Commandant Chetan Kumar Cheeta took nine bullets in an encounter in Bandipore that led to the killing of top Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist Abu Musaib. After weeks in coma, the CO of the 45th Battalion of the CRPF is back home at the CRPF Base Camp in Delhi. He has lost his right eye, his upper limbs are badly fractured, and a bullet is still lodged in his body. The recovery will be a long and painful one, but the man who led from the front is raring to go. Edited excerpts:
Anubha Bhonsle (AB): I think I have to begin by saying that it's an absolute honour and a great privilege to be here and get a chance to speak to you.
Chetan Kumar (CK): Same here.
AB: We're absolutely stunned at your resilience, at your spirit and extremely proud to meet both you and your wife.
CK: We are very thankful to the media as well. Because you are the people who got us so many prayers and I think prayers your prayers have been answered.
AB: Let me start by asking how are you feeling?
CK: Wonderful. Minus this injury, it's wonderful.
AB: I think it's a remarkable and a very noticeable recovery.
CK: Really? Do I look fine?
AB: You were always looking fine but you're looking better now
CK: Thank you. Thank you.
Wife: It's good to hear it from you actually. I live with him so, yes, I do feel there is a change in everything. There is a remarkable difference now. I do feel that but it's good to hear it from others.
AB: What are the doctors telling you, sir? How long is this recovery process going to be?
CK: I have been asking them the same thing, but they are reluctant to give me any date. I think it will take another 20 days.
AB: Will you then be fighting fit?
CK: Not fighting fit, but by then I won't require any support and so I will be able to things on my own.
AB: I think I know that for men in the forces taking support becomes a big thing.
Wife: It's a big thing… A very big thing.
AB: But how do you know?
Wife: My father was in the forces as well. He's retired now but...
Wife: Yes, it's absolutely right. It is very difficult to give help to Chetan because he doesn't want to take help from anyone. So whenever we try to extend any sort of support - you call it willpower, you call it anything, he doesn't want to take support.
CK: She is not allowing me to even brush my teeth on my own. Allow me to do this at least.
Wife: Yes, this is only time. I mean, I want you to thank me later actually.
CK: I'm an officer and she's also a daughter of a uniformed officer. Main lena nahi chahta aur ye har cheez meri karna chahti hai (I don't want to take help and she wants to help me in everything).
AB: I think you two are a great team. I keep going back to that image when he was discharged from the hospital and you said: I'm rocking, I'm on top of the world. I think the same sort of robustness and positivity was in you as well.
Wife: He doesn't want any sympathy. He's well aware of his problems. So am I and we know how to fight it out. So we are doing it. We are on the track already. There is a remarkable difference and it is because of his own will power.
AB: Are you in pain, sir? We can stop this interview if you're feeling uncomfortable?
CK: Nahi, nahi (no, no). It's ok.
Wife: He can take it. He's not on painkillers. He doesn't take painkillers. He's bearing the pain.
CK: Yes, it's not required.
AB: Sir, after taking nine bullets you are saying painkillers are not required?
CK: Actually, I'm past that phase.
Wife: Since he has come back to consciousness.
AB: Did he resist taking painkillers?
Wife: No, no. In hospital he was given painkillers but after we came back home he has stopped taking painkillers. He said, "I will bear."
AB: When did you get to know about the fact that he'd taken an injury; he'd taken a bullet injury?
Wife: In the morning itself.
CK: Actually, I told her in the morning that probably I'll go on an operation in the morning. Main zyada detail mein batata nahi hu isko (I don't usually tell her in detail about the operations).
AB: Of course.
CK: Kyunki uske baad first word hota hai ki Chetan please mat jao (As she usually stops me from going).
Wife: I usually expect his phone calls around 7:30 AM.
AB: In the morning?
Wife: In the morning. Every day. That's the natural practice. He usually calls me after children go to school. But that day he didn't call up, so I called up on both his numbers. The numbers were all switched off which is unusual for me. His numbers are usually not off. There was a man in the house, I asked him to call up on the exchange to find where the sahab is. From his expressions I understood that there was something wrong with Chetan and thereafter I went to Srinagar.
AB: I'm actually also told by the CRPF that everything fell into place, right?
Wife: Everything really did fell into place. The evacuation from Kashmir wasn't very easy, still it was done by the army jawans. Air ambulance was also arranged. Even though it was going to Imphal and was moved to Srinagar. So things definitely fell in place.
AB: What saved you?
CK: When you are doing some good job with a true conscience, definitely everyone is standing for you.
AB: I told you a little while before that we just returned from Kashmir from a reporting trip. We had a chance to meet a whole host of CRPF men and when I told them that I will be meeting you in a couple of days, my phone since then has been flooded with messages of people who've known you. I think I should read out a couple of them to you. So constable Sandeep from the 45 Battalion says: "Sir aap jaldi se swasth ho jayiye. Hum aap jaisa banna chahte hai. Aur aapki supervision mein hi ladhna chahte hai (Sir, we hope you will get better soon. We hope to be like you and want to fight under your guidance)." What would you say to him?
CK: Meri supervision mein kya ladna. Yedi mere jaise ban gaye toh aapko kisi ki supervision nahi chahiye ladne ke liye. (Well, if you become like me, you won't require any supervision)."
