I shot each one right between their eyes. Every shot of mine were on target blowing their heads into pieces. But I admit that these scare-crows looked very real from a distance of 100 meters, from where I was asked to fire at them. I think NDA must have hired some good professionals to prepare such scare-crows to train cadets like me.
Life is tough here, but I am getting accustomed to it very fast. The training schedule makes me reach the ‘parade ground’ at four in the morning perfectly dressed up and ready; and do you know father – your son has never been late. The most challenging part is when they ask you to crawl on the ground for around a kilometer in empty stomach. The muscle around the navel starts cramping after 500 meters. On two consecutive days I won these drills, beating 19 other cadets. I am doing fairly well in these trainings.
5th January 2012”
Captain Kadalayil Bhavadasan kept the letter back in its box. He held the rest of the bundle of letters in hand and looked out of the window of the bus. The horizon was visible forming a thick line of light shaded purple and orange. The sun was still nowhere in sight and thus, the foliage scattered over the landscape beside the highway were dark shadows. With the bus running at a speed of 60 kmph, Captain Bhavadasan guessed that it would reach Delhi on time, which is around 9:00 A.M in the morning. He opened another letter from the stack and started reading it.
Today, I was trained on a 5.56 mm rifle, and I am one of the three cadets who have been chosen first for rifle drills. This is because of my good performance with short guns. My Captain said that if I can continue with the same spirit, I will make it to the trainings of the automatic series of AK-47 soon. But for that I need to keep my elbow straight every time I fire. Posture, perfect balance and stability of the body are very essential factors when firing a rifle. But I am working hard on mastering these techniques and I can assure you that soon I would be at par.
Dad, I am doing very well in these trainings now. Soon I would be a live lieutenant holding post on the Indo-China borders.
8th March 2012”
Captain Bhavadasan recalled what he told Prakash - that his speed of grasping things are very good but, there are certain aspects of weapon usage on which he needs to concentrate and spend more time. Lieutenant Prakash was not in a perfect posture that night while handling his rifle, after there was a sudden firing from across the ‘Line of Control’ (LOC). The firing started just after midnight when Lieutenant Prakash along with Captain Bhavadasan took the initial vigilance stroll across their side of LOC. After firing a couple of rounds the elbow of the Lieutenant was not in straight lines with the butt of his weapon. That was the reason he fumbled a foot forward from his position immediately after firing the third round. Just in that fraction of the second an enemy bullet plunged into his neck. Captain Bhavadasan distinctively remembers the sight; as if the Lieutenant unluckily got in the way of a passing bullet.
Army Personnel who loses their lives in such trivial cross firings on the LOC generally do not get any medals of glory. Apart from their photographs flashing in major news channels such martyrs just get a sophisticated, traditional army cremation. Captain Bhavadasan picked another letter from the bundle.
I hold the ‘Lieutenant’ rank now. I am appointed at the LOC and take ‘live’ vigilance strolls with my Captain. You see Dad, I made it. Your son after all is not a ‘good for nothing’. I am sorry Dad I took some extra time than usual to show this to you. I wish you had some extra patience for me… Please don’t hate me…
12th May 2013”
This letter was written on the day when Lieutenant Prakash was killed. Probably he wrote it in the morning before that fatal night. Though Captain Bhavadasan could not understand this letter, he did not give much heed to decipher it. Lieutenant Prakash was a fine cadet and finished his training on time.
After a short nap, the Captain woke up when the bus jolted for the final halt. It was 9:10 AM, and he was in the ‘Maharana Pratap Inter State Bus Terminal’, Delhi; where most of the buses from Dehradun arrives. The Captain travelled further towards the east of the city to finally arrive at the residence of Lieutenant Prakash. As the door to the main entrance opened an aged lady of around 60 years looked up at the Captain.
“Hello Madam. Is this the residence of Lieutenant Prakash Rathod?” asked the Captain.
The Lady looked at the boxes that the Captain was carrying, and though he was not in uniform, could easily interpret that some more personal belongings of Prakash were brought by some colleague of his. She received the main consignment along with the Indian Flag a couple of days after the news were flashed.
“Yes. I am Bimla Rathod, his mother.” she replied.
“I am Captain Kadalayil Bhavadasan. Prakash was trained under my guidance.”
“Please come in.” said the lady politely.
Captain Bhavadasan sat in the drawing room, and gave the boxes to her.
“One of these boxes contains some letters from Prakash to his Father.” The captain started speaking softly, and continued. “I don’t know why he did not post them. Moreover, every officer came to the Training campus in Dehradun once or twice a month. He could have e-mailed these as well. You should give these to Mr. Rathod. They are meant for him.”
Bimla opened one of the letters and started reading them with a stern face. She whispered very slowly which the Captain could barely hear, “I wish he could read these…”
“Sorry Madam, I didn’t get you.” said the Captain.
Bimla continued “Prakash’s father died in 2010, much before he was selected in the National Defence Academy. He died of a cardiac arrest when he was 58. It was the December of the same year when Prakash did not do well enough in his engineering entrance.”
There was silence of around 10 seconds as both of them kept staring at the letters. Finally Bimla said “You know officer, what Prakash said the day he left for NDA after being selected?”
The Captain could not say anything, but she continued. “He said ‘Mom, I will prove to Dad that I am not worthless. Atleast, not to the extent of giving up on life’…” She continued, “Tell me officer. How was Prakash as a soldier?”
Captain Bhavadasan wore his sunglasses as he answered “He was one of my best cadets Madam. I am extremely sorry for your irreparable loss. Goodbye.”
As the Captain walks out of the residence, Bimla softly touches the written words on the letters.