There was a small award function in Delhi last week. I read a little bit from the essay, and also spoke for a few minutes. This is what I said.
This essay came out of a trip I made almost by chance. I went in search of a man I knew I wouldn't find, yet I came back with the feeling I had found him, and in some strange way found myself too. Major Abhimanyu Sikka of the 22nd Rashtriya Rifles died in a blast in Kashmir in 2001, and it means a lot to me that his family is here with us today.
Abhimanyu was an unusual man for many reasons, and gives us things to think about. For one thing, he was the grand-nephew of Phizo, whom you might call the grand-daddy of what we so easily refer to as separatism, or insurgency, in the Northeast. Phizo's grand-nephew joined the Indian Army and served in Kashmir, battling more separatists with courage and distinction. Think of that.
But more than that, Abhimanyu also saw his job as reaching out to the local civilian population. Not just for information, necessary as that is, and as other officers I know do. But also to get to know them and win their hearts, which he knew was key to winning our war there. And he did this so well that he was known by all as Boba, Kashmiri for "mother". Think of it -- a tough soldier, and he's called "mother".
To me, Abhimanyu says things about patriotism -- about how it is embodied in reaching out to your fellow human, in the caring qualities we all remember our mothers for. This idea of patriotism, this reaching out to your fellow human, is the only way it makes any sense to me. I'm intrigued enough by it that I want to go searching for it some more.
Sure, there are the conventional ways to consider patriotism: the words like glory, and motherland, and valour. But Boba, he shows me another way. He shows me what my country can be. He takes me places I haven't dared dream about.
I wish I had known you, Abhimanyu. But I am honoured I do.