india

‘Every soldier is important to the Olive Green family’

As a disembodied female voice gives a stark recitation of her husband’s heroic act of bravery, Archana’s face does not register any emotion, it is almost blank in its stoicism.
A fascinating excerpt from Minnie Vaid’s new, must-read, book, Fateh.

It is a typical Delhi winter morning, biting cold with no sun to provide even a smidgen of warmth; instead biting winds add their own chill, swirling around everyone at the Republic Day Parade at Rajpath.

VIP guests sitting in the cordoned off enclosures as well as bystanders hunched inside their woollens, watch the three-hour pomp and show orchestrated by the armed forces.

Twenty-six-year-old Archana Deswal is dressed in white, heavy shawls covering her slender frame yet providing no perceptible comfort as she rubs her hands together in a repetitive gesture.

Her mother stills Archana’s fingers, warming them in her own hands, squeezing for extra support.

Archana is unconscious of both the cold and her mother’s presence beside her.

She sits in frozen stance till a name is called out and she is helped up by Colonel Sangram, the Commanding Officer of the Unit.

Together they set off on the red carpeted path towards the President of India, Dr A P J Kalam.

He is pinning bravery medals onto valiant soldiers of the armed forces; he will be handing over Captain Laxman Deswal’s gallantry medal to his widow.

The walk seems interminable, but finally Colonel Sangram halts in front of the President, Archana right behind him, he gently ushers her forward.

“Every soldier is important to the Olive Green family and we have the greatest respect for our martyrs. Captain Laxman Deswal was martyred in Kashmir while saving the lives of his battalion…”

As a disembodied female voice gives a stark recitation of her husband’s heroic act of bravery, Archana’s face does not register any emotion, it is almost blank in its stoicism.

She steps forward and accepts the Sena Medal (Gallantry), is officially photographed while doing so and walks back with Colonel Sangram to where her parents are sitting in the martyrs’ family’s enclosure.

Oblivious to the rest of the ceremony Archana stares into the distance, her mind visibly faraway.

The Parade passes her by, unseen and unheard.

The various floats, the loud festivities, the dancing and abandon, the drums and music beat their own tune right in front of Archana but she is unaware of her surroundings.

A gentle nudge from her mother recalls her to the fact that Colonel Sangram is speaking to her in a low undertone; it is some minutes before what he is saying registers and she reacts violently in anger.

“You want to talk to me about this today of all days? How can you even ask me a question like that?” she raises her voice, causing people in the row ahead to turn back in surprise.

“Just hear me out, Archana,” pleads the 42-year-old Commanding Officer of Laxman’s Regiment.

“I have seen more of life than you have at such a young age — despite your huge loss you cannot live in the past. Do this for your child if not for yourself!”

He hands over application forms for the SSB interview so she can become an Army officer, urging her to sign them and give a new direction to her life.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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