“ I am proud of his supreme sacrifice and the uniform he adorned.
I know Santosh went too quickly and too sudden. None of us were prepared for this. My children are young. They needed their father. They miss him. I don’t know how am I going to raise them. I have a long way to go, alone, but nothing can take away the fact that my husband sacrificed his life in the most glorious manner. Tell me how many people receive this honour to die for their nation? After 1962 war, Galwan Clash is the biggest fight ever. Death may come to anyone, many died because of COVID too but fighting for the values that your nation stands for and dying fighting shoulder to shoulder with your men, for every inch of your land is extraordinary and that is the honour I receive as an ARMY WIFE, as a woman married to a man in uniform. I am extremely proud.”
I was dumbfounded. I had asked Mrs Santoshi Babu what does it mean to be an Army Wife ? After everything that happened in Galwan on the fateful night of 15th June 2020 what it is to be into the shoes of a woman who had married a ‘man in uniform?’
The courage, resilience, calm and composure that she exudes will not astonish you because she imbibes every bit of it from Colonel Santosh Babu, the gallant of Galwan, the myth, the legend, the hero and the Ex Commanding Officer, 16 Bihar who made the supreme sacrifice fighting shoulder to shoulder with his men against Chinese personnel of PLA on 15th June 2020.
It is their story I am going to tell you, to let you know our soldiers are our heroes but the women behind them are bigger heroes.
Santoshi is born and brought up in Telangana. The only daughter, only sister of two brothers and only girl after many generations in her family. She was named after Goddess Santoshi who is worshipped in her family with complete devotion. She has been loved, pampered and protected. So when they received a marriage proposal from the mother of Colonel Santosh Babu ( A Captain then ) an Army Officer based in Suryapeth only they could not decide. Santoshi was still in college doing her graduation and nobody from her family even distantly was associated with Army. Most relatives were working in corporate or were settled abroad.
But there was something about the young shy Army Captain who visited her with his parents once. Santoshi found him handsome, dashing and well groomed. When he talked he talked flawlessly and with a class. He explained about Army and his responsibilities. The similar names also struck a chord between them and just like that they were engaged on 15 August 2009 which Santoshi thought was an apt day to hook up with an Army officer. They soon got married on October 8th 2009.
Soon, she moved to Pune with her husband where Colonel Santosh Babu was posted as an instructor at NDA, raising and training the next generations of Army officers who would serve the nation just like him. It was a honeymoon period for Santoshi who had married an infantryman. She loved Pune. The newly wedded couple would go out visit different parts of the city very often. Holding hands near lakes and sharing bun maska at Pune Cafes is still fresh on her mind. Remembering that time Santoshi shares
“I fell in love with Santosh and also with the city. I have never been out much and Army altogether was a different world. Santosh was extreamly loving and caring and as is the culture in Army Santosh also had this task of grooming his newly wedded wife about Army culture and values. More I knew more I felt proud of marrying a man in uniform.”
The couple was also blessed with their first child in Pune. Daughter Abhigna was born on 2011, 3rd November. Colonel Santosh Babu named her after Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. They were a deeply religious family. Though for Colonel Santosh religion came second after his nation. Colonel Santosh a product of Sainik School was groomed to be a devout nationalist. His younger sister Shruti’s eyes moistens when she remembers her only sibling.
“Bhaiya was just like Ram ji, he always held idealistic values. He was best in everything and every role. A best son, best brother, best friend, best husband and best father. He cracked Sainik School entrance exam with merit. He was also top in merit in his SSB. Even at academy he was one of the best cadets of his batch. He always aspired to achieve perfection in everything he did. I also remember how he was always surrounded with friends. You name a city where he had no friends. He loved and cared deeply for the people around him.”
Nation comes first was imbibed in him since his childhood and the credit goes to his father Mr Bikamulla Upender who himself wanted to serve in defense once but he could not.
So every single day since Santosh was born he dreamt of seeing his son in olive green uniform. He picked up and left job moved places, settled and did everything in his capacity to make his son an Army officer. No wonder Colonel Santosh Babu was deeply attached to his father. Santoshi his wife and Shruti his younger sister both shared with me how the father son loved going for long walks together. And no one, not even grand children were allowed to join-in those father-son walks where they discussed everything.
” My father does not keep well. He is highly diabetic and also a heart patient. In 2013 he had a heart attack. The doctors put him on lot many lifestyle restrictions and my father followed it religiously for my brother. Papa would say I want to see my son as a General and for that I will live and take good care of my health. But after Bhaiya’s demise he has lost purpose of his life and we worry about his health and morale now.”
Such conversation always lead to loss of words.
A soldier is not just a soldier but also a son, brother, father and a husband. He gives his life for nation but it is tough to imagine people losing someone who meant the world to them.
