Major Akshay Girish: Son, Hero, Martyr

In less than three weeks since Akshay’s martyrdom, we as a family while supporting each other every minute, every day, are also trying to accept that life must go on. Particularly for little Naina and Sangeeta. So here’s the positive news- Naina has started going to her new nursery school at Air Force Station Yelahanka (headed by a very warm and proactive Principal in Mrs. Aparna Dutta). It is reassuring to see her walk up-to her teacher smiling, saying ‘bye mumma’ and interacting with other kids her age. Sangeeta will take a while longer to decide on how she would like to occupy herself outside the home.

We have also just returned from a weekend trip to Delhi where we were hosted by Akshay’s arm- the Engineers, his parent regiment-the Bengal Sappers and unit- the 51 Engineers. Being with so many Veterans (the oldest a fit and active 93 year old General), serving senior officers and Akshay’s unit mates, the ladies who were so caring, Sangeeta’s many friends, and participating in a poignant ceremony to honour the braveheart soldiers Akshay and Chittaranjan, was very emotional. We came away reassured, that as a family, we are not alone in coping with the sorrow of loss. We are also filled with pride that our son has lived up-to the ideals of a true soldier of the great Indian Army who fulfilled his duty so bravely, that in doing so, he sacrificed his life for the nation.

While writing Akshay’s story is providing some solace, I do realise that penning down every thought of my little one will make it un-endingly long. So, I will try to speed up his story, my way.

 His Story; My Way

PART FOUR

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When Girish was posted as instructor in Flying Instructors School(FIS), Tambaram (Chennai), both Neha and Akshay were lucky to get into the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) after another ‘entrance test’. We had thought only Neha might do well enough since there were only 4 vacancies and 40 children wrote the test but a combination of their marks and their dad’s large number of postings (5 postings in 7 years!) ensured both kids found a place in KV Tambaram’s class 4. In school, Akshay was very particular about completing his homework and learning up for his tests. Doing well was important to him and even if I said ‘very good, itna yaad kiya aur likha, kaafi hai (you have learnt a lot and written enough),’ he would want to do it ‘once more.’ He moved closer to Neha each year in academic performance.

The Tambaram KV taught Akshay what surviving the rough and tumble meant. Akshay being the shortest and thinnest in class (he stood right in front in the boys line during assembly), was often picked on and bullied by a bunch of bigger, older, local kids. Only they didn’t know he wasn’t one to taking things lying down! More than once, along with the other parents, I was called by the class teacher because Akshay had ‘been in a fight’. Akshay would tell me the boys used bad language and elbowed or tripped him on purpose and knowing Akshay, I would defend him by telling the teacher he would never start a fight. The teacher however didn’t always believe me. One day, five of the boys got together to beat Akshay up, when Neha, for the only time in her life, jumped into the fight to help defend her brother who was at the receiving end. Both came home with physical bruises and stronger emotional ties and years later, on Raksha Bandhan, Neha told Akshay that he should tie a Rakhi on her wrist because she once protected him!

Neha also remembers how, when in class 5, when a teacher made a comment about women’s fashion and how over the years the skirts were getting shorter, Akshay immediately stood up and told the teacher ‘aaap galat baat bol rahe hain Sir (you are speaking wrong things Sir).’ Needless to say I got summoned to school again for Akshay’s ‘rudeness’ to the teacher!

Although Akshay was short for his age and skinny, he would never hesitate to stand up to his principles. He would take on bullies in school or judgmental adults anywhere, anytime.

Tambaram (in Chennai) was wonderful for the first year and half when the twins had plenty of friends, and Akshay was not only getting good grades, but also showing a keen interest in sports and drawing. He was running very fast and getting prizes for it and was rarely separated from his bicycle! As a result, he was eating better and getting stronger. He was also very fond of attention and being on stage. He once won a fancy dress competition dressed as a ‘khilone wali(woman selling toys)’!! Trips to the Vandalur Zoo and Safari and a most enjoyable Andaman vacation – with the Ghosh family (kids- Arunab and Arpita) and Dhruv, the famous ‘FIS kids’ dancing to ‘Its My Life’ during the Presidential Colours honour for IAFs FIS(Flying Instructors School) and Teeny, our little loveable daschund made for great memories of the Tambaram tenure.

