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12-min read

Twenty Years After Kargil, Daughter of War Veteran Recalls her Memories as a 9-Year-Old

Twenty years after the Kargil war, an Instagram user shared a mini account of how a 9-year-old remembered Kargil through a series of illustrations.

Shreya Basak | News18.com

Updated:July 26, 2019, 5:08 PM IST
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Twenty Years After Kargil, Daughter of War Veteran Recalls her Memories as a 9-Year-Old
Illustrations by Instagram user @happily.ever.laughter. (Instagram/ @happily.ever.laughter)
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“This one still brings me goosebumps…” recounted Ankita Manral on Instagram, sharing an illustration of a television screen flashing 'Breaking News' against a red background.

Ankita had the rare luck to be reunited with her father during 1999. “Dad hadn’t called in a few days - I was still waiting for my 2nd letter. And then our worst fears came to life. The news flashed - two of our IAf jets had been downed by the enemy - fate of the pilots unknown. The names of the pilots weren’t known either by then, all we knew was one of them was possibly our own, from our very squadron.”

Twenty years later the memories from the days of Kargil are still real for many.

On every 26th of July, Indians rekindle the pride and valour of all the bravehearts of Kargil. Meanwhile, for the veterans there are plenty of stories: Of courage, pride and heartbreaking losses.

Ankita, who goes by the handle @happily.ever.laughter on Instagram, shared a mini account of how a 9-year old remembered Kargil through a series of illustrations. Divided into seven parts, each part is about every time her father left while her mother along with other Army wives blanketed the children from the horrors of the war.

Ankita, who hails from a military background said that her father often had to go away for 'TD' (temporary duties) and "mum would be holding fort at home". TDs would be like her mini-vacations, that would also include her mothers' friends and their children coming over for sleepovers.

View this post on Instagram

20 years since the Kargil war. Here’s a mini account of how a 9 year old me remembers it. This is part 1 of my memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ TDs, or temporary duties were a common thing while growing up. Dad would be out for a few days,weeks sometimes months at a time, with only mum holding fort at home. For us kids, TDs were a mini vacation - Maggi for dinner, movie nights on school days, other friends and their mums coming over for sleep overs, sleeping in the parents room - TDs were exciting. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Sometime early May 1999 - mom was teaching in the Air Force school and was out, dad came home in middle of the day and announced to me and my brother that he’d be going out for a long TD to Srinagar and that we should be good to our mother, not trouble her - gave me some “gyaan” about my responsibilities as an elder sister and began packing. My brother and I thought nothing of it, dad was often out so it didn’t seem like much. Sometime later, mom got back home. I faintly remember her entering the room where dad was packing - and seeing her extremely upset and tense. I remember her asking Dad a lot of questions which I didn’t understand then, and dad evading all of them, and assuring her it was just a routine TD. She knew then something was amiss. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Those are my first memories of the Kargil war. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #happilyeverlaughter #procreate #mykargilmemories #20yearssincekargil #kargilwar #indianmilitary #indianairforce #indianarmy #20yearsofkargil #indianmilitary #armybrat #militaryfamilies #indianheroes #militaryliving #militarylife #armylife #militarybrat #indianmilitaryhistory #kargilheroes #indianairforce #militarywife #adgpi

A post shared by Ankita Bhatnagar Manral (@happily.ever.laughter) on

"Every time I think about this, it brings a smile to my face - how lucky are we to have grown up between these independent, fierce women - who really are nothing short of superwomen if you ask me," Ankita wrote sharing another photo.  "Mothers would always put in efforts to stay close and keep the smiles and enthusiasm intact as an empty mind is a devil's workshop," she wrote. 

 

