We belong to a small village in Jammu and my father served in the Infantry, Indian Army. Since he spent most of his time in field stations, we settled in Jammu for our education. Growing up as an army kid brought with itself a plethora of brave stories that my father used to narrate. Whenever he came back, he had so much to tell us and we were thrilled at the adventures and adversities he faced. As a family, we were grateful to God that he came back safe to recount the challenges.
I was a timid child and such anecdotes scared me. What if I ever find myself in a situation like this?
Our school was located in a sensitive area, so rescue drills were a common phenomenon. When the attack of 26/11 happened, it impacted me immensely. I asked my father what should we do if we are trapped in a similar contingency. He said that we should just lie down flat on the ground so that we are safe, from both the bullet and the splinter. He told me how when someone tries to run, the splinter may cause grave damage. Every instruction from him became my exigency manual. Every word he said was my referral point. He wanted his children to study and make it big in their lives. He used to say,” I want to be known by my children’s name”, and helped us build a steady foundation for our future.
My father was posted in Sunjuwan, J&K and was about to complete his service in December 2018. I was in final year of MA English from Jammu University so we moved to stay with him before he retired. He had so many plans for me and my brother. While Ankush was preparing for Government services, I had to go to Delhi for my NET exams. We were excited about his next innings in life and wanted to enjoy the last year of his service to make it most memorable for him. I remember the previous year brimming with happiness. Birthdays, anniversary – we celebrated everything like a festival.
Night of February 9, 2018, I was sleeping with my aunt who had come to visit us but I don’t know what happened that I got up in the middle of the night and went to my parents’ room. There was a little space on the bed where my father was sleeping. I rested my head on his arms and slept peacefully.
Dawn of February 10, 2018. It was still dark and a very cold day. We heard firing shots and were rudely awakened from sleep. My mother said that it must be a routine drill from the short range close to our quarters but my father knew there was something wrong. He picked up his phone to inform others and ran towards the living room where my cousin was sleeping. The main door of our living room which was also the entrance to our house, faced the door of my parents’ bedroom. I ran after him. The moment we stepped in the living room, we heard gunshots approaching our house. Out of three latches on the door, two were already broken by militants. My father stood against the door, holding it firmly with his legs and feet, trying to grab a chair to block the main entrance. The room was dark and I could barely see his face. I saw golden sparks from their guns coming straight at us.
He looked at me and said, “Run away from here”.
I had not realised that a bullet had already hit me.
It pierced through my right leg, under the knee. I fell down but dragged myself to the bedroom. Everything happened in a matter of seconds. Since my father was about to retire, we had sent most of our belongings back to the village. We didn’t have enough to block the door and make it any safer from the terrorists who had already entered my house. My mother’s feet were wounded by splinters. We kept one trunk against the door that faced our living room and pushed the bed against the back door that opened in a small balcony. I called the Commanding Officer and informed him. He knew of the attack by then and said they are coming.
By that time, my father was exposed to terrorists, fighting with bare hands. He was trying to save all of us. Our neighbours with small kids got enough time to save themselves. Locked inside our bedroom, we could only hear the noise outside. I was continuously on calls, trying to seek help. We were told that every vehicle that came to evacuate us was targeted. I had lost a lot of blood, my vision had blurred, the saliva in my mouth had completely dried, I couldn’t speak and had no strength. The bones in my leg were crushed below the knee.
After 5 hours, we were finally evacuated. When we were taken out of the house, I saw my father lying on the floor, riddled with bullets. His body had turned blue. We were shocked. My mother sat next to him but we didn’t have time. We were immediately rushed to the hospital amidst heavy firing. Until we reached the hospital, I kept saying, “Please save papa”. The doctor said he is no more.
My journey to recovery was long. The struggle and pain were overwhelming but I didn’t know what was more painful, losing my father and living with it or my own condition. I was determined to walk. I came back home after a month and it took me four months to begin walking again and the first thing I wanted to do was to visit the site where my father was cremated.
To my amazement, a lot of things that were used in the ritual, were still there. Four months had passed but even the matchbox wasn’t moved from its place. No rain, no storm could displace it. I even found his tooth! I went again the next day to bury it all but found nothing. It is, by far, the most powerful experience that I have had and it strengthened my belief in God a hundred times over. My father knew that I hadn’t attended his last rites and it was his way of communicating that he waited for me. I also remembered how on the night of February 9; I went to sleep next to him. God gave me that chance to feel his love for one last time. All my questions about destiny disappeared instantly.
I had greatly underestimated myself as a girl who wouldn’t be able to face a difficult situation but I think my father would be happy with how I have handled everything. I have had 5 major surgeries until now and the most recent one was in December last year, which I had postponed due to my NET exams. With blessings, I have qualified the exam and now my entire focus is to make my father proud. As he said, “He will be known by our name.”