Lieutenant Commander Shwet Gupta could have spent Valentine’s Day with his wife. It would have been the couple’s first. But he died on February 10 after trying to save five sailors trapped on the INS Jalashwa, where a gas blast occurred on February 1.
Gupta, 28, chose not to wait for a gas mask and leapt to the rescue of the sailors, who were inhaling poisonous hydrogen sulphide. “His last words still echo in my ears.... agar mask ka wait kiya to woh mar jayenge... aise hi chal,” wrote Lieutenant Ruchir Prasad, a survivor who last saw Gupta.
“He jumped and so did I,” Prasad wrote in an email circulated among the officers. “I was the last man to see him conscious before I fell myself and in those 30 to 60 seconds we were down there, all I remember is how he showed utter disregard to his own safety.”
The vessel, India’s second largest warship, was acquired from the United States — it was earlier called the USS Trenton.
Gupta, who graduated from the Naval College of Engineering, Lonavala, defied death for nine days after the blast in the Bay of Bengal. Six sailors died in the gas leak. “We have not seen God, but most of us in the 15th course saw his likeness in Shwet sir,” Prasad wrote. “He truly rode the storm…. I am privileged that I was with him at that moment of reckoning, when we decided to jump despite the peril.”
Gupta tried to create hope when there was none, Prasad said. “No paeans to him will suffice but he will be remembered for a legacy that our seniors can be proud of and our juniors can take inspiration from.”
He compared Gupta’s sacrifice to that of Lord Shiva, who consumed poison to save the world. “I saw him do it, and he did it like no one else. I hoped he’d recover but God calls the best people first. And Shwet sir never came second.”
Prasad wouldn’t want the naval fraternity to grieve for Gupta but be proud of having known a soldier, who like God “planted his footsteps in the sea”.