However, the good times didn’t last. Tragedy struck our family when my brother’s wife Smita, who was also my best friend since school, died of snake bite in Jamnagar on 2nd October 1994. Nine year old Dhruv and 3 year old Satwik moved in with my parents and my brother at their Jayanagar home in Bangalore.  The grandparents were thrust by fate into once again being foster parents to the little boys and while no one can really replace a mother, we, as a family decided to do our best under the circumstances. I wanted to be closer to our nephews and Girish too decided to ask for an early retirement from the Air Force. We left Chennai and moved into a nearby apartment and the cousins became a foursome. We were lucky that Deepa Sridhar Maam, the Principal of the reputed Kumaran’s CBSE School took in all our kids- Akshay, Neha and Dhruv in class 6, Satwik in class one and also Ankit(Girish’s brother’s son) in class 3. Much bonding happened between the cousins and many stories of the ‘naughty boys’ are still shared with a twinkle in their eyes!

Akshay started writing poetry even as his sketching and painting became happy hobbies, particularly during school breaks. That was his quiet time as otherwise, he was a real social animal who loved people of all ages and began noticing the girls! As Neha says, to him girls were always pretty, prettier and prettiest, and they seemed to find him charming, with his cute lopsided smile and the twinkle in his kind eyes. It was also the time when Akshay became very focused about joining the Defence Services-he had always wanted to be a fighter pilot like his papa and was in no mood to change his mind. As his mother, I was rather reluctant to let ‘little’ Akshay write the entrance exam for Bangalore Military School, but he hounded us till we let him try, and surprised us by studying very hard and being selected. Akshay became a ‘Georgian’ late, in class 8th and his first rough and tough experience of a very difficult month in a Military boarding school did not deter him from changing his mind.

He soon embraced the tough life. BMS and the spirit of ‘Tagore House’ became his enduring passion.  I’m sure his many friends- Aditya, Preetam, Tejas, Suhaas, Gladson, Kunal, Rishi, Anand etc etc will be privy to all that went on with Akshay in school but as parents, Girish and I were surprised at how our little boy was fast becoming an independent and responsible young lad, taking pride in his chosen way of life, doing well in studies, participating in sport and extra-curricular activities and when home, narrating some really exciting stories of hostel life! He looked up-to his seniors who had succeeded in making it to NDA and his first Principal – the capable Lt. Col Charanjeet Singh and Administrative Officer Capt DPK Pillai became his role models. In fact, DPK Pillai was his hero, both for his bravery and his kindness to the boys in school, like when he took them for a ride in his car or bought treats of ice-creams or pastries. When Akshay narrated the story of DPK’s bravery against militants in Manipur and being awarded the Shaurya Chakra, his eyes would glisten with respect and pride.

Heroism motivated Akshay and being brave while being kind meant more to him than it did to most other kids his age.

Akshay became a true Georgian and wouldn’t hear of suggestions to leave after class 10 and join a local pre-university college. Girish had by then left the IAF and joined Jet Airways as a Commercial Pilot. We as a family took our first vacation abroad (a month with extended family in US of A) in 2001 after the twins finished their 10th board exams. Girish also felt that the vacation would give our teenagers the much needed exposure, a broader view of educational possibilities at a critical time (when they needed to choose core subjects in class 11) and also help Akshay consider other career options. After a fantastic holiday with my aunt Hema’s family- Ben uncle and cousin Ganesh at Atlantic City and New York (The picture on top of the Twin Towers is now treasured) and with Nagmani bua, Nari uncle, cousins Anup and Vijay(Girish’s sister’s family) touring California’s Disney land in LA, Universal Studios, San Francisco and San Diego’s Sea World etc, we were on our flight back to India. Akshay was sitting next to me on the long flight, resting his head on my shoulder as we chatted about the good times we had just had. He suddenly went quiet- introspection time- before he came up with a sentence I have never forgotten. The 15 year old said and I quote, ‘Ma, America ke bare mein itna suna tha, ab dekha bhi aur bahut maza aaya (We had heard so much about America, now we have been there and had a lot of fun too). But for me, India is home. I am fine with taking a holiday anywhere but want to wear the uniform for my country.’

Coming from Akshay, I knew he had made up his mind. And once he decided to focus on something, no amount of influence or incentive could make him change his mind.

