Moved by the scenes from the site of the terror attack, which he saw on a TV at an airport, Umesh Jadhav decided to do something as a tribute to the brave. In the following days, he undertook a journey to connect with their roots.
Umesh Gopinath Jadhav, an ordinary citizen from Maharashtra, has brought his unique and solemn journey to 40 homes to a halt at the Lethora campus of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Pulwama district.
He was carrying an urn with him. The urn carries the soil from the homes of the security personnel who lost their lives in the terror attack in Lethora in Pulwama district last year. It was handed over by him to CRPF.
The urn was placed at the campus at the wreath laying ceremony marking one year of the attack, yesterday.
According to reports, Jadhav was the only special guest at the ceremony, and the CRPF has acknowledged his gesture.
This is how it began. Moved by the scenes from the site of the terror attack, which he saw on a television set at an airport, Jadhav, 40, decided to do something as a tribute to the brave. In the following days, he undertook a journey to connect with their roots.
This initiative took him to the families of the 40 CRPF personnel who were killed in the terror attack in Pulwama, where a convoy of vehicles in which the security personnel were being transported on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, was attacked.
The journey, 61,000-km long, saw him mapping the homes of the slain security personnel and travelling to the interiors to find some of these homes. He would visit the families, talk to them, share and absorb their emotions, and collect a fistful of soil on his way out.
Most of this travel happened last year when the nation was grieving the loss along with the families of the slain men.
During the months when many citizens and political leaders indulged in various histrionics, including casting doubts over the terror attack itself, Jadhav made an effort to keep the memories of the brave men alive.
Here is why Jadhav's gesture is of meaning to a nation that reveres its soldiers, jawans, security personnel and policemen:
1) Jadhav's journey has made him map the country and the states within it. The tangible distance he has covered to build this gesture will most likely be measured in kilometers. The intangible: mapping of the milestones of sacrifice. The intangible outshines the tangible. It maps families and their diversity. Whose diversity does it finally point towards?
2) Jadhav's journey has made him map stories from different families the CRPF men came from. These stories currently are with him. They deserve to be heard. Having heard the story from one family member of just one family of these 40 (in Uttarakhand), this author can say that it takes immense courage to be with all those 40 families and hold those 40 sets of stories in a fistful.
Today, there are a few well-meaning gentlemen who are devoting time and energy to travel and meeting the families of Indian Army soldiers, and jawans.
The stories are able to reach us because the gentlemen have an outlet on social media. Jadhav could either try the same, or even better, could be reached out to narrate these stories. The long story of his long journey, too, deserves to be known.
3) The urn has found home and space at the Lethora memorial. It has reached where it belonged. The spiritual and symbolic value of this urn is enormous and its meaning will settle in our conscience gradually.
Within it is stored homogeneity. Within it rests oneness. Within it breathes unity. Within it stay remnants of 40 lives — in stillness. It is of as much value to the CRPF, as it is to us citizens.
4) Jadhav has compelled many to rethink ‘journey’ and ‘destination’. He has redefined it for an ordinary man who is still learning and shuffling in his own little space to know how he can reach out to, or know the families of those men who protect the nation. It's a citizen's initiative.
The families, perhaps, are still grappling with their own loss and trying to rebuild lives around the vacuum. The urn fits in that vacuum for citizens, who are mindful of the faceless family members of these 40 men.
5) Last year, I came across the urn carrying the soil of Jallianwala Bagh, which was kept at New Delhi's National Museum. The urn was brought by the efforts of the Ministry of Culture.
The purpose of keeping it at the entrance space of the Museum was to make children aware of it and make them enquire into the chapter of history via the glimpse of the urn.
The urn carried by Jadhav to Pulwama has its own purpose and audience. According to reports, Jadhav hopes he is able to inspire his own children through his gesture and action.
Odes to these Indian urns are written in emotion, the 'panchatatva', soil and blood. Written, tangible poetry would pale before them. The living memory of sacrifice will carry them over to younger generations. Jadhav has initiated a tradition of building a ‘smriti kalash’ — an urn of living memories — all by himself.
He must continue this pilgrimage.