The shell fell directly into the bunker.
Six of us were taking cover from heavy shelling at our location in the remote post on the icy heights of Siachen Glacier. When I recovered from the impact, I was surprised to find myself alive and unhurt. Everyone else lay dead around me. I was numb to any thought at that moment, except for this one- I did not even tell her that I loved her!
Amidst the chaos of the days that followed, I found time to write to her on a torn sheet of paper. No preamble, no flowery language — I even forgot to mention that I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever met. I simply wrote that I loved her and wanted her to be my wife.
I was twenty-one, and she was still in college. I was fresh out of the military academy on my first posting in Ladakh. Both our fathers were Army officers serving in the same station and that is how we had met, several years before. She was very bright academically and her parents had high hopes for her career. Disappointing them, she told them that all she wanted to do in life was to be my wife.
That was Vini. The next six years passed in a dizzy blur of love and bliss. We moved often due to my postings. We lived in mud houses called ‘bashas’. But those bashas were our palaces and there we created the most amazing memories. Wives had little to do in those remote areas, so Vini taught herself to cook the most delectable dishes and mastered desserts. She also gifted me my most precious gift, our daughter Shagun.
When she turned twenty-six, Vini noticed rashes on her skin. Fearing an infection, we visited a dermatologist. His diagnosis shattered our perfect life.
Vini had Lupus, an autoimmune disorder which affects all the organs of the body, gradually killing each in a random order.
Worse still was the news that Lupus was incurable, and that Vini had about two years more to live.
I made it my mission to learn everything that I could find on Lupus. I delved into medical research being carried out in any medical facility in the world through the Internet and books. All concurred that no cure was available. There were several suggestions on how to prolong the patient’s time though, and we started working towards that. By then, her disease had spread to her lungs and heart.
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The next phase of our life was moving on with acceptance. Once we had accepted that this had happened, we decided that we were not going to allow it to destroy the joy of our remaining days together. We started living life on a quick march. No desire was to be left unfulfilled; no dream was found hard to be followed. We dined at the best restaurants, saw every movie that Bollywood and Hollywood rolled out. Every weekend involved a picnic to the countryside. We squeezed out the maximum that every day had to offer.
We bought a second-hand SUV and scoured every place worth visiting within three hundred kilometers.
The more her condition deteriorated, the more intensely we lived. Our love and devotion for each other grew to obsessive levels. We discussed Vini’s illness openly and dealt with her frequent hospital visits in a matter-of fact way.
Our daughter grew up in this environment. The three of us were super company. Vini kept us fully occupied with her plans to live more, do more and see more every day.
She pushed me to do my best. When I was awarded a prestigious UN assignment in Africa, she urged me take it up, as it would do wonders for my career besides giving me invaluable international exposure. She lived alone in Delhi with Shagun during that time. On my return, I was promoted to the rank of a colonel and deployed to command my unit at Ahmedabad.
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After a year of separation, living together again became even more special. We bought a new car. We made new friends. We attended every party even though it was becoming increasingly difficult for Vini to climb stairs, live without air-conditioning or be out in the sun.
Diwali 2008 was approaching. Our friends dropped in to invite us to a Diwali party the coming Saturday. True to form, Vini offered to bring the dessert. She lay in bed that day, scarcely lifting her head, but her spirit was bright as ever. Fussing about what if somebody saw her in her pyjamas but still planning desserts to make, she remained alive to everything. The Diwali party never happened- Vini passed away the next day.
She was thirty-eight years and eight days old.
She loved me more than any woman could love a man. Her friend told me, after she died, that Vini had once said, ‘My skin is turning so bad, I have warts and marks all over me, but Ashu still makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in this world. I want to live a little bit longer only so that I may love him some more.’
(As told to Vandana Tewari Yadav)