“To an understanding wife to understand the army better” read the inscription on the book that was my last birthday gift from my husband.
January 1990. I first met Lieutenant Colonel Ajit Bhandarkar. It was a typical boy-meets-girl situation. He told me that the army unit was a family, and sometimes a dozen officers may show up at 10:30 at night, and I would have to cook and serve them dinner.. When my dad heard of our conversation, he started shopping for large dinner sets!
When we got married, he was posted at Ferozpur in Punjab and that is where I went. I learnt what it was to be an army wife there. In the years that followed, we had travelled across the country — Pune, MHOW, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Delhi – and I used to be with him in all peace locations. He encouraged me to study further so that I could be independent and occupied. But I only had one complaint with him – that we never spent enough time together. He would tell me I should be glad he at least gets his annual leave.
In 1998, he was posted in 25 Rashtriya Rifles as a second in command after a tenure at the MS Branch,Delhi. He never used his position to get a peace /soft field posting. When I asked him why he couldn’t opt for peace field postings, his answer was simple. “If everyone did that, who will then go to hard field and tough areas??” He left, and I stayed in Delhi, joining a school as soon as I finished my B.Ed. In 1999, the Kargil war was announced. He was upset and disturbed by the causalities Indian army faced. I would send pictures drawn by our children to cheer him.
On October 29th, 1999, he called and spoke to the kids. I took the phone and started jabbering about everything that was happening. On 30th October, around 6:30 pm an officer walked into my home and told me my husband was martyred. I was in denial. I said someone from the Unit, had to call me for me to believe it. Around 8:30 PM, I got the call from an Unit officer, he said, “Lieutenant Colonel Ajit Bhandarkar was martyred fighting militants at Faizalabad. Though he was injured he continued to fight and eliminate three militants. But during the act, he suffered gun shot wounds in the head and attained martyrdom.”
When I saw his body, I was still in denial. He looked like he was asleep. I could not believe my eyes. I could not accept the fact that a few bullets would take someone’s life, after all Aamir Khan lived in “Sarfarosh” , which was also the last movie I saw with Ajit. But reality is different to what we see in movies. I broke down. When his luggage arrived, I never opened it for a long time. I used to run away from reality. In 2000, he was posthumously presented the Shaurya Chakra Award.
Our kids were too young to know the magnitude of what happened. For a long time, I never told people that my husband was martyred. Society views a single lady with two kids differently. I was sure I did not want pity. So for a long time, I never put his pictures or his medals on the wall. I continued to be a army wife whose husband was in the battle field.
Over the years, I met so many people whose lives Ajit touched. One officer even named his daughter Ajitha in gratitude after Ajit saved his life.
Today, both our sons are in the forces.People asked how I could send them both to the forces, but I believe that death is unpredictable and inevitable. More so it is an honour to die for the country. For our tomorrow, he gave his today!