Read In English ..
I put my cabin-baggage in the luggage compartment and sat down in my assigned seat. It was going to be a long flight to Delhi.
“I’m glad I have a good book to read. Perhaps, I will get a short nap!”, I thought.
Just before take-off, a few soldiers came down the aisle and filled all the vacant seats, totally surrounding me. I decided to start a conversation! “Where are you guys headed?”, I askedthe young soldier seated next to me.
“Agra! We’ll be there for two weeks for special training, and then we will be deployed for operations.”
After flying for about an hour, an announcement was made that lunch packs will be made available on payment. It would be some time before we reached Delhi. So, I quickly decided a lunch would help pass the time.
As I reached for my wallet, I overheard a soldier ask his buddy if he planned to buy lunch?
“No, that costs a lot of money! Probably wouldn’t be worth it! I’ll wait till we get to Delhi”, his buddy replied.
I looked around at the other soldiers. No one was buying lunch.
That’s when I walked to the back of the plane and handed the flight attendant enough money to cover for sufficient number of lunch pack to cover all the soldiers, and told her “Take a lunch pack each to all those soldiers!”
She grabbed my arms and squeezed tightly. Her eyes wet with tears, she thanked me, and said, “My younger brother was a soldier in Kargil, it’s almost like you are doing it for him!”
Picking up the lunch packs, she headed up the aisle to where the soldiers were sitting.
She stopped at my seat and asked, “What do you like best – Vegetarian or chicken?”
“Chicken,” I replied, wondering why she asked?
She turned and went to the front of plane, returning a minute later with a dinner plate from the First Class, and said “This is your!”
After we finished eating, I went again to the back of the plane, heading for the rest room. An old man stopped me. “I saw what you did. I want to be part of it. Here, take this!” He handed me a Rs 500/- currency note.
Soon after I returned to my seat, I saw the Captain of the flight coming down the aisle, looking at the seat numbers as he walked. I hoped he wasn’t looking for me, but noticed he was looking at the seat numbers on the side of the plane where I was sitting. When he got to my row he stopped, smiled, held out his hand, and said, “I want to shake your hand.”
Quickly unfastening my seat-belt, I stood up and took the Captain’s hand. With a booming voice he said, “I was an Air Force pilot a long time back. Once someone bought me a lunch. It was an act of kindness I never forgot.” I was embarrassed when applause was heard from all of the passengers.
Later, I walked to the front of the plane so I could stretch my legs. A kid who looked about 18-years of age was sitting about six rows in front of me, reached out his hand wanting to shake mine. I felt him stick a currency note in my palm.
When we landed, I gathered my belongings and proceeded to deplane. Waiting just inside the aeroplane door was a man who stopped me, put something in my shirt pocket, turned, and walked away without saying a word.
Another currency note it was!
Upon entering the Terminal, I saw the soldiers gathering for their trip ahead. I walked over to them and handed them all the currency notes that were given to me on the flight by several people and said, “It will take you some time to reach Agra. It will be about time for a sandwich. May God Bless You! And thank you all for doing whatever you do.”
The young men of honour left that flight feeling the love and respect of their fellow countrymen. As I walked briskly to my car, I whispered a prayer for their safe return. These soldiers were giving their all for our country. I and a few fellow passengers could only give them a couple of meals. It seemed so little…..
A Serviceman is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to ‘India’ for an amount of ‘Up to and including my life.’