Four days and the tributes keep pouring in. Some don’t even need to enter the home to pay homage. In the courtyard of the two-floor Moharkar home in the small town of Pauni in Maharashtra, there is a small shrine to Major Prafulla Moharkar. On December 23, shortly after noon, he was among four soldiers killed as Pak troops, in a major ceasefire violation, opened fire on Indian positions along the Line of Control in the Keri sector of Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district.
There are two photographs, both of Moharkar in uniform, garlanded with flowers strewn all around. Relatives mourning a death are not unusual. Yet on this Wednesday afternoon, the most common visitors are young schoolgirls, still in their brown skirt uniform. They hesitantly check if they are intruding, gingerly take off their shoes, and take the few steps to the photographs. Their heads bowed in front of a little diya, they stand, its flame flickering bright. Like the memory of Pauni’s lost son.
Born to two teachers, Moharkar moved between homes in rural Maharashtra often in his childhood, following his mother wherever she was posted. But as she now remembers, her child was precocious. “He celebrated his first birthday in Manora where I taught at a zilla parishad school. Even when he was two years old, he would follow me to school to sit and learn with the younger children. I taught senior classes, so sometimes I wouldn’t even know he was there. But by Class IV, he had finished every book on deshbhakti in our small library, “ said Sudha Moharkar.
Her son spent another three years of school at Taas village before taking up school at Somalvar school in Nagpur where he lived with his aunt. Right out of school, even as he studied mechanical engineering in Nagpur, he applied for technical entry with the Army and entered the IMA in 2002 as a 17-year-old. A year later, he moved to the College of Military Engineering in Pune where he studied engineering for four years before being commissioned in 2007.
As they sit around the drawing room, one glass cabinet full of photographs of him and his certificates, every family member has a story to tell. Of a man who was a sportsman, was obsessed with cleanliness; of someone who thought it was his duty to make others happy. He was an affectionate brother and confidant to Paresh, three years his junior, and to his sister-in-law Shubhangi.
“When I was married, initially I had trouble leaving my family and I would cry in the courtyard,” she said, pointing to where his photographs now stand. “He just looked at me and that was all I needed. It told me he was around and he would take care of everything. I once mentioned that cleaning clothes was difficult. Then one day, while he was off at duty, a massive box appeared at the front door. It was a washing machine. He had sent it and kept it a secret. That was the man he was, “ she said.
On the evening of December 23, Sudha and Ambadas Moharkar were on a train to Pune to visit their younger son when they received the call about the firing on the LoC. They got off the train mid-route and traveled back to Pauni arriving at 3 am. By that time, there were already 400 people at their home, grieving for their son.
In Pune, where she works in an investment bank, Moharkar’s wife of four years, Aboli, got the heart-shattering phone call from his commanding officer. He beseeched her not to come to Udhampur as did her friends in the Army. A body in a wreath will be very hard to take, they said. “But all I could think about was that I needed to be near him. He had taught me to be strong. And for him, I would hold it together,” she told The Indian Express.
She flew to Jammu and then traveled to Udhampur where she saw his body. “I could see only one bullet mark of the four near his neck. But all I could think of was his smiling face. And that this was a death in glory,” she said. They had met several years ago, through her relatives who were coursemates of Prafulla, and fell in love. They were together for 10 years, and in that time, somewhere along the way, he had made her stronger, she said. “We were both very adventurous, and he encouraged me to mountain climb. I remember that before I went for a course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, he wanted me to do laps of the Army School where he was posted. Just so I could take the physical stress at the course so I wouldn’t need any favours as an Army wife,” she said.
Of the time they were together, they could only spend two years living with each other when Moharkar was posted at Samba near Jammu. It was there where, she said, she got a sense of his inner strength. In March 2015, three months after their wedding on December 23, 2014, as they slept in their home in Samba, the air exploded with the sound of gunfire and grenades. The station was under attack and it was the first time Aboli had ever heard gunfire. Nothing was said and yet everything was understood. “He woke up and without saying anything, began to put on his uniform. I woke up, and even as the firing was on, went outside, got the car out from the garage, and parked it outside the gate. Just so he wouldn’t waste any time in the process. He was the first officer on the spot, and the attack was neutralised, “ she said.
On Monday night, Moharkar’s friends and family watched as his body was brought to Paoni to be laid to rest on the banks of the river that runs by the town, the Vainganga. There were thousands of people on the streets, some from neighbouring villages. They stood with candles, flowers and tears. The next day, there was a respectful silence, as the town called for a collective bandh.
Sudesh Patil, a local panseller who said he usually ignores such calls stayed home. “For once, all of the town stood together in grief. Even today, my heart is heavy, and I didn’t want to come,” he says. For Paoni now has another identity. Says mother Sudha Mahorkar: “Pehle Paoni ko Vidharbha ka chhota kashi kehte the. Ab kuch aur kahenge. Shaheed ka kashi. Mere Prafulla ka kashi.”