Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Gurkhas. A closer look, may not show such a rosy picture.

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.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914


Anonymous said...

As usual you have written a very interesting commentary.
The bottom line is poverty and the ability to sustain one's family.
So long as the Gurkhas remain poor and their government corrupt, they will serve as mercenaries wherever there are dictators who do not trust their own citizens.

Anonymous said...

leave the gurkhas out of your ranting and raving. we get the point; you are hell mad at singapore and her leaders. so it seems why not make a racket of the recent escape of the terror suspect? lets instigate the unrest further instead of improving the situation and how about if i rope in the gurkhas because they are somewhat tied in with the government and plainly show how wrong the leaders were? you try so hard to be objective yet its apparent you are simply baised.

and for your kind info, the blood sheddin and killing that you seem to think tt gurkhas blindly allow is ignorance on your part. all tt ended long time ago and there has not been a single death of that kind for a long time. they are here in singapore as precaution and NOT as a convience to kill another race with ease on the ground that they are neutral. they are not here to be 'heroic' but to earn a living to make life better for their families back home; tts what you call selfless and responsible. why not serve nepal, you say? they can but they think enough to know that wage they get is never going to be enough to support their parents, siblings and his own family. when the nation cant serve ya well, they come over so that at the very least they can serve their own loved ones well. they dont come here to simply serve foreigners but with the intention of providing a better standard of living to their loved ones and break out of the poverty cycle. even if it means serving a different nation for a short period of time, they will do it.
i ask you, would you endure so much hardships just to ease your loved ones' hardships? think about it. the physical trainings, the combats, the rigourous and hectic everyday work despite public holidays.
being a gurkha it aint easy yet they do their duty with utmost dedication and discipline. for that period in service, they are the workers and the government is their employer just like in any other jobs. the only contrast is their jobs require them to travel across the globe.

stop entangling the gurkhas in your fight against the singapore leaders. you are only incurring their wrath and hatred for frankly, you dont know enough that justified you writing on them.

and for you info *Again*, those gurkhas that were sent to the frontlines in the british army, they had already obtained their british citizenships which make them british. a change of nationality just like you did on becoming american. so technically they are british now serving their new country.

Anonymous said...

excuse me Mr Nair, well lets just state a fact down here. u are not a GURKHA. no matter how much history u have on them or how much u have read or know about that.. that doesn't sum u to write whatever u are feeling in your blog.

yes, we are serving this small country which used to be our OWN country. trust me on this. if we gurkhas have been been out of spore, this country would not be the same. spore has little manpower esp when it coms to military. we are merely doing our job. its not easy being a gurkha. they have to go through alot of training and tests to be one. yes at nepal, we are in poverty. and we are not sad abt it. our country is continuous trying to improve. and all the gurkas is doing is that they are earning some DECENT money for themselves and their family. they just want to have a better life. wats wrong with it? that doesnt mean that they dun like being a solider or like being here in spore. i think even u are doing that arent u? could u just stay lying around instead of workin in USA. can u afford to lead a life with providing for yourself. u cant, can u?

so wats wrong with gurkhas earning money down here. and its not as if we are jut shaking our legs down here. we are protecting your own country man!

dun have pity on our men. cause your words are not going to drop us down even by a mini inch. we are proud of our forefathers. and YES we are indeed very proud to be a GURKHA! men thats holds dignity, pride and honor in their work. craved with bravery and loyalty, our men will prove u VERY wrong. we are thankful to the man that brought us here and who formed your country into a NEW SINGAPORE. we are proud of u, MR LEE KUAN YEW.

and MR NAIR, books are not everything. havin all the knowledge in the world but putin it into wrong mouth equals to having no knowledge at all. its sad to see such a promising man with abundant knowledge and a great future ahead of him, fall down by his words.

Anonymous said...

You know how your ancestors landed up in Singapore ? Think about that before writing about others.
And yeah duh, your ancestors would have been able to speak english back then. DUH.

Nozomi said...

So you think the Gurkhas are plain stupid to charge up and down the hill of an enemy lane?

Just know that if an ex Gurkha Tilok Pun hadn't charge to take down a japanese machine gun during WWII, you would'nt have been born well at least you would but SInagpore wouldnt have been the way it is now.

