I’ve never been embarrassed about wearing my sentiment on my sleeve – if only on occasion. And 26th July, 2001 was one occasion, the 2nd anniversary of Vijay Diwas – the Martyr’s Day in remembrance of the uniformed ones who gave their lives during the Kargil war, 1999…a war during which a few dear friends in Army and Air Force had played active roles. Today being 26th July, here it is: for all fauji friends, for all men and women of the fauj, past and present and future. With respect, with love.
On the night of 26th July last year we lit two little lamps out on the balcony and gazed at the lambent flames while, and on the still air we heard the whispers of names…Clifford Nongrum, Haneefuddin, Saravanan, Kalia, Ahuja…names of men we had never met yet seemed to have known so well.
Surely, they would have been no different from any other young men in the world? In their love for laughter and revelry, for the scents of rain upon earth and flowers in a woman’s hair, for home-cooked food, the warmth of a family gathering, a boisterous game with children…they too must have yearned for leisure, for romancing, for peace. One of them had played the guitar, another had a voice like Rafi’s. Rich and varied were their tastes in music, as indeed their backgrounds and origins. Yet fierce were the bonds that had joined these men of diverse faiths, united them in their battle to preserve this very diversity, this richness and variety.
A strange, overwhelming sense of loss came upon us even as the flames rose steady and unwavering. We glanced up at the high-rise apartment blocks all around, at their dark balconies and terraces. A stray breeze brought a brief snatch of canned laughter from some TV set in some curtained lounge. And bitterness and anger welled up, sudden and surprising. How could they all be so callous, the inner voice raged, how could they forget the martyrs of Kargil so soon.
But the self-righteous and sentimental mind’s voice was abruptly quelled by a remembered voice from childhood: easy, self-assured, slightly mocking in tone, the voice of a young soldier, slain in battle long ago.
“Listen,” he had murmured, “in life, what others think or do doesn’t matter a damn. What YOU do is the only thing that counts. Before you, before each one of us, there’s a path; the path of duty. Seek that path, follow it, all else falls into place. It is so simple…”
The voice faded back into the caverns of memory; the flames flickered. And suddenly the twisted, tangled coils of sentiment and anger dissolved into a moment of deep understanding. Indeed the martyrs of Kargil had fought obdurate foes, in the harshest of conditions. They had endured terrible pain, died warriors’ deaths. But they were men who believed – nay, who knew – that beyond death there is no joy or sorrow, neither friendship nor enmity; there are no borders or lines of control, nor remembrance nor names.
There is only the peace of Eternity.
That is why our soldiers treated even the enemy’s slain with dignity, with honour. And that is why they were victorious.
We turned away, then. Fleetingly, sadness returned as we beheld the dark balconies all around. A flicker of yellow drew our attention to the right…and we gazed spellbound.
Down there, beyond the compound wall, set in the humble doorway of a tarpaulin-roofed dwelling, two candles had been lit. Their flames rose steady and unwavering. And again on the still air came the whisper of names…Vikram Batra, Neikezhakuo Kengurüse, Kanad Bhattacharya, Vijayant Thapar, Mohammad Hussain…
[‘Slain victors’: The Pioneer: 31 July 2001]