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Monday, October 3, 2022

‘If I didn’t write about my son, no one would know of his sacrifice in Kargil’

On July 7, 1999, at the height of the Kargil War, Captain Anuj Nayyar fell to a rocket-propelled grenade as he led a charge up the Pimple 2 peak to clear it of Pakistani infiltrators. He died instantly but saved the lives of 15 soldiers who eventually finished the mission and hoisted the Indian flag on the peak. His motivating command and going beyond the call of duty saw the 23-year-old, who had been commissioned into the Indian Army just two years earlier, being awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second highest award for gallantry.

For 18 years, his mother, Meena Nayyar, kept his memories locked inside to keep her emotions for overwhelming her because “sharing paid is the most difficult thing” till an opportunity presented itself to record her son’s valour in a book, resulting, after a five year effort, in “Tiger Of Drass – Capt. Anuj Nayyar – 23 – Kargil Hero” (HarperCollins).

'If I didn't write about my son, no one would know of his sacrifice in Kargil'.

“Writing about the smallest things about your child who is not with you really used to shake me but gradually I came to terms with it by telling myself that if I didn’t write about him no one in the world would or could, and no one will know about Anuj’s sacrifice,” Nayyar told IANS in an interview.

“Only I knew Anuj from day one when he came in this world at 10.14 a.m., on August 28, 1975. For the last 22 yrs. I have never looked at a clock at 10.14 a.m. on August 28, nor 5.20 a.m. on July 7, the time of his death. To keep Anuj alive and inspire future generations, I gathered the remaining strength in me and penned down this book,” Nayyar added.

“It is very difficult to express what I have gone through for 22 years, and especially the last five years of the book writing process. For 18 years I had Anuj’s memories locked inside me to keep my emotions from overwhelming me… Sharing pain is the most difficult thing. Pain and pride always go side by side when a soldier dies. For parents, pain wins over pride most of the time,” Nayyar said.

“To overcome my grief, I had fixed a star in the sky and in the evening, I used to spend time looking at it. It was my Anuj shining in the sky. The Indian government gave us a petrol pump and we named it Kargil Heights Filling Station. We shifted our house from Janakpuri to Vasundhara Enclave to be near the gas station and I lost my star somewhere in the sky,” added Nayyar, who now runs the petrol pump after the death of her husband, Professor S.K. Nayyar of the Delhi School of Economics.

The book came about after its co-author, Himmat Singh Shekhawat, a member of the Rashtriya Riders team of motor-cyclists who were on a ‘yatra’ (pilgrimage) visiting the families of the Kargil martyrs, called on Nayyar and her younger son Karan (her husband had passed away in 2014) on October 2, 2017.

After a month, Shekhawat and Shivaditay Mody, another member of the Rashtriya Riders, “desired to write a book with me about the life and times of Anuj. I agreed and found great support from Himmat. He gave me strength when I would break down, but he would not let me stop writing book”, Nayyar said.

Thereafter, Shekhawat and Mody opened each and every folder in which Anuj’s father stored his letters, newspaper clippings and other documents. They organised Anuj’s belongings, the Maha Vir Chakra and other medals.

“The most difficult day while writing the book was when in a separate room Himmat and Shiva opened Anuj’s bag which had been untouched for 18 years. I was crying uncontrollably, and they say their hands were shaking while touching the bag which held Anuj’s belongings from the war zone. We had stored his groom’s clothing (he was to have got married on September 10, 1999 to his childhood sweetheart Timme) and other accessories also in that bag,” Nayyar said.

There was another important moment when she invited home all the soldiers of the 17 Jat Regiment who were with Anuj on the day he was martyred.

“Around 15 of them were still serving in the army and two had retired. Jat. Everyone requested me to stay away from the meeting as it was bound to be painful. I went in, came back out again after reinforcing my courage. I thought to myself that if I didn’t sit in the meeting that day, I would never know what my son did in Kargil and what he had gone through in that war.

“I wanted to know if he was injured, if he suffered greatly or was death instant? I came to know that he was not injured. An RPG hit him on his neck and he fell down instantly. This information gave me peace as he did not feel his death,” Nayyar said.

A sequel is already in the works.

“Anuj was my son so I have countless memories in my mind which I couldn’t add in this edition. I need to bring out another edition of this book which can include the other, softer side to Anuj in his personal life. He was naughty, he was quite popular in his school. His friends wanted to add more anecdotes starring my boy; some heart-touching incidents with his brother Karan and cousins Ashish and Tina, who were very close to him.

“Most importantly, Anuj’s father Prof. SK Nayyar, who played a huge part in shaping him into a bright student, a volley-ball player and a fearless soldier. He sharpened him to be an all-rounder who could walk independently in all paths of life and make tough decisions if the situation demanded.

“Harper is publishing a Hindi edition of this book so that our Hindi-speaking soldiers, students and adults can read and get inspired,” explained Nayyar.

She started operating the Kargil Heights Filling Station “after my husband left us in 2014. I want to thank all field officers during the eight years that I have run the filling station, as they supported me in all possible ways. My husband in his lifetime struggled a lot but sorted out the most important issues of power, water, different licenses etc.

“Our (countless bureaucratic) struggles in the initial years of running the petrol pump were captured in Ashwini Choudhry’s film ‘Dhoop’. Anuj’s father looked after the filling station as he would a baby for 14 to 15 years. He worked day and night to build the station’s reputation and won customers’ hearts. Kargil Heights is famous for maintaining its quality and quantity with honesty and staff’s behaviour towards customers. I was a university librarian but used to help my husband on serious issues relating to the station,” Nayyar said.

She was initially not sure whether she was up to the task of independently running the petrol pump.

“I still feel as I used to when I worked with Anuj’s father. He used to get off from working at the petrol pump at 12 in the night, after checking the gas nozzles all by himself. For one year after his demise, I used to return from work at midnight after testing the nozzles. Gradually I started moving the night testing to morning.

“I still feel like I am learning every day on the job even after running the business for more than eight years. I think one should keep oneself open to learn… My life takes me in different directions. The filling station is Anuj’s legacy. I try my best to keep customers satisfied with our service.

“Every morning and evening, I visit the petrol pump and manage the back office from home. Every morning I wake up wishing to see Anuj flexing at the pump with a smile – that thought alone is satisfying,” Nayyar concluded.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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