RAMANATHAPURAM: Passion and poverty drove the martyred 40-year-old Indian Army soldier K Palani from Kadukkalur village in Ramanathapuram district to join the armed forces at the age of 18.
Shock dawned upon the family when the news of his death at the Indo-Chinese border in Ladakh reached them. The brave havildar had planned to retire from the army next year, having served on the country's borders for 22 years. He was one among three Indian soldiers martyred on the Indo-Chinese border in Ladakh in the conflict on Monday night.
Palani was the elder son of the farmer couple Kalimuthu and Logambal at Kadukkalur village in Tiruvadanai taluk of Ramanathapuram district and is survived by his wife P Vanathi Devi (35) and two children -- a son aged 10 and a daughter aged 8.
"He hailed from a poverty-stricken family. A class XII pass out from his village school, he was an active sportsman during his school days and aspired to join the armed forces since he was a teenager. Extreme poverty and ambition led him to join the army at the age of 18 after a couple of attempts at army recruitment. He was a father-figure to his younger brother and his younger sister," said a relative.
Palani's blood, sweat and tears went into educating his brother and marrying off his sister, family sources recalled.
Strongly motivated by Palani, his brother Idhayakani (in his early 20s) too joined the armed forces and now works in the clerical cadre in Rajasthan.
Palani's love for serving the nation did not stop there. He also dreamt and spoke of making his children join the armed forces when they grow up.
"Villagers looked up to him for his depth of knowledge on current affairs. He later completed BA in History through distance education mode and encouraged his wife to complete B.Ed course after marriage. It was he who motivated her to enrol in a post-graduation course too," shared the relative.
Whenever he returned home, the air was filled with his cheer and could be seen cooking for the family, something he enjoyed as much as he did playing with the children, noted another relative.
"He would tell us that his service was valued by his superiors who couldn't let him go whenever he would speak of retirement. Instead, he would be offered long leave to visit family. We heard he was an expert in the operation of military tanks," the relative stated.
After 22 years of toil at the Indian borders braving extreme climatic conditions and his struggle with poverty, it was only on June 3 that his family finally moved into their own house in Kazhugoorani (Ramanathapuram taluk), built taking a loan of about Rs 17 lakhs.
"Palani last visited his family in January but could not attend the housewarming that he was looking much forward to. Having led a life full of struggles, having built his own house, we thought things were finally turning out well for him since he planned to retire next year. His untimely demise has shaken the family for whom he was the pillar of strength throughout his lifetime," the villagers recalled.
Palani's mortal remains are expected to reach his native village in a couple of days.