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

20 years since the Kargil war. This is part 2 of my memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ My next memory is one of my most favourite. All through the months that our dads were out, we’d be eating, drinking, studying, everything at each other’s places. All of us in the Station were one big family, helping each other out, making sure everyone was always together. Our mothers and other aunties, some newly wed, some with toddlers, some with two kids to handle - all made it a point to keep the smile and enthusiasm intact - empty mind is a devils workshop and so, they’d always be teaching each other and us new things, whether it would be someone teaching someone some recipe, someone learning some craft, someone learning music, dance etc. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ It was the late 90s, Maruti were becoming popular , a whole lot of ladies were learning how to be self sufficient and how to drive. This incident is from when one of the aunties, newly learnt how to drive - and decided to take her Maruti out for a spin - in the non power steering world, where she had just learnt how to drive - poor lady mistakenly reversed wrong and went straight into a ditch. Considering the situation and the times, she decided not to hassle the men folk, and instead decided to call her friends for help. All our mums, kids in tow, reached to help her. I remember all of us being gathered around the car, which was 2 tyres inside the ditch , and then seeing what later became one of my most exciting memories. 6 ladies, including mum got together and lifted the car out of the ditch, all by themselves..⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Every time I think about this, it brings a smile to my face - how lucky are we to have grown up between these independent,fierce women - who really are nothing short of superwomen if you ask me. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #happilyeverlaughter #procreate #20yearssincekargil #kargilwar #indianmilitary #indianairforce #indianarmy #20yearsofkargil #armybrat #mykargilmemories #indianheroes #militaryliving #militarylife #armylife #militarybrat #indianmilitaryhistory #kargilheroes #indianairforce #militarywife #adgpi #womanpower #girlpower A post shared by Ankita Bhatnagar Manral (@happily.ever.laughter) on

She also mentioned how phone calls were a luxury back then, especially during the times of war.

They would eagerly wait for that one call from their loved one who was out on the battlefield. "So yes, we wrote letters to dad...It was only recently that dad showed me he had saved up all the letters we sent him during the time. Reading back my letters to him brings a huge smile to my face and an occasional tear or two," she wrote.

View this post on Instagram

20 years since the Kargil war. This is part 3 of my memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ A few weeks after dad left, I remember both sets of grandparents and relatives coming over consecutively to stay with us making sure we were never alone. By now I had a clue something serious was on, but us kids were always protected from the enormity of it. We’d be all huddled in a small room of our tiny 2BHK accommodation , glued to the television sets - watching news day in and out. Ours was one of the few houses with a phone, there would be a proper phone schedule of when there would be a call coming in next, and all the ladies would que up in our house for a chance to speak to their respective husbands, everything important had to be summed up and conveyed in that barely 1 minute short conversation, no time for chitter chatter. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Made one realise the true value of hearing your loved ones voice, safe and sound. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #happilyeverlaughter #procreate #20yearssincekargil #kargilwar #indianmilitary #indianairforce #indianarmy #20yearsofkargil #armybrat #mykargilmemories #indianheroes #militaryliving #militarylife #armylife #militarybrat #indianmilitaryhistory #kargilheroes #indianairforce #militarywife #adgpi

A post shared by Ankita Bhatnagar Manral (@happily.ever.laughter) on

View this post on Instagram

20 years since the Kargil war. This is part 5 of my memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Sometimes there would be flight couriers (Indian Air Force transport aircrafts) coming by, and dad would send us juicy red cherries along with letters marked for everyone and also on flight would come tonnes and tonnes of dirty laundry that would be sent to their respective homes to be washed and cleaned - a fresh set of clean clothes and tonnes of home cooked food, all cuisines, cakes, mithai, etc enough to last a few days would then be flown back to where dad and the others stationed. These couriers were really eagerly awaited, on both sides. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Phone calls in the late 90s were a great luxury. And in war time they were even rarer. So yes, we wrote letters to dad. And he would diligently write back. There would be one every week - 10 days or so, talking mostly about how beautiful Kashmir was, and how he loved flying over mountains, and how tasty the cherries there were, and whether I wanted a Kashmiri pheran to wear, how I should teach my little brother good things, how I should help my mom, the importance of waking up early (haha), basically all kinds of things which were completely opposite of the situation that was on..... It was only recently that dad showed me he had saved up all the letters we sent him during the time. Reading back my letters to him brings a huge smile to my face and an occasional tear or two. They talk about each and every event that took place since the last letter, daily activities, complaints about my mum and brother, most of all about how much we miss him and then there are some where I innocently ask him how his “bombing” is going. 💔 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #happilyeverlaughter #procreate #20yearssincekargil #kargilwar #indianmilitary #indianairforce #indianarmy #20yearsofkargil #armybrat #mykargilmemories #indianheroes #militaryliving #militarylife #armylife #militarybrat #indianmilitaryhistory #kargilheroes #indianairforce #militarywife #adgpi

A post shared by Ankita Bhatnagar Manral (@happily.ever.laughter) on

Amid the wait for calls and writing letters, there was a constant fear. After a news-flash followed by a brief call at their houses back in 1999, Ankita remembers her mother and all the other women getting together, saying words of encouragement to each other. "How scary that day was," she recalled in her Instagram post.

