Published: 27th July 2017
#DaughtersofWar: 'People say it is a soldier's job to die, but there are many who wouldn't take their job even if they were offered a million dollars"
The Dwivedi sisters discuss what it was like to lose their father to the Kargil War as children and how their lives have changed ever since
Twelve-year-old Neha Dwivedi and her eight-year-old sister Diksha sat in their relative's living room watching TV, when Neha heard her mother wailing in the adjacent room. She left the room and went to find her mother, who sat in a corner crying inconsolably, but no matter how many times she asked what was wrong, not a word came out of her. She then went and kept shaking all the other relatives asking what was wrong but no one answered, "Then an elderly cousin finally took me aside, gave me a tight hug and said, "Beta, aapke papa shaheed hogaye" (Your father has been martyred), then I started to cry and called out to my sister and told her daddy had passed away and then we both started crying."
Neha was only 12, but she did her best to console her mother, "I was worried she would get sick. Every time a new relative or friend turned up, she would cry harder and I remember how that kept worrying me." Diksha recalls how she felt when she heard the news, "One of my cousins said that God calls good people to him and I remember feeling very betrayed by God because we used to pray every night before sleeping. So I recall arguing with my cousin about it."
One of my cousins said that God calls good people to him and I remember feeling very betrayed by God because we used to pray every night before sleeping. So I recall arguing with my cousin about it
Neha Dwivedi, Major CB Dwivedi's daughter
Earlier that week, the two sisters and their mother had been in Srinagar to spend their summer holidays with their father, as was the routine, but it was not to be. After warnings that the war was getting more intense and their father was stationed ahead in an area away from where they were to stay, they were advised to leave the city. "We then spent the vacation at our maternal family's place and were returning to Meerut, which was home for us then. We were travelling when the news came of daddy's death on July 3. We reached Delhi and were to travel to Meerut by road. Our relatives came to the station and kept insisting that we go to their house for a snack before we continued the journey. We got home and they sent Diksha and me with an uncle to get ice-cream. During this time, they broke the news to my mother," Neha recalled.
Major CB Dwivedi was a complete family man, someone who planned his holidays around his children's exam dates. His daughters say that he was the sort of man who barely let his wife do anything, from paying the bills to taking care of stuff around the house. "So when he passed away, my mother was just not prepared. But she managed to take such good care of us, insisted that we stay in Delhi and get the best education, even when everyone was saying that it's a bad idea for a woman with two girls to live in Delhi," Neha said.
True hero: Major CB Dwivedi
Today, Neha is 30, an MBBS graduate and is married to an army officer, like she had always wanted and insisted on. "People asked me why and how I could want something like this, and whether I was scared. Of course, I'm scared and after marriage, such thoughts cross my mind more often. There is no guide on how to handle life as a wife of a soldier. Just because it happened does not mean you are prepared to handle that again but lately every now and then I have new-found respect for my mother for handling things so well," Neha said.
When asked about what she missed the most about her father not being around and whether she felt her life would have been any different if he had survived, she said didn't think her life would have been any different. However, she felt bad that her husband never got to meet him. "If he was around, my husband would know how high my standards are when it came to being my life partner because he was an amazing husband. In the little things, I miss him, I wish he had attended my marriage for instance," she said.
Diksha voices a similar fear, "If he were alive I would have felt like I was the luckiest daughter in the world. But I can't imagine being with a man who won't have the honour of knowing my father, that is a thought that really haunts me." But Diksha feels like her whole life would have been different if her father had been alive.
Kargil War Day has been observed every year, casually I asked my mum if she was attending it but she said we had never received an invitation and I was shocked. The only time we received an invitation was the year after the war, I was upset that no one heard of my father, I didn't see his name anywhere and so I decided it was time to talk about him
Diksha Dwivedi, Major CB Dwivedi's daughter
At 26, Diksha is the founder of the popular storytelling site, Akkar Bakkar and is on the verge of publishing her first book by Jaggernaut called 'Letters from Kargil'. About a year ago, Diksha wrote an article on her father, that caught a lot of eyes. But it was not an article written on a whim, "Kargil War Day has been observed every year, casually I asked my mum if she was attending it but she said we had never received an invitation and I was shocked. The only time we received an invitation was the year after the war, I was upset that no one heard of my father, I didn't see his name anywhere and so I decided it was time to talk about him." Last year, they got an invite.
But she also realised that it had happened because of the article and because she had the power of storytelling, something that not too many others would have, a platform to talk about the forgotten heroes.
After the article went viral, Jaggernaut reached out to her to write a book about the war from a soldier's perspective. "Now I had the chance to speak about other stories as well. I realised that just like my father, lots of other jawans would have also sent letters to their families. So I decided to track these letters and also diary entries down with the help of my family and other contacts as well. Some families readily agreed, others had to be convinced but I found out that most of these letters spoke the same language, about their lives in the war zone and about their love for their families," Diksha explained. The 26-year old also worries that the millennials have no idea about the Kargil War and she wants her book to reach out to these young people and also be a reminder to the ones who lived through the war.
Happy days: Neha and Diksha when they were children
Diksha says that even the fact that she writes and is so ambitious is a result of losing her father at such a young age, "The death of a parent makes you very vulnerable and you often become a target, especially of preying men. Just the fact that we didn't have a father, made it easier for some to prey on us. I grew up like a tomboy. First, when the tragedy happens, you feel sad, then you grow to be proud and then you sometimes begin to feel small because my father did so much and made me wonder what I was doing with my life, so that made me more ambitious to do something exceptional and successful. Since my mum also became a business woman after my father passed away, I imbibed many of her qualities as well."
Even Neha recalled an incident where she was eve-teased by a group of boys and started crying in fear, "I kept thinking that this might not have happened to me if my father were alive."
For both Diksha and Neha, the loss of their father felt heavier when they were with other children of their age, who had the good fortune of having both their parents. "It would make me feel sad to hear children talk about their parents and to see them with both their parents, while I only had my mother," said Diksha.
For both Diksha and Neha, the loss of their father felt heavier when they were with other children of their age, who had the good fortune of having both their parents
"When you're the child of a martyr, there is a need to be very sensitive to the child, whether it has just happened or even ten years after the death takes place. I never liked it when people said they were sorry for my loss, I didn't want sympathy. My father died a glorious death, the way he wanted it. And even after he died he didn't stop providing for us, he continued drawing a salary and took care of us," said Neha.
A particularly insensitive thing that the sisters sometimes hear is that how it isn't a big deal if a soldier dies because that is their job after all. "I wish people would stop saying this. People should understand that it is a job that not many will agree to do, even for a million dollars. How many people will wake up every day ready to die?"
All these years later, Neha says that sometimes she still meets her father, in her dreams. The day that follows such a night is always one of the brightest days.