He went on to do his best academically in class 11. In February, just before the 12th Board exams, Akshay was hospitalized after a two week bout of fever, abdominal pain and vomiting. He lost a lot of weight as a mixed infection sapped his strength.  Put on IV fluids and antibiotics, it took another week for his fever to normalise. He could barely sit up and stay awake but continued to try and study because the final boards were just about two weeks away.  As a mother and college lecturer, I tried dissuading Akshay from giving his board exams and told him he could write the supplementary exams a couple of months later, because not doing well would affect his chances of getting into NDA or even into a good college.  He wouldn’t hear of it and with four-hourly nourishment (fruit juices, bananas, eggs, boiled black chana and a high carb-low fat diet) put in a lot of effort to successfully write his 12th Board exams in March 2003. While he remained determined to do well in the upcoming NDA entrance exam, he did heed our advice to keep his options open (just in case he didn’t make it) and also wrote the AIEEE and the CET entrance tests for Engineering.

When the results came in one after the other, Akshay not only had excellent college options that were available to Neha and Dhruv, but had also comfortably made it to the coveted National Defence Academy.

At this point, I would like to share a story written on Akshay on how he joined the Army and not the Air Force. Called ‘Colour of the Uniform’, this story was earlier published in one of the books of the ‘Chicken Soup’ series.

COLOUR OF THE UNIFORM

Akshay knew what he wanted to be ‘when I grow up’ since he was 3 years old – ‘a pilot like papa’. Unlike his twin sister who changed her long term goal every year since they turned 12, he remained focused all along and finally, his 14 year long dream was coming true. Class 12 exams were done with, the difficult National Defence Academy (NDA) written examinations went well and the upcoming SSB interview was the lone hurdle.

At age 17, Akshay’s resemblance to his baby pictures were his big bright eyes and impish smile. Chatty and hyperactive with friends in every imaginable street around home, Akshay loved eating out and justified its frequency saying, ‘for just 20 rupees,  you can get the tastiest, healthiest parathas and egg curry or aloo parathas with  butter’.  Like most teenagers whose life revolved around school, sports, phone calls and movies, his study-related mantra was ‘mugging really hard before exams’.  It had paid off and he was pleased as punch with everything unfolding as per plan.

When he received the interview call letter, Akshay was thrilled, well prepared and confident of leaving no stone unturned in convincing the SSB selection panel that he was ‘excellent Air Force material.’ And he did! We hugged him on his return from the week long process that had included daily activities and tests. ‘Pilot aptitude, psychological, physical endurance, team tasks, group discussions and personal interview,’ he listed them out and described each one. Excited and euphoric, he pointed to the fighter aircraft on his chest and we learnt that the coveted T shirt had been gifted to successful candidates by officers of the Indian Air Force.

All that remained now was the Medicals. Akshay wanted to take an advance eye test- ‘just to make sure before the final medicals that your son has perfect vision ma,’ and so I drove him to the doctor. Seated in the waiting area, Akshay was his usual talkative, smiling, confident self, telling me about plans to fit in a mountain trek and Goa holiday ‘before I go to NDA’. The doctor called him in for examination and soon he was back- his eyes stormy pools as he met my questioning look,  shaking his head in disbelief and unable to hide his pain and disappointment.

‘You know how I’ve dreamt of being a pilot since I was 3 ma – why did this happen to me? After coming this far? ’ The tried and tested words ‘whatever happens is for the best sweetheart’ sounded hollow and fake even to my ears. Akshay’s vision was not good enough to clear the Indian Air Force’s stringent medical standards. His lifelong dream had been ended by an unexpected twist of fate.

Later that evening, his father outlined options that were still open. ‘You can become a commercial pilot and fly for an airline. Think about it- there’s still time.’ Akshay didn’t take long to decide. ‘It is the NDA for me ma, he said. Yes, I wanted to be a fighter pilot, wear the uniform with pride and serve my country. Maybe the colour of my uniform has changed. I will join the Army. An adventurous life is just right for me.’ He had bounced back, oozing positivity and confidence once again.

We learnt that dreams don’t die. They transform. When all seems lost, acceptance can open many doors to happiness. Today, at 25, Akshay wears the Olive Green with pride and has served in conflict zones. It is obvious how much he loves his work of leading the soldiers under his command, the camaraderie, and the spirit of the service he belongs to. On one of our walks, he tells me how glad he is to have made the decision he did. ‘Many friends told me I was stupid not to take up commercial flying ma. When the going got really tough in NDA, there were times when even I thought of quitting for the easier option. But this sense of achievement …making my own path… self-esteem born of struggle…it gives a real high.  I look at him in awe and ask ‘Is there a twinge of regret in not realising your long standing dream?’ He smiles that lopsided smile saying, ‘read that ma’, and points to a signboard in the park that says ‘When you ask for something and God says ‘not now’, it means he wants to give you something better’.

