I grew up hearing stories about my father, Inderjit Sharma’s, grit and glory, but I truly listened only when I turned 50. I discovered beautiful revelations in the twists and turns of his life that began in pre-partition India. The story of Jungee is a quintessential hero’s journey. It is a literary fiction novel, based on actual events that are inspiring and sure to change your life, as they did mine.
I put my fingers to the keyboard in August 2015 - this five-year journey has been pivotal for me and it is my humble attempt at sharing his grand life story with the world. The storytelling has been dramatized to make the account of his life read-worthy, so fictional and real characters alike appear to provide the reader with an engaging experience. This was also done so that as the reader, you too fall in love with JUNGEE as much as I did since I was a child and take inspiration from his life story, as I have done all my life. I hope you enjoy the storyline and learn from it as much as I have. I have tried my best to do justice to this work and I hope I have been able to capture the essence of the grand life of Inderjit Sharma, in Jungee, the book.
I want to thank my father Inderjit Sharma, for being my inspiration by being exemplary in all that he did as a man, father and husband; my mother Chander Rekha Sharma for being a treasure trove of love and my strongest pillar and builder-upper and my sisters Mala and Anjalika, for their love, support, and friendship, and for trusting me to share our father's story with the world.
My children Roshni and Raunaq for their unconditional love for me and for being my teachers by choosing to live their lives the way they do. They are the reason, I live and strive to be a better person each day; and my partner Farrukh for the space I needed to fulfil my dreams, for which I am truly indebted.
My dear uncles in the Navy – Admiral SK Das, Cdr. Janardhan Deo and Cdr. Joginder Singh for their love for my father and being the constants in all our lives.
Mishana Khot for being the first to read, love and give editorial feedback for Jungee.
Pooja (Nicky) Dodd of Dodd & Co. for her love and for being my copyright consultant.
I want to thank my lovely coaches, Ujjal Gupta, for patiently but surely giving my publishing journey direction; Sudhir Dhar for instilling a dream in me, that I could publish this year; Ramya Rajaram for brainstorming the final touches of the book with me; Gayatri Krishnamurthy for making me stop worrying too much and leave some work for the critics and Mukesh Sharma for making me set a date to publish the book.
I can’t thank Nicola Gut Jain enough for his ingenious creative prowess in making all the artwork for the Peacock, Lion and Cow, and Manasi Gut Jain for the simple yet masterfully elegant cover design and artwork of the Cow, Lion & Peacock.
Lastly, a special shoutout to my two darlings - Anjalika, my sister and Raunaq, my son, who time and again over the past five years, generously shared their feedback. Raunaq in particular, for helping me connect the dots and close all the loose ends of Jungee and doing the final edit that went to print.
Priya Sharma Shaikh
Timeline: Commodore Inderjit Sharma, AVSM, Vir Chakra
As a young sailor in the Indian Navy, 1956
The Navy cleans you up! Inderjit Sharma, a young sailor in the Indian Navy, 1956.
Inderjit & Rekha with their friends from the Navy Admiral SK Das and his wife Geeta; and Cdr. Janardan Deo and his wife Shiela
As a young sailor in the Indian Navy, 1956
Cow | Lion | Peacock: Can you guess what role these animals play in Jungee?
Synopsis of JUNGEE, A Warrior's Journey
Set against the backdrop of pre-Partition India, Jungee is a literary fiction novel based on true events.¸
The story begins in Tandlianwala, now in Pakistan, where a mischievous tyke nicknamed Koogh leads a happy-go-lucky life of kites, marbles, and friendship.
Tragedy strikes when his family and his community is brutally thrown into the blood-spattered reality of India’s Partition. His family, part of a straggling group of refugees, walks for days to cross the border into the newly formed India. Enroute, he must confront death, fear, hunger, and numbing exhaustion, finally settling into a makeshift life in an abandoned Musxalim home in Phagwara. After this, the changed fate of his family affects everyone, including him, and he must soldier on against abject poverty and insecurity.
But life moulds a core of steel for Koogh. He struggles with adolescence, until one day, destiny smiles down on him. He takes the plunge and joins the Indian Navy, looking for an escape from his circumstances, a chance to forge his own path, and the hope of a brighter future.
Without any privileges of education, exposure and wealth that other recruits in the Navy have, Koogh joins as a sailor, a mere lower deck hand. But if his hardship has taught him anything, it's that sheer grit can take him very far. Koogh leaves behind his childhood moniker, growing into Inderjit Sharma, but struggling against the glass ceiling, dealing with discrimination and his own vulnerability, he rises through the ranks and encouraged by a few of his seniors, he dares to set his sights even higher, and takes the exams to become an officer.
When Inder marries the spirited Rekha, she fondly names him Jungee, for his defensive nature and hot temper. Their marital bliss is interrupted when he is required to take on an insignificant outpost in the southern waters between India and Ceylon, captaining a small patrol ship called INS Sharda, to keep in check the smuggling activities in the region. He feels miserable at the outset, but does his duty, leaving Rekha to live in a stranger’s house in Tambaram.
When a terrifying cyclone, one of the worst that India has seen, strikes the waters of the Bay of Bengal in December 1964, Inder’s ship goes missing. Rekha, in the throes of grief, suffers a paralytic attack and mourns her handsome young husband. But Inder survives the storm, and due to loss of radio connectivity, initiates a rescue operation without NHQ's approval. Over a month-long operation, risking his own life, that of his men and of his ship, Inderjit saves over 3000 fishermen who are stranded in the region. On his return, he is awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal. But nothing is sweeter than being able to return to Rekha and knowing that he is to soon be a father.
The Navy sits up to notice this dashing young officer, and soon after, Lieutenant Commander Inderjit is sent away, this time leaving behind Rekha and his two little daughters, to Vladivostok on a top secret mission, along with a team of 300 officers and sailors.
Why Vladivostok? For twelve long months, Inderjit and his colleagues live in the cruelly cold terrain, learning Russian and training in the art of maritime missile warfare. They return to India with 8 secretly commissioned missile boats, to form the deadly K25 Squadron.
It was a move made just in time. On the 4th of December 1971, a day that is still commemorated as Indian Navy Day, Inder, as commanding officer of INS Nirghat, is the lynchpin in the top secret Operation Trident. Despite technical challenges, and with no prior experience, the Indian Navy's brightest and bravest must execute the most dangerous warfare campaign.
In the darkest midnight ocean, while Karachi sleeps, INS Nirghat launches the first missile in the history of the Indian Navy sinking PNS Khaiber and most of her crew. The K25 Squadron decimates Karachi harbour, leaves the Pakistan Navy utterly shocked and handicapped. While Pakistan scrambles to retaliate, the Indian squadron silently retreats, bringing back her crew, without a single fatality. It is a victory of the highest order by the KILLER SQUADRON and India celebrates.
And what happens to Lieutenant Commander Inderjit Sharma? He receives the prestigious Vir Chakra award. Even today, as a retired Commodore he attends Navy Week celebrations in Mumbai as a chief guest at Killer's Night, accompanied by his beloved Rekha.
The story of Koogh's journey, spanning decades of Indian history, is a story that transcends boundaries and borders. It is a story that begins in a humble joint family, with uneducated parents, with the wolf of poverty always snarling at the doorstep. But it goes on to prove that even an underdog, armed with the courage, ambition and present mindedness that Jungee had, giving his best self to every life situation, can make his way to the top; that you can go through fire and emerge stronger than ever before.