“Maybe this is my last photo,” wrote Major Ketan Sharma around 7 am Monday while posting a photograph of himself on a family WhatsApp group. Hours later, he succumbed to injuries sustained in a gunbattle in South Kashmir’s Anantnag.
On Tuesday, his hometown Meerut was enveloped in grief as his body was brought home. “Mera sher putt goliyon toh nahi darda si (My brave son wasn’t afraid of bullets). Where has my son gone? Just tell me what time Ranu (his nickname) will be back, I request you to return him to me,” said his mother Usha, seated inside their Meerut Cantonment house, as several Army officers visited the family.
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Early Monday, Sharma, of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, was hit in an exchange of fire with a militant during a joint security operation in Badoora village of Achabal.
‘शहीदों की चिताओं पर लगेगें हर बरस मेले
वतन पर मरनेवालों का यही बाक़ी निशाँ होगा’
Raksha Mantri #RM Shri Rajnath Singh and General Bipin Rawat #COAS paid homage by laying wreath on the mortal remains of Major Ketan Sharma, who fell in action in the line of duty.#Anantnag J&K pic.twitter.com/cgfPD7FwVm
— ADG PI – INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) June 18, 2019
He is survived by his wife Era Mandar Sharma, their four-year-old daughter Kaira, his parents Usha and Ravinder, and younger sister Megha.
“When he sent that message on WhatsApp, his wife replied, so did his brother-in-law, hoping he will get out of it fine. He didn’t respond. Era and Kaira were in Ghaziabad visiting Era’s parents when the family found out that Ketan was injured. This was around 2 pm. By 3.30 pm, Army officers came home… soon, we were told he was no more,” said Sharma’s cousin Anil Sharma.
“He used to contact us daily. Since his mother was unwell, he would always ask me to take care of her,” said Ravinder, Sharma’s father who retired from his job at a factory at Modinagar.
According to his family, Sharma had a high-paying private job in Gurgaon in his early 20s before quitting to prepare for the Army. “An uncle of his retired from the Army, and he grew up in the Cantt area… he was always inclined towards the Armed forces. He tried the NDA a few times but couldn’t get through. He then sat for the Combined Defence Services exam and became a Lieutenant in 2012. Days later, he got married to Era,” said Nirmal, another cousin.
He said that during their last conversation, Sharma invited him to Kashmir. “He asked me to attend the Amarnath Yatra… He said it’s safe, the Army will keep you safe,” he said.
Sharma’s body, wrapped in the Tricolour, was brought in a helicopter to Meerut around 2.25 pm. At 4 pm, rose and marigold petals were strewn on the street leading up to Sharma’s house as the body arrived in an Army vehicle under a cloudy sky, as chants of “Vande Mataram”, “Jai Hind” and “Pakistan Murdabad” reverberated in the air.
Until then, the house had been shrouded in silence, broken only by loud cries. As his mother and wife broke down, Sharma’s daughter, oblivious to the loss, found a playmate in a cousin next door. “She doesn’t even know… what do we tell her when she asks for her papa or why everyone is crying?” asked Nirmal.
The family said that Sharma left for Kashmir 22 days ago after spending over a month in Meerut. “He spent time with his family, they went to Mathura and Delhi, too,” said Anil.
Around 5 pm, as the family left for the crematorium, Meerut came to a standstill, as several people in cars and on bikes joined the cavalcade that escorted the body.
For Sharma’s inconsolable sister, who is married, the 45-minute journey was also a flashback of the time the two spent together in Meerut. “Look at the chowk, a photo of him wearing sunglasses is there… that’s Avon Bakers, we would have come here together. I can’t believe bhai is no more… that this has happened to us,” Megha said.
(With Amit Sharma)