From being a child labourer to reaching the hallowed annals of the Indian Army, and eventually becoming the CAO of a corporate company, Broken Crayons Can Still Colour is an honest account of a man unbounded, who broke the shackles of his circumstances to write his own destiny. “I hope this book serves as an inspiration to the youth and helps them envision a life less ordinary,” begins Walia.
Walia, having lost his parents in a car accident at the age of six, had a very traumatic childhood. “As a child, I was exposed to vulnerable challenges of life and everything seemed dark and uncertain,” adds 56-year-old Walia, who spent his growing up years in Delhi, Allahabad, Kanpur and Mumbai, with his elder brother. “During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, my brother and I happened to visit the Delhi railway station to distribute food packets to army personnel who were in special trains going towards the border. I encountered an army officer who touched my head and said I should join the Indian Army and serve the nation,” he recalls, adding that the encounter helped him gain perspective.
However, getting into the Army was no cakewalk, particularly for someone who had no formal education. “In the mid-1970s, I was doing odd jobs at Gwalior. At the army recruitment centre nearby, I came to know that one should have completed high school to be eligible. But I had only finished Class 8. With great difficulty and self-education, I completed high school and went in for recruitment. But to my rude shock, the centre was for sepoys, whereas my ambition was to become an officer in the Army, which required a bachelor’s degree. I then moved to Mumbai to take up a job with a travel agency run by my uncle who was staying at Cuffe Parade, situated near the Colaba Naval base. After my graduation, I came to know that one had to pass the Combined Defence Services Exam, Services Selection Board and medical exam, before appearing in the merit list. I managed to clear them all, one at a time, and ultimately joined the Officers Training Academy after which I finally became an officer in the Army.”
Since then, there was no looking back for Walia. Joining the army in March 1983, at the age of 22, he has been involved in operations at the Indo-Pak border, in Sri Lanka for Operation Pawan (code name assigned to the operation to take control of Jaffna from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) with Indian Peace Keeping Force, and more, in a tenure that lasted nine and a half years. “I have learnt that it is not a career but way of life. Army life builds camaraderie, teaches you integrity, honour and hard work, and most importantly, to respect your fellow men. It imbibes in you that nothing is impossible. Hence, you will never hear the word ‘no’ from a soldier,” he says proudly. Ever since he left the Army, he has been running a cellular company that provides international telecom solutions to Indians travelling abroad. Having seen the transition in the Indian Army, he comments, “In the present state of affairs, the Army is being overused, and too often. They are not only required to guard the borders, but are also deployed for counter insurgency operations, to aid civil authorities, assist during natural calamities, extend help during epidemics and also rescue a child fallen into a bore-well.”
One of the biggest criticisms the Indian Army has faced is with respect to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has often faced flak from human rights groups as it gives sweeping powers and immunity to the Army in conflict-ridden areas. “One must understand that the ultimate aim is to bring peace and harmony in that area and such a special power should not be misused if being done,” he adds. We can’t help but ask him about the flavour of the season, nationalism. Unlike before, anyone questioning the Army’s acts is now considered antinational. Without adding much, he says, “The term ‘nationalism’ is loosely woven today and it is changed time and again to suit everyone’s narratives and gains.”