The Indian national anthem played in the background as the young soldier marched in steady, confident strides towards the President. Everyone in the audience stood. “Jai Hind!”, shouted the young soldier, her head held high with honour and eyes blazing with pride, as she set her body stance to attention and her fingertips touching her forehead for a salute. The Air Chief Marshal and the President reciprocated with a similar body language. She is Airforce group captain, Chetna; she received another award for her valour and leadership that day.
Chetna was not always a confident girl; she was a teenager who was always lost in her own thoughts. Her headphones were her savior, her growing hair and ever-changing scarf a means to hide her face. She had few friends and was an average student in academics. She was in love with a man, her father, who was an army officer. She did not have much interest in the army, but she looked forward to his holidays. His father was a strict disciplinarian and a true gentleman. He loved his family and pampered them whenever he was home. Everyone in the family missed him including the mischief king – Ravi.
Ravi was an entire opposite to Chetna; he had a lot of friends, he excelled both in academics and sports and he aspired to be an army officer like his father. Being the youngest and the wildest – he made everyone laugh, cry and worry; he made the family of four complete.
His father was posted in Nathula pass, the cold Sikkim region – a border between India and China. There was not a single day when he did not remember his family but being a Captain in the army, Rajiv held his duty prime. He always used to tell his family that he could die for his country as he could die for them but hope he never has to choose between the two; even without him saying they knew his answer and they respected him more for that. The soldiers slept on the ice, wept on the ice and erupt on the ice; the harsh negative temperature tested the soldiers but never broke them. They were the commandos and were trained for the unexpected.
Once on a routine tour, they crossed a village; they were five of them. Rajiv gave the sign of halt as that was their regular resting place. He was still disturbed by the telegram he had received two days back – his little boy had blood cancer. He hid his human emotion behind the steely commando expression and saw two of his men had already sat below a tree and the other two moved towards the water source to quench their thirst. Something was not right; the village was eerily organized and was not the usual chaos. He knew he had realized it late. He quickly shouted, “Position!” and clenched his left fist high above his shoulder. No sooner had the echo of his voice drowned in the valley, a bullet flew past him scratching his left ear. Another bullet pierced one of his men’s arm and shattered the triceps.
Rajiv and his men positioned quickly and started the counter-attack. Long bullets from the light machine gun positioned at the rooftop and the hand-held AK 47 rattled the valley and scattered the villagers. There were about ten terrorists on the other side, Rajiv estimated. They took down the three of them at the top and three others in the open. The rest of the opponents were firing in coordination to confuse them. They had to be lured out as they had limited ammunition. Rajiv stepped out of the shelter and started surging forward, taking cover at every obstacle – the three followed while the injured lied there with fire position. As Rajiv pushed forward, the terrorists came out and started to fire. He killed two of them, but a bullet flew past his chest and pierced his heart. He fell on the ground motionless. The other men wiped out the remaining terrorist. Silence followed the fifteen minutes of ear-piercing combat.
The boxed coffin was flown home with the tri-colour; it shattered hearts and uncolored dreams. Ravi passed away after a months after this incident. It was a dark journey ahead the brave mother knew. This came as a shock to Chetna as if she woke up from her dream. As the two funeral pyres burnt she had promised she would serve the country like her father.
The dream was gigantic - the encouragement from her mother, the push by her inner grit and the support by the Army fraternity helped shape her. She joined the Air Force and today she was the group Captain. After years of hard work and struggle, she was standing before the President to receive the bravery award as her mother stood and saluted from the audience.