Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Gurkhas are looked upon as great warriors. Fine so far. But a closer look at them, may dispel some of that grandeur and invisibility. In fact, it may seem more a case of their having to do all the fighting and killing because they have no other choice; not because they want to.
The Gurkhas serve in the British Army, the Indian Army, the Brunei Armed Forces and as policemen in Singapore. Of course they also serve in the Nepali military as well. Question is, what type of people are these, who are prepared to fight and die for some foreign country, some foreign king, or in the case of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew a foreign dictator.
Most with any amount of self respect and the means to avoid having to do it; would tell these foreign kings and governments that they are not prepared to serve and defend other nations. They are not mercenaries. Only a mercenary would be prepared to be going around doing other people’s fighting. A self respecting individual would probably say that their loyalty lies with their own country. In this case, with Nepal. If a Gurkha with the means the education and skills to go with it; had he been asked walking down a street in Pokhara, whether he would want to fight and die for Botswana for money, the answer would probably be no. Heck no! His life is more precious than that!
The sad facts are these. Nepal is a corruption ridden poverty stricken country which hardly manages to feed its people. A boy growing up in Nepal has almost no chance of making a decent living. These Gurkhas come from certain locations in Nepal and are selected from a few particular groups, such as the Gurungs, the Rai, the Limbu and similar clans
Four hundred years ago, the British who were in India found the Gurkhas loyal and good soldiers. So by agreement with the King of Nepal these Nepalese were recruited into the British Army to serve Britain, fighting and dying first in the Afghan Wars, then the First War and then the Second and every war after that, in theaters all over the world. An objective bystander would probably ask, why in Heavens! Why should they be going all over the world, killing strangers they never knew and all for a King who is not even their own! For what? To be known as brave soldiers and to die!
Oh Yes. Had I been a Gurkha and my country was invaded by enemies, yes; I will fight and die for it. But why in Heavens should they be willing to fight and die for the King of England! You know they recently had tours of duty in Iraq. What business do they have going to Basra to kill Shiite Arabs for a British Monarch! To me it doesnt make sense. And if you thought about it, neither would it to you.
All this bravery and courage and physical fitness and the Kukri charge is a whole load of hogwash which does not mean anything at all if you think of it. It is just plain pathetic.
But don't get me wrong. It is not that I am not sympathetic. I have no problem in these poor souls trying to make a living somehow. In the case of the Swiss, they were great watchmakers, in the case of the Belgians they were great gunsmiths and in the case of the Gurkhas, they are good fighters. So if you are looking for a good watch, you look for a Swiss, for rifle a Belgian and for a good soldier, a Gurkha; a man who is prepared to be deployed to any battlefield, for money. Pay him and he will do the work in Iraq, in Italy in the second war, in India shooting at the Sikhs at Jillianwalla Bagh. In the case of the Gurkha, his only skill is his ability to fight and fight well. And at the same time, absolutely loyal and obedient. So he sells it. Just as the Japanese would sell their Toyotas.
I have pity for them. True. Everyone needs to make a living somehow. Perhaps had I been a Gurkha boy running around the hills with no shoes and no prospects whatsoever, I too would probably be serving in some Gurkha unit in Aldershot England or at the Gurkha camp in Singapore. But had I been a graduate from Katmandu University armed with a degree in Computer Science rather than a kukri; a career as a foot soldier in the British Army or serving Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore looking for Mas Selamat Kastari in the shrubs at Bukit Timah would be the last thing I would thing of. I rather be a computer engineer in California sipping Napa wine in comfort rather than doing a 3 mile run everyday and looking for other human beings to kill just because my master wants it done.
I once remember some years ago when Sentosa was known as Pulau Blakang Mati, Gurkha Engineers had barracks there. I was running on the beach. Came across a young Gurkha teenager about my age, about 18. Pleasant fellow. We had a chat. His father was Queens Gurkha Major in the British Army stationed at the island. I asked him about all that bravery and what not; about which I too was taken in as a boy. He was very frank with me. He was well educated and spoke excellent English, much better than mine. What he said came as a shock. He said, if the Gurkhas had a better way to make a living, they surely would not have chosen to be a soldier in the British Army. They have no other choice!
So look at it this way. Next time you see a Gurkha standing at the Malayan Railway train station holding on to an Armalite Ar15 assault rifle with a kukri dangling from his right behind, realize this. He is not doing it because he enjoys dressing up as a soldier and looking as grim as possible at passers by. He does it because he has no other choice. And given the opportunity, he too will prefer to sip Napa Wine and enjoy the weather as many do in California.
I know of such an individual myself. His name is Gopalan Nair.
Let me tell you another interesting thing. You will be surprised to know that as a matter of military regulations, in Gurkha units in the British Army only Gurkhali is spoken. Let me tell you why. Even till today, as per tradition, usually Scottish officers graduating from Sandhurst were posted to Gurkha Units. Not English or Welsh. Reason being, I suppose, Scotland is a hilly place, and since Nepal is also one; Scots officers would be better suited in Gurkha units.
It appears that they had tried, many years ago, to teach English to the Gurkhas, naturally since they are in the British Army, but finding that Gurkhas were either unable or unwilling to learn English, I suspect the former, the British Army came up with the next best alternative. You’ve guessed it. The Sots officer learnt Gurkhali. So you have today, Scottish officers going around speaking perfect Gurkhali rather than Gurkhas speaking English in the British Army! As to what this tells us about the Gurkhas, I leave it entirely up to you!
And setting aside all the smokescreen of bravery valor and what not, what actually happened in the British Army is this. Imagine the campaigns in Burma against the Japanese in the second war. There was probably one white British officer way behind while these willing Gurkhas were charging up and down hills, all brave and splendid. In the end, a hundred Gurkhas are killed in the line of duty and all of them are either living with severe wounds or dead; awarded all sorts of medals such as George Cross, Victoria Cross and what not. As for the British officer, the Scotsman, he is alive and working the next day with another pathetic group of Gurkhas waiting their turn to charge up another hill, to their death, while the British Officer is still alive and having a pint at the local the next week. You may think all this charging up and down hills with kukris drawn with their war cry is great, but in my case; I look upon it with a bit of cynicism. You can see why.
Just as the Gurkhas, the Sikhs are also known for great courage and daring both in the first and second wars with the Indian Army (actually the British Army then). They too saw action in various theaters around the world fighting for British India. But with one difference. The British had not managed to sign any agreement with India after independence permitting the Sikhs to continue fighting for the British Crown. India was independent. Indians will not fight and die for other people. There was no need. Indians can make a living in their India.
No offense meant to Gurkhas. But if you remove all the veneer of all this bravery and daring and so on, it all boils down to one thing. These Gurkhas have to make a living, and for want of a better way, they join foreign armies. They serve foreign governments including a foreign dictator. Lee Kuan Yew.
As to whether this is honorable, I leave it to you.
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