His Story; My Way
Yesterday (11th December) was a very emotional day. So many of us came together at our home and celebrated the life and martyrdom of our son Major Akshay Girish. From his sister and brother to schoolmates and course-mates, from family members to family friends, from long –time buddies to more recent acquaintances, from two of his COs (Commanding Officers) to his Subedar Major Saab, we heard of so many wonderful facets to Akshay’s personality and values. As people voiced their experiences with Akshay, narrated through stories of dedication to duty, some funny anecdotes, and specific instances when he acted on his innate compassion for fellow citizens facing difficult times, our Akshay, with his charming lopsided smile and twinkle in the eye came alive. Many were so choked, they couldn’t speak and tears flowed freely. We thought we knew our wonderful son well, but yesterday, we were taught how much more there was to him.
There could have been no better way to pay tribute to a martyr.
It is with very mixed emotions of pain, pride and gratitude that I try to continue telling his story. The grey weepy skies match my inner mood, although I try to remain calm and stoic on the outside.
In Bidar, I was offered a lecturer’s position at the College of Pharmacy and 15 year old ‘Bhavani didi’ stepped in as a daycare-nanny for the twins. Bidar then did not have a playschool and so Akshay and Neha started LKG at the Air Force School a little younger than their classmates. Unlike Neha, Akshay was reluctant to go to school and when he saw the school bus, he would cling to me and tearfully say ‘mein kal chala jaoonga (I will go tomorrow)’. This was a daily ritual for almost a month. I had to extricate myself from his wiry arms wound around my neck and his bony legs wrapped around my waist and somehow put him onto the bus. He would then hold on to little Neha’s hand and bawl until the bus moved out. Each day he returned from school with a very happy smile and lots of chatter as he proudly showed off his handy-work with alphabets and numbers and his drawing and colouring books.
Before Girish started Staff College in Wellington (in the Nilgiris, near Ooty), Akshay and Neha got to spend a month at my parents’ home with their cousin Dhruv. At 13 days apart, they were such a playful trio that entertainment for us adults was never in short supply! As they say, each child is unique and Akshay, though tinier and weaker than others his age, was strangely unafraid. He was unafraid of strangers, of sleeping alone, or of venturing by himself in the dark. All visitors were first greeted with a cheery ‘hello uncle/hello aunty’ by Akshay while the other two kids took longer to make their presence known. And at night, Dhruv and Neha who were afraid of the dark would call out for little Akshay. He would coolly walk through a long, dark passage, no questions asked, and put on the light at the other end so that they could use the bathroom!
Akshay was naughty innocence, trust and courage at a very young age. He was also never afraid to lead the way.
One year in Wellington was a very memorable time for us and our four and a half year old twins. The kids loved our home on top of the steep Gorkha hill, the cool weather with daily pony rides and they made many new friends. They were also re-united with Gorakhpur playmate -Arjun.
Akshay and Arjun were as competitive as they were close. One day, as Pooja and I watched over the kids playing in the park, the two boys got onto adjacent swings and as they started swinging, their competition for the day started with Arjun stating ‘mere papa tere papa se jyaada strong hain (my papa is stronger than your papa)’. Never one to give up, Akshay rebutted with ‘mere papa tere papa se jyaada tez plane chalate hain(my papa flies his plane faster than your papa does)’. The competition heated up with ‘meri mummy car chala sakti hai(my mummy can drive a car)’ to ‘mere paas meri red car hai(I have my own red car)’ and so on until Akshay came up with ‘meri dadi apne daaant nikaal kar dabbe mein rakh sakti hai (my grandmother can pull out all her teeth and place them in a box)’! Arjun lost the competition that day while we were in splits. He however returned the next evening, running towards the twins and shouting happily ‘Akshay, meri dadi bhi kar sakti hai (Akshay, my grandma can also do it)’!!
As Akshay and Arjun hugged each other in glee, we learn an important lesson. Its okay to be competitive but don’t let that get in the way of your friendship or any other relationship.
By the time our twins celebrated their 5th birthday, Akshay had come a long way in terms of catching up with Neha. His teacher in DSSC School, a fairly elderly Mrs Lopez, was very patient and really good for him. She always told us not to compare Akshay’s grades with Neha’s and in his report card wrote ‘Akshay has tried hard to do his best’. He was very good at spelling and language but made mistakes in tests involving numbers – the math sums and tables. He still didn’t eat easily or independently and I spent a lot of time making sure he ate enough. Akshay didn’t like chewing on his food so much of it needed to be soft and smooth which meant upma without vegetables, dal without tomatoes and custard without fruit! Every few months, just as I would feel he had gained some weight and looked really cute, Akshay would pick up an infection, usually related to the respiratory tract. He would go down with a high fever and that little weight gain would be gone in no time.
