The interview of Lt Col. Rishi was conducted on account of Army day, celebrated in India every year on the 15th of January. It marks the taking over of Lt. Gen Kodandera M. Cariappa as the first Commander-in -Chief of the Indian army from Gen. Francis Bucher (who was the last British Commander- in – chief of India) on 15th January, 1949. This day salutes the bravery of the Indian soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the country and still continue to fight for the same. We at team Knowbel feel privileged to interview an inspirational and veteran Army officer who was a part of the 42 Rashtriya rifles and played a significant role in stabilizing the tumultuous Tral area of Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
Major Rishi Rajalekshmy led the operation Happu on 4th March 2017. On receiving the input of terrorists the officer with his battle hardened QRT reached the site at 1600 hour, a village in notorious trawl bowl of South kashmir. The officer volunteered, planned and led the assulate. They started searching building and finally zeroed in the buildings where the terrorists were hiding. The intervention plan was made and he moved in. He used a molotov cocktail to sneak into the building. He threw the burning cocktail inside, and the building was on fire. Immediately the next assault was planned, now with 15 kgs of explosives. Covertly he slipped inside the building again placed it and denoted, partial part of building collapsed and terrorists were wounded. Few flying rock debris fell on the officer’s head, he was bleeding profusely. Commanding officer was perturbed and enquired whether he was fine, the officer with blood smeared face winked playfully and used that blood to shape his moustache, wonder ! Is blood a styling gel for the fearless in war? Disregarding the grotesque wounds and flying bullet again, an assault was planned. At midnight 1200 hrs, unsatisfied with the damages to the building he once again moved in, no break, no rest. He picked up a 30 kg explosive now and primed it. Fully aware of the risk this time, the officer denied his protection men to accompany him inside the target house as it might be deadly. An Indian army officer will never put his men in harm’s way because Chetwood Motto teaches them so. Quietly he moved in and placed the explosive all alone. Suddenly and terrorist running for his life came in front. Heavy gun fire was exchanged, a burst of 3 bullets hit the officer on his head and face, it ripped his face, he fell down. Pain is trivial to those with raw courage and determination, lying in a pool of blood he again picked his AK 47 and kept firing. Two militants were neutralised, a Pakistani JeM militant and a Hizbul Mujahideen militant. He then crawled out from that collapsed building on his own.
In the hospital after a 12 hour long life saving surgery he woke up next day with a smile but he couldn’t speak as Tracheostomy was done. Specialists operated on him 13 times in a course of 4 years.
For courage, exceptional valour and camaraderie at the face of death and emeny, the Nation honoured this officer with a Sena Medal Gallantry.
1. What inspired you to join the army? We would like to know about your journey . When you initially joined the army, how did you feel about serving your nation for the first time, and what responsibilities did it carry?
I wanted to live a life less ordinary. When a person joins the Defence Forces, one has to wholeheartedly accept the great teaching “Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargadapigariyasi ”. Moreover, when you speak about responsibilities, you are responsible for many lives who are willing to lay down their lives at your command , you are responsible to send them home walking after every operation. Don’t you think it’s a huge responsibility? Once you take the oath, then, might go to any extent to keep others safe and safeguard nation’s interest even at the peril of life.
2. What was your family’s response when you told them that you wanted to join the army and that you would have to stay away for extended durations?
If your parents have nerves of steel and a heart full of love for the nation, then they will be the proudest one on earth when they do the piping. Distance Is a relative term. In India no distance is more than a 5 hour flight. Remember ,even a person working in a foreign country or in a metropolitan city stays away from his family for a longer duration. In civil life, you lose many things like adventure, family bonding, friends who will die for you and so on, but the army gives everything which you will lose in the civilian world .
3. How were your relations with the locals living in the area where you were stationed ?
If you are asking about Kashmiris then, Kashmir is heaven on earth and thus, are the people there – wonderful and kind hearted, but, unfortunately getting indoctrinated at an early age by people with vested interests . I had Zamam for the first time in my life from the father of Hizbul Mujahideen commander. Imagine, a father who lost his two sons – both being militants ,serving Zamam to his friend from the Army!! Being in the army, every religion is ours. We respect all religions. We have pledged to live a life to protect the vast diversity of India . So wherever we go we will get friends who will love us for what we are .
4. You’ve mentioned in a book that during that fateful day of the incident you had a gut feeling that something was going to happen and so you had called your mother. Could you tell us what was going on in your mind during that time ?
True love of a mother can move mountains for their kids. If I am alive for some reason then it’s her love which protected me even after three bullets pierced me. Have faith in your parents’ love. Protect them, in return, their love will protect you.
5. We heard that you played a big role in bringing stability to the tumultuous Tral area in Pulwama, Jammu And Kashmir and you were popularly called the ‘khan sahib’. Despite being met with such a terrible accident, what still motivates you to go back to the field?
You can take a soldier out of Kashmir but never Kashmir out of a soldier. It’s a dream land where you will love to live. It’s an action packed heaven.
6. What do you feel has been the most challenging part of your life being an army officer?
Every challenge presents us with a great opportunity to conquer something new. If I can stand tall after 13 major surgeries, each one of which extended from 4 to 14 hours then no challenge is big enough for me. It’s just about time and how you approach every challenge. You are human beings with immense potential- just look inwards you will find a volcano within you.
7. What were some of the most memorable experiences you had while serving in the armed forces?
Meeting internally displaced people of Democratic Republic Of Congo, walking among dead bodies, orphaned kids, women with amputated breasts and realising their miserable lives. We must thank our Democracy and Defence forces that they are providing us with a life of absolute freedom, safety and dignity . Moreover, you must live up to it. Make yourself worthy of it.
8. What message would you like to give to our readers?
You will live only once. Leave behind the legacy of a hero for generations to get inspired. Moreover, don’t join the Defence Forces if you are just looking for a job and if you are afraid of blood and wounds.Here, only heros are welcomed.