Kashmir with Rashtriya Rifles
Santoshi’s world has been lost. Not that she is not proud of what her husband has done but all that is left now are memories of times spent with him. She remembers how shocked she was when he was attached to Rashtriya Rifles to Kashmir once their peace tenure was over within two years of their marriage, the new Army wife and a very new mother asked Santosh what kind of job is this? Why did he joined Army when he had the option of joining any job in the world. She never knew she would ever have to stay separated from her husband. She had never seen any couple in her South Indian community leading a separated life but Santosh counselled her told how important it was to serve the nation from farthest of corners and toughest of terrains otherwise all will be lost and she complied just like any good army wife would do.
She returned back to Suryapeth where she kept shuffling between her in laws and parents for almost a period of four years. Because immediately after Santosh completed his RR tenure he was sent on a UN mission as a peacekeeping force.
Somewhere in Arunanchal Pradesh
Those were tough times for Santoshi. And perhaps that was the reason once Colonel Santosh Babu returned to India to join his unit back which was at a modified field station she insisted on joining him at any cost. Daughter Abhigna was 4 years by then. She even moved with the advanced party when their unit was shifting to another location. The Commanding Officer suggested him to go back and join once the unit was settled at the new place but she did not listen to anyone, not even Colonel Santosh (then a Major) who had booked her tickets back home for rs20000. she smiled when she said
“I requested them to take me with the advanced party along with the troops exactly in a manner they were going. By train, tram or bullock cart I did not care. I had waited for 4 long years for him and now me and my daughter were not going to be separated again. I told the CO we would eat whatever you’d give us and sleep wherever you’d ask us. We don’t demand any special treatment for us. We would live with my husband as the troops live. Just take us with the advanced party.”
And at the end, everyone agreed and she moved ahead with the advanced party led by his husband to the new station which was thankfully a peace station.
Wellington on Staff College Course
Colonel Santosh Babu by the virtue of his knowledge and hard work kept on climbing the tough ladders of exceptional Army promotions. He even cleared his ‘Staff College’ one of the most prestigious Armed Forces exams in his first attempt only. Soon after that exam the couple shifted to Wellington where Santoshi got pregnant with their second child ‘Anirudh’ which was born on 2016,November 26. Santoshi remembers how Colonel Santosh would be on cloud 9 those days. He had everything at that point of time; his family was completed he had topped every exam he appeared for, he had just returned from an UN mission and his seniors valued his skills. He reflected every bit of a promising and bright Indian Army officer.
Delhi on posting
After Wellington he was posted to Delhi on a high profile appointment. he would always be busy so much so that Santoshi was almost on her own looking after everything meant to be shared as couple. But she never complained she was simply happy to be with him and she did not leave her house even for family weddings or other functions. She knew how short lived staying with Santosh could be.
” Both the kids looked forward for spending quality time with him but Delhi was busy. Though whenever he got time we would roam around the entire city like nomads. We especially loved visiting Karol Bagh and Chandani Chowk. He was a doting father. He would play as much as he could, become a horse for his children at one instance and a storyteller at another. In between he was also sent for prestigious Senior Command Course for a few months at Mhow and unlike most Army families we joined him there too. After four long year of separation and with two kids I simply had no courage to live without him. He was our whole world.“
Soon after the senior command course in 2019 Colonel Santosh was posted back to his parental unit, 16 Bihar stationed at Ladakh. He was about to take charge of 16 Bihar as a Commanding officer soon, the same 16 Bihar where he was commissioned. He was proud to be part of Bihar regiment. Bihar regiment is a highly decorated and battled hardened regiment. The lions of Bihar regiments are famous for tearing apart the enemies with their war cry ‘Bajrang Bali ki Jai’ Their tales of bravery in all the wars India has participated ever have always invoked the strength in the upcoming soldiers.
Colonel Santosh Babu took charge of 16 Bihar as a Commanding Officer in December 2019 without realizing that in times to come he was to bring laurels and great glory to 16 Bihar. He did not know that soon his name would be registered in golden letters in the illustrious history of Bihar regiment
Delhi on leave
Santoshi was equally proud. She decided to stay back in Delhi for a few months as they heard the unit which was already stationed at Ladakh from past few years would soon be sent to a peace location. She was almost inaudible when she mentioned
“He last came home for a month long leave in April/May 2020. Lockdown was announced and we could not go out. But we spent entire day playing carom, Ludo etc with children. Santosh loved patriotic movies and always ensured to show us movies like Border, Lakshya, URI etc I would mostly cry because those movies reminded me of hardships us as fauji families endure but he always counselled me to be brave. He loved ‘Kandho se Kandhe milte hai’ song from movie Lakshay and keep on playing it on loop. That song he would say truly depicted the bond between officers and his soldiers.”
In May there had also been reports of little skirmishes with Chinese with his unit and he cut short his leaves for twenty days. The children became restless and so was Santoshi. Her heart was already gloomy but she knew Nation always came first for Santosh and no matter how hard she would try, if duty is calling he would not stay even for a second. She remembered how she had cried for hours after watching ‘Raazi’ and asked her husband
“Muje nahi samjah aa raha ki ek wife aisa kaise kar sakti hai? How could a wife kill her husband?”
and he simply replied
“Desh ke liye bahut kuch karna padta hai Santoshi. Jab aap desh ke liye kaam karte hai to ghar aur family nahi dikhte.”
