How would you feel if you were a Mother who loses her only son at his prime age of 21, and then be unable to be present for his last rites and never be able to visit her son’s grave for a lifetime? Some pains can be forgotten, some forgiven, but for Mrs. Thressiamma Joseph from Kerala, this one riled her for over 25 years.
Unknown to this pain, a course of Army Officers get together to celebrate their 25 years of passing out from the Indian Military Academy. Their plans to meet up in Dehradun are being worked out. Will it be possible to gather all the mates after a gap of 25 years? How many will turn up finally?
Jun 1992, somewhere in the North East. 2Lt ET Joseph is looking forward to catch the train in a day to go back to his hometown on leave cum posting. His posting order had come few weeks ago from the Gorkha Battalion that was his home for over a year. Though commissioned to Army Intelligence Corps a year back, he felt at home in the paltan that he was serving now. He was dined out from the Unit the previous day and had been stuck off strength.
The officers are relaxing in the Mess, suddenly they receive reports of some terrorist movement. The unit is tasked to neutralize them. The CO gets his Quick Reaction Team together. 2Lt ET Joseph knew the terrain well. He volunteers to go with the team for the operation at night so that he could be back by early morning to catch the first convoy out. The others asked him to chill. But ET feels that he should join the boys in the operation. He has time till the morning to get back. Unknown to many, God had other plans…..2Lt E Thomas Joseph lays down his life for the nation in the firefight that night.
Far away in Shillong, the next day, another serving soldier, Sub Maj AT Joseph, is preparing for his dining out in the JCO’s Mess. He is looking forward to reaching Bangalore, his next posting station. As he reaches the JCO Mess, he receives the news. Heartbroken and devastated Sub Maj Joseph leaves for Nagaland accompanied by two of his colleagues. They reach the temporary camp location on the 3rd day after the death of his only son. The mortal remains of brave heart 2Lt ET Joseph are laid to rest in his father’s presence. Due to poor connectivity those days, it is not possible to transport the body to the soldier’s hometown. ET’s father leaves the place within two hours of burial at the Army cemetery. He is terribly broken due to the unimaginable grief of losing his son. He is in a state of shock.
When the news of the loss reaches Mrs. Thressiamma Joseph, she and her two daughters are inconsolable. Sub Maj AT Josephis unable to come to terms with the biggest loss in his life and on his request, gets his retirement sanctioned from Indian Army. He comes back to his family in Kerala the same year. He does his best to educate his two daughters, ensure the family lives decently, over the years he gets his daughters married. The husband and wife then look towards the twilight in their lives.
Deep down, both Joseph and his wife Thressiamma try their best to overcome their grief. But a sadness that had no closure couldn’t be overcome. The mother in Thressiamma, longs to visit the burial place. But they are unable to afford the long journey. Where would they gather that kind of money? How would they travel thousands of miles? Who would know the place? Who would help them? With old age catching up, the hope just fades away. They hope to meet their son at God’s abode one day.
New Delhi: Feb 2016 – Jun 2016: The plans for a big bash for the 88th Regular and 71st Technical Course to celebrate 25th year of service to the nation gets underway. The core team gather information of all the officers who had stepped out from Indian Military Academy on 08 Jun 1991. Slowly the number of officers and families who agree to travel to Dehradun increase. The show is getting bigger and better each passing day, as news of some buddy who had lost touch trickles in. Amidst all the plans to make the reunion memorable, one evening Vikram Gill one of the leading organizers of the event, calls up Sajan and says “We have to remember and honour those who have fallen amongst us. We have to make their families proud”. They decide to design an apt memento for each next of kin (NOK) of the Martyrs, invite and felicitate them.
Vikram then sets out to find out the addresses of the NOK of Martyrs, who had laid down their lives at various points. His tireless efforts, reveal to him, a list of 19 brave hearts. 2Lt E Thomas Joseph is first in that list. A memento is made for each NOK of the Martyr. Their families are contacted and invited to join the celebrations at Dehradun. However Sub Maj AT Joseph and Thressiamma could not be contacted as they had shifted from their address.
