IT was 1999; I was a student of class IX studying in Kendriya Vidyalaya Palampur. The Kargil War had just begun and the entire nation was swept by a wave of patriotism. It was like any other day in the small hilly town; we were at school. Just as the assembly was about to begin, the Principal came on the stage and made a solemn announcement about the supreme sacrifice made by the school alumnus, Lt Saurabh Kalia. On hearing the shocking news, our teachers had tears in their eyes. Never did we expect to witness such a day, for someone who had passed through the school portal, like so many others.
A few days later, the braveheart’s mortal remains were received at the helipad near our school...his school. There were scores of people raising slogans in the honour of the martyr. We all lined up along the road and cried in unison, ‘Jab tak suraj-chand rahega, Saurabh tera naam rahega’. It was an emotional, yet proud moment for us. On that day, not only the entire school, but the whole nation wept for its young Saurabh.
Little did we know then about the horrendous torture inflicted by the Pakistani captors upon this 22-year-old officer. The pain of his parents, their anguish was unimaginable. We salute his brave parents and the courageous Lt Saurabh Kalia, our senior. Never shall we forget his martyrdom on those icy heights of Kargil.
Within a month, our Principal, yet again with a heavy heart, addressed the assembly: ‘Dear children, another former student of our school, Capt Vikram Batra, the bravest of the brave, has laid down his life in the Kargil sector defending the motherland. Let us all honour his martyrdom and pay homage to his departed soul but without tears in our eyes.’ But the students and teachers could not control their tears. The school lined up yet again near the helipad. When his mortal remains arrived, we whole-heartedly chanted, ‘Jab tak suraj-chand rahega, Vikram tera naam rahega.’ We had every reason to be proud of this vallant officer. Capt Vikram Batra was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest award that the country can bestow upon its soldiers.
Later, we learnt about the last conversation his proud mother had with him before his final assault on the most formidable objective in the Kargil sector, ‘Vicky beta, ladaai kab khatam ho rahi hai, ghar kab aa rahe ho?’ This is what Captain Batra said, ‘Mummy, main aounga, zaroor aounga. Ya to Tiranga phahrake aounga, ya Tirange mein lipat ke aounga.’ He killed many enemy soldiers before being mortally wounded in a hand-to hand combat.
By their gallant action, both officers not only honoured their parents, their battalion, the Indian Army, the nation, but also their alma mater. They left a trail of hope for the younger generation. I am privileged to have studied in this school, a nursery of die-hard bravehearts.