"Ee mere watan ke logo, jara aankh me bhar lo pani ,
jo shaheed huwe he unkee jara yaad karo qurbani", .....
It's English translation will go something like this' 'Oh! my countrymen '. just fill your eyes with tears'and remember the martyrs and recollect their sacrifices'. This song brought tears to the eyes of Pundit Nehru as he sat listening to Lata Mangeshkar singing it. It must have raked up so many painful and yet memories filled with pride and honor for his contemporaries, who laid down their life for the sake of the country and his fellow men. And this is the very song which comes to mind when we think of our very own Captain Keishing Clifford Nongrum, the first ever war hero from the state of Meghalaya and his sacrifice for the sake of his countrymen. He has joined all those martyrs of our country and engraved his name in bold letters forever, in the annals of the history of our country.
The city had a deserted look that day' on the day of his burial. It was mourning its brave son of the soil. For once in a long-long time, there was complete uniformity of feelings, among all the people of the state of Meghalaya. "There was no demand, no expectation and no inducement; everything was just spontaneous right from the heart" as expressed and experienced by a lawyer friend of mine while he stood in Fire-brigade ground paying his last respects to the martyr. In his death, he united all. There was just one destination for everybody that day' Fire brigade ground where Captain Nongrum's body was 'lying in state'. Crossing all barriers of caste, creed or culture and sect people thronged to see the last remains of their hero, a martyr who died fighting in Kargil but not before he had himself donned as many as his and the country's enemy's and falling prey to enemy's bullets himself. Known to his platoon mates as a daredevil he sacrificed his life and died fighting while regaining the strategic Tiger Hills. He belonged to the 12 J K Light infantry from Drass. He had also served in the Siachen sector earlier.
With tears in their eyes and flowers in their hands people paid tribute to their national hero. Sad at the loss, which can not be compensated yet pride was written all over their faces. Pride for the fact that they had also, sacrificed their son of the soil, along with so many other fellows Indians, who had also given up their life fighting the enemy and protecting the nation from the aggressors. His was a death- a death for a noble cause. No purpose or aim can be higher or nobler than the aim of dying for one's own country. Such men are not born everyday, they belong to the rare class of humanity, who are an example in themselves, and they are the ones who set precedents. And they themselves are unprecedented.
What did we really give him to deserve such a significant act of supreme sacrifice from him? But it is people like him who remind us of our own country, how beautiful it is- right from Kanyakumari to the peaks of the highest mountains ranges in the world the mighty Himalayas. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Beauty, chill and the evergreens of the mountains, pleasantness and humidity of the lovely golden beaches, tall and leggy camels traversing in the vast unending stretches of the Thar desert, life giving rivers, the heat of the plains or the snow of the mountains we have it all. India has a world in itself. It encompasses a universe of one billion people of different origins, religions, and sects living all together as Indians. The thought and the idea, with which the country was born, was great. Equality and Unity in Diversity. And it was men like Capt. Clifford Nongrum who had understood it. At the young age of 25 without getting anything from the country on a platter- he had to work hard and struggle for everything he had achieved- he gave up his life for a simple cause, love for his country and the 950 million people he did not know- Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or a Sikh, it did not matter, what mattered was that, he was protecting his country and all the Indians in it.
Capt. Nongrum had set a precedent for all the disgruntled and the direction-less youths of the state of Meghalaya, for once they have an icon to emulate, to look up to. Practically unknown till the day he died. His death will not go in vain. His life would be an example, a torch held by the hands of time for the future generation to show them the path and the way to a more fruitful, positive and a constructive way of life. He too, took up the gun, but the reasons were different; he too killed, but for a very different cause, and the reason was 'To protect' and that simple and noble purpose of his life, struck a cord among the public and touched their hearts. The pain, the loss and the grief was complete. While the love and the adulation that he got on his death goes to prove beyond doubt what is the mind-set of the people of the state. For the first time on that day in many-many years, the city of Shillong observed a complete "bandh" without a trigger pointed to their head. It was instinctive, spontaneous and willful. The city was paralyzed with pain and agony. They were all united in their grief for their young hero of Kargil. It was a signal given to all the sectional and the fractional forces of the state and the country that we are one with the mainstream. We are Indians and we shall remain united under all the adversities.
Capt. Nongrum's death and the death of the other three hundred and more soldiers in the Kargil conflict should make us ask a question or two to ourselves. Is it not the time that we ask about our own duty towards our nation? The soldiers have paid their debts to the nation but what about us? It's time that we take a lesson from the famous words of John F. Kennedy "Ask not what the country can do for you, say what you can do for your country" These are his famous words that inspired the Americans in the sixties. But it holds so true for our nation and the youths of our country today. They blame everybody and everything but never blame themselves, they expect miracles to happen, to take them out of the situation that they are in. But they do not do anything constructive and positive to make or change things around them. While they take up guns to kill and snatch what do not belong to them. We all want a change in the society, but do we change ourselves? Do we become the change we want to see around us? No! We don't, we expect everything and everyone around us to change but we do not change ourselves.
Captain Clifford Nongrum has taught us just this, learn to give before you ask. He gave up his life at the young age of twenty-five on the icy slopes of the mountains of Kargil and his name will be engraved forever on the golden sands of time, to be remembered for many-many years to come. Thousands of people die meaningless deaths every day but in his death more than 950 million people found a meaning. A meaning of a life, living for a purpose' a selfless purpose. Love for his country and his countrymen. His last words to his parents was "I shall come back". Yes, he did come back, ornamented with flowers and adorned with the flag of our country' but in a coffin. And not before doing full justice to his uniform and fulfilling his promise to the nation- as a soldier- that he shall protect the country and his countrymen from the enemy and shall lay down his life, if need be, for the sake of all.
As he goes down into the pages of our history to be remembered only in anniversaries and centenaries, here is another song that comes to my mind. "Kar chale hum fidaa jan or tan sathiyo ab tumhare hawale watan sathiyo." Which means "oh! Friends I have sacrificed my life and my body for the country ' but now I entrust the nation in your hands'" Now, it is for all of us, to pick up the threads and make the most of the sacrifices made by our soldiers on the front. How united they were as they fought the undeclared war. A Hanifuddin, a Singh or a Nongrum it did not matter, they were Indians and brothers and were fighting for their country. Members of all the communities, let us all unite together, forgetting our discrepancies and our petty squabbles, and move towards a prosperous and a better India of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our nation. He died a shattered man, watching his dreams disintegrate into chaos and anarchy. We owe it to him and his memories at least now, after 53 years of Independence! Can we, rise up to the occasion and do justice to the memories of the martyrs of our country? Can we? By their courage, resilience and sacrifice the Indian soldiers had shown us the way many a times' and the least that we can do is to follow the examples set by them!