Families grieve, refuse to crumble - Diplomats weep for Venkat

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  • Published 9.07.08
The families of Brigadier Ravi Dutt Mehta and (above) Vadapalli Venkateswara Rao in Delhi on Tuesday. Pictures by Ramakant Kushwaha

New Delhi, July 8: Hard-nosed diplomats broke down as they watched. The 12-year-old lighting his father’s pyres hardly did.

Aniket Rao stood firm at his post at Delhi’s Brar Cemetery, the military funeral ground, tearful but composed as he carried out the last rites before TV cameras, barely 24 hours after a terrorist’s bomb had thrown a shroud on his world.

Yards from him, a posse of foreign ministry mandarins wept unabashedly, or hid their eyes behind dark glasses, as they remembered the fun-loving and popular Vadapalli Venkateswara Rao, the counsellor killed in yesterday’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

Aniket kept gazing at the leaping flames but had to leave reluctantly since the public spotlight was becoming too much for mother Malathi. The Delhi schoolteacher, too, remained in control of her emotions as did daughter Amulya, 10, who kept crying softly holding her mother’s hand.

Each time Aniket’s façe suggested he was about to break down, Malathi kept reminding him: “You promised you won’t cry. We are all so proud of you.”

This was four hours after Sunita Mehta, clutching the cap and belt of her dead husband, Brigadier Ravi Dutt Mehta, watched his remains consigned to the flames at the same cemetery, her eyes dry.

“I am so proud of him. He was a very good man,” she said, running her hands affectionately over the cap again and again.

Brig. Mehta, India’s defence attache at the Kabul embassy, was in the same car with Rao that was blown up in the attack.

His son, Flight Lieutenant Udit Mehta, a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force, was a picture of calm.

The 24-year-old tirelessly answered questions about his father while keeping a concerned eye over his mother.

He smiled each time he remembered his verbal duels with his 53-year-old father.

“I was sleeping when he left (for the embassy) yesterday. We had had dinner together on Sunday night. In fact, it was a ritual with us — dinners were a family affair,” the young officer said.

“I remember, we played squash for the first time together in Kabul and later we would come home and fight over who had cheated.”

Mehta’s family was with him, vacationing in Kabul. He was planning a trip to Delhi with his wife, son and daughter Bhavya, a final-year biotechnology student in Bangalore.

Army, navy and air force officers today thronged the funeral, attended by army chief Deepak Kapoor.

Mehta had been posted in Kabul in February while Rao was to have completed his tenure in August.

Rao, a month short of 45, was looking forward to a posting in Delhi, where his wife and children live, and had returned to Kabul after a vacation with them the day before he was killed.

“He was such a warm, fun-loving man. We have known the family for around 15 years and my husband and he had been together during two postings, in Colombo and Kathmandu,” remembered Jayanti Ramesh, wife of the cabinet secretary and a teacher at the same school as Malathi.

“He was a man who, after a day’s work, would call up friends and set up a meeting. His wife is just like him; they were both popular wherever they went.”

A journalist said what she found “the most endearing thing about Rao was his openly expressed affection and admiration for his beautiful wife”.

“I had joined them on a vacation two years ago. I remember an evening when she was dancing and he sat just in front of her, watching her in awe.”