I saw her on YouTube. A most impersonal first meeting. Thousands more would’ve seen her too. But images of her stayed in my mind all night, making it a long sleepless night. When I switched on the TV next day for the morning news, there she was again. Dressed in a tan color overcoat, looking over her father’s coffin, draped in the Indian tricolor.Alka Rai is all of twelve but she carried herself as a woman. But when she broke down, I did too. The pain was too deep to escape it. I didn’t know Col Rai. Now, would never know him. But by watching his proud daughter I wished I had a chance to know him.
Col Rai was killed in another of the many encounters which are a daily phenomenon in the lives of the Army men posted in the troubled regions in J&K. His death too would have got a few lines coverage in some corner of some page in the national dailies, unnoticed by most of us. What changed the whole scenario was the show of sheer grit, pride and love exhibited by his little princess. As she stood next to her father’s coffin, she shouted the war cry of the Gorkhas! The somber, sad surroundings were suddenly electrified into a highly charged atmosphere where everyone felt as one. The men of the unit stood united in their shared pain. They shared the pride of their slain warrior’s family. They felt honored to be part of that large family of the Gorkha regiment. I felt it too. I felt pride at being associated with the uniform, of having the honor of having worn it, of a sense of belonging. It’s a feeling hard to describe but easy to feel. What struck me was the way that little girl reacted. She felt this the best way to honor her slain father. To shout the oft-heard warcry of the Gurkhas. She wouldn’t have felt this way had her father not felt the same way. Children learn what they see at home. If she had seen her father not take pride in his uniform, in his job, in his duty, she would never have reacted this way.
It was a wake up call for all of us. So caught up are we in the daily grind that we forget some basic essentials of being a human being. We forget the value of life. We forget how fickle and unpredictable it is. The house still not back into normalcy after the celebrations for his receiving the gallantry award when it was jolted into shocked silence by his untimely and sudden death. That’s life. That’s death. Totally and absolutely unpredictable. No one wants this, maybe except for one Mr Geelani, who sits esconed in the warmth of his shawls and Indian hospitality. Anyways, it made me think about the vagaries of life.
Pride in being a human being first, pride in our work, pride at being blessed with family and friends. These are things we tend to overlook. No, it’s not the feelings of a self centered, ego centric narcissist. This is the kind of pride one feels in gratitude. This is what makes us more consciously responsible. More emphatatic and giving. Makes us feel like pushing ourselves to excel and better ourselves. That warcry set the tone for that young girl who till then lived in a dream. She will henceforth want to do better so that her father can feel as proud of her, as she does of him.
But do we need to go through so much pain to realize our potential? Or the value of others around us after they have left us?