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By Shaifali Agarwal
Title: Gurkha - Better to Die than Live like a Coward: My Life with the Gurkhas; Author: Kailash Limbu; Publisher: Hachette; Pages: 340; Price: Rs.499

The late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once famously said: "If a man says he not scared of dying then he's either mad or a Gurkha."

Sample this: "...as the battle was raging, a single Gurkha soldier appeared behind the British lines. He was holding his jaw, which had been shattered by a bullet, and indicated he wanted it bandaged up. No sooner had bandage been tied in place than the soldier requested to be permitted to return to his own side to continue to fight - That is the Gurkha way."

This memoir is one soldier's story of living the life of the Gurkha - imbibing its values and its way of life through courage, honesty and pride.

Written to celebrate the Gurkha's 200 years of unbroken service to the British crown, Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu gives a personal and straightforward account of his experiences as a Gurkha soldier serving the British army.

He recounts his life from a small Nepalese village to protect Afghan civilians from a Taliban siege.

The book has been written keeping the lay reader in mind. The author covers the on-going happenings there dimensionally - the physical environment or what is going around him; what he is thinking - the mental struggles during a battle or remembering his family; and explaining what certain terms mean, and why they are doing what they are doing.

The use of dialogue gives an urgency and life to the battleground scenes.

The reader is enlightened about the manners and customs of the Gurkhas - the way they like to kill a goat for dinner, how swearing is considered bad, but they still do it at times; and how valuable their history is for them.

The lighter moments of horsing around, eating and his life in the village are also entwined in the story.

Gaaz, to whom Limbu has dedicated the book, is his team member who dies a hero's death. Through him, the reader gets to know the author's familial background as he often questions Limbu about his life in Nepal.

The memoir enlightens the reader on the exceptional comradeship that the author and his teammates have, such that "when someone gets hurt, it's like you yourself get hurt".

Limbu also writes about what he could have been had he become a doctor, an option that he once considered.

"Sometimes as I lay on my bed in Now Zad, I used to ask myself what my life would have been if I'd become a doctor instead of becoming a Gurkha. I think I would have enjoyed it. I'd certainly be having an easier time of things than we are having in this safe house. On the other hand, for all the danger, I wouldn't have wanted to miss this for the world."

Read this memoir for an exciting and illuminating account.

(Shaifali Agrawal can be contacted at shaifalihere@gmail.com)


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