We made the most significant trip of our lives this week. Before starting and on our way to Akshay’s ‘Karma Bhoomi’, our minds and hearts were filled with a hundred different thoughts, questions and emotions. What we experienced there is so hard to put into words. For Sangeeta, it was Akshay’s divine presence, long conversations and shared emotions with close friends, reliving times they had spent together in Nagrota, and meeting with so many people who had so much to say about their association with Akshay. For Naina it was the excitement of recognizing the building where one of the guest rooms was their home for two months. She ran in from the main gate in glee, eye shining, big smiles and happy laughter interspersed with shouts of ‘mera ghar aa gaya….come avva, I show you my house…..see….this is my house’. She also enjoyed playing with her little friends, running around to see ducks with ‘Tejwant Bhaiya’ and enjoying all the attention she got from caring uncles and aunties. I think for all of us (includes Neha, Pradish, Dhruv, Girish, Beena, Col Ravindran and me), it was a sort of pilgrimage to the place Akshay had loved in the short span of time he was there, and wanting to know the exact circumstances of his martyrdom. It was also about being as close to our beloved son as we possibly could, trying to find him in his office(ex-office), in the unit area, in the mess and on the sports fields.
We were received with so much empathy and looked after with utmost care. Our questions were patiently answered and every little request was graciously fulfilled. While the loss of our jewel can never be compensated, we came back with less turbulent thoughts and more acceptance of the cards that destiny has dealt us. At this point, I am not sure how to take Akshay’s story forward. I know I said this would be the last part but suddenly there seems to be more confusion. Should I write from where I left the last part or should I focus on what we have learnt and felt from our visit to Nagrota? Or should I combine then with now and see what emerges as I write?
I know it will not be possible to pen all that happened in just one post. Apart from Nagrota, Girish and I also travelled to Isha ashram at Coimbatore for a small ritual for Akshay’s soul (as suggested by a friend) and have returned home with a little more peace in our troubled hearts. Tonight, we travel again, this time to Agartala to meet with Akshay’s co-martyr’s family- parents, wife and kids. Naik Chittaranjan Debbarma was Akshay’s buddy in the counter-terrorist operation and a valiant warrior from the state of Tripura.
To all you wonderful people who have made this journey with Akshay and us, I have to try and do justice to your patience, your support and your encouragement. For that, I think I will need to add at least one more part to Akshay’s story- the most important part of what happened in Nagrota on 29th November and how a much bigger tragedy/catastrophe was foiled by the bravery of our soldiers.
Believing Akshay guides me in writing these post, here is part twelve of Akshay’s Story, My Way.
The very day Akshay, Sangeeta, Naina and Bingo reached Nagrota after a long drive by road (they were accommodated in the guest rooms of the Unit’s Officers Mess, with other families), Akshay left on another long road drive. He had to join his colleagues for special ‘orientation training’ high up in the cold mountains and valleys. My understanding is that the training is for officers and other ranks (ORs) from army units posted in the disturbed areas of J&K, and basically hones their skills for anti-terrorist action. At 8 pm on the first night, Akshay called me and his voice was soft but clear. ‘After all the studying and desk work last few months, I’m out of stamina ma….and really need to catch up physically,’ he said. I pepped him up with ‘the first few days will be hard beta but don’t worry, you will catch up’. ‘Hmmm’ he said and added, ‘you know, it is so beautiful up here. Very cold but so scenic- if only there wasn’t all this terrorism, others could have also experienced the joy of being in these stunning places.’ A few more calls over the next ten days were about long hard days spent running up mountain slopes in heavy combat gear, carrying arms and supplies and practicing battle tactics taught in instructional classes, and falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion by 8.30pm. ‘No matter how hard one trains, no two battle situations are identical and a soldier always has to stay calm and apply his mind while leading his men’ was Akshay’s summary after the orientation.
Back in Nagrota, Naina, just short of her third birthday, started playschool on 3rd October. As Sangy got her dressed and sent us a picture of Nainu beaming with bag and water bottle, Akshay’s message read ‘Nainu’s first day of school- feels like she is getting big so soon.’ Naina seemed to have taken well to school – no crying even on her first day there, and Akshay and Sangeeta’s parental pangs were reassured. She did however howl on day three but as soon as Sangeeta left her with her teacher and walked out, the teacher said Naina wiped her tears and played happily!
