A million thoughts are muddled in my head as so much has already happened in 2019. It is over six months since I wrote my blog and over two years and six months since Akshay. We have lost many more of our brave soldiers, not only in terror attacks but also in air accidents whilst undertaking hazardous missions. Test Pilots Sqn Ldrs Sameer Abrol and Siddarth Negi were killed flight testing a fighter aircraft and Wg Cdr Sahil Gandhi of the Suryakiran Aerobatic Team had a fatal crash just before the Aero India show in Bengaluru. India lost 6 air warriors in a helicopter mishap and the recent Air Crash of an AN 32 in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh with 13 air warriors killed has saddened us all. I sit down to write but suddenly feel weighed down by negative, depressed thoughts. Feeling lost and very low, particularly after hearing about 5 more CRPF braves being martyred in yesterday’s terror attack in Anantnag, images from the gruesome suicidal vehicle bomb that took away 42 of our precious Jawans in Pulwama, reappear in my mind. Yes, India retaliated with determination and deadly Air strikes on terror training camps in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan. Our Government also made sure our captured POW, our Lion, Wg Cdr Abhinandan, was sent home unharmed. Yet, terrorism on our soil continues and our soldier sons continue to bear the brunt of these attacks….when will the cycle end…..? Or will it, ever…?
It is 20 years since India’s real heroes fought a long-drawn war in Kargil. Sheer courage, grit and determination made them victorious against almost insurmountable odds……. and here I am…. brooding and caught up in depressing thoughts…… I give myself a shake and look up at Akshay’s picture. His steady gaze is calm and seems to lift my despondency while giving me direction. I find myself automatically putting aside the laptop and getting up to go look for a gift kept carefully among a few of Akshay’s precious keepsakes. Back wearing this amazing tribute to Capt Anuj Nayyar, I am transported to the short time I spent at his home, enthralled by another proud mother- Mrs Meena Nayyar. Vikas and Meena Ji were discussing how Capt Anuj’s closest friends had decided to pay their respects to their very own war hero by actually going to Kargil and climbing Pt. 4875, also known as Pimple II, a strategic mountain peak on the western side of the more famous Tiger Hill. The young men from civvy street, all sporty and fit after regular ‘runs’ and ‘working out at the gym’ were determined to climb the peak to honour the memory of Capt Anuj and his amazing feat. Despite their enthusiasm and best efforts, they could not make it past midway up the steep rocky slopes of Pt 4875, that too in broad daylight, with no weapons or loads to carry, and no fear of enemy fire from high above. I share this recollection of their conversation so that you will truly appreciate what it takes to be a soldier of the Indian Army. To understand the tremendous passion, love, commitment and effort it takes to live up-to the motto of ‘Service Before Self’ and ‘undertake any task given to me even to the peril of my life’. To reflect on how we can also perhaps try to do more, crib less and never give up?
At 15,990 feet above sea level, Pt 4875 had the Pakistani army sitting armed and lethal in bunkers, making it impossible for the Indian army to attack by day. This was the peak young Capt Anuj is credited with reclaiming by evicting Pakistani troops, a feat for which he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (posthumous). Among the many battles fought in Kargil, after successfully recapturing Tololing and Tiger Hill, Pt 4875 in Mushkoh Valley was crucial for India because of its strategic location overlooking a 30 to 40 km stretch of National Highway. Charlie Company of 17 Jat was given the task to secure the peak on 06 July 1999.
Capt Anuj Nayyar’s Company Commander was injured early into the night attack and Anuj took on the leadership of his men. He and his team located the 4 enemy bunkers which gave the entrenched Pakistani’s on the peak a huge tactical advantage. Capt Anuj led his team, climbing up the sheer, bare slopes in the dark, under fire from enemy machine guns and destroyed 3 of the 4 bunkers, killing many Pakistani soldiers. The shocked enemy retreated but before that, one by one, all seven of his men were killed in battle and he also was hit on the neck by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) while clearing the fourth bunker. Braveheart Anuj Nayyar left us on 7th July 1999 while capturing point 4875. This invaluable contribution by sheer courage and determination must never be forgotten. The 4th bunker was finally cleared by the ‘Shershah of Kargil’, Capt Vikram Batra who had in a crucial battle earlier, on 20th June 1999, successfully recaptured Pt 5140 leading his brave men. Sadly, this was Capt Vikram’s last battle as well and he made the supreme sacrifice after killing Pakistani soldiers, saving the life of grievously injured brave Lt Naveen Nagappa, and ensuring the Tricolour was hoisted on Pt 4875.