Just because you have a grudge on Lee Kuan Yew, dont take it on the Gurkhas. ANd for your info, the Gurkhas never dies for a foreign king or government, they live for their family not even their own country Nepal. Its a family pride and speaking Gurkhali is more fun then speaking english, have you thought of that for the scots officials?...

Gopalan Nair said...

To Gorkhali,

As for the word "stupid" it is you who said it. Not me. Your comment speaks volumes as to your understnding.
Gopalan Nair

Gopalan Nair said...

To anonymous on my ancestors, they have nothing to do with my post. As for English, my father was a man of letters. In English. And a gentleman. God bless his soul. He would have been outraged if anyone had asked him to fight for King George V.
Gopalan Nair

Gopalan Nair said...

For Anonymous who started with "excuse me Mr. Nair" all I can say is that I am sorry for you. As for the contents of your comment, I can only ask you to read my post one more time. This time carefully. And if you need assistance find someone to help you. Someone with a better understanding of English and especially history and politics of Singapore.
Gopalan Nair

Gopalan Nair said...

To anonymous who wrote "leave the gurkhas out" I have said they are a pathetic case. Having to fight in foreign lands for foreign masters. For money. Anyway you look at it, they are just plain mercenaries. But yes, I am sorry for them. On the other hand, personally, joing a foreign army where you hanve to kill foreigners whom you never knew, for a foreign master, is dishonest, dishonorable and cruel. In fact criminal. This is a fact. Admit it.

As for Britain giving citizenship to Gurkhas, this happened only a few years ago. From the time of about 1800 to just a few years ago, they were not British. Just plain and simple mercenaries, killing the Japs in the second war, the Shiite Arabs in Basra, the Afghans in the first and Second Afghan wars in 1900 and 1901, and every manner of people around the world. This was just plain murder plain and simple. Just because they were poor does not justify it.

The worst cut of all was the murder by the Gurkhas at Jillianwalla Bagh also known as the Amritsar Massacre. Hundreds of Sikh unarmed civilian men women and children shot at close range under British orders in a temple in India. A gurkha killing Indians who are meant to be their brothers. What sort of people are these? Did they do it because they were poor? Shooting women and children at a Sikh Temple in Amritsar because a white English officer wants it done?

I have said enough.
Gopalan Nair

Anonymous said...

All said and done the fact remains that the Gurkhas kill others, including innocents to feed their families.
I have no mercy for their kind.
They should leave Singapore.
In fact they should be ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous said...

In defence of Mr Nair, henceforth GN, that he should not be posting what he posted regarding Gurkhas , he is entitled to say what he has said, especially when he is endowed with the greatest of rights - the freedom of expression, being in America. This remarkable right is why America is undoubtedly the greatest nation on Earth today.

GN has actually taken a few valid points regarding Gurkhas, and some points are even intellectual teasers. However, his posts, very often inflammatory, are also to be taken with a pinch of salt, and perhaps even with humour.

Obviously there’s exaggeration, a little instigation and sometimes even utter ludicracy/lunacy – but this all part of something most Singaporeans do not know and are most unlikely to understand, or fully understand – part of what it is called, the freedom of expression, following on from another fundamental right – the freedom of thought and opinion.

His post/s may be hurtful, but so also is the hurt caused by Madonna adorning the crucifix in the holiest of holies – you know where, I need not mention it except that it rhymes with Regina. But it does not mean she was wrong in doing it or that she should not do it in future. She is in America and she is entitled to express herself, as long as her expression is within lawful boundary. If GN has crossed the lawful boundary or if there is a defamatory element to GN’s post, then, I am quite sure GN is prepared to meet a defamation action or another type of legal action, both of which he is likely to win anyway, and that too even before the case goes to trial.

This is not to say that you are not entitled to rebut his statements –by all means please do so, I would like to see contrary views myself. Indeed there have been some delightful ones. However, please do not say that he should not have said what he has said. That’s really absurd, to say the least.

By the way, if you are wondering, I do not know GN. The purpose of this post is to emphasise and awaken some readers to two of the greatest rights in this world - the freedom of opinion and expression.


Gopalan Nair said...

I am closing the debate on Gurkhas. Enough has been said. Thank you. No further comments on this topic will be published.

Gopalan Nair
Fremont, California

Anonymous said...

Hello GN,

Why dont you chose US instead of India. So that you can live a life of luxury and rant on about others misfortune. Next thing you will rant about muslims terrorist I guess. What pity, Feel sorry about you.

Good luck In USA