commissioned into 63 Cavalry. “I was inspired by authors like Cornelius Ryan. Writers of military stories are little appreciated or awarded in India. We’ve fought bigger battles, but choose to watch American war films. Although soldiers, seamen and airmen have written about their various combat experiences, it appeals only to a niche group. Rarely do you come across writers such as Raghu Karnad or Shiv Kunal Verma, who redefine the way we look at how the Indian soldier fought and died,” says Ramachandran, who, as a tank squadron commander, saw action in the border town of Hili (West Bengal) in 1971. “It was history in the making and I thought I should write a book.”

“When I was posted in the North East, I chose to read Arthur Swinson’s Kohima while visiting the Kohima War Cemetery. That place is a piece of history. In India, we don’t have battle enactments as they do in the West,” says Ramachandran, who says that he is not keen on glorifying war, but “wanted to put the marginalised soldier on centre stage. Our movies where tank commanders abuse each other from across the border is all nonsense. As a people, we have little knowledge of the reality of war”.

This was a balance he has wanted to set right since he left the Army in 1977. Ramachandran has dabbled in many things since — animal husbandry and a teak business while living in Dimapur and a corporate job in Chennai. “At one of our regimental reunions, I was encouraged to write a fictional narrative of our time in the Indo-Pak War (1971). It resulted in my first book, Legion of the Brave . When city chronicler S. Muthiah got in touch for a chapter on the Army of the Madras Presidency for a commemorative volume, I was able to develop some of that material into my second book, Empire’s First Soldiers . I thought I’d take it further and promote public awareness about our country’s rich military heritage.”

Going beyond what poet Wilfred Owen called “the truth untold, the pity of war”, Colours of Glory, a non-profit foundation, aims to popularise literature and art forms with a military theme, open vistas of military tourism through heritage walks, visits to battlefields and war cemeteries, and memorialise battles and war heroes.

The foundation, the first of its kind in India, has retired officers from the three services — Brigadier K. Sampath, Commodore R.S. Vasan and Air Marshal S. Varthaman — and S. Muthiah, as trustees.

The foundation’s website opens to the martial strains of ‘Colonel Bogey March’ and is a military tour de force offering information on exhibitions, seminars, military tattoos, film shows, marching band displays, war heroes, publications, documentaries and murals.

“Look at the West’s immense libraries on wars. Only with the centenary of the Great War have we realised the contribution of the Indian soldier. The general perception is that he is a mercenary who need not be remembered. This has been our failing. Our soldiers have fought in far-off lands and earned a name as excellent professionals even under different colours. Let us not forget their contribution to the revolt of 1857 that set India on its path to freedom,” says Ramachandran.

To set the audience on the road to discovery, the foundation held its first activity — a painting competition for school children on their image of the Indian armed forces. Guns, uniforms, helmets, submarines and helicopters leap out of the stark white sheets.

Posters and infographics on every battle fought on land, sea and air are plastered on the wall, and children and grown-ups wander past, coming to terms with the snuffing out of a generation.

Open to membership and sponsorship, the foundation hopes to encourage both writers and filmmakers to showcase true stories from the theatre of war. “We have a host of events planned; a quiz for teenagers is next,” says Ramachandran. But, for now, as martial tunes play in the background and the crowds mingle in the hall, he insists that they listen and learn something of the price of peace.

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