Back home, in a coffin | india | Hindustan Times
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Back home, in a coffin

Ajit Gaonkar was killed while trying to thwart an audacious attack by Pakistan Army regulars at the border in Kupwara on Monday, reports Naresh Kamath.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2008 01:11 IST
Naresh Kamath

“It is an honour as my son laid down his life for the country. But as a father, the loss is irreparable,” sayd Shivaji Gaonkar, whose soldier son Ajit Gaonkar was killed while trying to thwart an audacious attack by Pakistan Army regulars at the border in Kupwara on Monday.

He does not regret his son’s decision to join the army. “People are killed daily in incidents like bomb blasts or accidents but I am happy that my son was of some use to the country.”

Gaonkar recalls the day, 14 years ago, his son came to him, seeking permission to join the army. “I readily gave it to him as I was happy my son was selecting a good career instead of going wayward,” he says.

Sitting outside his 150 square feet house, surrounded by neighbours and relatives, Gaonkar, a retired mill worker mulls over the future of his son’s wife and two children. “Their world has collapsed with his death. My youngest grandson is just five months old. Who will take care of them?”

His worry is understandable. Ajit’s wife Sheetal is a housewife. Their eldest son Omkar, 6, is in standard II.

This worry is also shared by Ajit’s father-in-law Datta Ghadi, who calls his son-in-law an ideal man. “I am also worried for my daughter,” he says.

The joint family comprising 15 members lives in a matchbox-sized room and Ajit was the main earning member.

Neighbours and friends have a lot of memories of Ajit. Just a month back, they say, he was in Mumbai on holiday and had left just 25 days ago. “He was full of life and always helpful,” says Santosh Suryavanshi, a friend.

Though grief envelopes the place, there is also a feeling of pride. “A boy born and brought up in a chawl is today a national icon due to his supreme sacrifice. How many can claim to get such a place in history,” asks Rohidas Chavan, a neighbour.

Despite the tragedy, the family maintains it will not hesitate to send its sons to the army. “Army blood runs in our family. In World War II, our great grandfathers Dattaram and Sitaram were martyred,” says Shashikant Gaonkar, Ajit’s elder brother.