 

Author: Meghna Girish.

Published in Chicken Soup for The Indian Soul- Teens Talk Growing Up (2011)

64 thoughts on “Major Akshay Girish: Son, Hero, Martyr

  1. Beautiful writing dear Meghna aunty,
    Akshay truly was a special kid …I can see so much of myself in him and that’s the beauty of this brilliant piece…
    My only suggestion to you is to keep on writing, the more we read the more we get inspired.
    Thank you aunty for helping us know him better.
    Best wishes and lots of love.
    Shivangi.

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  2. A muaaaaaaaaaaaah for Maj Akshay … and a bigger hug for you , Girish sir and Neha …. what a lovely happy and totally besotted with each other family … I am sure hes smiling his lopsided impish smile somewhere up there … lots of love to Naina and Sangeeta too … may your smiles be restored soon … inspite of it all … god bless you .. love you

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  3. Dear Meghna, don’t hurry up to finish Akshay’s story…write whenever you feel upto it, as and when u remember his life incidents…it will inspire many young minds…

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  4. Beautifully written… every word… so much to learn from your writings… acceptance opens many doors to happiness.. :)…
    N yes.. sooo nice to read about maj Akshay.. proud of him..beyond belief…

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  5. Meghna, while reading this piece I was re-living those days. Akshay in Military school was Sameer’s bada Bhayya and how he would be ragged less because of this connection. Sameer was always in awe of Akshay and tell us all what he had achieved. As you mentioned nothing could get Akshay down, not even having to change his goal from joining IAF to the Indian Army. How quickly he bounced back and found as much excitement in that as he would have done in IAF. He loved to be told he was handsome/good looking, but after that happy grin and a ‘thank you’, he would also say “Doosre bhi handsome lag rahe the Aunty” -the others were also looking handsome. Always the humble Akshay!

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  6. Meghna no words to express how well you write. I too went back to tambaram days n d lovely dance performance by our kids under your guidance. Keep writing meghana.regards love n hugs.

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  7. Dear Meghana Ma’am,

    Very inspiring. Please keep writing. Every post, I get emotional. He is a God sent braveheart warrior. Blessed that we are knowing him through your writing.

    Take care

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  8. Hello Madam
    Beautifully put together memories of Akshay…. I was 2 years senior to him in BMS from Rajaji House. Brought tears ans miles to my eyes on remembering those beautiful days and how cruel fate can be.
    May God give strength to all of you.

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  9. Meghana mam your writing is so inspiring. My daughter who is a Georgian , junior to akshay has quoted from your writings to instill confidence in me not to lose hope when things go bad..please keep writing. Your family itself sets an example to a whole lot of people on how to take up challenges in life and to lead a complete meaningful life…..hats off to you Meghana mam

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  10. Ma’am,
    You do have a way with words and you bring Akshay to life through your narration. What you are doing is possibly the best way to commemorate Akshay and his chosen WAY OF LIFE. Not many are so steadfast in their goals so young. He lived life the way it should – KING-SIZE and he should be remembered for that and you, Ma’am, are through your narration doing exactly that. HATS OFF to ” AKSHAY THE BRAVE” and YOU.

    Having been a Bn Cdr at IMA to see boys becoming MEN was always special to me. You lose boys that have trained under you and you feel you have lost a son. Anindya once remarked in a battalion gathering that she and I were like parents to these boys and possibly the only parents who saw new sons every six months

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    • Very true Shankar. Akshay the brave has been a real blessing. If only the sorrow was easier to deal with. Thank you for your kind words. Take care.

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  11. Dreams don’t die
    They transform….yess….his dream
    We see him in Naina..
    His strong lady Sangeeta..and a family with an unshakeable spirit..
    We love you all aunty…
    We’re family… We…shall all….ways be..

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  12. Dreams don’t die
    They transform….yess….his dream
    We see him in Naina..
    His strong lady Sangeeta..and a family with an unshakeable spirit..
    We love you all aunty…
    We’re family… We…shall all….ways be..

    Like

  13. Excellent write up Ma’am this is inspiring, take care and keep writing my best wishes to you and your family.

    Georgian, Military School Bangalore.

