(Author's Note: This month will see the 12th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, an event which changed the lives of countless families, taking away a part of them, no words can ever express. This article serves as a tribute, highlighting an anecdote from the life of a young NSG commando during his time at the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Pune.)
“Don’t come up, I’ll handle them!” said Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan a few moments before he succumbed to a hail of bullets during a heroic attempt at engaging the terrorists who had besieged the iconic Taj Hotel. The young team leader, who had only moments ago saved the life of his buddy, charged upstairs to engage the terrorists, alone so that they do not pose a threat to his men.
In the ensuing gunfight Maj Unnikrishnan had managed to critically injure one of the terrorists, before having another terrorist creep up behind him and unload an entire magazine on his back. In his final moments, Major Unnikrishnan chose to lead from the front, displaying unflinching courage and unique character. These characteristics becoming of an officer, did not merely come out on display during the moment of truth but was a part of his core nature from a very young age.
“Don’t come up, I’ll handle them!”
A heart-warming incident his course mates vividly remember from his academy days, gives us a glimpse of his character. Oscar squadron, as part of an outdoor exercise (a group punishment according to some accounts), had been tasked to climb up the Sinhagad Fort in Pune. The weather was terrible, and it was raining violently, the gentlemen cadets were required to hike up to the top of the fort and refill their canteens from the natural spring there.
Sandeep being a phenomenal physical specimen was the first to the top. Exhausted, he had bent to fill up his canteen, when the young cadet heard a tourist turn toward him to ask him if he could fill his bottle. Sandeep, despite being fatigued, nearly to the brink of collapsing, happily obliged.
Before he could get back to filling his canteen, another tourist approached him with the same request, to which he once again obliged happily. Witnessing this, the other tourists visiting the fort collected behind the young NDA cadet for water! Sandeep kept smiling and filling their bottles.
Finally, once all the tourists were done, it was time for the Squadron to move ahead or else they would risk falling behind their schedule. In this entire episode, Gentleman Cadet Sandeep never got to fill his canteen.
His course mates fondly remember how, despite being seriously exhausted and in urgent need of water, he chose to keep his comfort secondary and went on to serve the enthusiastic tourists with a youthful smile on his face.
(Aritra Banerjee is the Co-Founder of Mission Victory India & the Executive Editor of the Victory India Magazine. He has worked as a Defence Journalist in both online & print media)
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