AB: Well said. The other person who sent a message is Niranjan, who's your deputy commandant and I think was with you on that particular day, right? So he said: "Sir aapki veerta ko salaam hai. Paltan ko aap par naaz hai. Hume besabri se aapka intezar hai. Hum aapke sath milkr desh ke dushmano se firse ladenge (Sir, we salute your bravery. The battalion is proud of you. We eagerly await your return. We want to fend off the nation’s enemies by your side again.)" They all sound exactly like you.
CK: That is what I wanted. Actually I encouraged them that whatever war you are fighting, that should be your war that should be like as your last war.
AB: The third person to write in was Suresh, He said:"Dearest Chetan, your exploits in Bandipura will continue to inspire all of us in the CRPF. Thank you for holding the flag high. We knew from day one the bullets of these cowards weren't capable of holding you down. Please come back soon. We need to hold our guns together and have a drink." That's also a common sentiment; everyone wants to have a drink with you.
CK: That is how the men express, ma'am.
AB: So you've inspired a lot of men.
Wife: And that's actually the love his men have for him.
AB: You've been a fantastic leader it means.
CK: I can be. I cannot say such things about myself. Aapne mujhe ye sunaya hai toh achha laga (I liked the fact that you read such things to me).
AB: Thank you
CK: Toh laga (I felt), yes, I'm doing something better.
AB: You know for everyone who has sent messages for you has this one line or one sentiment which is very common that you're a man who leads from the front.
CK: I have served in all the operation theatres in the country. North-East, Naxal areas and Jammu & Kashmir. This is my third posting in J&K and whatever achievements I have been with the support of my troops. Those who know me know how Chetan Cheeta functions.
AB: Chetan Cheeta kaise kaam karta hai (How does Chetan Cheeta function)?
Chetan: Obviously, ma'am, from the front.
AB: The challenges the CRPF faces in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while it's doing its duties are known to everyone. What do you say to your troops when they go on jobs that are not related to the operations.
CK: Ma'am our jawans are very mature. We need not tell them many things.
AB: Do you want to comment on this recent video where a young CRPF man showed so much restraint in the face of provocation? You don't want to comment?
Wife: We don't know. For the last two months, I am totally out of touch.
AB: What are you looking forward to next as far as work is concerned? Are you planning to head back?
CK: That's an answer I've given to my wife.
AB: what did you tell her?
CK: I want to go back.
AB: To Kashmir? You should tell me what her response was.
CK: She's always ki ‘what is this?’
Wife: Till you recover completely.
AB: Why is it important for you to go back to Kashmir?
CK: The answer is - unfinished business. And this business will be finished. I cannot say that if you give 10 years of my future posting in Kashmir or 20 years of my future posting in Kashmir, I'll finish all the problems. It is not possible. I enjoy being in the operation area. I was recently promoted as a commandant. They asked me what you want. I told them give me the command of the COBRA.
AB: You enjoy it. You want to be there?
CK: Enjoy. I want some action. Some actually. When I retire or when I'll be on my death bed at least when I look back I can recollect I have done some commendable job.
AB: What does a soldier want from the nation?
CK: Recognition of his work, medal on his chest and his name in golden letters. Toh ma'am recognition yedi nahi milta hai kaam ka toh wo disheartened hota hai (When we do not get recognition for our work, we feel disheartened). So this is actually what is happening between the army and the CRPF.
AB: I think the army chief recognised your bravery when he came to see you at the hospital
CK: It's very nice of him. Actually I also recognised that and I said in the hospital also ki ek soldier ko isse zada kya chahiye hota hai (what more does a soldier want).
AB: What do you say to your men? You know when their spirits may be a little dampened. When they face a great amount of hostility, stone pelting, violence. What do you say to them?
CK: Ki jisko jana hai wo jaye (Those who want to leave, can leave). They can go back to their barracks and those who are brave enough to stand, they can stand here with me. One thing I can assure you, I will be standing with you all the time.
CK: It is the most important thing. I stayed there for almost three months, ma'am. I have done many operations with my battalion. It was probably the eighth operation of Chetan.
AB: What are the values you hold dear, sir, as a soldier?
CK: As a soldier, defend your nation. Lead your troops. Hold the flag till your last breath. So these are my values, ma'am.
AB: I'll wrap this interview here but I have to once again thank both of you and you especially sir for standing tall for the nation, and sort of being so positive and resilient in the face of great adversity.
CK: It is okay, ma'am. Achha hua. Malum toh padha ki bullet ka ghav kaisa hota hai. Dard kaisa hota hai. Koi ab aaj se mujhse bole ki... (I am happy it happened. I got to know what a bullet injury feels like, what pain is? Now if someone asks me...).
AB: Goli khayi hai?
CK: Toh main bolunga ki ek nahi 9 khayi (I took not one but nine bullets).
AB: Do you want to say anything to our viewers or anything that I haven't asked you or bothered you with?
CK: I just want to thank them for their prayers and I love my nation. I want to go back and serve my nation again in the best possible way.
AB: Thank you. Thank you very much for sparing time. And good luck, good health, good life ahead.
CK: Thank you.