CONNECTED BY AKSHAY THIS NOVEMBER
This time of year is the long festive season. Dusshera and Deepavali have gone past and soon it will be Christmas and the New Year. In our home, after Naina spent a happy hour with brush and paints to make our diyas ‘look beautiful’, I did light them. Giving in to instinct, I also placed a fragrant candle in memory of all our heroes who had also fought for victory of good over evil. As I sat and watched the flame, the glow on the faces of three bravehearts in our living room seemed beautifully eternal. Maybe my state of mind is also influenced by the Sacred Journey I was blessed to undertake.
It has been three months since I wrote on my blog and many of you have been reminding me and encouraging me to post. I am grateful but at the same time, also left wondering. What new do I have to reach out to you all with? Anything I haven’t already said before? I then remind myself that even when I first started writing, just days after Akshay, I had no idea what I was going to say. In between I probably did find my way but now, once again, a little lost, yet wanting to reach out. With Naina sleeping beside me, looking so much like her papa once did, I forget about my spiritual peace for now. All I feel is this strong urge to just hold this little one in my arms and weep.
Instead, I pull myself out of bed and go sit in front of Akshay’s smiling picture. Yesterday was Children’s Day and as an excited Naina was telling her avva and tata about what a ‘fun day’ it was at school, I found myself thinking of Akshay and all his star brothers who were once little kids. On one of our many trips to Delhi in the last one month, it was because of Vikas and Hutansh that I had the honour of spending time with many families of our brave-hearts. Every home we went to has that special ‘aura’ and the loving warmth that surrounded us has to be experienced to be believed. The picture of Capt Anuj Nayyar as a little boy melts your heart even as Mrs Nayyar’s smiling and strong presence reflects pride in her son, one among the Maha Veers in the battle for Drass in Kargil. The beautifully written letters by Capt. Udai Singh speak volumes about a hero’s commitment to duty against all odds and are framed in glass sheets in the home of Sudha Ji and Col KK Singh. In Maj. Mohit Sharma’s parents’ home, his smiling pictures and the many stories of humour and bravery from his mother, brother and bhabhi make you feel you also know the charming and spirited hero. When father of Capt Devender Jass recounts how he never gave up on his dream to wear the uniform for his country despite completing his Engineering and MBA and on the threshold of a bright corporate career, you know his life had that ‘special purpose’. The passion and effort to earn the uniform and serve the nation runs through like a common thread in all the stories that are shared. I did manage to get a few childhood pictures of our heroes and to me, each of the little ones seem almost exactly like Akshay. Do see and decide for yourself.
As an older mother, I am also getting so much strength from younger women. Brave wives who lost a beloved to the nation. Beena, wife of legendary Commanding Officer Col Jojan Thomas who led his men to counter terrorists and gave it his all, is a young grandmother today. Her ‘never give up on fighting for what is right’ motivates me to walk a difficult path. Sarika’s grief speaks of her tremendous love and longing for her childhood friend who later became her husband. Lt. Col Rajesh Gulati was martyred in a helicopter crash while on a mission. Her determination has ensured his name is etched wherever he studied and served, never to be forgotten. Capt Riya and Capt Shalini Singh donned the uniform themselves after their brave husbands sacrificed their lives fighting and protecting our country. Now working in civvy street, their courage and sense of loyalty to the motherland remains as strong as ever. While they all have worked very hard to change the course of their own dreams, as young mothers, each one of them is doing a tremendous job raising patriotic daughters and sons. God bless them and all other single parents sailing in the same boat.
Mrs Prema Iyer, (who insists everyone call her ‘Nani’) and her daughter Padma are an inspiring mother daughter duo. Padma wasn’t even born when Nani lost Flt Lt. Iyer in an accident over 50 years ago. Yet, she courageously brought up her child who today is the most wonderful IAS Officer I have had the honour to meet. Nani continues to serve and give strength to families of martyrs with her experience in grief counselling and motivational workshops. Meet her to realise how age is just a number. And when you spend time with a soldier like Maj D P Singh who oozes joy and confidence despite losing a leg in war, a socially concerned Shorya Veer like Maj Rakesh Sharma and an extremely well-read and feisty Maj Gen G D Bakshi, it reinforces the belief that a good soldier is one who always walks the right path and puts ‘Nation First’.