How do families cope with such loss of a dear child? Anuj’s father, Late Mr S K Nayyar had with a smile recounted his son’s determination. “He was the best volleyball player in his school. We used to tell him not to play because he ruined his shirt. From then on, he used to take off his shirt and play. Then we told him, his vest was getting dirty so he should not play the game. But then, he took off his vest too and played! With a mind like his, how could one stop him from doing what he wanted?” Today, father and son are probably together, looking down at us from another world. The thought is somewhat comforting.
My mind now wanders into snippets I’ve heard and read about the budding love stories of young Capt Anuj Nayyar and the ‘Dil maange more’ Capt Vikram Batra. Both were young officers posted in the same area, in love with life and a girl back home, and looking forward to getting married on return. Before heading for his mission of capturing Pt 4875, it seems Capt Anuj took off his engagement ring and handed it to his Commanding Officer for safe keeping because he didn’t want it to go into enemy hands. Both young heroes fought to their last breaths, succeeding in their missions and making their Regiment, Army and Country proud, earning honour and glory after gallantry. Each soldier son also left behind heartbroken parents and sibling….and a lost love…..
When Meena didi was giving Vikas and Hutansh a T Shirt that says ‘ Capt Anuj Nayyar: Son: Brother: Friend: SAVIOUR # Maha Veer, I asked for one for myself and she quickly gave it to me saying ‘I didn’t know if you would want to wear one’. Meena didi, thank you for this. I am honoured to wear it and know that the words of my blog today are now in full flow, as a heartfelt tribute to your beloved son’s bravery and supreme sacrifice. Capt Anuj continues to touch many lives, including mine.
I look up again at Akshay’s half smiling picture and he seems to be smiling, encouraging me to go on. Akshay, who has the power to motivate me even when I am at my lowest, has somehow connected our family to all of you. You, who have in so many inexplicable ways, been part of our journey this far. For two and half years now, you have shared our pride and sorrow, tried to wipe our tears, held our hand, prodded us to go on, made us smile with shared stories and reinforced our faith in humanity by being there in our darkest hours. You have reached out with kindness, encouragement and guidance to stay strong and not give up. Yet, despair and grief still creep up on me without notice. So many times, I end up going blank, unable to stop the tears in public and fighting for composure while on stage. At other times, I have howled like a wounded animal in the privacy of my home and bathroom.
Every-time, I have also emerged stronger and more determined not to give up. Neither on Akshay. Nor on life. Akshays words ring in my ears….’You are strong ma….there is nothing you cannot handle….just focus on the positives….the good things that are happening ….life must go on’. So here I am, sharing the good news that Sangeeta is settled and smiling a lot more now, remarried with all our blessings for a new beginning with Anirudh. Excited about the event, the new clothes, jewelry and being the centre of attention, Naina also wanted mehendi on her hands and so I got young Chaya and Jyoti to show off their amazing skills on Naina and Sangeeta. Helping with a quick draping of the Sari before lighting the diyas and escorting Sangeeta to the tiny ceremony at a temple, this time, for Girish and me, it felt like we were part of another daughter’s wedding, along with Sangeeta’s parents. With Akshay’s grandparents’ blessings, his aunts and uncles standing shoulder to shoulder with us, we managed to smile through our tears. To Neha, Pradish and Akshay’s cousins, Sangeeta will remain a dear sister. She has found an understanding partner in Anirudh and a very kind mother in law. That Akshay also wanted to see Sangeeta and Naina always happy must have made this possible. Naina’s acceptance is so very reassuring when she cheerfully explains, ‘Now I call Anirudh uncle daddy…. because I already have my own papa.’ Akshay was well represented by his soldier colleagues from 51 Engineer Regiment with their families, as well as close friends. We hope you will all continue to extend your good wishes and blessings to new beginnings and a long and happy family life to Sangeeta, Anirudh and Naina.
On the national front, we are glad to see that our soldiers who gave their all for the motherland since Independence have finally been accorded a place of honour in the national capital. Girish and I made separate visits to the National War Memorial to pay our tributes to our 26000 heroes martyred in line of duty. Every soldier who fought to protect our Tricolour and fell defending our freedom has been immortalized with a brick of his own. So many heroes, sung and unsung. I was lucky to be joined by many of you, hearts filled with gratitude and pride. Together, we also found Akshay’s brick and those of many of his brothers and spent some time bonding with them and with each other. Although overwhelmed with emotions, tears were held in check. Salute them all.
