“Tomorrow we start our fireworks”
17 years is a long time but I remember his phone call like it was yesterday. I could literally hear the excitement that he was so trying to mask in an attempt to quell my anxiety and fear that threatened to swallow me.
Indian Air Force was cleared to launch air-strikes against infiltrators on 26th May 1999. The Kargil Conflict which lasted almost three months began early in May 1999 with the Pakistani intrusion and capturing and inhuman torturing of soldiers of Indian Army patrolling the area. The situation escalated soon enough and Air Force was called upon to provide air support to our men in olive-greens around mid-May.
For any fighter pilot worth his salt, being trained in air warfare, an opportunity to engage and thwart the enemy is the biggest high. But while all the warriors of sky at Srinagar prepared for show of strength, the families back home sat glued to television fearing the worst turn of events.
When the Kargil conflict reached its frenzy, I was engaged for almost seven months and eagerly waiting for month of October when I would finally be in arms of my beloved. That phone call from my fiancé, a pilot posted in Srinagar, on 25th May 1999 set the tone for coming days till next two months for me.
No sooner had Air Force struck on the enemy when two aircrafts were shot down by Pakistani stinger missiles with one of the pilots taken prisoner of war and another brutally murdered by the Pakistanis. The news sent fear waves among all the families of pilots participating in the Kargil war.
I can only imagine what the martyred pilot’s wife must have gone through on hearing about her husband’s sacrifice. Though I was yet to be married but the news had made me numb….never had I prayed as much as I did then….everyday.
The day began with newspaper. Only after scanning each and every page would I get on with rest of the day. The most routine work seemed never ending and incomprehensible. I kept checking the wall clock willing the day to end soon….I often thought the clock wasn’t working and would check other clocks of the house to reaffirm that time was indeed slogging past.
We did not have cell phones then. The air base at Srinagar had all but one public phone booth and obviously everyone wanted to call back home to assure their families of their well-being. Every night at eleven I would sit by the telephone waiting for his phone call before calling it a day.
Even during such times he would call up and whisper sweet nothings from the public telephone booth unburdening my worried heart. Everyday I made him promise that he would call me back the next day….it was my way to assure myself that he would be safe next day and talk to me again…
As we celebrate another “Vijay Diwas” for the victory of Indians over enemy, for reclaiming the land, for remembering the brave hearts and for honouring their sacrifices and indomitable spirit, I feel immensely fortunate that my soldier is safely back with me.
Wars are most devastating for the families of men in uniform….the casaulties are merely a number for others….Yes, our husbands, brothers and friends are paid for their jobs…but how many of those who say so will be willing to go and stand before the enemy for same amount of pay?
This ‘Vijay Diwas’, I wish people start respecting defense services and their personnel with more compassion….and not measure their sacrifices and their committment to duty.
I am proud to be associated with these brave courageous men who put their family life and comfort at stake for the service to nation.
May they always win all battles of life. Jai Hind