Group Captain Varun, 'Our Boy' Who Went Beyond the Blue'
Hope, devotion and prayers are well known currencies to all soldiers, serving or veterans – every time an avalanche strikes, a patrol goes missing, a boat sinks or a plane crashes….the soldier prays devoutly to his/her ‘Almighty’ (nomenclature is irrelevant, for it can be adopted or that of birth, both are revered in equal devotion).
Sometimes, the ‘Almighty’ breaks our heart to prove to us that he only takes away the best, as he did, with Group Captain Varun Singh (SC), onto whom we reposed our collective hopes, devotion, and prayers, ever since the news of the tragic helicopter crash broke.
Strange are the ways of the Services, as he must have joined around the year that I sheathed my proverbial sabre in the scabbard, and the young Air Warrior, Varun, must have only then started touching the sky with glory! Beyond the generational gap, denominationally, I was Olive Green (Army) and he Blue (Air Force), in short, we never knew or met each other, ever.
But Soldiers across the varied colours of ‘Uniforms’ have an inexplicable capacity and felicity to ‘connect’ with each other via the ‘types’ analogy e.g., ‘josh types’ or ‘squadron types’ from academy irrespective of age differences, ‘regimental/arms/service types’, ‘country cousin’ for any co-geographical brethren irrespective of the societal divides, ‘school types’ etc., etc., wherein we invariably stumble, ‘connect’ and find a unique way of owning and insisting on the other, somehow.
Way beyond the empty cliches of ‘organisational family’, the Uniformed fraternity, is truly one. The haunting import, freight, and unflinching sense of ‘making sure no one is left out/behind’ is especially heightened in the knowledge of the fellow-combatant to be in harm’s way – this was so, when Varun was valiantly combating the last fight of his precious life.
During conversations and animated exchanges, it turned out that Varun was the nephew of a fellow regimental warrior and distinguished Veteran, Col RP Singh. Soon realised that my brother-in-law, himself a gallantry decorated soldier, had served with Varun’s father, Col KP Singh. There were many more ‘types’ that emerged and the prayers became even more personal and intense – the Varun Singh that we didn’t know till now, became ‘our boy’.
Movingly, the posts and messages from fellow-regimental Veterans from Thiruvananthapuram to Noida flooded our social media with the sincerest prayers and even havans for ‘our boy’. But of course, the ‘Almighty’ needed Varun to be with him, and so it was. Soon, we all philosophised as we always do, that it all starts and ends in ‘him’, with the foundation of our Military trust and tradition as strong as it always is, that one day we will all regroup in our Valhalla, when our time comes.
After all, we had all taken an oath of allegiance to defend our sovereignty, our constitutional-civilisational values and dignity as soldiers of the ‘Idea of India’, to be as patriotic and morally just as we could be.
Varun of course in his short life (but full life) had lived that noble calling, gallantly – last year when faced with a precarious choice of abandoning his aircraft after it had developed ‘unprecedented catastrophic failure’, Varun kept his courage, equanimity, and faith in himself and landed his plane to be able to analyse/prevent such mechanical issues, for posterity. His much deserving citation for Shaurya Chakra read, ‘Due to his high order of professionalism, composure and quick decision making even at the peril to his life, he not only averted the loss of a CA, but also safeguarded civilian property and population on ground’.
Soldiers of their nations typically hail from the lesser seen, lesser heard and ‘single-horse’ townships of the rural hinterland – Varun’s quaint Kanhauli village in the dustbowl district of Deoria, is one such place. Hailing from a proud stock of Military families who take immense and justifiable pride in their service to the nation, they represent the very best of the nation.
If Varun Singh ruled the skies in the Air Force, his father served in the Army and his brother, a serving Naval officer – the bloodlines in such families are cut from a different cloth with the first-hand understanding of adjectives like fidelity, valour, duty, patriotism, heroism etc., truly meaning something.
Today, there would be an eerie pall of gloom in Kanhauli, as indeed in Lucknow, Bhopal and everywhere else in the country, who recognise what such families, traditions and ‘callings’ do, for the dignity of our nation.
Earlier, the incalculable spirit, poise and grace exemplified by the grieving wife and daughter of Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh Lidder, as indeed by families of all those who had passed away in that terrible helicopter is a silent reminder of the constant danger that some put themselves to, to ensure that the Tricolour and the nation stays safe and true to its constitutional-civilisational moorings.
Beyond the meaningless political rhetoric, bombast, and convenient appropriation of the imagery of the Soldier towards partisan ends, a professional soldier is never driven by hate, bigotry, or societal divides as some may posture, but by their faith and reverence in the ‘inclusivity’ of India, as GK Chesterton once said, ‘The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him’! Behind every Indian soldier of any coloured uniform is its own adaptation of the State Emblem of India i.e., Ashoka’s four lions with the profound Satyamev Jayate (Truth alone Triumphs), implicit in its usage.
As memory fades, and the nation ‘moves on’ as it must, it is still important to pause, reflect and honour our heroes & she-roes who give us that right and privilege to ‘move-on’, irrespective of what happens to them and their families, personally. The cost of freedom is often and sadly, left unaccounted for, or taken for granted – the actual price of that freedom is paid for by the families of those who wouldn’t be returning, anymore.
Varun Singh’s family is one such family amongst many others, and to them, the nation owes its gratitude. ‘Our boy’ Varun truly aimed high in life and has now flown way beyond the blue, and all some of us can say in the winter of our own lives – proud of you my son, rest in peace and till we finally meet, one day.
Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry.