This heart wrenching story of Kargil Hero Capt. Clifford Nongrum will bring tears to your eyes!
December 13, 2018
This piece is a first hand account written by Lt. Col. Sandeep Ahlawat about (L) Captain Clifford Keishing Nongrum. Lt. Col. Sandeep Ahlawat is a serving officer in Indian Army.
THIS IS THE LONGEST WAIT EVER THAT TOO "JUST FOR A SONG"!!!!
When I met up Gentleman Cadet Clifford Keishing Nongrum (I will now call him Cliffy) in academy in the winters of 1996, I found him to be an unassuming lad with a very pleasing personality, who used to keep smiling even in the most challenging circumstances…..a very shy but physically as tough as a "nut" guy (he was in the martial arts club). We got along like a house on fire!!…..we were about the same age ( he was born exactly 46 days before me )…..he belonged to/hailed from one of the most beautiful places on earth (No it's not Kashmir) its the Scotland of the East….yes it is "Shillong" (which is the capital of Meghalaya)….since I had done my schooling for four long years from Shillong……. and that too pretty much the same time as Cliffy….
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We had a lot in common……we were from different schools ( he was from Don Bosco and I was from KV Upper Shillong) but knew every important 'hang out' spots that teenagers of our time in Shillong knew…..Cliffy's dad Peter uncle was with State Bank of India and his mother Saily aunty like my mom was a homemaker.
Cliffy with a twinkle in his eyes, smile on his face and a guitar in his hand could set a packed house on fire!!……baby fats on his face gave him cherubic looks, he was shy and did not want the world to know that he too could sing…..he was the best guitarist ever for me…he could put George Michael and Elton John to shame the way he use to sing their famous songs "Faith" and "Sacrifice" !!…….since he was neither from my company nor from my platoon I had to walk all the way to his company to catch up with him and listen to my favourite song "Sacrifice" many times over under the guise of "one more time!!" …..his fingers on guitar…his gentle humming….his radiant face had this uncanny capacity to put life back in a lifeless body of a Gentleman Cadet who has just survived another day of physical and mental rigours of the world's toughest training academy (Officer's Training Academy)
I made this a habit to go and listen to his songs whenever I found the time…..we, over a period of time became the best of friends…..he was an absolute romantic at heart and even told me the name of his crush turned girlfriend……( name with held) she was very pretty….the very mention of her name used to make him blush….Cliffy use to keep her and his parents photograph with him….
My going and meeting him and asking him to sing "Sacrifice" for me for "one last time!!!" had become a ritual…..I even extracted a promise from him that he will sing "Sacrifice" for me "one last time!!" on the eve of our passing out also….. we used to sit together at Drill square under open sky and talk about our teenage spent in Shillong….our first crush, our overflowing hormones had pretty much done everything that an average teenager does!!…… our going to "Elephant falls" after bunking classes,
visit to Police bazar or Lady Hydari park, dancing in the incessant rains of Cheerapunji…. etc… etc…. etc…..this ritual of he singing "Sacrifice" for me "one last time!!!" continued till 3rd Sept 1997…..We were to pass out on 5th Sept…..I went to look for him on 4th Sept ….I wanted to listen to my favourite song that too from my favourite crooner and guitarist……after all he was my strength all this while in the Academy!! His songs had lifted me up when I was down and out…..I searched for him in the barracks…..I was told by a fellow cadet who was Cliffy's good pal named Zosangliana Hualngo (who is now Maj Zosangliana Hualngo, SM (Retd) currently Commandant General in Mizoram Home Guards) that he had gone to receive his family (mom, dad and both brothers) who had come to witness our POP (Passing Out Parade)…….there is something about "Passing Out Parade" and "Antim Pag" which makes every cadet of the Indian Army get adrenaline rush which has no parallel!!…..hence I will not even attempt to explain this adrenaline surge!!…..You got to step on "Antim pag" to experience it!!! You got to earn it to experience it!!!
Even blood in our veins is replaced by electrons on that day…..I came back to my barrack after waiting for him for sometime.
Unfortunately we both could not even meet on the last day in Academy….we were geographically separated because of being in different companies and were presumably too excited and occupied with last minute coordination before putting the stars on our uniform ….."after all we were penning the first line of our resume".
On 5th Sept at about 4 PM before leaving our Alma Mater for good, I went to his room with a hope that I may see him one last time……I saw his empty bed and was informed by the caretakers that he had left…..I felt bad….very bad….my heart was hollow yet heavy, I was annoyed with him yet missed him….. was dragging my feet out of his room looking at the place he used to keep his guitar…..
