New Delhi: In the last eight years not a single day has passed when Alka Ahuja hasn't thought about her husband squadron leader Ajay Ahuja, the man she loved and lost.
“For us, Kargil is very fresh in our minds. I lost my husband to the Kargil war and my father in the same year. My husband always used to say Airforce is my first wife. It would not have been possible to stop him. He died doing his duty,” says Alka.
Ajay was posted in Bhatinda when the Kargil war broke out early May in 1999. He was asked to fly to Srinagar.
"May 22 was his birthday. I called him to wish him and that was the last I spoke to him,” says Alka.
Five days later, 36-year-old Ajay flew what was to be his last sortie. News was coming in at the Avantipur airbase that one of the MiGs that had gone on a strike mission had had an engine failure and the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa had ejected safely.
Ahuja was sent for a follow up mission to picture the remains of the plane.
He did that, but for him the real mission was to look for his fellow officer and friend Nachiketa.
Unmindful of the stinger missiles, he went beyond the call of duty circling the area continuously.
He was spotted by the Pakistani Airforce and his MiG -21 was hit. Ajay ejected, all the while repeating that he could see Nachiketa. But the enemy wasn't too far away.
He was captured by the Pakistanis and shot dead in cold blood. He died the way all soldiers want to die, doing their duty.
“I don't know whether I should hate the Pakistanis or not. I just don't have any feeling for them,” says Alka.
When Ajay’s bullet-ridden body came home she wasn't allowed to see it.
“In a way it was good that I didn't see him that way. At least there's hope he'll come back. It's what keeps me going,” says Alka.
Alka has hoped every day for the last eight years. Her son Ankur is now 14 and they never talk about Ajay.
“My son doesn't say anything but I know there is something on his mind. But I don't know how he feels. He always used to tell other kids ‘If you have a problem in maths come to me’. Now he's not around to teach his own son,” says Alka.
“I know it'll upset my mother so I never talk about dad. She just starts crying,” says Ankur.
Alka has been given a petrol pump by the Indian Government as recognition of her husband’s bravery. A park in Delhi has also been named after him.
Life goes on for Ajay’s widow and son. It may not be a full life but it's one they take pride in and it's one that they have accepted.
“Basically, life has changed and it's permanent,” concludes Alka.
(With inputs from Vishal Thapar)