Their jawan is everywhere.
On two large posters at the village gate, where he used to hang out with friends. On a chalk-lined patch of brown at the other end, which he had marked out for the kabaddi team. On a black plaque inside the temple, his unfinished gift to the Gods.
Inside the heaving chest of his mother, her blouse drenched in grief over the loss of her youngest child, just 28 years old. On the slumped shoulders of his wife of 17 months, his last goodbye over the phone keeping her awake through the nights. In the pocket of his elder brother’s pale red shirt, a passport-sized memory in uniform.
“He is 15 minutes away… the body,” says Krishnasamy, the brother. The village stirs, mourners surge into the narrow street, a wail rings out – a final echo from the blast that targeted a CRPF convoy two days ago, killing 40 personnel.
As Saturday dawned and 40 homes across India woke up to the rest of their shattered lives, The Sunday Express reached the farthest of them all — a four-room island of green and yellow in the middle of Savalaperi in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi. Over 3,550 km from Pulwama, just two hours short of India’s southern tip.
Here, Pulwama is a gash across the heart.
“He was betrayed… why did they send such a large convoy, what happened to all the security?” asks Krishnaveni, the 21-year-old wife, her eyes blazing through the tears. “We should finish Pakistan now. Hit them so hard, they will never get up again,” says Periyasamy, 32, the childhood friend, now a scrap dealer in Kerala.
“They can pelt stones at our forces, but the jawans can’t retaliate. Why are there different rules? Subramanian was hit by one of those stones last year,” says Paramanand Raj, 32, a friend, now a civil engineer in Chennai. “We will never give up Kashmir. Why should we? Those who have a problem are welcome to leave, we will be happy to see them go,” says Kali, Periyasamy’s business partner.
And yet, for the man who has lost the most, Pulwama is a reason to step back from the brink – and think.
“Many of my colleagues are Pakistanis, and all of them are mourning the death of my brother,” says Krishnasamy, the only brother who works in Dubai as an electrician. “They told me they were happy that Imran Khan had become their Prime Minister. They were sure that all this nonsense would stop, and their country would finally see some development. But now, they are losing hope,” he says.
“Hit back at Pakistan for what? So that a thousand more families will grieve like this in both countries?” he asks, waving his arm at the crowd around. “This is the time for both the governments to show real courage, not by fighting but by resolving the issue peacefully.”
All of them agree, however, that for Savalaperi, Pulwama will also be a reason to look back every year — on a loving son, a caring husband, a “strong” brother, a “real” friend, and yes, the founder of Savala Kings, the kabaddi team for children that Subramanian set up before he left on February 10 after a month’s leave.
“He is the youngest of our four children. And from a young age, he wanted to join the police. He was fearless, short-tempered and quick to speak up if he felt something was wrong. We convinced him to take up a course at the local ITI after Class X, hoping that he would join his brother in Dubai,” says Ganapathi, the father, a 68-year-old farmer, his eyes covered with dark glasses after cataract surgery.
“He was the best fast bowler for miles… what pace!” says Periyasamy, walking through the village with the “old gang”, pointing to the primary school where they studied, the kabaddi patch they set up just a few weeks ago, the temple built in gratitude for the CRPF job.
“He got through in the first attempt, with two other friends, in 2014. He underwent his training in Chennai, was posted in UP, and finally to Kashmir,” said S Kumbaiah, who “retired in 1997 as a Naik from the BSF”. “I have served in Kashmir, too, as a driver. I have been a part of convoys on the same route… there are strict rules and a set of procedures for convoys, I have no idea how such an attack could happen.”
By now, the surge of mourners outside the house has become a sea – police, politicians, their followers and wreaths, all jostling for space under the pandal. The van carrying the jawan’s body is well past its two-hour deadline from the Madurai airport. It is being stopped on the way, again and again, outside a college, near a school, by the road, hundreds lining up for the farewell.
Today, the jawan of Savalaperi is everywhere.