Monday, 27 July 2009

It's a collect call to Heaven.

My father was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force and I have always felt an ambivalence in relation to his role in active service during the three wars he participated in, after I was born. For all children their fathers are hero's, but as I grew up and my own political conscience took shape, I found it difficult to reconcile that death stained the hands of my parent, even though it was as the protector of our nation.

Channel surfing on Saturday night I caught a documentary on NDTV 24 X 7 on the Kargil war. Narrated by Bharka Dutt she montaged the events of the war ten years ago with footage of herself with her three colleagues reporting from the war zone in 1999; and interspersed interviews of conversations with soldiers and family members of the martyrs of this war, to offer a "then and now" of the story to us. I sat transfixed and moved to tears, and I don't know whether it was because I felt I was seeing something about the life of my father that triggered these emotions or whether it was the stories of those young men themselves, but I felt deep sadness at the loss of innocence that came through all the brave words that were uttered and the mask of composure that many adopt to hide their memories of fear.

I cannot say that my conflicts over my father being a war hero can ever be laid to rest. I know that he camouflaged much of his own anguish over the collateral damage that wars bring behind the expected bravado that the armed forces train you to exhibit. He loved to fly and the sky was truly his heaven, and commercial flying could never have satisfied the delight of the risk that fighter planes challenged him with. I get my love of teaching from him. He was an excellent teacher and each of his cadets proficient pilots with skills that were honed from the exacting training that my father insisted upon. But I saw in his eyes in those quiet moments when he thought he was unobserved, a pain that came from the many stories of his own survival in combat.

What I felt most comforted by whilst watching the documentary was the truth of one army officer who said, "though politically incorrect, I will say that no soldier ever wants to fight a war." I know that this too was the sentiment of my father who at seventeen pledged his life to the service of protecting his nation, despite whatever his personal views on war were. Whatever my politics maybe, I have always been inspired by the courage of my father and salute him for it. Especially in these days of remembrance to the men and women in uniform who march in unison and who perpetuate his legacy by defending our country for us like he did, my heart swells with pride for his memory.

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