Nepali Times
A bahun Gurkha

Official rules prevented bahuns from joining the army, so in 1935, at the age of 13, I lied about my caste and was enlisted in Gorakhpur as Tek Bahadur Chhetri. Luckily, I was tall enough to pass as an 18-year-old. After six months of training, we reached Burma in 1936, after travelling by ship for seven days and nights. We fought in Taoji, Maymyo and Chhankhol and finally arrived at Pemuna.

Our team of 17 was lead by Jamadar Krishna Bahadur Khadka of Baglung, but he hid and evaded his duty. I was a sergeant at the time. We patrolled at night in complete silence, each holding on to the gun of the soldier in front. We encountered a Japanese patrol once. The commander hid but fought and caprtured an HM gun, three rifles one sten gun and five grenades. Later, in our report, we said two companies went in and defeated the Japanese troops although only 15 of us were there.

A bomb dropped from a plane fell nearby, shrapnel hit me on the chest and blackened my flesh. Another time, a bullet took a chunk of flesh out of my chin, leaving a permanent scar. Surprisingly, during action in Pemuna I didn't even realise when a bullet hit my leg. One of my companions told me I was hit, and only then did I realise that my leg was bleeding badly. I suppose this was because during battle you are very excited and there is a lot of confusion.

The Japanese forces had outnumbered us and were driving us back. They entered Manipur through Kaleya River, and were aiming for Dimapur. However, in Kohima they were in trouble as the British forces started arriving both by ship and via the Tidim road, squeezing them from both sides and eventually defeating them. At least 150,000 soldiers perished at Kohima alone. Even though they were defeated, the Japanese are a daring people. We could not match them. Once, they dug a tunnel, came up behind us and attacked before we even realised what was happening.

There were piles of dead men, sometimes up to 10,000 lying together. They looked like dead fish. No one can say exactly how many died, and even then it was often unclear if the fallen was one of us or a Japanese. Sometimes we saved ourselves by lying under layers of corpses. Even in minor encounters at least 200 people lost their lives. In Burma alone, we lost about 50,000 men, compared to the 60,000 casualties the Japanese suffered. I myself killed between 20-30 Japanese. The khukuri was useless, there was never time to take it out. Even if we drew it, only one or two adversaries could be taken at a time. Bullets and bayonets were better. When the enemy gets close you can strike him down and spear him with the bayonet. I killed about 10 men like this, but in battle, it is hard to say.

You are scared only until the fighting begins. After that, as the bullets start flying around, fear vanishes. The only thing you can think about of is killing or being killed. I forgot about everything besides staying alive. At times like that, I was so focused that I never thought about home or my family.

Water was scarce, and no one was allowed to take water from the supplies without the commander's permission, even if we were dying of thirst. In Pemuna we went without food for 11-12 days. When we found some bananas, I almost choked and died in my haste to eat them. A while later, we came upon a cucumber and gourd plantation where an old woman was cooking rice. All of us rushed to her and I didn't get even a mouthful. Sometimes our rations were dropped by plane, but often it fell into enemy territory and we starved. We got lucky with a consignment of meat in Tao. We ate so much that we got severe diarrhoea and nearly died.

We were still fighting in Burma when, at the end of 1945, there was a radio announcement that the war had ended. I returned to our headquarters on 26 October 1946. Then, 12 years after my enlistment, I went home. No one recognised me: my mother had to ask my sister-in-law if I was her older or younger son. My wife, who was still a child when we married, didn't know who I was. When I paid my respects to my father, tears rolled down his face and fell on my bowed neck.

Army service is not what it is made out to be. You can send a letter home saying you are well, and the next instant a bullet can kill you. This, and the treatment we got from the Indian government later led me to dissuade my son from joining the army.

After the war, the troops were distributed between Britain and India. Following my allotment to India, I took part in quelling the uprisings in Kohima and Manipur and fought in India-Pakistan border skirmishes and in Tripura. After that, I was assigned as a trainer to the Assam Rifles and held that position till my retirement.

We offered our lives for India, yet India has not done us justice. They derided and ridiculed us.

The Nepali government never did much about the promises the British made to us. Now, even though our pensions are inadequate, it is all we have to sustain us and prove that we didn't fight for nothing.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)