Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja?s son does not know that his father is a martyr. At five, he is too young even to spell the word.
Flight Lieutenant K. Nachiketa?s sister, Sandhya, will celebrate her brother?s 26th birthday today knowing that he was taken prisoner of war only after emptying eight rounds from his pistol while trying to escape. Nachiketa surrendered because he was outgunned and outmanned.
Ahuja did not have the chance to do even that. He stared down the barrel of an enemy gun and was, according to Indian army sources, ?shot in cold blood?. He took a bullet below the chin and another in the chest.
In those last frenzied moments, staring death in the face and facing the men who shot him, Ahuja?s thoughts may not have been far from his Bhatinda home.
Home they brought Alka Ahuja?s warrior dead.
For Ahuja?s parents, who live in Rajasthan but have come over to Bhatinda after learning that he was missing, Ahuja will become a cask of memories draped in a flightsuit.
Ahuja will be cremated with full military honours in Killa Nihalsinghwala village near Bhatinda: a gun salute at the funeral for a bullet in the head.
Ajay?s brother-in-law Neel-kant was taken to the airbase to receive the body.
?He was a brilliant student,? Neelkant said.
Ajay?s father, P.L. Ahuja, was too numbed to speak. He said he was proud of his son, proud that his son had laid down his life for the country.
A railway clerk who dreamt that his son would one day be a fighter pilot, P.L. Ahuja could never have imagined how close to the precipice Ajay was when he flew out in his MiG-21 fighter that fatal Thursday.
There were reports of mourning in the railway colony in Kota, Rajasthan, where Ajay was brought up and where his parents had lived for decades.
There must be mourning too, at St. John?s School in Kota, where he studied, and among his batchmates at the National Defence Academy, which he joined in 1992.
In Sarsawa air force base in Saharanpur, Sharmila, Dina and Anuradha are also in mourning.
Their husbands ? Squadron Leader S. Pundir, Flight Lieutenant S. Muhilan and Flight Engineer P.B.N.R. Prasad ? died when their helicopter went down after being hit by a Stinger missile from insurgents in Indian territory. Air Force authorities said they are not sure if the fourth victim, Sergeant R.K. Sahu, was married.
Pundir was from Dehra Dun, in Uttar Pradesh, Muhilan was from Tamil Nadu, Sahu from Cuttack, Orissa, and Prasad from Andhra Pradesh.
These men are not the only casualties in the drive to flush out militants from Kargil. India has said it has lost 28 soldiers on the slopes of the Kargil mountains since the beginning of Operation Vijay.
With India launching airstrikes, the undeclared war has had its prisoners.
Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa, paraded on state-run Pakistan Television yesterday, looked composed but for a darkening welt on his forehead.
There is relief and anxiety at the Kalkaji residence of Nachiketa?s sister Sandhya: relief that Nachiketa is alive and anxiety that they do not know when he will be with them again. [Yesterday, an IAF officer had mistakenly said that an ailing father was the only family Nachiketa had.]
Sandhya and her husband said they were proud of Nachiketa, a ?very jovial young man?.
They did not know then that he had tried to escape and fired from his pistol after hitting the ground and gave up only when it was inevitable.
Nachiketa?s father was supposed to have moved to his new home in Hyderabad. Before shifting, he was spending some time with his son at his airbase.
Now he may have to wait awhile before Nachiketa sees the new furniture and the coat of paint at the home in the Andhra capital.