The last letter from you: What two soldiers, from India and Pakistan, wrote and read during the Kargil War
Here's a glimpse of two letters, written by soldiers at war during the Kargil conflict, on the Indian and Pakistani side of the border. Both faced death. Both were about to become fathers.
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One was the last letter he wrote, and the other was the last he would ever read.
In both cases, they were letters to their families, as is to be expected in a combat situation.
The writer of one would go on to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of his battalion and his country. The recipient and the reader of the other would also go on to make his ultimate sacrifice, if not for the battalion, most certainly for his country.
Both — they may well have been of the same age — were certainly twinned by fate that conspired to bring them to the heights but they were both separated by aeons of animosity and politics.
During the 20th anniversary of the Kargil War, everyone involved in the conflict rekindled memories by remembrance. There are memories etched in perpetuity, on account of loss, grief and a certain sense of success. Then there are memories that come back on account of a trigger, a conversation, or just happenstance.
Wars start and end — but the letters remain to tell of the losses on both sides. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
But then, there are memories that fall in neither category, but are just as powerful, enduring and perpetual, for they pull at strings in the soul without rational reason. They are not based on familiarity, proximity, or even an association with the person or episode. They just happen to have occurred at a time and place of such emotional magnitude that they are never erased, continuing to tug on some chord.
These two letters are precisely the Kargil memories that tug and pull, perpetually.
I touched both letters — the feel of the paper is still fresh in the mind and on my fingers. I touched them repeatedly for I have read and re-read them many times. They moved me then, read during the bloodiest phase of the Kargil war, and they continue to affect me now, two decades later.
For fate that entwined the two, writer and reader, remains the principal conspirator.
The letter from India, although written to his wife, is one of the most brilliant pieces of military writing. It was written on an India Post inland letter form, one of those pre-stamped greyish pink coloured, with instructions on folds with his crisp handwriting covering every writing space. He wrote with a calm demeanour, for the language is clear, concise, well thought, and to the point. He wrote as every Indian soldier is told to write, on the eve of an operation from which they were not likely to return. So, he wrote with precisely that purpose to his wife Charulata — with care, with instructions, and with certainty that they weren’t to meet again in this world.
Many who fought knew they were never going to meet their loved ones again. (Photo: India Today)
If his last letter, interspersed with advisories from the Gita, is anything to go by, then Maj Padmapani Acharya MVC (posthumous) of 2 Rajputana Rifles must have had the highest officer-like qualities. The calmness with which he foretold his fate, and the fortitude with which he was going to achieve it, would certainly have radiated to the troops under his command. For their success in evicting the Pakistan Army from Tololing is, without doubt, the most important episode of the Kargil conflict. And that success came from his ability in command, steady and stolid, as evident from the letter.
On the other side of the border, the soldier who read his last letter was on deputation to the Northern Light Infantry, then a militia of the Pakistan Army.
It was a card recovered from his possession, tucked away in a general knowledge book he would have been reading in preparation for the staff college examination. The handwriting was typically convent school cursive, oozing sentiment. She wished him ‘good luck up there’ even as his bosses were in denial mode that he or his colleagues were occupying heights in Kargil.
What, however, is most gripping about the two letters is that both officers were due to become fathers in a few months.
Maj Acharya pens eloquent lines for his unborn child, while the Pakistani mother tells her officer husband about their unborn baby.
Aparajita was born a few months after her father passed away in Kargil, but the fate of the unborn Pakistani child remains a puzzle to me.
It is one mystery I wouldn’t want to unravel.