As the month-end draws nearer, my heart is sinking. Every sunset since that fateful day of 29th November 2016 has reinforced the truth that our lives have changed forever and we will never be the same again. Yet, each new day the sun rises. Without Akshay. The rays of light though, no longer seem as bright as they once used to be. Not since that pre-dawn attack in Nagrota and almost two years since. NIA Reports have now confirmed that the plot to cause very heavy damage to the 16 Corps HQ was planned in Pakistan and Jaish e Mohammed terrorists infiltrated from across the border to enter the camp with local handlers. Three arrests of locals have since been made. The fact that the terrorists came in to cause maximum possible deaths and destruction is supported by how heavily armed they were with huge cache of recovered ammunition including rockets, under barrel grenade launchers and magazines for their AK 47s. That they were on drugs to last a long fight is also true. Yes, there were security lapses and they entered easily by scaling a wall and killed three sleeping soldiers and one guard. As the camp woke up to gun and grenade fire, the terrorists had occupied two blocks of residential quarters of families, and 16 unarmed women, children and men found themselves trapped in a hostage situation.
It was the swift and effective counter terrorist response led by Akshay and his team from 51 Engineer Regiment that not only saved a major tragedy but also embarrassment to the army and country. As families of the brave soldiers who did not care about their own safety and fought every step till they made the supreme sacrifice, we shall forever be proud of Kunal, Akshay and Chittaranjan. While we have since visited Naik Chittaranjan’s home in Tripura, a visit to Kunal’s parents home and Uma and Umang’s after that terrible day in Nagrota is yet to materialize. I promise myself a visit to Padharpur and Pune soon.
I reflect on how my raja beta was born to celebrate bonding and it does seem like he is making sure we continue to expand and strengthen our social circle. The weeks and months have been full of happenings. Bonding has been the central theme and with travel, it has enveloped us in all of life’s contrasting situations that have unfolded almost simultaneously. Happily-noisy weddings, joyous new births and tragic young deaths. While Girish, Sangeeta, Neha, Pradish and I have been packing and unpacking bags and attending events, Akshay, the one who thrived on being among people is nowhere around. At the same time, his presence seems to be everywhere. Just out of sight but always near. The same smiling, comforting, encouraging but unseen presence. Part of mind conversations. Smiling at the fun. Encouraging and motivating during our lows. Always steadily twinkling till we regain confidence. On one of our sudden travels to Delhi for an important meeting connected to due recognition and honour for Akshay’s courage and sacrifice to save lives, Sangeeta and I were zapped. The Commander of the flight introduced himself as ‘Capt Akshay’. And the next day, just as the taxi arrived to take us to the airport for our return, the TV news channel started flashing ‘Voice of Akshay’! Never before have I been flown by a Capt Akshay in the last 20 years and neither have we earlier known or noticed a reporter called Akshay. Maybe Mitali and Preeti will help me figure out what exactly these feelings or ‘signs’ are?
I have stopped trying to analyse these happenings and instead feel happy when something seems to be connected to Akshay. He came to us smiling and continues to teach us to love people and be loved in return. Valuing and strengthening relationships came to him so instinctively and so perfectly. Akshay was the perfect ‘intuitive counsellor’ who could make the most ‘down in the dumps’ person cheer up with his words. Many of his friends have come home and narrated incidents or sent messages to tell us how he was there for them in their most difficult times. I was scanning through old messages on my phone and I found this treasure from Akshay to me. His words of comfort when I was unwell years ago seem to make just as much impact to elevate my low spirits even today.
