|Munindra Nath Rai's daughter|
It's been seven months since Alka saluted her father's bravery and filled the nation's heart with pride. Today, she's her family's strength. Late Colonel Rai's wife, Priyanka often runs her fingers over his uniform. It fills her with sadness. But Alka doesn't let her mother cry: "I won't let his uniform go waste. I'll join the Army, alter this uniform. I'll wear his uniform," she says.
Colonel Rai always wanted to join the Army. Born and brought up in Kalimpong, north Bengal, where his father was an NCC instructor at the Army School, Rai would wear his NCC uniform all day and say: "I'll join the Army and serve the country."
Priyanka recalls how duty was Rai's priority. When floods drowned J&K, Rai, then in Delhi on vacation, returned to help his jawans. He had three days of leave left. Work pressure was immense, but Rai never talked operations at home. Priyanka, a heart patient, says her caring husband never wanted her stressed. "I lived a civilian's life before marriage. I knew nothing of how the Army operated but always worried for his safety. He went for many high-risk missions but never uttered a word of that at home. He always returned with a smile," she recalls.
Col Rai will be awarded the Shaurya Chakra on Saturday. Priyanka's eyes light up as she recalls their last vacation. "He was posted at Tral and we hardly got time together. Last summer we visited him. I'll treasure those days." The couple was to complete 14 years of marriage on January 31.
His colleagues talk of the firm officer with a soft side, who loved to dance and crack jokes. "He cleared the Wellington Staff College in his first attempt. His unit often referred to him as a high-flying officer. Had he lived, he would have done so much more for the nation," says Priyanka.
Rai commanded the 42 Rashtriya Rifles in Tral for two years, always putting the safety of his jawans before him. The locals too loved him. "The area's children knew him. He kept chocolates in his vehicle to distribute among kids," Priyanka remembers. His lesson to his children was to live honestly and embrace humanity. He is survived by three children, two daughters — Alka (11), Richa (9) and a son Aditya (6).
Rai's children understood his responsibilities. "They missed him but hid their sadness from him. When he was out on risky missions, they'd be scared but never bothered him. They're proud to be a martyr's children. But my son keeps telling me that if there are no militants, no father will die like this," Priyanka says. Colonel Rai was decorated with the Yudh Seva Medal. He also served in Bengal, Assam and Surankote.
Rai's last WhatsApp status summed up his philosophy: "Itni shiddat se apna farz nibhao ki purdah girne ke baad bhi taaliyan bajti rahein" (Do your duty such that the applause doesn't stop even after curtains)."