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Moments from a martyr's life

Last July, Colonel Vasant Venugopal, a veteran of the Kargil war, made the ultimate sacrifice, fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. On Republic Day, his wife Subhashini Vasant will receive the Ashok Chakra, the highest award for valour in peacetime, from a grateful nation. She shares her memories of her brave husband in a conversation with Prem Panicker in Bangalore.

On July 27, Colonel Vasant Venugopal, commanding officer of the Ninth Battalion, Maratha Light Infantry, greets Defence Minister A K Antony during the latter's visit to the Uri sector in Kashmir.

Four days later, the officer, a veteran of the Kargil war, was to die in a firefight against eight Pakistani terrorists who were attempting to cross the border into their own land.

"When I went there, I was struck by the beauty of Kashmir," says Subhashini Vasant. "But for him, it was only a battleground -- every gully, every nalla, every peak, he saw them all in terms of where terrorists would come from, where they would hide, how they would try to escape."

In May-June 2007, Subhashini Vasant and the couple's two children Rukmini, 10, and Yashoda, 7, travelled to Kashmir to spend some time with Colonel Venugopal.

In June, the couple celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary, never imagining it would be their last.

"I don't believe in just going to where my husband is posted, and spending time on the base, socialising," Subhashini Vasant told Thus, on her visit to Kashmir May-June 2007, the trained Bharat Natyam exponent spent a couple of hours each day, teaching dance to the local children.

Elsewhere, her two daughters visited area schools, handing out books, crayons, and boxes of pencils to the children there, and playing with them.

"Finally, this is all I have left of him," Subhashini Vasant says, pointing to a wood-and-glass box, about one-and-a- half foot square, within which lies folded the national flag that draped her martyred husband's corpse.

"This flag. Some photographs. My children. And that aching space in my heart."

Image: Colonel Vasant Venugopal, second from right, greets Defence Minister A K Antony. Left: then army chief General J J Singh. Photograph: Courtesy Subhashini Vasant

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