Param Vir Chakra winner Lance Naik Albert Ekka’s septuagenarian widow could hardly walk in her Jharkhand village as old age, ill-health and working in the fields till a couple of years ago had taken a toll on her knees.
On Sunday, Balamdina Ekka hobbled up the stairs of Tripura Sundari temple to offer prayers, took a boat ride in the Rudrasagar lake and adored every corner of the historic Neer Mahal in Tripura escorted by dozens of Assam Rifle soldiers.
“I can see my Albert everywhere, in the hills, lake and temple. I am happy that I could visit this place,” she said over the phone from Agartala in chaste Kuduk, a dialect spoken in the South Chhotanagpur region of Jharkhand.
When nobody thought she would be able to get out of her native village of Jari, she defied age and physical impairment to relive memories of her husband, the Ranchi’s brave heart who died fighting for the country in the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
Lance Naik Ekka of the army died in the Battle of Hilli. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest award for valour in war.
In Tripura for the past two days, Balamdina’s boundless energy and excitement have surprised family members as well as army officers from Jharkhand accompanying her in the trip. The widow demanded that she be taken to every place her late husband went to when he was posted there.
The primary purpose of her journey is to visit her husband’s grave after 45 years of his death and bring scared soil from the place of his burial.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has arranged the army’s hospitality and logistic support for her and the team.
The arrangements were made after Balamdina told Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das, who visited her on December 3 with an urn carrying the scared earth, about her wish to visit Ekka’s grave.
She refused to accept the urn, saying she was not sure if it actually contained soil from his grave.
The state government formed an eight-member committee, headed by tribal activist Prabhakar Tirkey, to take Balamdina to Agartala.
Ever since she reached Agartala on Friday evening, where the Assam Rifles rolled out the welcome carpet, her excitement and energy abruptly multiplied.
Son Vincent Ekka and daughter-in-law Rajni Ekka are equally excited. “The mere sight of army jawans thumping their boots and saluting us in honour is overwhelming. Now we know how great the sacrifice of my father was,” Vincent said.
Not just her enthusiasm but her wish list has grown too, according to activist Tirkey. “Balamdina now wants to carry many other things from Tripura to feel her husband’s presence in them.”
Balamdina and her team are likely to meet the Tripura governor and chief minister before returning home on January 15.