They have been hailed and they have been taunted. The olive green uniformed men, with guns hanging down their shoulders, have always been associated with words like bravery, patriotism and courage. But this semi-autobiographical account of Lt. Col. Kaushik Sircar gives a glimpse into the other facets of an army officer and how he gradually grows to be one.
Written in a simple, easy to follow style, "First Salute: The Command Of Men" is the journey of a young army officer, Melvin, who has just passed out of his alma mater, the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun. He is then sent to Sri Lanka as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which eventually battled the Tamil Tigers.
The protagonist recalls being held up by his senior for not mentioning his rank the first time he introduces himself.
"The government has been kind enough to give you a rank and you must use it before your name," the officer says. Melvin almost grows up overnight as he takes on the responsibility of leading a platoon of 35 men. The experiences talk a lot about the way an officer is moulded.
There's one instance when Melvin is saluted by the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO). For reasons more than one, he is thrilled to the core. "...his first salute, an indication that he was accepted as one of the valiant soldiers...", goes the line.
Another reason of course is that he is finally on the other side of the table and receiving salutes in contrast to always giving one while on his training!
In between combating the enemy, the platoon, each of whose soldier's family details Melvin knew by heart, go to a place of worship. It could be a temple or a gurudwara, the soldiers could be Hindus or Muslims, but they have a common faith, a common aim.
Other such small details highlighted in the book show the solidarity, trust and companionship among the soldiers - qualities inculcated in them. At the other end of the spectrum, a young man getting attracted to a Sri Lankan belle and a homesick one longing for home after a short vacation bring out the soft corner in the soldier's heart.
The courage and mental agility that an officer is trained to show while facing the enemy is of course highlighted in the book as well, through various instances and examples of the lives of real soldiers.
Giving his opinion on the book, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S. K. Sinha, governor of Jammu and Kashmir, said: "Armed forces are the only organisations in which the leader is required to lead his men to death and in the process expose himself to the same danger as his men. This book gives a good insight to this phenomenon."
Each page of the book talks about a different experience, a different instance, reflecting the challenges, failures and successes. It is a very "real" book, which everyone can relate to and be motivated by.
Book: "First Salute: The Command Of Men"; author: Lt. Col. Kaushik Sircar;
Publisher: Pearson Education