He is a 98 years old grandfather. His life is a historic timeline where he had saw the Britishers rule India, had participated at World War II as a soldier of 3/4th Gorkha Rifles, witnessed the Indian Independence, saw Sikkim turn democracy from monarchy. Pau had an opportunity to come across the legend to share his life in his own words. Meet Singraj Newar, a world war veteran from Sang.
1. Namaste Aja, Please tell us about your parents and your birth place.
Ans: Jojolapa to all. I was born in 1920 in Sang Rabdang Bhansari village to Late Shidhi Raj Pradhan and Late Laxmi Pradhan. I was in my early teen when my father passed away at the age of 55 years. My mother passed away after my retirement.
2. How was your childhood?
Ans: I was not fortunate to see a school. My life as a childhood was very difficult. My father passed away leaving five brothers, two sisters and my mother. I was then 13 years old. At my tender age, I had to look after cows at the cow-shed at Burung and Tinek Chisopani. There were 40-50 cows. In the morning we had to collect muhoi and butter and rush to the Sang market and return back with maize-rice, salt and mustard oil. All day long I and my maila daju were herd boys while at the evening we had to gather fodders for the cattles. Sometimes I even had to walk to Gangtok to sell butter. I spend more than ten years of my life in such a way.
3. Why did you choose to be an army man?
Ans: My maila daju used to sell butter at Singtam bazaar on ever friday haat. One day, he was told by a plainsman about recruitment of young men in an army. He was told that army men would get a nice salary. My brother after returning from Singtam haat met me and told about his meeting with the plainsmen. The very next day, we handed over the cow-shed responsibility to other and went to meet the plainsman. Me and my daju were barefooted, in a friable half pant and shirt which we had to impress. We met the plainsman and we were taken to Darjeeling where the recruitment was going on. The walk-able route then was through Temi Tarku, Ravangla, Namchi, Jorethang, Bijanbari and it took two days to reach Ghoom, Darjeeling.
Physical fitness test was held at Depa Darra, Ghoom where many of the participants including my maila daju too failed to qualify. Those people was asked to return back home. I was among those selected for the Training Cente at Pathankot. After one month of training, we were directly sent to war at Burma via Assam. We had with us a rifle, bullets and gaiti. My qualification in the army was as a Map Reader 3rd Class.
4. What experience do you have about the World War II?
Ans: The scene of World War II was very challenging. Bullets flying off so close to your eyes and bombs dropped from the airplane night and day making it worse to survive. I saw many of my unit men die in that war and I too was wounded. One of my enemies’ bullets hit my leg and even to this day I have that scar.
I got enrolled in a 3/4th Gorkha Rifles unit on April 7, 1943 and my salary then was rupees eighteen. There was a strict discipline at the camps. Those army men who had less education or nil were not allowed to ask anything. Once the Commander shouted ‘Go’, we had to march forward and we never knew where we were heading for. For more than a month we travelled at the oceans and were send off to places of Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan.
5. What are the different medals you have received so far?
Ans: I have received Star Medal (1939-45), Burma Star, War Medal, G.S. Medal with clasp 1945-46 and Independence Medal (1947). After the Indian Independence, some of the Gorkha Unit left for Britain with the Britishers. My Unit was left over in India where I was posted in Jammu and Kashmir borderline for the next seven years.
6. Did you have other Newar army men in your unit from Sikkim? Can you name few?
Ans: There were Newar friends but today I forgot their names. In my battalion, we had Gurung, Mangar, Rai and Limboo.
7. How did you spend your life after the retirement from the army?
Ans: I retired from army on September 12, 1958. My age was 36 years then. I was offered job in Sikkim but I decided to do farming.
8. Tell us about your family.
Ans: I have five sons (my elder son passed away 14 years back) and three daughters. I had given them good education which I could not get.
9. Why had you kept ‘Newar’ as you surname instead of commonly used ‘Pradhan’?
Ans: There is nothing big story behind my name; it was the Britishers who wrote my surname as Newar during the enrolment of my name at the Army Training Centre. We were classified as Hindu-Gorkha and sub class as a Newar.
10. Any message to the youngsters who wants to join army?
Ans: I would love to see the youngsters joining the army. They get disciplined, have good health and the salary is also good. Joining army is all about making your nation proud. You become a part of a history. And there is no job better than guarding a nation.