On January 15, 1985, Rishi Ram held two celebrations at home — to mark Army Day and the birth of his son. From that day, his family members recall, the Subedar Major’s only dream was to see his son become an army officer.
The dream came alive 21 years later, when Amit Deswal was commissioned to the Regiment of Artillery on June 10, 2006. And it died this Wednesday, when Major Deswal of 21 Para was killed in an encounter with Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) insurgents in Manipur’s Tamenglong.
Within hours of Major Deswal succumbing to a gunshot wound on his stomach, the army broke the news to the father who was in Imphal at the time, said Deswal’s younger brother Ankit Deswal, speaking on behalf of the family.
For Ankit, it has been a jumble of painful moments over the last 24 hours at their family home in Jhajjar. His mother, holding his hand, refuses to believe that she has lost her elder son. His sister-in-law Neetu is “inconsolable” and keeps “repeating the same thing… ‘Yeh bahut galat hua. Yeh bahut galat hua (what happened is wrong)’”.
The last time Amit visited home was when Ankit got married on February 16. He stayed in Jhajjar for ten days. “The Jat quota agitation was happening at the time. However, the wedding went off peacefully. Never could we imagine then that such a tragedy would hit us,” said Ankit.
Rishi Ram was in Manipur to teach his four-year-old grandson Aryan — Deswal’s only child — to swim, said Ankit. “Amit wanted Aryan to be with his grandfather during the summer holidays so that he remained attached to the family,” he said.
According to Ankit, Amit Deswal was selected for the coveted Special Forces and joined the elite unit in January 2011 before being sent to Manipur for Operation Hifazat-II this January.
”My father always dreamt of becoming an officer. Amit fulfilled his dream. Not only he accomplished this dream, he stood second in the Combined Defence Services examination in 2004. After joining the elite forces, he was declared the best student commando,” said Ankit, displaying photos of his elder brother being commissioned into the Artillery.
Col Narender Chhikkara (Retd), who was Deswal’s company commander in Dundahera, Gurgaon, from 2007 to 2009, said, “Amit was posted here right after his Young Officer’s Course. He had an unmatched spark on his face. He was bright and always keen to know the unknown. The respect this young gentleman officer had for the uniform is something I still remember,” said the retired officer.
Another senior officer, under whom Amit served, remembers him as someone who recognised that his calling was somewhere more adventurous. “As a young officer, he got commissioned in an Artillery regiment where he was posted as a Gun Position officer. But his calling was always for the Special Forces. He died fighting. He died a commando,” said the serving officer.
The officer also described Amit as a “flying machine”. “He was a brilliant cross-country runner and an undefeated hockey player. For his troops, he was not just their ‘Saheb’ but someone they looked up to,” he added.