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  14. A mother remembers her warrior son – this beautiful account by a strong mother tells us the story of how a boy became a man and an officer became a hero . amidst all the grief of losing her young son so full of life and joie de vivre so early she readily allows us into the making of a great warrior and hero . I am touched by the way she writes to inspire us . I had the privilege of spending the evening with the brave parents , the courageous wife and the most adorable baby Naina. I didn’t know what to say to them but they led me away from my own sense of loss . I salute them all. I respect them for being what they are.

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    • Thank you for making the time to be wth us Col DPK. We are touched by your kindness and concern. Naina is liking school and thats a relief! God bless your boys. Do take care.

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  15. As I read these accounts, the dots get connected………….leadership under extreme danger does not come to all, and Akshay’s school years tells a lot about the making of a courageous warrior. Thank you for sharing, he now belongs to all of us

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  16. Hi Meghna

    I read this beautifully elucidated so called poem about your son. I am Nowhere linked to this but can imagine what a lovely son you have. He is still there everywhere and such great young warriors keep us grounded and safe

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  17. Reading ur blogs,daily has become a vital part of my routine life.U r a true motivational pillar to all mothers,especially to young mothers like me,who want to nurture their kids with values,morals n above all self esteem.Keep on writing….as u r guiding so many like me.Nation is proud of a true soldier….Maj Akshay ….a big salute to u too…..🙏😊

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    • Thank you for the salute to Akshay Nitu. You are a great mother- believe that and the kids will do well and be wonderful human beings. God bless. Take care

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  18. 🙂 The stories are so beautifully penned. You inspire me to carefully look into everything that happens in life and pick only the learnings !! Being one among the 10 girls who studied in Military School, I can vouch on behalf of them all that your son did come across as a very handsome, well behaved, happy boy we all noticed…..sometimes everyone noticed at once 😀 but now we know the strong personality that he is behind what we saw and we are all proud to have known him .
    Thank you for teaching all your readers strength, by simply being your own self and kudos to how you remember everyone’s name and acknowledge them in your writings 🙂

    Regards

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  19. Meghana mam, my salute to you..what a mother u have been.each and every incident of akshay etched in your memory..thank you thank you so much..you are making him immortal..please keep writing..I wish you would write every single day’s incidents of akshay..

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    • Thank you Mahalakshmi for your kind words. Maybe when there is more tme on my hands, I will fill the gaps in Akshay’s story. Love and take care

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  20. Such beautiful words and narration. You have a gift of words indeed! First of all, let me say it was so nice to get update abt u, sangeeta and naina. Glad to know you all coping well.
    Even though we havent met ever , the incident somehow has got my heart connected to your family.
    Each and every episode you narrate brings us all closer to you all. Please keep this going and i look forward to many more such readings. Lots of love and hugs. Take care!

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  21. Very touching & inspiring at the same time aunty.as i get to know so much about Maj.Akshay & u,it makes me realize that only a great mum like u can nurture a warrior like Maj.Akshay.ur writings give us a strength & courage to move on.All the very best to little Naina & Mrs.Sangeeta.tkcare god bless u all &plz keep writing.

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    • You give me too much credit Liz- Akshay had it within him to be the warrior- a kind and caring one at that. Thank you for your good wishes to Sangeeta and naina. God bless. Love and take care.

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  22. Dear Meghna Ma’am,
    Salutes to your inspirational and brave son. Thank you for sharing your memories. The memories and loss seem very personal. Your writing is taking me to my emotional core and helping me process some losses that I have experienced. Maj. Akshay instills hope; so do you.
    Warm hugs and loads of strength to you and your family. Take care.
    Love.

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    • Thank you Jayashree. I do hope you are able to come to terms with your losses and accept life, for that is what living is all about. Love and take care. God bless you

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  23. I’m walking down lane with you through these stories. Very inspiring.and I really admire Akshay’s grit and determination in everything he did. As always love and hugs to all of you.

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  24. Hello
    Meghna Mam,
    Reading through is like living every moment of him.. The Brave Buddy… Maj. Saab.
    He is really an inspiration for many youth… I wish I could have met him at Tambaram.. Days..
    Keep writing Mam,
    Jai Hind

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  25. Aunty I eagerly wait for your blog each week. Salute to Major Akshay and also to the brave mom. Major Akshay’s story is inspiration to so many young minds. And you are inspiration to many mothers like me. You had been a pillar strength to Maj Akshay. Loads of love to lil Naina and a big hug to you. May saibaba shower all his blessing on you and your family.

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