Review: Gurkha: Better to Die than Live a Coward: My Life in the Gurkhas

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This book is about the life of the Gurkhas. We have heard many things about them, mostly about their courage, their loyalty and their discipline. Beyond that, I am pretty sure we don’t know much about them. This book gives you an in-depth insight into the life of the Gurkhas


This book has 16 chapters, much like watching a war movie. While reading it, my mind was picturing the landscape, the scenario, the excitement and I can even “smell” the gun fight. Yes, it’s that exciting!

My view:

There are so many interesting things which I learnt from this book.

I learnt that the Nepalese have different castes. Limbu , a caste which Khebang (the author) belongs to originally came from Tibet. The place they live in is secluded and will take a day’s trek (for a very fit person) to the nearest road. It can take up to 2 to 3 days if you are not so fit.

Life in their village during the olden days is not easy and having no modern amenities makes it tougher but they have ways to make it enjoyable. They seldom eat meat, probably once a month when they have guests.

The weapon in which all Gurkhas carry is called a kukri. Kukri is a curved blade which has specific special designs. It can be used for battles as well as for harvests. The most interesting I learnt about this blade is the design of the notch near the handle. This helps to stop the blood from flowing to the handle which will make the weapon slippery to hold. This sounds crude but being a sucker for clever things, I think it’s such a clever inclusion in the weapon design. I just have to show you this simple yet clever design of this blade.

This book is written like how you’d watch a war movie. You will read descriptions like “loud pshhhhhhhhhh”, “Aare!RPG!” “TAKTAKTAKTAKTAKTAK”. Don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean, you will know it once you read the book. It is because of words like these that make the whole book exciting. These words replaced the sound of guns firing and explosions heard in the movies. The book made me feel as if I am inside the war zone, much like the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan”.

In between these exciting “scenes”, Sergeant Limbu also writes about the history of Gurkhas. To them, there is nothing greater a man can do than act courageously in battle. They take pride when they are commended for bravery and their history is filled with many honoured battles.

Verdict :

So, if you want to know what goes on in the mind of the Gurkhas, their history, what makes them behave the way they are or even feel what it is like to be in a battlefield, do yourself a favour and get this book. I’m sure the book will make you have more respect for the Gurkhas.

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_custom_heading text=”Reviewer: Miss Cai”][vc_column_text]Growing up in Singapore, my parents had once told me when I was very little, that Gurkha soldiers were the fiercest fighters in the world and that’s why they were chosen to guard our high ranking politicians. I always had a picture of their stern unsmiling faces and deadly Kukris in my mind’s eye… till I was in my twenties.

I had hired a stretch limosine for a friend’s hen party and our chauffeur had picked us up; so we were traveling en route to a club at Clarke Quay where I’d already arranged for our VIP table. The windows were dark and so there we were, five giggly twenty-somethings blasting music inside the stretch limo and sipping our drinks… when a jeep of smartly uniformed Gurkhas pulled up right next to us at the stop light near the Istana.

“OMG, look at that one! He’s so cute!” my friend Spanky pointed, excitedly tapping her finger on the dark surface of our window.

“They’re all so ruggedly handsome!” Nat, our bride-to-be, laughed as she sipped from her flute.

“Hello boys!” I cheerfully waved at them, thinking they couldn’t see us silly girls blatantly checking them out through the tinted shades of our stretch limo. Feeling bold because they couldn’t see me, I waved even harder. “Heyyyyy!”

And that was when the group of Gurkhas turned and waved back heartily, with big amused grins plastered on their tanned faces. I just about died. We had our interior light switched on… so of course they’d be able to see right through our tinted windows, especially since they were just next to us!

So yep, it was then when I realized these lean mean fighting machines were very human too.

Our stretch limo... yours truly in the scrappy red heels!

Yours truly in the red heels with our stretch limo… oh what a night!

Coming back to the book review… Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu’s gripping 340-page paperback felt like an action movie, complete with rowdy battle scenes of brave men at war. GURKHA: Better to Die than Live a Coward: My Life with the Gurkhas is his autobiography of time served as a modern day solider for the UK.

Reading Limbu’s honest first hand account of experiences and lessons learnt during his tour of duty in war torn Afghanistan, I was truly impressed by his bravery and humour (yes, even in such stressful and dire situations)! It was a very addictive book, which I could not put down. I finished it over the weekend; it was a very quick and easy read.


Author, Kailash Limbu

Dedicated to his friend, a young lance corporal who was killed action (it made me tear because he was about my age!) as well as, his brave comrades who fought with him, Limbu’s well-written book touches on Gurkha history, culture, tradition, the brutal selection process… besides entertaining bits on his childhood and funny stories from his training days.

Finishing up the last few pages, I felt awfully sad for Limbu and his fellow Nepalese comrades at the end… Despite risking life and limb for the British Army, the Gurkha regiment were denied UK citizenship after their stint at war against the Taliban. It felt deeply unfair; our brave hero and his exceptional friends deserved so much more!

There was much use of army jargon in Limbu’s book (no surprise there), so I was thankful for the glossary included at the back of the book. If tissues were included with every purchase of the book, that would have been excellent (you’ve been warned) because I just about bawled when Limbu’s close buddy got shot between the eyes!

All in all, GURKHA is an excellent read that makes you want to hug this real life combat hero and invite him back home for a hearty homemade dinner. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kailash Limbu. You rock. Jai Gurkha!

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Ning Cai is a Singapore Literature Prize nominated author, who was also long listed for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. A bestselling writer, she is also recognised for her illusionist/ escapologist stage character Magic Babe Ning, and recognised by Channel News Asia as South East Asia's first professional female magician.

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