Santoshi was surprised and said
“Please aap kuch bhi karne se pahle apni family ke bare me sochna.”
Colonel Santosh Babu replied smilingly
“Just think how long these issues have been going on 1971 is a long time, many people have sacrificed their lives for nation and many are still doing. How could I ever think about just my family and not nation?”
Santoshi was proud deep down her soul and wondered how could someone love his nation so much. She did not knew her world was about to change soon and the simple candid talk between the couple would seem like premonition to her whenever she would turn back to reflect on their life.
Santoshi shared that no matter wherever he had been he had always called them even if for a minute but as soon he joined his unit back in May 2019 his calls reduced significantly and he mostly mentioned about the harsh conditions they were living-in at forward posts. He also informed her about the temple he had constructed for troops and how it was a big morale booster for them and he always almost consistently mentioned about high official meetings but never for once he mentioned he was posted at Galwan area and was responsible for operations against Chinese Army. The news about the border tension was the prime-time news that time and Santoshi doubted Santosh was involved in the similar operations but whenever she asked he would ignore the question and promise to share things once back home. They also promised together to write letters to each other about their every day which were supposed to be shared once Colonel Babu was back home.
Santoshi never felt scared before, not even when she was a Major’s wife and Santosh was at a tough posting like Rashtriya Rifles but now in spite of being a Commanding Officer’s wife her senses kept her restless and worried. She knew logically CO was supposed to be the safest person in the unit and was valuable for his men, their morale, his unit and for higher command but something was just not right.
They last talked together on 13th June 2020. Colonel Santosh Babu had descended from his post on higher grounds for a meeting with his superiors and as soon as he got a network he video-called them. The call hardly lasted for a few minutes in which he talked to Abhigna and Anirudh and requested Santoshi to wish her sister Shruti on his behalf on 14th June on her marriage anniversary as he was not sure if he would be able to call.
On the night of 15th June 2020 Colonel Santosh Babu, CO 16 Bihar, an alumnus of 105 course of National Defense Academy along with 20 soldiers made supreme sacrifice and attained veergati in a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of Eastern Ladakh. Now we know how for each of their soldiers Lions of 16 Bihar killed 2-3 Chinese soldiers. It was a betrayal from PLA side. An attack on their backs after false promising much during Indo- China military meetings many in which Colonel Santosh was also involved.
16th Morning Santoshi world turned upside down when a senior Army Officer’s wife visited unannounced with the heartbreaking news and soon the unit officers started visiting too. She even received a call from the unit and initially the shock waves engulfed her soul. She remembers how casually she received the call like nothing has happened but soon she lost her conscious. She was surrounded by people, police and Army personnel and she kept on doing what people kept on asking her to do. She was also worried about both sides of parents who were old and had a history of heart attacks. She somehow called her relatives in Suryapeth and asked them to reach them and break the news. She was fearing now that the news was flashing on English news channels in no time it would also start flashing on Telgu channels.
Santoshi tried to explain it to Abhigna who could not comprehend the intensity of her loss till her father’s body arrived at Hyderabad and then when she cried it was the cry of a forsaken. Father of Colonel Santosh Babu a heart patient had fainted and it took another 7 hours to bring him back to senses. Then everything went away in a jiffy Santsohi does not have much recollection of that time and she moved like a robot, doing what she was asked to do.
The legend was gone forever leaving behind his legacy which is now Santoshi’s responsibility. Santoshi says
“My husband could have stayed back or run away. He knew the consequences but he lived and marched alongside his troops. He led from the front and abided the philosophy carved on the walls of Chetwode halls.“
The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.
Santoshi has been given the post of Deputy Collector by Telangna government and her training period is going on, she leaves early in the morning and returns by evening. The void is there and it can not be filled but her job not only keeps her occupied but also provides her with purpose along with the supreme purpose of raising their children. Both the children miss their father a lot and Santoshi try to mimic him before the children and it makes them smile. Though daughter Abhigna gets very upset in any social gatherings and asks her
“Mumma when everybody has a father including you? Why I don’t have a father?”
Though with passing time both the children have matured beyond their age and now Abhigna tries her best not to cry before her mother and shares with her nani to ask her mother not to cry or be worried about the siblings because they will grow big and tall on their own. She now holds immense hatred for China and appeals to people not to buy Made in China Products.
Santoshi appeals to all countrymen
” I have visited shops and requested them not to sell Made in China products. I would also request you to pass my message to all my countrymen that if my story means anything to them they should not buy ‘Made in China’ products. I hope just like my late husband each one of my countrymen would work with honesty and integrity to make our nation more great. Jai Hind!! “
Santoshi also grieves for twenty other families who have lost their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers. Boys as young as twenty were KIA to protect India which is motherland to all of us but I ask you as a writer of this story why should some pay more than the others? What are our duties?
JAI HIND!! VICTORY TO INDIA!!
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