I was the first daughter in four generations and raised in a joint family that had 35-40 members living together! My grandfather celebrated my birth in more than 10 villages, it was a grand affair. Suggestions poured from all sides on how to bring up the first daughter, what freedoms to give and where to set the boundaries. My father found the perfect balance between giving me wings and keeping me grounded. He taught me driving and gifted a car so that I can drive to college myself. Magnanimity and benevolence flowed in my family and that became a huge source of inspiration. In my ancestral village, my grandmother helped a lot of underprivileged girls get married and ensured they have enough to start a new life. My father set up free stalls of food and water in cremation grounds for exhausted families who lost their loved ones. I found my calling at a young age with able mentors at home.

In my second year of post-graduation, I met Rishabh. He was an aviator in the Indian Army.  It was an arranged set up and the proposal had come through my father’s friend. When he visited us the first time, he introduced the army life to me but I couldn’t understand a word. He was a thorough gentleman but it felt as if I wouldn’t be able to fit in the kind of environment he explained. When he asked me if I knew how to drive, I said with a straight face,” Yes, my father taught me how to drive. I even drive tractors and tempo”.

I thought my rude response would disappoint him but after two days, his family said it was a yes from their side. We got married on 8th March 2011. And thank God we did, for I couldn’t have found a better man! He was so lovable that he became an absolute favorite in my family. I found in him the same magnanimity and benevolence when he supported me in all acts of charity. In fact, sometimes he went ahead of me to help people. He was extremely spiritual and read biographies on great saints. The Bhagvad Geeta inspired him and we even named our son Paarth. He was a firm believer in ‘Karma’- actions. Our conversations frequently revolved around ‘Prarabdh’ – destiny. Professionally, he was an aviator par excellence, extremely hard working and luck favoured him in all his endeavours.  He flew the most advanced helicopter in the Army, ALH-WSI, and wanted to give it all to his service. At a young age, he achieved a lot.

My father was extremely happy that he found the right man for me and I was happier to have these two wonderful men as my pillars of strength. How I always wished them to be by my side! But destiny had other plans. On 16th December 2020, I lost my father.

We rushed to Delhi from Pathankot, where Rishabh was posted then. All through this, he was a big support. We performed all the rituals together and returned on 30th December. In the 14 days that we were under compulsory quarantine, I saw him transform slowly. He wasn’t as cheerful as before and immersed himself in meditation and philosophical books. I was shaken by my father’s death and it felt as if he was preoccupied with something that I couldn’t comprehend. While having a discussion, he said, “You know, Radha, even a small desire before death can sometimes lead to our rebirth. If we are free from all desires, we will attain Moksha.” 

“Do you think you will attain Moksha in this life? What makes you so confident?”, I asked.

He smiled and said, “I can always try.”

One day while we were going out, the guards at the cantonment gate saluted Rishabh. A salute was nothing new in all these years but I don’t know what happened to me. In that moment I felt that I haven’t done anything in my life to deserve this salute.

“This belongs to Rishabh but what about me?”

Professionally, I had no achievements. I thought about my father who did all that he could to empower me but what did I do to make him proud? Too many thoughts flooded my mind and I broke down. I expressed to Rishabh that I want the same respect otherwise it will remain an unfulfilled desire. He said, “You still have time.” I asked, “How? I can’t appear for any exam now that can earn me a salute!” He just laughed. This was 23rd January.

On 25th January 2021, we lost him in a crash.

He had gone for night flying when around 7:30 PM, ladies of our squadron started gathering at my place. I thought after our quarantine is over, they have come to pay their condolences on my father’s death. It was an extremely cold evening and I didn’t understand why would they choose this time of the day. But before I could ask, the Commanding Officer’s wife started crying. She hugged me and said,” Sorry, Radha. We couldn’t do anything.” It didn’t make sense to me because no negative thought entered my mind. I couldn’t fathom that they are talking about Rishabh. After all, we had spoken at great lengths on karma and destiny! He never hurt anyone. He was a kind man and there was no reason that this should be his end. How could he be gone so soon?

Rishabh’s co-pilot, Anjani, survived the crash. When he met me, he was grateful to Rishabh for saving his life. He said, “ma’am, had sir not been there, I wouldn’t have been alive today.” The rescue team told me that Rishabh was more concerned about Anjani’s life and his last words were, “please save him”. Some villagers who saw the crash said that he had successfully diverted the helicopter from falling on their homes. Till the end, he focused on his Karma; and fulfilled his desire of being a good human being.

During his last rites, I was honored by one and all. I also received salutes. I said to myself, “This is not how I wanted it”.

In just over a month, my world changed. I had lost both my pillars of strength. Sometimes, my mother says that it was the good deeds of my father that he went before Rishabh. He wouldn’t have been able to bear this news. Today, I want to be the same strong girl that my father raised and my husband loved. Carrying their legacy forward, I am now committed to fulfil my own desire of helping people. I have been offered a state service and I am preparing to fill the position from where my actions can make a difference.

Words from the Bhagavad Geeta echo in my mind,” Whatever you have, belongs here.”

Radha's artwork

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