A NON-COMBATENT WHO WITNESSED AND FILMED
THE FIRST FLIGHT TO LEH & BATTLES FOR ZOJI-LA AND NAMKA CHHU.
Lieutenant General (Retd) Baljit Singh.
“…the fall of Leh will be a strategic blow to India. It has to be saved at all cost….. I will be on that flight in your cock-pit. So let’s go.” Major General K S Thimayya, DSO, 23 May, 1948.
“An eye witness to two stunning Himalayan Battles fought at either end of the range… had savored the joy of victory at Zoji La ……. And the sadness of withdrawal at Se La, from poor preparedness …” W M (Bill) Aitken, 2009.
“ … very special thanks are due to Serbjeet Singh for his kind permission to reproduce the spectacular panorama of the Namka Chhu Valley and Thagla ridge which he was still painting, perched on a hill over-looking the Battle-field, when the Chinese launched their attack on 20 October, 1962.” Major General D K Palit, Vr C, 1991.
It was in 1978, when waiting to catch the attention of the Director General Military Operations in his office, that I noticed a card-board object lying on a table by the window. On a closer look subsequently, that cratered card-board was in fact a paper-mache, three dimensional model of the Namka Chhu Valley. It was a stunning replica of the terrain over which 7 Infantry Brigade had sited its defenses and engaged the PLA troops in October 1962. The master crafts man was, Serbjeet Singh!
I had known the name but not the Man, leave alone his stupendous deeds and fame. A graduate in History (First Division) from Forman College, Lahore but his life’s calling lay elsewhere; the Himalayas were his load-stone, not just their physical attraction but rather the philosophical introspection they inspire among human beings at different levels and how they shape the lives and cultures of those who dwell in and around them. Above all, Serbjeet Singh (SS) perhaps even understood the geo-strategic significance of the Himalayas as India’s Northern frontier. For, how else can one explain the presence of a twenty four year old film-maker-cum-artist (Charcoal, water colour and Oils), participating of his free volition in the First Flight to Leh (24 May, 1948), and witness the Battles at Zoji La (01 November, 1948), watch the history-making exploits of the Stuart Tanks of 7 Cavalry beyond Zoji La and all other engagements culminating with the capture of Kargil, on 23 November, 1948!! And all of it filmed, sketched, painted and recorded in text too, in his personal diaries.