One day, Akshay came home after school with a few rashes and I thought some plant or insect may have been responsible. I applied some calamine lotion and he seemed sleepy so tucked him into bed. In less than an hour and half, his rashes had spread and all joints – elbow, wrist, groin, knee and ankles had become an angry, swollen red. His face was puffing up at an alarming rate and he wasn’t really responding to me trying to wake him up. When I pulled him out of bed, he couldn’t bend his knees or elbows and his big eyes where thin slits in his swollen face. Our skinny boy was easily double his size and it was really scary. Girish gathered Neha and we rushed him to the hospital where a pediatrician swung into action. Akshay was unnaturally quiet and put up no resistance as needles were pushed into veins and an oxygen mask was put in place. We were told he had had a hypersensitivity reaction to some food he may have eaten. Seems sea food could cause such serious, life threatening allergies. If that was indeed the case, being egg- vegetarian at home, he must have shared another child’s lunch box at school. Put on life saving steroids and anti-allergy drugs it was a slow recovery for Akshay from what could have been a serious threat and we were so thankful to see him discharged his usual self after 5 days in hospital.
After Girish completed the year-long staff course, the four of us took a ‘drive down vacation’ and drove all the way from Bangalore to Gorakhpur in an old blue Premier Padmini. We started early each day with the twins bundled into the car’s back seat as they slept and reached a town enroute by lunch-time or so. A hot bath, a long nap and some sightseeing rounded off each night halt. In 14 days, we travelled through a longish route (Bangalore- Kurnool- Hyderabad-Adilabad-Nagpur- Jabalpur- Kanha National Park- Reva-Varanasi-Gorakhpur), spending 2 nights in Hyderabad and 3 nights in Kanha. That road trip on posting-cum-vacation with our twins under six years of age is among our most treasured memories. Decades later, Akshay still loved talking about the fun we had had as a family.
Despite completing UKG in DSSC School, to get into class one in Gorakhpur, the twins had to write an ‘entrance test’. As part of the English test, a teacher drew some objects on the black board and the kids had to identify each object and spell it correctly. Most objects were 3 or 4 letter words but Akshay was creative and so, instead of ‘bag’, he wrote ‘purse’ and the teacher marked it wrong!! Akshay argued it was correct because the bag looked like his mother’s purse and eventually, the teacher had to relent!
He never gave up when he believed he was right and convincingly argued his case.
As young parents, despite being responsible and careful, we almost lost Akshay in a railway station when he was just 7 years old. After a month’s summer break, we were returning by train from Bangalore to Gorakhpur. Since there was no direct train in 1992-93, we had to transit via Jhansi with a few hours stop-over and catch a connecting train from Jhansi to Gorakhpur.
At Jhansi, our family was split into two because Girish couldn’t sit in the Ladies waiting room and the men’s waiting room was too full for aunty(My mother-in-law) and me. So while we both sat in the Ladies waiting room with some of our luggage, Girish had the rest with him in the Gent’s waiting room. The two waiting rooms were almost adjacent to each other and the twins kept moving from one to the other. All of a sudden, Girish found out that the connecting train had arrived at a distant platform. Most of the luggage was piled onto a pull cart and aunty, Neha and I hurried behind the porters who pushed it rather fast to reach the other platform well in time. We had to walk a really long distance, get down a long flight of stairs and up another, thereby crossing multiple tracks before we reached the correct platform. Girish arrived alone with more bags a few minutes later and my heart stopped when I saw Akshay wasn’t with him! He was equally shocked- thinking Akshay and Neha were both with us. He raced back to the Men’s waiting room where a very upset Akshay – eyes filled with unshed tears- was waiting at the entrance. For me, 25 minutes that day seemed the longest, most painful wait, filled with scary thoughts of children being lost forever.
Over all the years since, Girish has never forgotten the look Akshay gave his father, nor the words; ‘Papa, aap mujhe chod kar chale kaise gaye’ (Papa how did you leave without me)?
Now, Im trying very hard to push the thought out but it keeps coming back- ‘Akshay, tum hamein chod kar kyon chale gaye(Akshay, why did you leave us and go away)?’