Diksha was eight years old when she lost her father, a soldier, in the Kargil War. Major Dwivedi would write many loving letters to his family when he was on duty. Diksha and her sister Neha would read and re-read those letters as a way to remember him.
Three years ago, she decided to collect other such letters that soldiers from Kargil had written, to tell their stories and honour their memories.
Her book is the unwritten history of a war for which we were ill prepared and under equipped. This moving book takes the readers through a journey of a daughter’s grief, the soldiers’ love for their country, and India’s neglect of them. Her story is truly inspiring.
This week we spoke to Diksha about her personal loss, her reasons for writing the book, her writing process and more.
Q. What is your first memory of your father as an army officer? How did you understand what his job entailed?
D: I remember everything about him but the memories very clear in my head are from our summer vacations when we visited him in Khrew, Srinagar. It was also the first time we stayed separated from Daddy. While he was in a field area, which was Kashmir, we were based in Meerut but visiting him for our holidays was the moment my sister and I used to look forward to the most, I’d say. In Srinagar, the atmosphere used to be intense, mothers used to be on the edge of their seats all the time whenever we headed out for a drive with the convoy. We could often hear sounds of maybe war exercise but when Daddy was around, we had a weird sense of protection. We (the kids) would run off to pluck apples from the trees with our men in uniform, our fathers, while our mothers used to continue sitting in the jeep. I think how we felt protected around daddy has to be my favorite memory of him as an officer. It brought the message home really that – “My father is a brave man in uniform.”
I saw my father for all of 8 years so I can’t say that I knew back then what his job entailed. I knew he was a soldier and he got a lot of respect in the form of salutes from people around him, what I didn’t know was that his job entailed dying for the country. I didn’t know his job entailed keeping the country before his family. All of these things I learned while growing up without him and reading more about the war he and his fellow soldiers fought. The more I got to know about his job, the more I felt like being a more selfless and giving citizen of India.
Q. How often do you visit Kargil, and what do you feel when you go there? What emotions do you go through?
D: Not often enough because visiting Kargil entails many permissions. But ever since I wrote a story about Daddy in 2015, I have visited Kargil thrice. Every time, I look at that green land and wish that my father could have seen what peace looks and feels like. Kargil looks and smells like heaven, and unfortunately, it didn’t look anything like that when the war happened. It happened in terrible conditions. Standing there, especially at the location where Daddy breathed his last, at Pandras, I can always feel his presence. Somehow, I convince myself, he’s enjoying the peace now maybe with a glass of his favourite scotch with his friends. At least, that’s how I’d like to see him in heaven.
Q. Did you ever have this conversation with your mother and sister that one day you might not see him again?
D: No, my mother, sister and I had never had the conversation that he may never come back. I don’t think you ever expect in a Bollywood movie that a hero won’t return home after a tough fight, it’s probably the same story for us. We could have never expected that he won’t come back even though he was at war. But our quiet lonely moments, sometimes all three of us had a passing thought – “What if he doesn’t return after all? What will we do?” But just imagining a life without him would throw us off since he was the kind of man who single-handedly took care of all of us and God could not be so unkind to us. This is what we probably assumed.
Q. Why did you think writing the book was necessary? What do you want readers to take away from this book?
D: In our busy lives, we often forget to cherish the freedom we enjoy today. When we say ‘War is needed’, we don’t take into account the destruction it would cause in the lives of many many people. This book has been written to tell you a story in simple words about a time a war happened in 1999 and changed many lives overnight. That was the price that was paid for your freedom so let that freedom not go to waste. Value it, do something meaningful with it, because as much as it is taken for granted, freedom does not come for free. Many lives are lost, soldiers’ families are restarting their lives every day just so you can be at peace. Let’s not underestimate the value of that magnificent word – peace.
Q. Did you have any apprehensions about putting out something so personal to you into the world?
D: For the first time when I wrote his story on my platform AkkarBakkar, I was definitely nervous. I didn’t know how people will react to our personal story. This was also because I wrote it in anger as I was demanding an invite to Kargil Vijay Diwas after all of 16 years. But that story made me realize how a story that comes from the heart reaches the places and touches people. There was hardly any journalist who didn’t read that story, it was called “The Kargil War Hero Nobody Told You About: He’s My Father“. That story didn’t only reach people but also got us an invite to our first Kargil Vijay Diwas in 2016 – that’s the power of words I feel. The response to that story took away all my nervousness forever. So, when I wrote the book Letters from Kargil, the only thing I was worried about was if I got the facts right. But as for my personal story – I was very confident about it.
Q. While putting these letters together and talking to the families of other soldiers, do you have any one particular incident that stands out in your mind?
D: Yes, always mention this incident. I remember talking to Capt. Anuj Nayar’s mother very clearly, where she found it very hard to read out the letters. She wouldn’t send me the scans either because the letters were too old so the words seemed blurry on pictures. She actually opened her boxes for me after many years. We shared a moment on a call where I asked her to let it be and we can try again later. She finally took someone’s help to transcribe the letters on email. I would never forget how martyrs’ families opened their wounds for me after all these years and relived the toughest moments of their lives with me. Without that, the book could’ve never happened.