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Kargil's first hero

Reportage: Archana Masih. Main photograph: Seema Pant. Other photograph: Kind courtesy, the Kalia family. Design: Dominic Xavier

Someone flicked the television on for the 2 pm news and in spite of her medicine-induced haze Vijay Kalia heard the report correctly from her bedside.

Her son's body had been recovered.

He was just 22 and had joined the Indian Army only four months ago.

She had heard the news in the morning and suffered a mild heart attack. The remedial injection had left her in a stupor.

But now reality stared her in the face.

Two days before New Year 1999 the family was at Amritsar station seeing him off as he boarded the train to join the 4 Jat regiment as a lieutenant. As the train pulled out, he stood by the door, stretching his hand out as if to touch her feet to say goodbye.

That was the last time she saw him.

Fifteen days later, he flew to Leh for his first posting in Kargil, Jammu & Kashmir. Now Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia, who had gone to serve the country, wasn't coming back.

It happened five years ago, on June 9, but his mother has not let his memory fall back behind her.

Not even for a moment.

His death brought the Kargil War home to her family in their scenic home in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh -- and to the rest of the country.

Lt Saurabh Kalia's body being carried by army officers at Palampur helipad

Also see: The soldier who became a legend

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