Before I get carried away in an emotional sea, a quick update. The Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust has a busy month ahead. An orientation workshop on ‘Careers in Uniformed Services’ is planned on 28th November for students of Jain University. This time, we will also be opening up Scholarships and Achievement awards to deserving students. In addition, the Trust will commence its year-long pilot initiative on communication, information and fitness with 9th class students of a government school in Bengaluru rural. As before, we are supported by Akshay’s friends and many who believe in contributing to a patriotic cause. We hope to keep learning as we go along, even as we try and take forward Akshay’s legacy of courage and service to the nation.
In the past few months I have also taken to twitter to be abreast of things happening around us and also to connect with people on an interactive platform. While it is an educative experience on how diverse thought, opinions and even specific agendas influence others, I hope to stay and contribute to positivity and nation building. It is also natural for me to be drawn to issues related to our soldiers. Honour for a soldier is everything and many times, the nation fails its soldiers. To learn that soldiers disabled doing their duty are sometimes denied due pensionary benefits, due to poor policy or paperwork is heartbreaking. While we now know that the much-delayed National Military Memorial in Delhi is taking shape, many other promises are yet to be fulfilled. In Akshay’s case, while we have been going between anguish and hope many times in the last 15 months for due recognition and honour from the nation, at the state level, the promised road naming in recognition of his bravery still remains on paper. As his second martyrdom day is just two weeks from today, I wonder if authorities will expedite what they have promised. Many people support us and motivate us to never give up on the efforts for due recognition and we are deeply grateful to all.
As I come to the end of this post, I recall a conversation with Capt Devinder Singh Jass’s sister. Sharing precious moments spent with her younger sibling, she told us how they had stayed awake chatting the entire night after his Passing out Parade in IMA. A day when he finally achieved his dream of wearing the uniform for his country after multiple efforts and his ‘never give up’ attitude. His favorite movie was ‘Courage Under Fire’ and for those who have seen it, it tells us the true story of a US officer (played by Meg Ryan) who’s courage or the lack of it in battle is being investigated by another officer (played by Denzil Washington). Through different conflicting narratives, what really happened in the field finally establishes the character of the lady officer and what she stood for. Courage under fire against all odds. Devinder, his sister says, was clear that under the most testing times, what a soldier feels within decides what he is willing to do for the nation and for others. And it is that self-esteem which is more valuable than any external recognition. While decision makers may err or even withhold due honour, a soldier under fire will always know what he did or did not do when duty and nation needed him.
Why I am telling you about this conversation is because when we found Akshay’s Dairy, he had penned in it a poem that echoes exactly what Devinder had expressed. He wrote poetry straight from the heart and I wonder where those thoughts came from, because we rarely saw that introspective side in his exuberant personality. Yet, Akshay didn’t share his most profound poems with any of us. Now, I am sharing this one with all of you because it needs to be read and responded to. We hope you will reflect on it and also share your own feelings.
Can you lay your life down
So a stranger can live
Can you take what you need
And take less than you give…
Could you go everyday
Without the glory and fame
Could you hold your head high
When no one knows your name
That’s how Legends are made…
Can you lose everything
You ever had planned
Can you sit down again
And play another hand
Can you drop everything
When you know you are alone
Still have strength to find that grace…
When you come undone
That’s how Legends are made…
Can you move through darkness
And not once look back
Can you still hold someone’s hand
When you are in pain
Can you do all this
And return charming chivalrous and welcoming
To a place where it’s not your name
But those you saved
Then go back again to what you do best….
Then Gentleman……you are a Legend
– Akshay Girish
Akshay, how did you know you too would one day join the exalted League of Legends in our eyes? Blessed to have you as son, guru and eternal strength till I am here on earth.
With gratitude and respect for all our Legendary Soldiers, past, present and future, I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Very Happy 2019 in advance. May you all always stay blessed and smiling.
Please join us in paying tributes to all the Nagrota martyrs on 29th November.
Thank you once again for being part of our difficult journey. Love and take care.