Our littlest one was already showing signs of strength to deal with life’s insecurities and uncertainties’.
As was the pattern right from the start of 2016, Akshay could not make it home for Girish’s big birthday on 8th October- turning 60 years young! Sangeeta and Naina however did make it to the big day, coming all the way from Nagrota and we all had a large family dinner out with our parents, siblings and kids (Vaibhav, Ankit, Dhruv, Neha, Pradish, Sangeeta and of course, little Naina). While everyone spoke of a ‘puja and party’ to celebrate Girish’s 60th, we decided they can’t be planned without our son. So, the big celebrations were postponed to February 2017 as the likelihood of Akshay’s getting long leave then seemed good. I sent him a message saying ‘Really missing you Raja. Let’s plan a big party for dad in February. Hopefully you will get leave by then.’ Akshay responded with many ‘smileys’ and an uncharacteristically philosophical ‘Ya ma…the world lives on hope. The stars hopefully will align soon…’ He did post a very special message for his dad on facebook.
It’s been almost 31 years (us kids) … You’ve taught us to live calm, live sensible, live lively, live keen..
You’ve taught us that compassion, hardwork, determination and focus can share the same pallette as adventurous, fun, jovial and humorous..
you’ve kept the vintage songs going at home, given the travel bug not much rest, treated us to numerous gastronomic delights and even pampered us plenty…
you’ve taught us that all milestones are achievable..
That it’s important to enjoy the simple pleasures of life..
That humility only enhances ones greatness..
From cricket bats and barbies u brought back on TDs.. from long drives we cherish .. From the traveling all across Andamans to the numerous countries.. from advising us when we needed it to supporting us always.. you’ve also helped us realise that a happy marriage and a warm and loving home can produce two ✌ wonderful kids 😉 😂 (this, I couldn’t have missed)! Thanks dad for everything.. We’re truly blessed.. Happpyyyyyyyy happy milestone..
PS – MOM.. Dad couldn’t have done all that without u.. Not even James… James Bond could do that..
The next week, the family got together once again, for my father’s 88th birthday and on Vijayadashami ,Naina wore my duppata as ‘meri sari’ and as she did puja (she loves observing and following my simple routine of prayer- placing flowers, putting kumkum and singing), we took some pictures. Looking at them, Akshay responded with ‘lovely pictures….family together and celebrating…’ Sangeeta and Naina returned to Nagrota to a happy surprise- Naina had won herself a first prize for recitation! Neha asked for the certificate to be framed and all of us were smiling. Neha-Pradish’s first wedding anniversary on 25th October was followed by two separate celebrations- Akshay-Sangeeta celebrating Naina’s third birthday with friends in Nagrota Mess and we enjoying Deepavali in our Bangalore home with families of our domestic help. This year, Neha got me an outfit identical to hers and as we all dressed up in new clothes and lit diyas, the children of Ritu- Sanjay and Birendar-Mamta (our part time help for home and garden) burst crackers and everyone from grandparents downwards had a good time.
By now, we had really started to miss having our beta come home.
Akshay had started to play Golf in Nagrota- adding another game to his list of sporty hobbies, and Sangeeta sent us a really cute video of Naina following him around swinging a golf club and saying ‘papa…wait!’ On 3rd November, I had a very long chat with my son- the results of the Staff College examination were expected and so was his posting. Akshay was saying, ‘keeping fingers crossed ma, hope I clear the exam in this first attempt…nahi toh phir se padna padega.’ I was saying ‘you did your best raja, whatever happens is fine- don’t worry.’ To which his response was prompt ‘Im not worried ma. Staff College toh jaoonga hi- abhi nahi toh next time. I know I can do it and I will.’ His ‘never give up’ spirit always amazed me and made me happy and proud. I told him ‘really missing you beta- looking forward to meeting up from 1st December,’ and he said ‘me too ma- really want to catch up with everyone and enjoy a break.’ It seemed like the ‘Sujeev-Diya wedding’ in Mumbai was also going to be a ‘Girish family reunion.’