View this post on Instagram

20 years since the Kargil war. This is part 4 of my memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ This one still brings me goosebumps... Dad hadn’t called in a few days - I was still waiting for my 2nd letter. And then our worst fears came to life. The news flashed - two of our IAf jets had been downed by the enemy - fate of the pilots unknown. The names of the pilots weren’t known either by then, all we knew was one of them was possibly our own, from our very squadron. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ I remember my mom and all the other ladies getting together, trying to support each other with all they had, saying all kinds of words of encouragement - knowing very well that it could easily be their husband in trouble. How scary that day was. Sometime later I remember there was a brief call to our COs wife, from the First Lady of the Station, informing that unfortunately we had lost Sqn Ldr Ahuja, and one of our own officers, Flt Lt Nachiketa - had managed to eject, though safe but had ended up drifting towards the enemy side and was captured and made PoW. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Nachi uncle, as we fondly know him - was one of the youngest officers in our sqn at the time. The news came in as a big shock to everyone. A bachelor at the time, but his parents and sisters had just recently come to stay with him at the Station.. The ladies went on to be with the parents for moral support, after the news of their young, barely twenty something son being made prisoner of war, was broken to them . ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Mom tells me that they were trying hard to fight their tears as they spoke of the situation with his parents, but his brave parents, calmly replied with a smile - why are you all so worried - We know he will be back. It took sometime, but true to their word, he came back...⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #happilyeverlaughter #procreate #20yearssincekargil #kargilwar #indianmilitary #indianairforce #indianarmy #20yearsofkargil #armybrat #mykargilmemories #indianheroes #militaryliving #militarylife #armylife #militarybrat #fltltnachiketa #indianmilitaryhistory #kargilheroes #indianairforce

A post shared by Ankita Bhatnagar Manral (@happily.ever.laughter) on

Once the war tensions ceased, Ankita wrote that she was one of the 'lucky ones' to be able to jump on her father's arms as he landed on the runaway.

 

 

 

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20 years since the Kargil war. This is part 6 of my memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Finally sometime in July . The tensions finally started simmering down. And bit by bit units and sqns started returning to their original bases. Our squadron, 9 Sqn - also known as the Wolf Pack, was scheduled to return back anytime too....The excitement was real! The ladies all started preparing thaalis for a Welcome pooja, I remember everyone decided to wear something in yellow, it being an auspicious and happy colour, got sumptuous meals ready at home - complete celebration mode. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ And all of a sudden , before the stipulated time, while the preps were still mid way, we began to hear the sky roar, they were back! I remember jumping with pride and happiness after we finally spotted them in air, one after the other - zip zip zip — Oh man the craziness, all of us kids were dumped into whatever cars were around, and we were all rushed to the runway to see and wave at our dads as they landed and then to go on and jump on them just as they got out of their planes. Filmy as it sounds, it really was the best feeling ever! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ Eventually, as is norm in the IAF, everyone got posted out to different cities. Went on to live their separate lives and careers...but the bond remained untouched. So many years later, the reunions haven’t stopped , they make it a point to meet every now and then and remember the combined once-in-a-lifetime experience they shared. With us kids all grown up - some of us getting married, some joining colleges, getting new jobs- they make it a point to be there in all of each other’s joys and sadness.9 Sqn recently celebrated its platinum jubilee - here’s wishing them many many more years of touching the sky with glory! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #happilyeverlaughter #procreate #20yearssincekargil #kargilwar #indianmilitary #indianairforce #indianarmy #20yearsofkargil #armybrat #mykargilmemories #indianheroes #militaryliving #militarylife #armylife #militarybrat #9squadronIAF #thewolfpack #indianmilitaryhistory #kargilheroes A post shared by Ankita Bhatnagar Manral (@happily.ever.laughter) on

"There’s no correct way to end this series. Yes, we won the war, but did we?" Ankita's family was one of the fortunate ones for whom the war ended on a positive note. But that doesn't end a child's question, who has grown up seeing the horrors of fathers being wrenched away from children. "What about the countless other 9-year-olds who didn’t get any more letters from their fathers. Or the wives who didn’t even get to say good bye. Or the parents who kept waiting for that one phone call. Or the brothers and sisters who never got to fight with their siblings again. So many lives disrupted, so many relationships ended before their time. Did we really win?"

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