The summer vacations started just like the previous ones. My mother, my sister and I were all set to spend them with daddy, amongst beautiful hills, the apple tress, the cool breeze and the families of the other officers of the regiment, in the very beautiful city of Srinagar.
As was usual, we started our journey in the train on 11th of May 99, and somewhere amongst playing and arguing with each other and getting scolded by mummy for it, we slept off, and reached Jammu the next day. A few hours there and before long we were in the convoy on our way to Srinagar.
Though the road journey to Srinagar used to be long, and in the convoy, it would take slightly longer since the vehicles were to move together, I remember looking out and admiring the beauty of what nature had to offer, every single time. Having said that, as a 12 year old, I would also start getting bored after a bit and the whole idea of seeing daddy at the end of the journey would get me all excited and make me look at the watch and literally count minutes and not hours till we reached.
At last, the vehicle took a turn(to the left from what I remember, could be wrong), after a 12-13 hr journey on the road and entered the very beautiful Srinagar transit camp. As always, my eyes started scanning the crowd of people outside to spot my handsome, uniform clad hero and sure enough, saw his ever smiling face, standing patiently, turning his neck towards the left and right(this little neck exercise that he would do constantly) and waiting for the vehicles to come to a halt.
We got down excitedly, and went and touched his feet(mom is very particular about it, to this day) and hugged him. My memory fails me in parts, but from what I remember, soon as we got down, he told my mother how he had to make a phone call to an officer to get back from his leave sooner. I remember seeing my mother’s expression change. We weren’t privy to the conversation between them but I noticed them from a distance and remember wondering, why mummy didn’t look as happy as she always was upon reaching Srinagar.
In fact, while talking to him her lips quivered and she fought back tears that one could clearly see had started forming in the corner of her eyes.
Soon enough, we were on our way to the unit location, and the atmosphere in the vehicle seemed tense. Daddy as usual, kept making conversation with us, about school, studies, other activities, and I in my head was making plans for our time there. I forget the sequence of events that happened upon reaching, except that us kids, were made to have our meal and retire to bed, which was common practice every time we were here, as the adults would get together in the mess and eat after we had finished our dinner, and tired from the journey, Diksha and I slept off.
Next thing I remember is being woken up, early in the morning, while it was still dark outside. Daddy was all dressed up in his combats, and he seemed to be ready to leave. But we had just got here? Why was he leaving already? Was he just going for a couple of hours? But then why would mummy wake us up?
I was still confused when Daddy looked at us, stretched his arms as we went to hug him, from over the bed, and said, “Daddy ko jaana hai, aap log ache se rehna, chhuttiyan enjoy karna or mummy ko tang mat karna”.
Still confused, we just nodded our heads, hugged him, asked him to promise to get back soon, wondered why mummy was crying, as she went after him while he left the room and flopped back on the bed and slept off.
The really early morning of 14th May 1999 was the last time we met, spoke to and hugged our father, oblivious to the fact that the next time we were going to see him, it would not be with him standing in front of us… to this day and this minute, even as I type these words down, the memory of that day, gives me goosebumps..