It was in the mountains when I first met Rajneesh. I was raised in Dharamshala since my father was posted in Kangra District and Rajneesh belonged to Palampur. The meeting was arranged by our families but for me, it was far from perfect. To marry an officer in the Indian Army neither resonated with my future plans nor marriage prospect. He told me about his passion for flying and how sky was the limit for him. I was 21, in my first year of MBA and had a dream to pursue PhD from London and settle abroad. For me, life had to be smooth. I always believed in going with the easier option, simpler way, effortless choices. I said to myself, “I don’t want the uniform!”. And yet, after I met him, his inescapable charm coaxed me into saying a yes! In 2006 we tied the knot and then began a journey so adventurous that I thanked my stars for the decision of sharing our lives with each other.
After a few months of marriage when I was in Jaipur for my MBA semester exams, I got a call from an officer that I should quickly pack some clothes and reach the small town where Rajneesh was undergoing a flying course. He also asked me to not call Rajneesh or contact him in any way. My heart skipped a beat. I asked if everything was okay. He said, “ma’am, we can only tell you once you are here so, please come at the earliest.” With no time to book a train to the nearest station, I boarded a roadways bus that would drop me to the town. It was only my luck that the bus broke down in the middle of the night and when I enquired about the place, the driver told us it was the Chambal valley! All this while I also kept thinking that why has Rajneesh not reached out to me? With every passing moment and no clarity about what has actually happened, I finally reached late evening the next day. With a million thoughts in my head as I entered the premises, I realized it was just a prank that our friends were playing on us! My husband was told that since I was keeping unwell, he should let me rest and not call or message. He was clueless about me traveling to meet him! We could just meet for two hours before I had to take the next bus back to Jaipur for my exams.
He said, ‘you should have asked me before coming’. I said,’ It was enough for me to know that you needed me’. After this incident, he sometimes called me a ‘misguided missile’ because of my heroic courage and it became our own little joke! Rajneesh could not believe that a girl like me would go to such lengths to see him but if you ask me, I could do anything. Every little opportunity to meet him felt like a feat I had achieved. A small-town girl making it big in her own way, in her own world.
With our son, Abhiraj, coming into our lives, we were a perfect happy family. Life was simple, smooth and all smiles, exactly as I had thought. I gave all my time to the heaven that my home had become. Every corner was lit up with our love.
But we never know what awaits us at the next turn.
Abhiraj had just turned 11 when Rajneesh was called back from his regiment to join an aviation exercise in Misamari, Assam in 2019. The squadron operated single-engine Cheetah Helicopters and trained Bhutanese pilots as part of an arrangement between India and Bhutan. As Rajneesh proceeded to his squadron, I went back to my hometown in Bikaner where my parents have settled after retirement and started teaching in a school. Every day, Rajneesh and Abhiraj would discuss his flying and details about his chopper. Like father, Abhiraj developed a keen interest in flying.
27th September 2019 - It was Rajneesh’s birthday.
We could hardly speak in the morning, barely a wish, as he was preparing to fly. He said he will call once he lands. Like every day. Since it was his special day, I kept calling him whenever I had the chance but didn’t get any response from him. All my colleagues at school knew it was his birthday and so we planned a wonderful evening to celebrate it and make up for his absence.
Little did we know that the absence was going to be forever.
In all the hustle bustle at school, I did not realize that my phone’s battery had drained off. I came back home and as soon as I plugged my phone in the charger, it rang. I heard a voice asking me, “Where is Rajneesh? Have you spoken to him?”
“No”, I said. “He said he will call when he lands…”
“Okay. I will call you back”, the voice quivered and the line got disconnected.
My heart skipped a beat. Was it another prank? Just like the one that was played many years ago? My mind could not imagine any possibility that did not align with my dreamy reality.
Another call. Another voice from the other end said, “We lost Rajneesh.”
“No, it cannot be true.” I didn’t believe it but I also don’t remember anything after that. Just a faint sound of the doorbell and a blurred image of the lady standing at my door, an officer’s wife whose hometown was also Bikaner. When I saw her, I knew why she had come. The news was real. It was on the television. It had happened. I had lost Rajneesh.
Rajneesh and Captain Kalzang Wangdi from the Royal Bhutan Army were tasked for an Air Mission and en route Bhutan, the helicopter crashed.
On his birthday, he decided to go back to where he belonged. The infinite blue sky. As he had said the first day when we had met- “Sky was the limit”.
I don’t remember what followed. The news was broken to my son. All I remember was him standing like a pillar, suddenly stepping into the shoes of his father. Everything remained a blur until the time of cremation when I saw Abhiraj performing the last rites.
I heard myself saying “I want to wear his uniform”. Loud and clear.
From being a girl who didn’t want the uniform to becoming a lady who wanted to wear it, the journey has been long. Everyone who knows me was initially surprised at my determination. A lot of people thought it is a fleeting emotion, an impulse in the hands of cruel destiny. But my resolve has remained. I have started to work on a schedule that motivates me towards a life that my husband lived. My son and I are dedicated to our calling of remaining an integral part of the Organization which had captured the imagination, heart and soul of my husband and his father. Just until two years ago, I was a person who could not bear heat and sweat and today, I run 4 hours every day to reach the target I have set for myself.
I receive calls from young Army aspirants who take my advice for getting through the SSB. While I prepare to be a part of the Organization myself, I am also committed to bringing a positive change in the lives of those who have gone through a similar journey of loss and the inexplicable pain of rebuilding life around memories. I am constantly in touch with the wife of Captain Kalzang Wangdi. Their son has just turned 5 and we have so much to talk about our little ones growing up to be like their brave fathers! I am determined to do what it takes to be the wind beneath the wings of those who wish to fly, no matter how adverse the weather.