Deepak was my best friend’s cousin and the marriage proposal was suggested by our families. He was posted in Chandigarh at that time and we lived in Delhi. He took a day’s leave and came with his parents to meet us. They only spent half an hour at our place but it felt like it was meant to be. He wasn’t the first man I was meeting for marriage but my intuition said that he was the one, though I didn’t express it. He looked very confident and that had bowled me over. Next morning, he boarded the train back to Chandigarh and dropped me a text, “I like you and want you to be my wife. Now the ball is in your court. You can decide and tell me what you want.” I was so excited and replied with a yes!
On 18th May 2003, we got married. We were just celebrating the news of my conception when he moved for a course and I had to come back to Delhi. I gave birth to our son, Ritveik. After the course, Deepak went on a cross attachment to Kupwara, J&K. Since it was not a family station, I continued to stay in Delhi.
He took a few days’ leave on our first wedding anniversary to spend some time with me. On our second anniversary, he couldn’t come home. I expressed my desire to be with him. He replied, “Sonia, we are still lucky to be celebrating it, no matter the distance. There are people who never get to celebrate their special days with their loved ones…” To cheer me up, he asked me to come and stay with him for sometime as the tenure of cross attachment was about to end and his next posting in Kashmir was a family station.
I spoke to him on 18th May, the day of our anniversary but the line was disturbed due to bad weather and we couldn’t talk for more than a few minutes.
I got my tickets done for 22nd May but Ritveik was hardly a year old and the weather in Kashmir wasn’t conducive for traveling with such a small child. I also remembered what Deepak had said on our anniversary and felt grateful about us being connected from the heart, even if we were not together physically. I told him that we will have many more anniversaries to celebrate together and moments that we will cherish for life. Being confident about a future that I hadn’t seen, I cancelled my plan at the last moment.
I wish I hadn’t.
A few days passed but I didn’t hear from him. On 22nd, I called on the army exchange number that he had given. In those days, we didn’t have mobile network in remote areas. A soldier from the other end answered the phone and informed, ‘Sir has gone out’. I understood what ‘out’ meant. An ‘operation’. I waited patiently for two days but there came no response. A little unsure if I should be disturbing in between an operation in the valley, I called again. This time, an officer picked up. When I introduced myself to him, he quickly handed over the receiver to the Commanding Officer who just said, “yes, ma’am he is perfectly fine” and the call got disconnected abruptly.
Next day, my brother-in-law called on my mobile number. He told me that Deepak had got a bullet injury in the leg and was taken to Udhampur. This mobile number was known only to Deepak so I knew that it is him who is trying to reach me through my brother-in-law. I realized there is something amiss and left for Udhampur with Ritveik and my parents. The same day, the news was published in a local newspaper of Jammu and one of my uncles read it. He tried to reach me but couldn’t so he called Deepak’s parents and they panicked too.
We reached the hospital and saw Deepak on the bed, breathing slowly. I had never seen him like that. A person who couldn’t sit idle for a second, lay still. He was fully covered with a sheet, barely conscious. He couldn’t speak but when I came close to him, he held my hand and looked at me. Tears started flowing from his eyes.
He moved his hands in sign language and asked for paper and a pen. I requested the nurse to give him that but she said, “He keeps asking for something or the other.” She looked flustered and went away. I thought he would say what he wants once he recovers. After meeting him, we returned to the guest room but I felt uneasy, as if half the truth is still hidden from me. I went back to the hospital and met the doctor. That’s when I came to know that he wasn’t shot in the leg. The bullet had ripped his stomach, damaging every organ it passed.
He was the first person to tell me the complete truth,” Ma’am, he won’t survive”.
On 25th May 2005, he was shot by terrorists in an ambush while trying to save another soldier.
I was completely shaken and could just hear myself pleading, “Do anything but save him.”
When Deepak was being taken for his last surgery, I was standing with Ritveik in my arms. He hadn’t heard our child speak until now so when Ritveik mumbled indistinctly, he opened his eyes for a moment and then closed them. He was ushered to the operation theater and then flown off to Delhi for further treatment, but he couldn’t survive.
On 25th May he was shot and on 4th June, we lost him forever. These 10 days were the darkest phase of my life. Today when I think of it, I feel they prepared me for a life I had not known until then.
I have spent years thinking how different would it be if I hadn’t cancelled my tickets and went to stay with him. I have also spent sleepless nights wondering what is it that he wanted to tell me? What did he want to write on a piece of paper? What is it that I should have known before he breathed his last? Questions that have no answer. Fighting this guilt, restlessness and sorrow was difficult. But I had to overcome it all for the sake of my child.
I studied MBA and picked up a full-time job in Gurugram but quit later as I wanted to give more time to Ritveik. It was important for me to raise him like Deepak would have wanted. As a father, he could only spend one year with his son but he gave so much love to him that it will last a lifetime. My parents and brother gave Ritveik the home I desired. Strangely, he was never curious to know about his father but somehow, he knew everything. He knows a lot about Deepak that we haven’t told him. I don’t know how. He is a true reflection of his father. He accepts everyone as they are without judging them and I love it about him. Deepak was ahead of his times and I see the same quality in my son too.
It has been 16 years without Deepak’s physical presence. In two years of marriage, I could only spend six months with him. But the memories of those times keep me going. Today I want to say that I will forever look up to him, and that the ball will always lie in his court.