I got married at a young age, right after I finished school. My husband lives in a joint family with his elder brother. His younger brother was in the Air Force then and was also the only person of the family in Defense Services. I have always considered myself lucky to be a part of this family as there is so much love among all of us. I dedicated my time at home and felt deep contentment in fulfilling all my responsibilities as a homemaker.
In 1983, I gave birth to Rushikesh. Growing up in a joint family, he adored his cousins and respected all elders. He was a bright student and even though I hadn’t pursued higher studies, I wanted the best for him. He was in 5th standard when his uncle asked him if he would want to join the Defense Services. Without hesitation, he said yes. In class 6, he went to the Balachadi Sainik School in Jamnagar. It was difficult to be away from him but his happiness mattered more than my desire to always have him around. This was to be his first exposure to the military way of life and with him, my first experience too.
After his Class 12 board exams, he appeared for the NDA entrance test. I asked him to apply elsewhere but he was determined to join the Forces. He said, “Even if I choose a different line, I will complete my graduation and join the Army.” He didn’t appear for any other exam and with luck on his side, he qualified in the first attempt. He then went to IMA and was commissioned as an officer in 2005. It was such a proud moment for us to see him during his Passing Out Parade among other boys in uniform, but somewhere, I was torn between the happiness I saw in his eyes and my motherly instinct of protecting him like a child. I didn’t even want him to join the Infantry but to honor my son’s decision was important for me. In our family, the course of conversations changed and were now centered around his postings, routine, adventures and perils. Whenever he came back on leave, it was a sight to behold. Our family’s festive celebrations followed the dates of his holidays rather than the actual dates of festivals. His cousin spent nights listening to his stories but they hardly made their way to me. Maybe he knew that I wouldn’t be able to bear anything that was even slightly dangerous for him or his life.
I remember when he told me that he was getting posted to Kashmir and was chosen to be a part of the Special Operation Task Force. I asked him if he could just be very careful and take care of himself while going on an operation. My overwhelming concern for him couldn’t find any other way to express itself. He smiled and said, “Mummy, every soldier who will go with me, also has a mother waiting for him at home.”
It was this one sentence that spoke volumes about how Rushikesh balanced his love for both his mother and motherland. As a son, I loved him too much but now, I also respected him as an officer.
In March 2009 when he was on leave, he went to Mumbai to meet a girl for marriage. They liked each other and he told us that the next time he comes home, they will get engaged. I was excited to welcome another member in our beautiful family and see Rushikesh step into a brand-new phase of his life. Nurturing new dreams for my son, I eagerly waited for him to come back soon.
He reached Kupwara but the weather and situation in the valley barely allowed us to speak to each other. On 27th May, I received a call from him to wish me in advance for my birthday that was on 1st June. He said,” The weather here is so bad that I am not sure if I will be able to call you on 1st...” The connection was poor and I tried hard to listen to all that he said. “Please meet the girl’s family and do the ‘roka’ ceremony in my absence… It’s okay with me…I will come and marry her…”
They had been writing letters to each other every day. Sometimes, twice a day.
“We won’t do any ritual without you, Rishi… We will wait for you…” The line got disconnected as I spoke. I didn’t know that it was the last time I was hearing his voice.
On 6th June 2009 around midnight, he led a team of men to the place where some militants had taken cover of dense forests. Since it was dark and rained incessantly, Rushikesh and his buddy (soldier assigned to be with him) slipped from an edge and fell near the bush where the militants were hiding. Heavy gunfire ensued and even after taking 12 bullets in his chest, he kept fighting till the end but couldn’t survive the gunshots.
On the morning of 7th June 2009, my husband received a call from the unit and was informed about the incident. “Major Rushikesh is no more” is what he heard from the other end.
I remember it vividly but what followed that call is something I never want any family to witness. The pain of losing a child so young cannot be described in words. I also knew how difficult it is for the girl who was dreaming of a future with my son. Being a mother, I was now responsible for both. She was like my daughter and I had to help her move on. In her marriage, my husband and I performed the ritual of ‘kanyadaan’ and even today, we are in touch.
Rushikesh had asked me once, “Mummy, everyone has to die someday. Wouldn’t you be proud of me if I died for the nation?”
This question often echoes in my ears. Not only did he give his life for the nation but he also lived for it. He was an artist and his poems, paintings and letters aimed at winning despite all odds. I think he never feared death and celebrated each moment. I remember when my husband and I used to say that our son was intelligent like his father and compassionate like his mother. We saw in him the qualities of both his parents and as much as I would have desired that he carries our legacy, destiny turned it around for us and it became our responsibility to build his legacy in our lifetimes.
Although his absence has changed everything for me, I have ensured that he lives on through his words, deeds and dreams. I see him in every child who is passionate about serving the country or aims to bring a change. To honor his memory, I have a built a Trust in his name that provides free coaching to children who want to join Sainik School and Defense Services. I have also adopted a school for slum children in my area and assist them in several ways. Personality development classes, educational tours, dance and music classes and various activities are conducted to provide an all-round exposure to the students. Since Rushikesh was an all-rounder, it makes me happy when I see other children excel in all fields too. I am also a part of ‘Shaheed Parivar Association’ and meet all other families of martyrs in my city.
I am 58 years old and have dedicated my life to serving humanity. My husband and our joint family support me in all that I do and there’s nothing more that I want. Except one thing. I want Rushikesh to come in my dream and talk to me. Ever since he’s gone, I haven’t seen him in my dreams. I had read in the Bhagavad Geeta that those who sacrifice their lives in a righteous battle, attain moksha. I think he is happy wherever he is and his soul has found eternal peace. After all, this is the life he wanted and that’s how he was willing to go. But as a mother, I hope for a miracle and pray that for once, I get to hear his voice again. Without disturbance, without any interruption.