Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta’s pyre was still smouldering when V Venkateswara Rao’s son Aniket began performing his father’s last rites at the military’s funeral grounds on Tuesday evening.
Both diplomats were brutally slain on Monday morning when a suicide bomber crashed his car into their vehicle outside the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
I wasn’t acquainted with Mehta, but Venkateswara Rao, or Venkat, was known to me. Between 1995 and 1998, Venkat and I were in Colombo: he as a junior Indian diplomat and me a first-time foreign correspondent in the Sri Lankan capital.
There were friends, family, colleagues at Venkat’s funeral. Solemn faces. Some quietly shedding a tear. Venkat is a “shahid”, who died while representing India’s Foreign Service abroad.
His wife, Malathi, whom I hadn’t seen in a decade, was clutching the tricolour as her children stood by, dazed and stunned. Somebody had handed it over to her. I didn’t have the courage to walk up and speak to her.
I spotted some retired diplomats in the crowd. They, too, had come to pay homage to a young officer who had a promising career ahead. Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma was there, too, representing the government.
Finally, I mustered up the courage and walked up to Venkat’s wife and mumbled my condolences to her. There was nothing else to be done.
As Mehta and Venkat’s last rites were performed in the Capital, the bodies of Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel Roop Singh and Ajai Pathania, who were on guard duty at the embassy, were cremated in their respective home towns of Hoshiarpur and Pathankot.
A slice of the Afghan tragedy had been brought home to India. The families of Venkat, Mehta, Roop Singh and Pathania will live with this tragedy forever.