Kargil Vijay Divas is coming up in less than two weeks and for this generation of young people, that is the war that beamed into homes what our soldiers fight for, so that we Indians enjoy peace and safety. The Tricolour fluttering on peak after peak after indomitable courage, determination and sacrifice. So much has been said and written about war and peace and today, as I write, I am thinking ‘is there any research on how families have coped without their heroes? What has been the immediate and long-term impact on children, parents, spouses and siblings?’ Since the last year and half, watching children growing up with knowledge of the fact that their father paid a huge price for Indians to enjoy being free, my heart breaks over their irreparable personal loss.
When Major Padmapani Acharya MVC, fought to his last breath for the country, days after his 31st birthday 19 years ago, Aparajitha wasn’t even born. We met her for the first time earlier this year and as we chatted, she said ‘Ive never seen my father and so I can’t say I miss him ….and yet I do….its hard to explain.’ Before he led his men to recapture the Tololing peak in Kargil, Major Acharya wrote his last letter to his papa Wg. Cdr. J Acharya. ‘Dear papa…. don’t worry about casualties- it’s a professional hazard beyond our control. At least it is for a good cause. Tell mamma that combat is an honour of a lifetime and I could not think of anything less. What better way to serve the nation? Tell a story a day from the Mahabharata to Charu so that your grandchild imbibes good values.’
Speaking poignantly about her father, at an event celebrating the 50th birth anniversary of Major Acharya at Hyderabad on 22nd June, Aparajita displayed the same calm confidence, courage and pride that I see in all the other children of martyrs and heroes. It must have been very tough when they were small, possibly confused about why their wonderful, loving father, suddenly disappeared from their lives. Not being told the details to shield them from pain, they would have understood the entire truth little by little, as they slowly grew up. The other day as I picked Naina up from school and asked her how her day was, she responded less cheerily. ‘Did you have dance class today? I cajoled to cheer her up. ‘Yees, she drawled, but I stopped dancing in between, because I was thinking.’ When I prodded, she said ‘I was thinking of papa….wishing that he could come back from God’s house’. ‘So what did papa say to your wish?’ I asked. Pat came her response as if Akshay himself was speaking, ‘He said, I can’t come back but I’m always with you and love you the most.’ When she won her first medal running in a kindergarten race, Naina insisted it had to be shown to her papa and decided it would stay with his pictures.
Since the Desh family met at Adrija’s home on 30th June to pay tributes to the bravehearts of Kargil, it is the children of our heroes who have been dominating my thoughts. We, a diverse group of families, are now connected by blood. The blood of our soldier heroes who put motherland before anyone else, to the peril of their lives. All gave some and some gave all. This year we also had in our midst martyred hero Capt Tushar Mahajan’s father Mr. Dev Raj Gupta who came all the way from Udhampur. People began opening up with their thoughts and feelings on the Kargil war and what impact it had on each of us. When young Deepak Surana, the author of the book on Capt Vikram Batra titled ‘Shershah of Kargil turned to us with a salute and asked ‘What made you send your children to the armed forces? My parents don’t even want me to try bungee jumping because it is dangerous’, we discussed and concluded that it was ‘desh prem’ that glowed within each of our heroes. They chose and we as parents merely supported what the child decided.
In an earlier interview, Aparajita said she always gets told that she reminds people of her father, in looks and in behaviour, ‘I am him and people see him in me’, she says. This year, she penned a coffee table book on her hero. Like Aparajitha, Akanksha, Sufiya, Meghana, Neha and Diksha have all written about growing up, feeling their father’s presence in their lives, despite their physical absence. When I worry for little Naina, Rehaan, Umang, Sara and Manna, Akanksha reassures me with her own experience of ‘finding my father somehow there for me, every time I have been at the cross roads and really needed him.’ In her book ‘Letters from Kargil’, Diksha Dwivedi has complied letters that soldiers wrote to their families from the battlefield. Letters that overflow with messages of patriotism, commitment, love, humour and courage unlimited. Letters that can inspire a nation. I urge you to read her book.
Which brings me back to the thought that refuses to go away. These heroes continue to be such wonderful role models for their children despite not being around. If they had not left, at least not so early, how many more young people could have been inspired to choose the right path and contribute to society and nation? Even without their hero papas around, each child I have had the privilege to meet is so confident, caring, communicative and above all, patriotic to the core. While some have chosen to go back to wearing the uniform, others have decided to marry into the Forces. Whatever career or life path they choose, I feel they will give it their best with the sentiment of ‘country first’ in their genes. For every soldier like Major Padmapani Acharya, L/Nk Bachan Singh, Col K J Singh, Major Dwivedi, and L/Nk Mohannath who had to leave for our sake, we have soldiers like Subedar Major Yogendra Singh Yadav, Capt Naveen Nagappa, Major General Ian Cardozo, Hon Capt Bana Singh and Col DPK Pillay who wear their battle scars with a smile. Not only are they heroes and role models for their kids but have the integrity and passion to inspire entire generation-next by their presence and their stories of valour against all odds.
