Mehta Chowk AWAKENS
Mehta Chowk is a sleepy small town in Punjab, located approximately 70 Kms South East of the Pakistan Border (Dera Baba Nanak) strategically aligned to the much discussed Kartarpur Corridor. It sits 40 kms East of Amritsar on the road to Hoshiarpur. What does Mehta Chowk have in common with the some residents of Delhi who lost their loved ones in the Uphaar Cinema Tragedy on 13 June 1997? It makes me wonder, well……… there is a lot.
Remembering CAPTAIN MANJINDER SINGH BHINDER of the 61st Cavalry who selflessly saved over 150 lives on that day in 1997, when a raging fire broke out in the Uphaar Cinema in New Delhi. Even after he realised that his four-year-old son, Ruskin and wife Jyot-Roop were engulfed in the inferno and could not be saved, Capt Bhinder jumped back into the fire and took charge like a true Army officer to guide panic- stricken women and children through the dim-lit and narrow stairway to safety, till flames engulfed him. Indian Army lost one of its finest officer and horse-rider. He had just won the National Games equestrian event in Mysore and was considered a strong prospect for the 1998 Asian Games.
The story doesn’t end there. Parents of Capt Manjinder Bhinder had to fight Ministry of Defence for the pension they were entitled to, who hung on to the technicality that Capt Bhinder had not been fighting enemies. He was fighting fire even while the army had declared his death “attributable to military service”. After seven years of litigation, the Delhi High Court told the MoD that a Soldier is ON DUTY ROUND THE CLOCK, and ordered a special family pension for Manjinder’s parents.
21 years later, after this tragedy in Delhi, the residents of Mehta Chowk had something to recount, remember and rejoice Capt Manjinder Singh Bhinder on whose memory stands a Memorial Gate and a Stadium in this small town. Alas……a few things had changed in the past two decades. Capt (Hony) Vardeep Singh, father of Bhinder had lost his eye sight due to Glaucoma and Veermata Gurnam Kaur had grown much feeble and weak looking towards the entrance of their house expecting the return of their gallant son one fine day.
The mother’s heart was filled with immense joy and it appeared that happiness and festivities had once again dawned at the ‘Bhinder House’, when they were visited by their son’s course mates who spent time with the ailing parents and remembering their fallen mate with those who gathered……relatives and friends at Mehta Chowk.
Brigadiers Vikramjit Singh Gill, Sunil Dalal, Gagan Baath and Colonel Gurdip Gill along with their wives paid homage to their fallen course mate at Mehta Chowk on 09 December 18 . The news of their arrival energised the village and around 40 people gathered at their house in no time. The two sisters who lived at Chandigarh and Batala had also reached their home. The villagers, neighbours and well-wishers were treated to tea and snacks organised by these Defence Officers, who had made these arrangements so as to not upset the rhythm at home and spend more time with the family of their course mate.
The hearts of the parents were filled with pride but the eyes of the visitors filled with tears when the Mother said that – “Happiness walked into our house for the first time in 21 years. We are eternally indebted. For so many years I waited and hoped for my son to walk into this very door, but today, after so long I saw my son the tall Sardar walking in straight and I felt as if my son has come back to me.”
This outreach program is a part of the AFWS91 Society which is a trust formed by the 78 NDA, 88 Regular and 71 Tech course. The trust has made it a point to visit and be with the parents / spouses/ NOK of all the 19 of their course mates who have lost their lives in operations and other tragedies in life.
This is the same Team that had earlier helped transport the mortal remains of their course mate 2Lt ET Joseph from Nagaland to his hometown in Kerala undertaking a massive logistic operation two years back duly assisted by the Army authorities.
These acts are the efforts to let each of the team members know that their loved ones will always be taken care of, much after the gallant warriors leave this earth in the call of their duty.
Capt Manjinder Singh Bhinder…………Amar Rahe!
And three cheers to the Band of Brothers of 78-88-71!