On July 15 this year, I completed 22 years of my loaned life and cut the customary cake that reads: “Happy Death anniversary and rebirth day”. It was on this day in 1999 when, as part of Operation Vijay, I was commanding a protective post on the LOC in Kargil's Akhnoor sector and a mortar bomb fell behind me. Soon, another one fell right next to me. I fell unconscious and the brave boys of 7 Dogra, my battalion, rushed me to hospital. The journey took two and a half hours by which time, heavy blood loss and a cardiac arrest led the doctor to pronounce me dead on arrival.
It was anesthesiologist Lieutenant Colonel (Dr) Rajinder Singh who revived me. Three days later, when I came to, my right leg was found to be gangrenous. I was sent to a bigger hospital in Udhampur where my leg was amputated. While the medicos were keeping me on the DIL (Dangerously ill List) and sharing updates with my worried parents, I was listening to Gurbani (compositions by Sikh gurus) and dialogues from 'Sholay' such as "Jo darr gaya, so mar gaya”. These kept me going.
My weight dropped from 65 kg to 28 kg in 40 days due to multiple injuries and muscle loss. After being discharged, I had acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was often irritable and angry because I could not live up to my earlier active self. I had to learn to walk all over again. I am a Through-Knee amputee, which means I do not have my natural knee. Many falls later, I managed to walk. I hung up my boots in 2007 on medical grounds. I was entitled to a war injury pension but was wrongly paid very less. It took me four years to get a judgment in my favour and another three to get it implemented.
After stepping out of the army, I realised that 'Kargil hero' image was a farce because many looked on me as a good-for-nothing disabled man. The soldier in me was hurt and decided to reply in action. An action that's the toughest for a legless person: long-distance running. In 2009, I became the first amputee marathoner of India and in 2011, my alma mater imported a special prosthesis called Blade meant exclusively for running. Though there was no one in India experienced enough to fit me properly with the Blade, I started running with it. Soon I became known as a "blade runner" but every run would have me in bandages for 15 days at a stretch. So far, I have run 26 half marathons and one full 42-km solo marathon for my 42nd birthday.
Since 1999, I have returned to Kargil often. In 2005, I did a car rally for peace from Kargil to Kanyakumari. I ran the Kargil marathon. I carried the flame to Drass war memorial on the 20-year anniversary of Operation Vijay. My perception of war has evolved. I believe it is incorrect and naive to consider war to be a permanent solution. Yes, at times, it becomes critical to defend humanity but there is a cost. The 73 bomb particles still lodged in my body are proof of that.
As told to Sharmila Ganesan