The questions however will be asked. What is the price of our freedom and who pays for it? Apart from securing our borders, isn’t it also a fact that all internal conflicts are managed by uniformed personnel? Even the recent elections have been held and a new government is now in place because our soldiers have striven and protected democracy, no matter what the cost to themselves. Why is it important to reflect on these issues?
Trupti Koti, a young Electronics and Communications Engineer who works in the corporate sector in Bengaluru is braveheart Lance Havaldar Shankarappa Koti’s daughter. Her father had been part of many operations during his service tenure and he left the world fighting ULFA terrorists after taking 13 bullets on his chest in Solmara village of Tezpur district on 10th September 1999.
Lance Havaldar Shankarappa and Uma’s only child Trupti was then 11 years old. Young Trupti’s unforgettable memories include how it took 4 days for her father’s mortal remains to be brought to the family home in Bagalkot district of Karnataka. That day was Ganesh Chaturthi and yet, the entire neighbourhood in Jamkhandi, for the first time ever, did not bring Lord Ganesha home as they waited to pay their respects to their valiant soldier. Shankarappa was finally cremated in the village school he had studied in and everyone turned up to salute his sacrifice for the nation.
He fondly called his daughter ‘Avi’ and Trupti’s eyes get misty as she recounts how he wanted her to learn everything and become independent, even if it meant taking a knock or two along the way. When her mother Uma worried about little Trupti falling off a cycle and getting hurt, her father would say, let her gain confidence, don’t stop her. He also encouraged his wife to manage everything on her own, purposely staying home with little Trupti while insisting on Uma doing the Bank work and manage the finances. This shows how love teaches, encourages and motivates ….it is neither possessive, nor over-protective. Because a soldier knows life can be cut short so suddenly, they want their loved ones to be prepared to cope and manage independently in their absence.
In a tribute to her father published by ‘Honourpoint’, Trupti penned her feelings. ‘Pappa ji, it’s been 19 long years since you went away from me and Amma. But all these years, we have never felt that you’re not there with us, as it wouldn’t have been possible for both of us to come thus far without your invisible presence. We remember your oft-repeated words that one should never compare one’s lives with others and always live a life of gratitude, thanking God for a beautiful life. But the little daughter in me is not convinced and always feels that the life would have been much more beautiful if you had been around to hold her hand, when needed’.
You would be happy and proud to know that today your little ‘Avi” has evolved into an independent woman, capable of taking care of her mother without anyone’s help/support. I know that I owe it to Amma’s upbringing (bringing me up alone fighting against all odds) and your blessings. I feel proud to be your daughter as you lived and died for the nation.
As Akshay’s family, we have many reasons to be grateful to our ‘Star’. The biggest ideal is the way he lived his life with passion, courage and unselfish dedication. He has given us purpose and ability to continue serving the nation in our own small way, through the Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust. This month, the year-long School Program for students from a Govt High School culminated in an exposure visit to the CRPF Centre in Bangalore, thanks to proactive help from an Officer on leave from Kashmir, Mr Kashyap Kaddagatur. The visit commenced with children paying respects to martyrs at the impressively solemn Shaheed Smarak followed by a guided exposure to weapons training, computer training and a short film on CRPF. To see the excitement, motivation and interest among students to serve the nation in uniform in future, makes the effort truly satisfying. Besides the Trust’s increasing initiatives and activities, Naina, the energetic apple of our eye, our ‘little Akshay’, has taken to tennis like her ‘champion papa.’ Like Trupti, I feel confident that one day, Naina will also make her papa very proud. I don’t know if we will still be around to see that happen, but my heart says Naina will grow up kind and strong, very proud of her hero papa and a true patriot. Fingers crossed.
On that note, its time to say goodnight after a long post. I leave you with a short quote that motivates me to never give up on what feels right, without a fight. ‘Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever’.
Thank you for reading. As always, your comments, suggestions and experiences are much appreciated as shared learning and growing, so please keep them coming.
God bless you all.
P.S. This rare video taken after the capture of Pt 4875 also shows how the Indian Army is not just a fighting fit army where young officers have always led from the front to achieve almost impossible victories, but also a moral Army that respects even its enemy. Do watch.