Obituaries are but passing prologues of mortality. Some are evanescent elegies of grief, for people known and unknown, which punctuate the swirls of time, as verses of valediction of all—big and small. This article is not an obituary that condoles the death of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad, but a tribute to the celebration of his life. His comrades who fell into the same ice trap, which was his living grave for a week, didn’t get the same salutes Hanumanthappa did. Because he was more than a soldier. He became a symbol of the triumph of the Indian soldier’s grit, who later in death, showed that a man can keep even nature’s treachery at bay.
What was different about Hanumanthappa was that he lived, albeit for a short while, after his rescue. His brief defiance of death united the country. Indians all over, young and old, of all faiths and ideologies, prayed that he would beat death. Their appeal showed the collective will of our nation, the triumph of its hope and the strength of its prayers.
Many prayers, like those for Hanumanthappa, often fall wingless to the earth and snow. But one was answered. The humble soldier became a symbol of resilience in these tenuous times when intolerance and divisiveness have become part of the political slang to fight dirty battles in Parliament and the streets. While the dead jawan symbolised the monolithic oneness of India, the seditionist students protesting the hanging of Afzal Guru—a man who plotted against India—espouse the cause of forces that challenge its integrity and sovereignty.
Such publicity stunts were not the priority for Hanumanthappa and his fellow soldiers. Living in the endless glacial loneliness of ice, they were defending a united India. It’s time to honour them by respecting their sacrifice and lay aside differences to take the nation forward to be a power to reckon with.
Let politics be. The economy is flagging, the markets are crashing. Parliament is not functioning. Parties are using invectives, caste politics and illegal immigrant votes for power. Pakistan continues to ignore proof of its not-so-covert war, funded by Obama. Jihadists vow to claim innocent Indian lives with guns and bombs, hoping to get 72 virgins when they reach in bits in a drugged paradise.
Ironically, the same week the Lance Naik passed on, another soldier of a perverse war was in the news. Ishrat Jahan, a deceptively sweet-looking killer, was identified by terror canary Headley as a suicide bomber. While Ishrat was trying to destroy the country she was born in, soldiers like Hanumanthappa continue to safeguard India’s interests. Ishrat was a victim of her own evil, while those who die in
Siachen, Mizoram and Kashmir are casualties of a peace they sacrifice their lives to preserve.
When a soldier signs up, he signs his own death warrant so that the people of his country may live. It’s not for the meagre pay packets he risks death and leaves grieving ones behind. It’s his pride in India.
Let Hanumanthappa’s death be a sobering moment for our leaders who bicker to gain tracts of political territory to win electoral wars. Nationalism is something to be proud of, and not a bogey to be attacked as a political device. The Lance Naik showed that India cannot be defeated, from enemies within or without. Laying wreaths and making speeches are how politicians prove their credentials. Let the threnody to the death of an Indian soldier not segue into the obituary of patriotism. Do not go gently into the good night.