On 4th November, in response to leg pulling between Neha, Pradish and Akshay over scary movies and sleep-less nights, he asked us all a question; ‘We all have our moments of fear- what has been yours? Let us reveal’. On 6th November, he spoke about ‘escalation happening – two soldiers killed in Poonch.’ On 8th November, all the chatter was predictably about ‘Demonitisation and Trump’s takeover’ with lots of jokes being forwarded!
When the DSSC entrance results came, Akshay had fallen a little short of making it to the merit list and he was really feeling low. Sangeeta called up to let us know and Girish, Neha and I spoke with him to cheer him up. Knowing how much he had wanted to do well, we all felt his disappointment. I narrated my own experience of failure in a college exam, how low I had then felt, and how it motivated me to work harder and win a state award. He listened very carefully, asking a few questions and we shared precious moments of empathy. By next morning, his mood had bounced back! Determined to do well, he had already decided to get back to studying and ordered a few more books, telling his dad they would be home delivered and that he should bring them to Mumbai.
Since January 2016, Akshay’s whatsapp status had been ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You carefully.’ He now changed it to ‘Strike Two….’ It probably signified his determination to make it to DSSC in his second attempt. He did not get that opportunity. Was he then slated for something much beyond imagination? An examination that was bigger than all others? One that he would clear with flying colours in his first attempt but not be present to receive the accolades?
On 13th November, Sangeeta had posted some pictures and looking at Akshay’s handsome face, I wrote ‘Akshay Cutie…love love..’ to which his happy and embarrassed response was ‘Mom…Gee…’ with a ‘smiley.’ Once again the posts were on the family reunion coming up in Mumbai and we chatted about what to wear at the wedding and how much fun it was going to be with all our friends there. Unknown to Akshay and Neha, Pradish had initiated a separate discussion about a ‘surprise early birthday party for the twins’ on 2nd December. While he and Sangeeta were planning the surprise, I was roped in to babysit Naina at friend Sucheta’s home in Mumbai, so the youngsters could party late. Sujeev, Diya, Priyanka, Dhruv and many of Akshay’s course-mates (who he hadn’t met in a long time) were part of the ‘party planning group.’
This time, Akshay did not make it to his 31st birthday on 6th December. He will always remain young at 30.
On the night of 18th November, Akshay, continued his pattern of posting bravery related family whatsapp posts in 2016. We never paid much attention earlier but when we look at his posts now, there is a clear pattern emerging. His post said; ‘Can’t resist sharing. Feel like it’s a nice way to say goodnight. Trust you all will understand why…’ The forward started with ‘Today is Rezang La day …’ and went on narrate the story of unparalleled valour of soldiers from a Kumaon regiment who fought the Chinese in a battle on icy heights in 1962. It remains to this day a story of ‘Bravery that continues to inspire generations of soldiers.’ You can read this story on http://d2dex.blogspot.in/2016/11/today-18-nov-is-rezang-la-day-on.html
The words at the end are particularly poignant; ‘At the Rezang La memorial are etched eternal lines of Thomas B Macaulay…….”How can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his Gods.”
On seeing Girish and me posting responses to his forward, Akshay prompted Pradish with a ‘Pradish, read it….’ Pradish then replied with a ‘ Just read it…I wish such a day never comes back but indeed, today wouldn’t exist for us but for these men….. these guys are real Spartans.’ Akshay sent a huge ‘smiley’ in response.
Ten days later, Nagrota was under attack. The dots seem to be connecting…or is it just my imagination?
I cannot just narrate the facts of what happened on the 29th of November 2016, without bringing in what we have seen on our recent trip to Nagrota, and what we have heard from people who were there on the ground that fateful day.
The next part will have to be more than just Akshay’s story, for there were other bravehearts who fought alongside him. Together, they succeeded in thwarting the evil plans that the terrorists came well prepared to execute. They laid down their own lives to do so. I will have to ask you all for more time. Hopefully, the next part will complete ‘Akshay’s Story, My Way.’