As 11-year-old Alka made way to bid a final farewell to her father, Colonel M N Rai, she raised the Gorkha battle cry. Rai was killed in a gun battle with militants in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, a day after he was awarded Yudh Seva Medal on Republic Day.
Speaking to mediapersons, Rai’s father said his youngest son was “simple and honest, with no trace of anger”. While the martyr’s parents and his wife Priyanka were inconsolable, his three children — Alka and Richa (8) and Aditya (6) — tried putting up a brave face.
Col Rai, who belonged to Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh, was the youngest of three brothers. Rai’s eldest brother Lt Colonel D N Rai is also from the Gorkha Regiment, while his second brother Y N Rai is in the CRPF. The latter had suffered a bullet injury during the Raghunath temple operation in Jammu in November 2002, Army officials said.
During his time at the Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai, cadet M N Rai would crack jokes based on a character called ‘Pappu’ – which eventually became his nickname.
“He was full of life; always cracking jokes, making people laugh,” Major Sanjay Tanwar, Rai’s former batchmate, told The Indian Express.
At Rai’s funeral on Friday morning, his friends recalled a soldier who led from the front. “He walked shoulder-to-shoulder with his men,” Tanwar, a Shaurya Chakra awardee, said.
Tanwar first met Rai 18 years ago when they joined the OTA after clearing their Combined Defence Services exam.
“Life is in the academy is tough. The training is aggressive and the atmosphere is tense. But, there was never a dull moment with Rai. He always cracked jokes that revolved around a character Pappu, so Pappu became his nickname,” Tanwar recalled.
“During training, we saw a different side of him… One day we had to ‘race back’ to our academy. The exercise involves running long distances with a 20 kg weight on back along with one’s rifle. That’s when we saw the ‘superhuman’ side of him. Some of us were dehydrated. He not only carried his own bag then but two more bags to ensure that the platoon doesn’t feel let down. That was the sense of his pride,” Tanwar said.
After the OTA, both Rai and Tanwar were commissioned as officers. Rai joined 2/9 Gorkha Rifles in September 1997 and took over the command of the 42nd Battalion of Rashtriya Rifles in May 2013.
Coincidentally, Rai was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal for his “professionalism and exemplary leadership”.
Officials said he had been “instrumental in eliminating four hardcore Hizbul terrorists, including its divisional commander, and apprehending nine over ground workers”.
Colonel Rai’s funeral was held in the capital at 11.30 am on Thursday. “Army Chief General Dalbir Singh, Vice Chief of Army Staff and other senior officials as well as Colonel Rai’s near and dear ones were also present there,” Army spokesperson said.