Thursday, November 29, 2012
He could have been your son. He could have been your brother. He could have been your husband. He could have been your father. But now, he is not by your side – his rightful place…
Chances are you have heard about him. Here’s his story anyway...
He was born to loving parents, the answer to their prayers. He was their hope, pride, and joy. He grew up with his sister who he loved and protected fiercely. He was always the one his friends counted on in their time of need. He was popular, but he handled it with a maturity that was rare for brats like him.
He was a strong young boy who never gave up. He grew up to stories of courage and bravery. He was a romantic at heart. But he never shed a tear when he heard of heroes who had laid down their lives for his country. In fact, he secretly envied them. He confided in his friends that he wanted to be a soldier…
His friends tried to talk sense into him. There’s no money, no freedom, no family life, and certainly no comfort, they said. They told him that the only certainty in his career of choice was a bullet with his name on it. And that he would die young, away from his loved ones for a thankless country that will soon forget him.
He could not be swayed. To him, his country was his mother and it was his duty to protect her. He was surprised that his friends didn’t feel the same way. But he did not grudge them, because it was his duty to protect them. And he believed that his country is not thankless.
He volunteered to become a soldier. He spent three grueling years in the academy to become an officer. It was the proudest day for his family to see the apple of their eye in uniform – An officer and a gentleman. His father’s chest swelled with pride, his mother’s eye wet with tears, his sister’s face glowed radiant seeing him march. That was a sight he would never forget.
He spent the next few years in the jungles, in deserts, in snow, in marshes, in combat, in training. As a Para commando, he excelled in sea and in the air. On the rare occasions he would visit home, he would be overjoyed to meet his friends – writers, poets, bankers, managers, NRIs even – and reveled in their successes. He would hear them crib about their air conditioners not being effective, the quality of soup in their canteens, the hour-long commute to work, about the money being far less for the amount of work they did, about bosses who didn’t appreciate them… He thought back to the -50 to 50 degree temperature ranges he was exposed to, the joy of just having time to eat whatever rations were packed for him, the unending marches in hostile environments, about the joy of seeing the meager salary in his account, and of his bosses who bent him till the fraction before he would break… He smiled, knowing he would never want to trade lives with them! And he believed that his country is not thankless.
His mother started pestering him to find a girl. His sister’s friends vied for his attention. His father told him every day that he was never more proud in his life. He knew that he had achieved everything he’s set out to. Only one wish remained… But he had to leave, his holidays cut short because his unit was called into combat. This time, he held his sister a second longer, hugged his mother a moment more, and took a deeper breath before his father’s customary bear hug. But this time, when he turned away from them, his eyes were moist, his heart heavy…
A month from then, his unit was under fire from a group of terrorists. As usual, he led his men calmly into battle. But this was no war… It was a group of cowardly men who used deception and who attacked from the shadows. They followed no code. He grouped his men into formation and took point himself. He tracked down the enemy cell and in keeping with his moral code, fired warning shots and asked them to surrender. They responded with indiscriminate gunfire and explosives. He caught a bullet in his neck. His only concern was to save his fellow officer, who was also shot. He did not want his buddy subjected to the usual treatment they reserved for the Indian Army.
He took a long breath to calm down the adrenaline that was surging inside him. He raised his automatic, fired two shots – each finding its mark and dropping two enemies. He then proceeded to aid the extraction of his fallen fellow officer and friend. The first reaction he had was to ascertain that the rest of his men were safe. By then he had lost a lot of blood. He knew his time had come and he was proud to have gone out serving his motherland. He closed his eyes.
His life flashed before him, his mother’s cuddle as a toddler, his father’s strong finger that he gripped to walk, his joy on seeing his baby sister. His first bike, his first crush, his academy, the passing-out, his first parachute jump, his best friends… He knew they were wrong. He knew that his country will remember his sacrifice. He knew that his death was not in vain. He knew that his country was not thankless. As he felt his life slipping away from him, he remembered his last goodbye to his family. And that was the image that stayed with him…
It’s been about a decade now. The world moved on, the countries declared a temporary (and farcical) cease-fire, and his sacrifice was buried as a statistic. Only a few people think about him today.
His sister misses her best friend, and the arrogance and pride and the feeling of invincibility she had when he was around. She misses the fights, she misses the treats, and she misses the only man who ever loved her unconditionally. Her only wish is that he’d fulfilled his promise to take care of her… forever.
There is not a single day his mother does not miss him. She knew from the instant that she felt his life stirring in her womb that he would, one day, make her very proud. Her only wish is for just another day with him. To ruffle his hair, see him smile, to cajole him to eat another morsel, to watch him sleep, to hear him breathe, to…
His father’s friends brag about their NRI sons, the Rolexes they’ve gifted, the cars they’ve bought, the money they are making. His father wouldn’t have traded a billion of those for him. His father’s only wish is another minute with him, to be able to tell him once more how proud he is.
His family does not want our sympathy. Because more than the loss they feel, they feel pride. They wish you said a silent prayer for him. Just once. And they still believe that his country is not thankless.
I have been AWOL from this blog for more than two years. There were many interesting events that happened and I had thought more than a few times about writing a post. Somehow, nothing was as compelling as a two-minute chat with the sister of Major Udai Singh and later with my wife about the glory of serving your country and how my life’s ambition for a long time was to be him… He is among the lakhs of soldiers who have laid down their lives for us – names on a wall somewhere...
However, each of them – men and women – was the whole world to their loved ones. They live ever day with the hope that we realize the ultimate sacrifice made by their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers …
If my stars hadn’t conspired against me, I would’ve been one of them. And though I believe in a life without regrets, this is the only one I have nursed for a long time.
I dedicate this post to the memory of Major Udai Singh who embraced the ultimate sacrifice for us, this exact day (November 29), nine years ago. And to the soldier who at this very moment is standing between you and the enemy’s bullet.
Major Udai Singh, SC, SM
Forever we shall remember,
Those that have not returned,
For freedom is never given,
But in blood it is always earned.
Posted by TheWalker at 12:01 AM