Why Two Stars On His Shoulder Were Better Than A Million In The Galaxy
Guest Post by Diya Vikram
15th of March, 2018. To all my classmates, this was the day of the history and civics final term examination. To me, it was so much more. It was the birthday of the most courageous and selfless person I knew – Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan sir (Ashok Chakra awardee). Being a defence aspirant, I look up to him with all my heart.
He is the hero of the 26/11 attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. He was the team commander of the 51 Special Action Group and led a group of ten men. They primary task was to neutralise the terrorists and rescue the hostages. They then came across a room where a few women were being held hostage, which was locked from the inside. On breaking open this door, a few rounds were fired by the terrorists inside and they came in contact with Maj. Unnikrishnan’s colleague Commando Sunil Yadav. He immediately arranged for Yadav’s evacuation whilst engaging the terrorists in a firefight. The terrorists fled upstairs and Maj. Unnikrishnan followed in hot pursuit. His last words, according to members of the National Security Guard, were – “Do not come up, I will handle them.” He neutralised the terrorists and took a couple of shots to his back. It was these injuries that he succumbed to. There was great bravery and camaraderie displayed by him.
Every year, on Maj. Unnikrishnan sir’s birthday, his parents Mr. and Mrs. Unnikrishnan host a function in his memory at their house which all are welcome to attend. The next day, being a relatively easy examination, allowed me to play with my schedule that day and I had decided to attend the function to meet my hero’s parents.
The second the H/C examination was clocked to an end, I submitted my answer sheet and dashed out of the hall. I made my way out of the crowded hallways and onto the street where my car was waiting. Hopping in, I checked the vague address I had and headed towards that far-off side of town. The route took me through a scenic part of Bangalore I’d never been to and calmed my nerves. I had mixed feelings prior to reaching the house. I was excited to be at the home of my hero. I was in a solemn mood as he was a selfless martyr. I was apprehensive as I had no idea how to react or what to say. I was honoured to be meeting the parents who brought up a braveheart. In short, I was in an emotional turmoil.
On reaching the house, which was situated in a serene and green area, where there were absolutely no vehicles and only the soothing sound of birds chirping, I walked through a tent, with a picture of the ‘Amar Jawan’ at it’s front and into the house. I had no knowledge of who Mr. and Mrs. Unnikrishnan were and so blindly wandered around with a small crowd till I reached the hallway. There, on display in a cabinet, were an assortment of medals won by the Major in his childhood as well as various childhood belongings, including numerous models of vehicles and certificates. At the very centre was a picture of the Major donning the olive green.
After enquiring with a relative of the Major about where Mr. and Mrs. Unnikrishnan were, I walked towards Mrs. Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan. Seeing me wearing my Frank Anthony Public School uniform, her face broke into a smile. She embraced me warmly and all my nervousness, apprehension and tension melted away. She then asked me a few questions, such as how school was and what inspired me to be at the function. She then introduced me to a cousin sister of the Major who took me to the upper storey of the house where there was a room dedicated to the Major. Walking through, I felt immensely humbled and my respect for him tripled. I was laying eyes on everything that could be related to him – medals he pinned on his uniform, clothing he used, his caps, shoes, uniforms, combat boots, pictures and his maroon beret. Also there was his computer and posters and drawings of the Major by various others who saluted his superior deed. It showed me the character and life depth of the person I looked up to so much.
It brought me to a whole new spectrum of his life.
On exiting the room, I was met by somebody I didn’t expected to meet at that moment – a young patriot, who ran an Instagram page in honour of the Major called major_sandeepunnikrishnan. After exchanging a few greetings, I turned around to be greeted by Mr. K. Unnikrishnan, who spoke to me about my studies, exams and school. He then asked why the Major was such an inspiration to me. I was expecting an extremely strict man, for a retired ISRO officer, but he was welcoming and warm. He then escorted me downstairs. On the stairs, I was handed an envelope, containing a postcard with a picture of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan as a young cadet at the prestigious NDA. The back of the envelope also had a picture of the lush campus of the academy. Inside was a picture of the Major in his olive greens and along with a beautiful quote – “When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”
I was then taken to another tent being the first one id walked through. Many dishes were being served to the guests here. Mrs. Unnikrishnan then handed me a plate stacked with food and said she’d be at the house. As I sat down to finish lunch, I was met by a cousin sister of the Major. Meeting the family of the Major provided me such a huge insight into his past and young life. These were the people whose company he had cherished in the past. She then bid me adieu and after finishing my lunch, I went back towards the house.
Here, I met Mr. and Mrs. Unnikrishnan again. I requested them for their number, so that I could meet them again. Mr. Unnikrishnan then told me of the various ways in which they honoured and kept his memory alive. It was the small things that provided solace. They preserved everything from his last used soap, to a half used toothpaste, to his comb and even his old SIM card, which is currently being used by Mr. K. Unnikrishnan. They were so warm and free with me, I felt like I had known them for an eternity.
I bid them farewell, as I had to leave to study for my next and last examination. They wished me the best of luck and told me I was welcome to visit later.
On the journey back home, I reflected in my thoughts and relived my experience frame by frame. Then, as I looked at the postcard I was given, I thought to myself, “I want to be as selfless as you. I want to be as brave as you. You are my inspiration. You are my role-model. I want to serve the country just like you did.” These words are now repeated every single day in my mind, whenever I look at the postcard. It gives me pride and goosebumps knowing that this is the man I aspire to one day be like. This fuels my fire to serve the country and gives life to some emotion I cannot describe in words – a mixture of pride, willingness to responsibility, eagerness to do good and motivation. As quoted in a previous article I had earlier read, “I had made the pilgrimage. I had visited my temple – Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan sir’s residence.” I’d paid my respects to my God. He is the definition of a true hero and legend. His breath gave life to countless others. This is why I believe that two stars on his shoulders were better than a million the the galaxy.