At the first workshop on ‘Opportunities for Entry into Defence Services’ organized by the Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust for the benefit of students, Akshay’s serving brother officers from Army, Navy and Air Force rubbed shoulders with retired officers, professionals and concerned citizens, each putting in their best to make the event a very successful and satisfying one. The interactive session with Akshay’s course mates from the three services was hugely popular and the students had many questions to ask, which were very well responded to, by the panelists. Veteran Group Captain Ashwani Bhakoo presented the session on ‘Defence Services as a Long-Term Career’. He shared many inspiring videos even as spoke about the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, CRPF, BSF, ITBP and others, along with details of eligibility, benefits, challenges and opportunities.
Girish Nair, who is now the founder and CEO of Pace Global HR spoke about his journey in the Army through the Short Service Commission and correlated skills learnt and values ingrained (the beans and the genes as he called them), to a successful second career after hanging up the uniform. Retired Gp Capt Chandna along with Arun familiarized students on the UPSC entrance exams for NDA, Direct entry, Short service etc. Students loved a very interactive yet interesting session with Veteran Col Anshul Trivedi, who spoke about the procedure and expectations of SSB Interviews and how one can go about trying to get the coveted ‘recommendation’.
When Vikas and Adrija from team Desh spoke about the ‘India’s Real Heroes and Role Models’ Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Col DPK Pillay, there was huge applause. That living legend Col DPK Pillay was personally present was a huge honour and I can picture Akshay looking thrilled and smiling up there! When he took the stage, he gave a very emotional speech on Akshay, his student in Military School. With his permission, I am sharing excerpts because it is a speech that talks about qualities of heroes and has the power to motivate most.
Speech to honour the memory of a student of mine who made the ultimate sacrifice in battle against terrorists in Nagrota.
I remember Akshay joined the school when I was a AO posted to my Alma mater after I was wounded in action in Manipur. In Akshay I saw an exact replica of me – a young thin boy who missed home but didn’t want to go home because he so badly wanted to join the NDA. I saw in him the same grit and determination to succeed in a career of our choosing. I saw in him the fire to serve and defend what we all cherished and valued. He was a boy with no malice, he played hard, played fair, he played the game for what it was, he fought well, and always respected his opponents even in their defeat. That was what made him different from others.
Have you ever wondered why someone would want to join the armed forces – is it because we get to carry weapons and we can go and kill people, is it because we hate our enemies or is it because we get paid and also we get to wear flashy uniforms?!
I think it is none of the above. Officers like Akshay and me joined the forces because we love what our country stands for and we love our countrymen more than we love ourselves. He today for all of us is a hero because he has given his most precious possession, his life, to preserve something bigger and greater than all of us together. Our country’s history has been written by such heroes. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle willingly and smilingly. Major Akshay was one who showed raw courage. Our country will remain as it has been since times immemorial the land of the free thought and free will as long as mother’s bear heroes to defend what is valuable for all of us in our country and our human race. I salute the spirit of the family that rears heroes amongst men who willingly bear the cross on behalf of all us.
I want to tell you never look for a job, that gives us a salary, a flashy designation or a visiting card. You’ll find the memories that make your life the friends you make and can trust, gratitude of love of those whose life’s you made a difference to, and of learning that our life is not measured by the size of our bank balance and the size of the car we drive and other such trivial things. We must remember that we are all going to die one day and that is the best way of thinking you have nothing to lose. We have already booked our return ticket the day we were born. Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them and their memory are not lost to history. Soldiers like Akshay were among the truest Indians- they died defending freedom for all, not for their families but to preserve the free will and freedom for all. Let’s not ever forget what they died for!
When Flt Lt Aditya went on stage to share some personal childhood stories of Akshay, he spoke about how Akshay always stood up for whatever he believed was right, backed up by the fire in his eyes, which never flickered. He quoted Akshay and we are so fortunate to hear these stories of a beloved son who touched and inspired his friends. The first story was of the time Akshay was a new student in Military School and was being bullied by a senior. Aditya tried to tell him not to fight back because the other boy was much bigger and stronger. To this Akshay said ‘It is not the size of the person in the fight that matters. It is the size of the fight within each person that will decide the outcome’. In a discussion on effort needed to achieve a goal, Akshay had said, ‘If you aim for the skies, you will at least find yourself among the stars.’ Prophetic words.
Sangeeta was a picture of composure and efficiency as the MC of the event and it made me feel Akshay would have had that glint of appreciation in his big eyes. That the students at the workshop were so interested even during tea breaks and lunch break, filled with enthusiasm and questions for the officers and veterans, goes to show that they will do their best to make the country proud. We hope to see some of them wear the uniform with pride and honour in the near future. Meanwhile, as our star, Akshay now guides us to continue contributing to our motherland and will somehow, always be there for Naina. May God forever bless all the children who are dealing with losing a parent for the sake of the nation.
Wherever you are likely to be on the day, please do initiate or join in the commemoration of Vijay Diwas on 26th July and pay tributes to our brave soldiers. Let us never forget they gave their lives for us.