Eight Veer Naaris, Brothers and Sisters of Martyrs, travel from far and wide including Australia and take part in the three day celebrations in the last week of June 2016, where over 140 officers, nearly 100 ladies and over 100 children attend with full gusto.
The events aptly commence with felicitation of the Veer Naris and NOK of the Martyrs. A film painstakingly made by Anirban & Jacob is screened which brings memories of yesteryear’s spent with these brave hearts. The course together has won 1 Ashok Chakra, 2 Kirti Chakras, 6 Shaurya Chakras, 2 Yudh Seva Medal, 32 Sena Medal Gallantry, 8 Sena Medal Distinguished, 7 Vishisht Seva Medal, 5 Mention in Dispatches. Truly we are among the bravest ones. The celebrations are great, well planned and heart touching. Bonding is amazing meeting up with buddies who are reuniting after a gap of 25 years. The Veer Naris who attend feel honoured and thankful to the course for the great gesture. Vikram requests the memento’s be personally handed over to the NOKs who could not attend. The responsibility to hand over ET Joseph’s memento rests on the shoulder’s of Shamsher who is posted at Kochi.
Shamsher searches for ET’s parents. The address he had is old. One rainy day in
Kerala lady luck finally smiles when he locates Sub Maj AT Joseph’s humble abode near Kottayam. He reaches there and presents the memento to the proud parents. The fact that their son was still being remembered and honoured by his buddies even after 25 years really makes the parents extremely happy. Over a cup of coffee, Thressiamma, pours her heart. She talks about her unfulfilled dream of making a trip to the North East and pray near her son’s grave.
Shamsher returns to Kochi and informs the course in their social group the need to help a mother to fulfill her long standing dream. A decision is taken that the course will rise to the occasion. The hurdles are many. The old age of the parents, the finances, the long travel, and most of all…..to find the location of the grave. A quarter of century has passed and the knowledge of the event has faded. Not much is known.
Robi who is posted in the North East volunteers to search for the grave. His efforts each day results in despondency. Then one fine day ‘Eureka’, the grave is located. It is dilapidated. So a new dimension is added to the long list of pending tasks. How to get the grave restored?
Egged on by Shamsher, the course contributions starts pouring in. Course mates of E Thomas Joseph, from Army, Navy and Air Force, from 78 NDA Course and 88 Regular/71 Tech Course rise to the occasion. As I write this, the figure has crossed Rs 2,30,000.
Indigo Airlines Salute to the Martyr. A course mate working with Indigo Airlines, contacts their Management, who on hearing the story straightaway agree to sponsor the travel of the parents and sisters from Kochi- Bangalore- Kolkatta- Dimapur through Indigo airlines. The tickets sponsored by Indigo for Sub Maj AT Joseph , Thressiamma and two sisters are already with the parents. This is an extraordinary gesture by the airline and goes a long way in giving it back to the nation in their own way. Kudos to Team Indigo for showing a unique way to the country, how to show gratitude and salute its heroes!
Course mates in various places are arranging stay at all these places. The grave is being done up. Permission is being sought from various authorities to ensure the visit goes on without any hassles. The Army will also play a part to ensure the visit goes well. A Senior Officer in the rank of Army Commander has assured all help.
78 NDA & 88 Regular/ 71 Tech courses are unique. ET’s parents lost one son but got back 300+. Each of the sons are striving hard to ensure the trip goes smooth. Vikram Chauhan in Delhi, Robi in North East, Shamsher in Kochi, Manoj with Indigo, RN at Kolkatta, Atul Salunkhe, Lalli Virk, Sanjay Tripathi, Viju Sundaresh, Joseph George and many others are working tirelessly to make The Closure. This journey also reveals the kind of passion the service officers work with qualities like Camaraderie, Regimentation, Sacrifice, Selflessness, Espirit-de-Corps, Bonhomie, Commitment and Friendship which all were the essence of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations.
The trip is planned for October 2016. Cheers to this Band of Brothers, and to Indigo Airlines who have magnanimously chipped in!
A mother’s dream is about to be fulfilled! Await this space for more on this journey…
Kerala’s No 1 News Channel has picked up this story. You can watch the news clipping here
Indian Express publishes this story in all India editions on 03 Aug . The online link is here