The Gulistan Fortress stands like a hawk watching its prey amidst the desolate, arid expanse surrounding it. Armed yet mismanaged Orakzai men are swarming the barren, cold Samana valley. Havildar Bhanu Singh is the stoic commander of the twenty one fierce soldiers with an indomitable spirit of duty before self. We are handpicked for displaying fortitude, bravery and grit in the face of enemy.
Bhanu Singh summons us. “Soldiers, today is the day to exhibit our legacy of bravery. The enemy is a murderous mob but nothing matches your gallantry and formidable courage. Rise comrades as we take on this opportunity to defend our nation and display selflessness in the face of adversity.”
“Charan Singh”, Bhanu Singh roared like a hungry lion. “Occupy your position in the signal room on the right bastion. Ensure a minute by minute relay of events to the headquarters. Most importantly ask for backup.” I nodded vigorously, as my legs shook with the same intensity while climbing to my post housing the heliography machine.
The enemy by now had skirted around the periphery and the growing murmur seemed like a pressure tactic to loosen our hold. Meanwhile, the much awaited heliographic signal from the headquarters read, “Unable to send immediate support due to constantly increasing enemy numbers.” Bhanu Singh wasn’t the kind to be crestfallen. His valour was exemplary in the regiment.
“Come On Lions! You are a born to brave mothers. We are going to take them head on. We are trained to severe the morale of thousands like these.” He bellows.
The tribal leaders begin challenges trying to entice with gifts and women if we leave the fortress. We, the twenty one retaliate with loud war cries, “Victory or Death.”
The arrow attacks begin. Our positions are intelligently distributed across the pickets circling the fortress. The cannons are activated and spread out creating an impression of greater strength. Bhanu Singh along with another soldier occupies the position at the main gate. Eyes red with vengeance yet focussed, glistening swords in both hands, ready to strike.
The main gate is hit and it isn’t long before the mob pours in. By now we lose six of our platoon. Men occupying the pickets on top begin firing downwards to inflict maximum damage. Facing the enemy Bhanu Singh and four of the faithfuls engage in the fiercest hand to hand combat. Left, right and centre, fury is unleashed. My position remains secured to ensure the battle is documented with facts intact. Bloodshed continues till sundown when Bhanu Singh gives in to his grievous injuries, but not before he smiles seeing the backup teams surrounding the mob from all sides.
I am the only surviving defender and emerge from my post only when the British flag is reinstated.
Cheering and loud claps follow as I read out the last sentence of my great grandfather’s diary from the ramparts of the ruins of Fort Gulistan commemorating a hundred years of an exemplary battle fought by the Twenty One!
Author’s Note: This story draws inspiration from the historic Battle of Saragarhi that was fought by twenty one fearless soldiers of a Sikh Battalion of the British Army in 1897 in response to a mobbed attack by Pashtun tribesmen that far outnumbered the soldiers. It is considered as the most courageous battle in history by military historians.
*Samana Valley: The Saragarhi village is located amidst the Samana mountain range
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