Gajendra Singh Bisht went home to his Uttarakhand village on August 15, driving through roads emblazoned on Independence Day with the Indian flag. His father had died. Ten days of mourning lay ahead.
When he next went home two and a half months later, he was in a coffin, having died fighting an attack on the same flag - and wrapped in one.
Bisht, a 36-year-old havildar with the National Security Guards (NSG), was killed in gunfire by terrorists who had seized the Nariman House building during the Nov. 26 siege at Mumbai last year.
He belonged to the 51 Special Action Group, a unit that slithered down ropes from a navy helicopter onto the roof of the building to kill the terrorists holed up there, holding its residents hostage.
Sixteen hundred kilometres to the north in Ganeshpur village, mesmerised villagers watched the operation on television. A new hero was born - in a village of military martyrs 20 kilometres west of Dehradun.
Bounded by forests and soaked in the smell of mud and pollen, the village is located on the long Shimla bypass not too far from the region's tea gardens.
Martyrdom seems to be a tradition in Ganeshpur. Four other men from here have died in combat as part of security forces.
“He was strong and agile. Everybody in the village said he looked and behaved just the way a commando should,” said elder brother Virendra Bisht.
The village is inhabited mostly by Garhwali people, who cultivate wheat, green vegetables, sugarcane and other cash crops.
The five feet-six inches tall, well built Singh was a voracious meat eater and loved reading books. He was chasing a dream: he wanted to become an officer in NSG, which handpicked him from the army. So he was learning the English language alongside to prepare for his dream.
He is survived by wis wife Vinita, and two children - 13 year old Gaurav and 10 year old Preeti.
At his home, Gajendra Singh Bisht's wife Vinita sits quietly before a visiting journalist, her head lowered, declining to answer questions about her husband.
Their home is surrounded by their fields, flanked by mango trees and big bundles of dried grass stacked outside the house, as high as the roof.
Not too far away flows the Aasan river, with a classic iron bridge built decades ago. A few hundred metres down is the cremation ground where Gajendra Bisht was laid to rest with full military honours.
It is near the same place where he used to sit watching the river with his friends.
The quiet homemaker Vinita has been pushed into the public gaze suddenly and in tragic circumstances: every second day, she is invited to a function honouring her husband.
She has turned down a job at the NSG to be with her mother-in-law her family in the village, where she will move next year.
Gajendra Bisht's family came to Ganeshpur from the Himalayan village of Arkhund in Rudraprayag in the 1980s.
Bisht's father, who died on August 15, was a farmer. Until he was recruited into the army in 1991, Bisht regularly tilled his family’s fields as well after returning from high school.
Coming from a farming family with no source of assured income, Gajendra always wanted to join the army, which would give him economic security.
Most of his classmates joined the force and he also followed, joining the Garhwal Rifles at Lansdowne in Pauri Garhwal. After some years, he was recruited into the NSG as a commando.
His brother Virendra, a driver with the Uttarakhand police, said he wanted his brother to join the police force as well.
“But he had his eyes set on the army,” Virendra recalled. “He said he wanted to be in the army to serve at the country’s borders, and be in the thick of action.”