“No mom, umpteen times I told you, not to discuss this issue.” I expressed very softly putting my both arms around and deeply looking into her worried eyes. Yes, she had real reason to worry as responsible mother. Stretched myself into the couch close to door and closed the eyes with a deep breath.
I loved my parents dearly. I was the only child, born after a long gap of ten years of their marriage. Obviously much pampered and adored girl brought up in the best of environment,education and social activities with strict family ethics and traditions. At the same time, they were never rigid and always flexible to sound reasoning. When I look back into my formative years of childhood, I feel proud and very protective with my parents in career planning and my life, but for an unfortunate chapter of my life for which no one could be blamed.
Circa 1963. I came to Bombay due to promotional transfer of my dad. I had completed my graduation and decided to do MBA. My father could find a suitable and comfortable flat in suburban township closer to my college to save time in commuting in metro and busy traffic in city like Bombay. Within a few days, I got friendly with my neighbour Shashi. She was pretty, loveable companion of my liking and working as a teacher Soon we became fast friends, exchanging gossips, cracking jokes and going for outings. Her parents and mine, became close friends also. They had a small family of four - Shashi, her mom,dad and younger brother Anand who was away at Khadakwasla, National Defence Academy, the premier and prestigious military institution of India, undergoing training as fighter pilot in Indian Air Force branch.
Shashi besides other good qualities, had an art of expressing accurately with only lip movement and also decoding other’s lip movements often called “ the third ear”, the inaudible murmured words. I was impressed and slowly I also learnt the art from her which she had learnt from her brother when he was schooling. Then it was real fun for both of us and we used to mesmerise our friends with mute conversation of lips. Sometimes a new acquaintance would assume us to be dumb and deaf.
One day, Shashi invited me to accompany her along with her parents to witness grand passing out parade of her brother Anand at Khadakwasla. Since, it was short distance journey besides desire to see the disciplined environment of military, created enthusiasm to accept the invitation with due permission from mom. On reaching at appointed time and date, we were escorted with other invitees in their military bus at entrance gate known as Trishakti Gate. Enroute to the venue of Passing Out Parade on Trishul Marg came across with well maintained and eye catching articulated structures in Gol Market and Ashoka Pillars crossings, leading to Kshaterpal Parade Ground. Guided to the allotted seat, I saw, the whole stadium was charged into excitement with distinguished gathering of top ranking military officers with their uniform,shining medals along with anxious parents of officers who shall be passing out today.
Three years ago, they had sent their sons to hallowed institution with little trepidation perhaps; now they leave as young men, strong in body and mind, confident and assured and proud of values imbibed at this place to serve Mother India.
After customary flag hoisting, welcome speeches, passing out parade commenced.
“Where is your brother?” I asked Shashi. I had never seen him before, as well how can identify him even Shashi points out the finger or waves her hand towards hundreds of uniformed officers parading in rhythm.
Suddenly she yelled, “Anand...Anand.. Look Mamma… Look, He is leading Air Force Squadron.” Now I could singularly identify him. Well on his way to achieve ideals of an officer and gentleman, moving briskly and giving a grand salute while passing across the dias while whole arena vibrated with thunderous cheers and applause. It was a great day in the lives of Shashi and her parents. I was also eager to get introduced to Anand. After the formal ceremony was over, lot of fun went around amongst new officers with throwing of their caps as well as tossing up their colleagues up in the air. They had very short time to meet their parents in the refreshment hall. Here where I was introduced to Anand. Handsome, fair with trim and crisp ceremonial uniform, smartly removed his peacap exposing crew cut hairstyle, held in left hand, slightly bending in military style he whispered “ Hello, I am Anand.” “ I am Ragini.” I also responded heartily. Looked at his shining nameplate on his right chest. After a few exchange of pleasantries, I felt, he be left with family on this joyous and memorable occasion. It was short and sweet meeting with Anand.
After about six months or so, Shashi told my parents and me that she is going to get married after three weeks to NRI settled in States and they shall be needing help on certain times. Anand shall come just for short leave since he is undergoing vigourous combat flying training at Hyderabad. We readily agreed to extend all help on this happy occasion. Later after a few days, Shashi took me into confidence and expressed that her parents want that since she shall leave for States soon after marriage, they want to see Anand gets engaged to suitable girl in her presence.
I said, “Fine. What is the problem in that Shashi?”
Hesitantly she said, “ I am looking for charming,well behaved,educated, fun loving,deer eyed girl like you.” She looked into my eyes. She continued, “ I would like to have you as my sister-in-law?” With coy smile, I made my lip movements of approval and dropped my eyelids. She embraced me with happiness and further said that before talking her parents and Anand, she wanted to read my mind. Soon all said and done as per Shashi’s wishes by both parties.
My engagement took plain a simple ceremony.Later after marriage, she left for Delhi with her husband on way to States. A week was left for Anand to report back to his squadron. Every evening was spent with him going to parks restaurant,hearing stories of his academy,training and of course my likes and dislikes, college, friends. This also included expressing and decoding of lip movements, which he had taught her sister.
A day before his departure, he told me “ Ragini. Today I want to express my apology. I cheated you.”
I was shocked with unexpected fear, looked nervously on his face. He made some lip movements. I could not decode it due to sudden unknown confessional utterance.
He continued. “All these days, whatever lip expressions I did, you decoded wrongly, but I always said you are right, just to please you.”
I giggled and burst out with laughter.
“Dear Fighter Pilot, I also cheated you. I knew all throughout what you are expressing ‘ I love you’ nothing but ‘ I love you’. Though I had guessed correctly, I was dodging you by different sentences. You are trained to defeat the enemy in dogfight over the sky, but I defeated you on ground on straight fight.”
Anand was dumbstruck and with a smile, gave a military salute to me. Next day he left Bombay on way to his squadron. I was constantly in contact with him. I had decided to get married after completion of my MBA, sometime in 1965.
On 28th of August, 1965 Pakistan launched misadventure on borders of our country and war broke out. State of military emergency was declared. Anand called me and intimated that his Gnats combat squadron is moving to borders immediately. He did not disclose anything besides that due to obvious reasons. I along with my family and Anand’s parents got glued to radio sets to know latest news on the happenings on front with crossed fingers and prayer in heart.
On 3rd September 1965 valiant Indian Gnats squadron shot down many Pakistani Sabre jets to clear the sky and assisted Indian Army to move forward. News also mentioned that Flight Lieutenant Anand brought down two Pakistan Air Force Sabre jets in breathtaking low level dogfight with enemy plane in excellent tactical combat flying skill. But while returning to base, he had to eject himself due to fire on the tail end of his plane. Further details are awaited. All got freezed with this news and his mother was crying inconsolable. None knew what to do except waiting for news. After a few days, a communique was received from Ministry of Defence, intimating Anand’s bravery in the battle in the sky but at the same time, he is listed in missing officers. Shall intimate further shortly. The war officially ended on 22nd September 1965 with victory to India. but Anand’s name continued to be on the list of missing officers. His parents were heartbroken except waiting for good news and prayers, they had no alternative.