A SOLDIER’S FATHER
By Wing Commander VENKI IYER
The helicopter appeared over the late morning horizon. We were to receive Mr Lachhman Singh Rathore who was visiting our flight to perform the last rites of his son, Flying Officer Vikram Singh.
Only the day before, I had sent the telegram, “Deeply regret to inform that your son Flying Officer Vikram Singh lost his life in a flying accident early this morning. Death was instantaneous.” It was the first time for me, to meet and manage the bereaved next of kin.
While most wives and mothers insist on seeing the body, many a time there isn’t a body to show. Flying Officer Vikram Singh’s remains were only a few kilos – scrapped from what was left in the cockpit. We had to weigh the wooden coffin with wood and earth.
The pilot brought the helicopter to a perfect touchdown. Soon Mr Lachhman Singh Rathor was helped down the ladder. A small man of 73 years clad in an immaculate dhoti. As I approached him, he asked in a near whisper, “Are you Venki, the Flight Commander?” “Yes Sir.” “Vikram had spoken to me about you. I’d like to speak to you alone for a minute.” We walked to the edge of the concrete apron. ‘I have lost a son, and you have lost a friend. I’m sure that you have taken great care in arranging the funeral. Please tell me when and where you want my presence and what you want me to do. I’ll be there for everything. Later, I would like to meet Vikram’s friends, see his room and, if it is permitted, visit his work place. I then would like to return home tomorrow morning.” A commander couldn’t have given me clearer instructions.
The funeral, with full military honours, was concluded by late afternoon. After the final echoes of the ‘Last Post’ faded away Lachhman Singh spent the evening talking to the Squadron Pilots. Vkram’s roommate took him to see Vikram’s room. Lachhman Singh desired to spend the night in his son’s room instead of the guest house we had reserved for him. Early next morning after a tour of the squadron area, my boss took him to his office. A while later the staff car took Lachhman Singh to the civil airfield two hours away.
As the car disappeared round the corner, I remarked to my Boss, “A brave man he is. Spoke to me like a General when he told me exactly what he expected from us during his stay here. I admire him.”
“Yes Mr Lachhman Singh Rathore is a warrior in his own way. He sired three sons. His first son Captain Ghanshyam Singh of the Gurkha Rifles was killed in Ladakh in 1962. His second son, Major Bir Singh, died along the Ichogil Canal in 1965. His youngest, Vikram Singh, who had the courage to join the Air Force, is also gone now. This simple farmer has contributed more to our country’s defence than any other I know.”
Yes, he is a brave Indian
But he does not get a “bharat ratna”. A millionaire who earned by endorsements gets it