He was commissioned into the "Queen of battle"….the Infantry….12 JAK LIGHT INFANTRY….with stars on our shoulders, dreams in our eyes and world at our feet all of us went to our respective units…..18 months passed by like a shot……Pakistan in the month of May 99 had attempted a misadventure….there were war clouds looming …I was in Pathankot…..we were placed on a four hour notice…..all preparations were done….our Infantryman were evicting the Paki's from our land one by one….we had steam rolled the enemy…..winning back our land on daily basis…..our brave young officers and soldiers had given Paki's a bloody nose….
I was deployed in Pathankot and suddenly in the middle of a night training I got a call from Army Exchange and was told that an Infantry officer wanted to speak to me……I with a sweaty face with grease and grime all over my black overalls (was wrestling with track pin of my Tank) rushed to the phone and heard the voice that can melt a mountain to molten lava…..it was Cliffy on line…. his unit was inducting into Kargil war…..he was raring to go….he apologized for not having met me before before leaving the academy……sensing my annoyance, he in order to mollycoddle me made another promise, he said that he on his way back will stay with me in my unit and will sing "Sacrifice" that he could not do "one last time!!!" in the Academy….. no hint of fear…..he was all of 24….not even the fear of unknown…..he was going on icy heights……there was a constant and unrelenting enemy fire….he was to move on 70 degree gradient into certain death…….I felt a tug at my heart….we had already lost a few course mates ….they all gave up their today for our tomorrow…..every officer who passed out with 64 batch used to shed silent tears (whilst bleeding internally) when the news of our course mates getting martyred used to reach us!!!
For every Indian Army Officer death of a course mate is worse then the death of your biological brother and…. these are no hollow words!!….
I was told that on 30th June/ 1st July 1999 Cliffy was tasked to assault a near impossible vertical cliff feature in the Batalik Sector. After an arduous 70 degrees climb for for more than 10 hours with very heavy loads he and his men reached the top, they encountered a very strong enemy opposition as the Pakis were well entrenched in inter connected positions and remained immune to even artillery fire. The enemy pinned down the column of Cliffy with heavy and accurate automatic fire. The only way the Pakis could have been dislodged was if either Cliffy or any team member went all the way up with out cover and took the enemy on "one on one",…… and knowing him well I knew it would be Cliffy who would undertake this…..Cliffy with utter disregard to his personal safety, charged through the fire zone, closed in on the enemy, he threw hand grenades inside their bunkers and killed six enemy soldiers!!!!… however in this retaliatory action by the enemy he was hit by volley of bullets. Even before breathing his last Cliffy killed a Paki soldier in hand to hand combat (the bugger was a boxer in school) The audacious action by Cliffy not only stunned the enemy but also gave valuable reaction time to his troops to close in and finally they cleared the position which resulted in capture of Point 4812. Lt Keishing Clifford Nongrum ( for once I will not call him Cliffy ) displayed bravery, dogged determination and raw courage in the face of the enemy and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army and was posthumously awarded Mahavir Chakra….he died standing – a death every Indian Army Soldier aspires!!
On every Kargil Vijay Diwas, we remember and salute this heroic warrior who laid down his life fighting to protect his nation and his fellow countrymen. It's time we gave these unsung heroes and their families the recognition and respect they deserve!!!!…..forgetting martyars who ensure your right of freedom and free speech is a sign of thankless Nation!! It also speaks of our poor National Character!!
I wanted to meet Cliffy's parents in 1999….but could not muster enough courage to even touch the feet of Saily aunty who gave her 24 year old son to this nation!!!!
The very thought of how will she react after seeing the mortal remains (draped in triclour) of her son who was just 24 years old was too much to bear for me……his body had more bullet marks than flesh……the saga of his courage is unparalleled….a life cheerfully given away for the cause of the nation, he was one of the bravest of brave……his love was to remain unrequited……….he is the first and only recipient of Maha Vir chakra (MVC) of Meghalaya state…..he has inspired generations in the state of Meghalaya. I will go and meet Saily aunty sooner than later!!……Cliffy….. my friend wish you had sung "Sacrifice" one last time for me on the 4th Sept 1997….this is the "longest wait ever" that too "just for a song"…..I will wait…..till we meet in Heavens…..and till we meet again I will remember you everyday of my existence!!!…..we as your coursemates are jealous of you buddy!! Because you will always remain a 24 year old!!!!
Because of Cliffy now I keep a statue of an Indian Army's Infantryman on my table!!!….
It reminds me of Cliffy and countless other faceless infantryman who gave their everything for our freedom!!!
PS. The infantryman's statue on my table does not hold a guitar!!
Written by one if the most prolific writer and speakers in the current crop of serving Army OfficerS, Lt Col Sandeep Ahlawat
ABOUT THE WRITER: Lt. Col. Sandeep Ahlawat is serving officer in Indian Army. Previously, He had sent a legal notice to Twinkle Khanna and Akshay Kumar when they wanted to auction the "Original Naval Officers Uniform" that Akshay Kumar had worn in movies Rustom. The star couple had to withdraw the auction after Col Ahlawat's objection.