A Book Review-‘Soldier Mountaineer’ by Colonels N Kumar and NN Bhatia
Lt Gen YN Sharma
The hero of this book, Col’ Bull’ Kumar, is a true-blooded Indian superhero and an acknowledged ‘icon’ of his time. The long list of gallantry and distinguished service/achievement awards, national and international, won by him bear testimony to that. A biography, in words, can scarcely recreate a true ‘feel’ of his incredible spirit and superhuman courage as also risk-taking ability that are the essence of his life. His story defies human norms and challenges conventional wisdom.
It is axiomatic that human memory is fickle and attention-spans are getting shorter. Memorable deeds of role-models of earlier generations must, therefore, be preserved for posterity to inspire future generations. In this context Col NN Bhatia, a spirited ‘Kumaoni’ himself, has passionately packaged the life-story of his esteemed Regimental elder in this Book. It is a thrilling and an inspiring read.
Bull was a year senior to me in the NDA in early 1950s. We had thus overlapped for three years in the Academy (JSW& Military Wings) and then kept meeting, off and on, in-service for decades. In any case his achievements in mountaineering and other adventures were admired, envied and followed by us all. Despite that, none of us could possibly have known the full spectrum, and the inside- story, of his amazing adventures. This book has been a revelation in that respect- it carries the reader through many mind-blowing experiences.
A life story is a brave search into ‘someone’s soul’. Any life is a mix of many truths- to find the truth which is the ‘essence’ is the challenge. I have tried to understand the power and the process that transformed a ‘normal’ Cadet Narendra Kumar, into the superhero ‘Bull Kumar’. He was neither born or bred as a mountaineer nor selected for that purpose when he joined the Academy in 1950.
During the next decade, of normal military training and service, he had acquired so much expertise in this extra-curricular activity as to lead an expedition to the Trishul peak and later climb up to 28300 feet on Everest in 1960. Thereafter he led expeditions “…to 13 of the highest Indian Himalayan peaks above 24000 feet…even after he had lost his toes to frostbite”, as also challenged the treacherous upper reaches of the mighty Indus in flimsy boats and skied down the Trishul peak. Clearly the secondary interest had become his primary passion and to seek ever higher challenges a ‘hunger’.
In the same period the rest of us were struggling full-time to be good soldiers and, at best, nursed a casual hobby or two. His enviable achievements did not come easy, they were the fruits of exceptional hard work and commitment in pursuit of a ‘passion’- a ‘flaming spiritual fire’ to take on and beat any challenge. Such gifts are indeed inborn and the ensuing success is a special blessing- as acknowledged by him in the Book. But none of these can be earned without extraordinary effort and will power. We had seen early signs of those in the fierce ‘bull- charges’ in the boxing ring against all-comers, of any size or reputation.
Lest this become overly hagiographic let me also focus on a soft spot. I perceived faint signs of it on Page 235- see quoted extract “…Brig ….Singh, who was inexperienced to lead … tried to run it more like a military exercise ignoring safety of team members.” I realise that this is an expert’s judgment which must be based on more information than given here. Yet, on all counts listed viz. inexperience, military style and high-risk decisions seem to be a replay/ mirror-image of Bull’s own climbing experiences, at some stage or another. He also had limited experience during initial expeditions and most of his crunch decisions were played for high- risk stakes. That is the nature of the ‘beast’- both mountaineering and military operations. That is why both are similar in so far as meticulous planning, resolute execution by the team and risk-taking are concerned. As to high-risk choices: you win some and lose others. Perhaps Jagjit was not as lucky as others, especially Bull whose record is truly blessed in this respect.
We are truly proud of him and grateful to Col Bhatia for bringing his story to life in this Book (hopefully, edit-bugs will be eradicated in future editions)
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