Life Lessons From My Friend, the Army Soldier, Before He Went Missing in Arunachal

As the saying by Mandy Hale goes,

“Some people pass through our lives for a season to teach us lessons that could never be learned if they stayed.”

This is not a statement I fully understood when I first moved to Chennai last year to pursue a course in journalism. The city hugged me with its metropolitan ways and, as can be expected of a student of journalism, we often wandered about looking for stories.

During the first week of August, I’d wake up early and leave by 6.30 am, armed with a camera, a tripod and the conviction to win over a city where the language was foreign to me. We would call it a day and return to the hostel by around 9.30 pm.

One evening, while musing over the happenings of the day, I realised I was more than a thousand kilometres from home. I was reminded of April 2015, when I left home for the first time.

At the time, I was enrolled at the Defence Preparatory College in Jaipur to prepare for the National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance examination. Appearing for NDA exam is a ritual for almost every Rajput family in Rajasthan.

Hordes of students came mainly from Haryana and Rajasthan. I was just another stranger among them. From what I recall, it took me at least a week to adjust. The ‘Pink City’ certainly did not appeal to me. My blurry remembrances of dinner during the initial days are evidence of teary eyes, and my arms longed for hugs at night.

But as humans tend to do, I started to adapt to the environment. One evening, a tanned, lanky guy entered my room with the warden. We shook hands as he introduced himself as Anmol Singh Khangarot.

Anmol, a local, was my new roommate. And my first friend. Thus, solitude became group studies, and my tears evaporated as I now had a companion at the dinner table.

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Soon enough, Anmol became my family away from home. Coming from a privileged background and a home that pampered me, washing dishes and eating roti without ghee was a nightmare. But things were easier with him around.

From getting commissioned together in the army and getting laurels, we would replay the same dreams together in our conversations.

I still remember the first time we stepped out and decided to take public transport. I was a little wary because it was overcrowded and I was not used to taking the bus. Waiting at the stop, while passengers swarmed in and out of the door, I waited for everyone to descend to make my move. As the bus was about to leave, a hand suddenly pulled me into the crowd.

It was Anmol. He taunted me with a smile, “Bana ji (a word used out of respect for Rajput boys), ye dil wallon ka Bikaner nahi hai, ye dhaniyo ka Jaipur hai, thoda satark raha karo.”

That was the start of a crash course in life. From getting into public buses to roaming alone, bargaining while shopping, making friends, dealing with issues, Anmol taught me everything under the sun.

He taught me survival.

A couple of years later, in 2017, Anmol called to share the news that he had made it into the Indian army, bringing him a step closer to fulfilling his family’s dreams. I congratulated him and we talked for a bit. After the death of his father in 2004, who was an ex-army officer, Anmol had been the only potential breadwinner of the family. Ranking high on his to-do list was buying an Alto car for his sister’s dowry.

In 2018 in mid-July, I got a call from a mutual friend informing me that Anmol had gone missing. I got to know that he was posted at the China border in Arunachal Pradesh with the 16th Rajput Unit. While patrolling near a 300 metre trench in a dense forest close to the Subansiri river, he disappeared.

He is still missing.

My outlook towards life changed, as did my view on martyred soldiers. Walking down memory lane, I know my friendship with Anmol is one that I will always cherish. My heart will never be the same again.

Devendra Pratap Singh Shekhawat is a fresh journalist from the Asian College of Journalism Chennai belonging to Rajasthan.

Featured image: Author provided