Monday, June 29, 2020

Himalayan Blunder

Recent Media Reports of the situation on the LAC create a sense of déjà vu.

Around 58 years ago – on 20 October 1962 – began the Sino Indian War – India's 1962 conflict with China.

Of all the books, references and literature on the 1962 India China War – I find the memoir of Brigadier JP Dalvi – HIMALAYAN BLUNDER – most engrossing. 

Here is a brief review of the book that I wrote 8 years ago in Oct 2012. 

Title: HIMALAYAN BLUNDER (The Curtain Raiser to the Sino-Indian War of 1962)
Author: Brigadier JP Dalvi (Retired)
Published by Thacker and Co. Ltd. Bombay (1969)

Book Review

(This is an abridged and updated version of my Book Review written in Oct 2012)

A few months ago, while browsing through my bookcase I chanced upon one of my favourite military autobiographies – HIMALAYAN BLUNDER by Brig JP Dalvi 

Whenever I start reading Himalayan Blunder, leafing through the pages of the book, I am filled with a sense of déjà vu. 

And as I read on further, drawing parallels between what was written in the book and the intriguing happenings of recent times, I wonder to myself: 

“Are we heading for another Himalayan Blunder...?” 

Is history going to repeat itself after 58 years...?

I have heard a saying: 

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

That is why I feel that “Himalayan Blunder” is a “must read” for the “powers-that-be” – Political, Civil and Military. 

I am sure most politicians, bureaucrats, military officers, students of military history and the intelligentsia have read Himalayan Blunder – but – if you have not read the book – or even of you have read it – it would be worthwhile to read the book carefully once again – to draw parallels between what happened in 1962 – and what is happening now – and learn lessons – so that similar mistakes are not repeated again – and we do not have another “Himalayan Blunder” in the making.

Himalayan Blunder is a fascinating war memoir of the 1962 Conflict between India and China – in which India suffered a humiliating defeat. 

Brigadier Dalvi was the Commander of the Indian Army’s 7th Infantry Brigade (which was annihilated by the Chinese Army). 

I feel that it always better to read history written by those who have actually lived it – rather than those who have recorded it – merely by academic research.

First person accounts have an air of authenticity about them – which lends them credibility. 

I have read 6 first-hand accounts of the 1962 India China War:

1. The Untold Story by BM Kaul

2. Himalayan Blunder by JP Dalvi

3. The Unfought War of 1962 by JR Saigal

4. The Fall of Towang by Niranjan Prasad

5. War in the High Himalaya by DK Palit 

6. Recollections of the Sela Bomdila Debacle 1962 by Jaidev Singh Datta

(Of course – I have also read many other books/articles on the 1962 India China War including – “India’s China War” by Neville Maxwell – “1962 The War That Wasn’t” by Shiv Kunal Verma – and a number of analyses/memoirs of battles in the USI Journal – but – like I said – First Hand Memoirs have an air of authenticity)

Out of all these autobiographical first-hand war memoirs – I found Brigadier JP Dalvi’s Himalayan Blunder the most illuminating and enthralling. 

The writing style is articulate, reasoned, lucid – as well as most soul-searching and analytic – and – the book is extremely readable.

In my opinion, Himalayan Blunder is a military classic, arguably the best book by an Indian military author.

Himalayan Blunder tells you of the debacle that happened when ill-equipped, unprepared, confused and demoralized soldiers were rushed into battle against a strong adversary in an ad hoc manner because military decisions were influenced more by political prophecy rather than by military strategy.

Dalvi tells his story with remarkable wit and exceptional candour. 

His candid storytelling style captivates you – and – once you start reading – you get so engrossed – that the book becomes “unputdownable”. 

There is no military jargon or gobbledygook. 

Dalvi writes straight from the heart and that is why this book will not only educate you but also will move you emotionally, strike a chord and get you thinking. 

In the preface, Dalvi says: “India has a near unbroken record of military failures through the ages. Our peasantry has always fought gallantly; but it is an indisputable fact that seldom has this bravery been utilised to win battlefield victories and thus to attain our political objectives, due to inept political or military leadership, or both. Need we follow this tragic path interminably…?”

After giving the reader a lucid introduction of the background and events leading to the 1962 War – Dalvi tells us his story – a personal narrative of 7 Brigade in the Battle of Namka Chu – in a most eloquent and engrossing manner.

From his easy writing style, and the way he narrates the story, it is evident that besides being a soldier, the author was a thinker and a scholar, and like most officers of his generation, he was extremely well-read and well-informed, and possessed a witty, yet biting, sense of humour.

Dalvi has interspersed his book with anecdotes, quotes and similes. 

Sample this:

He writes that a Corps Commander was sacked because: 

“He refused to be a dog in obedience and a lion in action...”  

Why did India suffer the ignominy of such a crushing defeat in the 1962 war with China...? 

It seems to be the same story we keep witnessing from time to time – the civil-military divide, the lack of appreciation of ground realities by the Delhi-Centric “powers-that-be” who call the shots, and the “trust deficit” between various stakeholders – like it is happening even till today. 

Books like the Himalayan Blunder will make us aware of our mistakes of the past – so that we don’t repeat them. 

That is why – we must read such books – and take cognizance of the message they try to convey.  

In such matters – let history not repeat itself. 

That is why we cannot to afford to ignore the lessons of history – if we do so – it will be to our own peril.

Dear Reader: Do read HIMALAYAN BLUNDER – once again – even if you have read it before. Compare the situation today with that of 1962 – and reflect - whether lessons have been learnt from history – or – are the same mistakes being repeated again…?


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This Book Review was written by me Vikram Karve in October 2012 and First Posted Online by me in my blog at url: and revised/reposted an number of times at urls:  and and etc and in my other blogs too. 

1 comment:

Cdr GV Rama Rao said...

An excellent review of the book. I commend you for this. I have read only three of the above books but I have a more personal knowledge, as I
interacted with some army officers who have been through hell in this operation. This was a monumental blunder of JLN and VKK. JLN thought we didn't need an army as we are a peace-loving country. He and his family regularly downgraded the army, their ranks, pay, pension, etc. Fearing a coup as in Pakistan, the incompetent ministers and IAS babus kept the Armed Forces out of the loop and downgraded them. A chap passing out of the IPS academy with three years service wears the pips of a LT-COL. I can go on about the successive governments.
I was a LT in 1962.
GV Rama Rao.