I must have been in the fifth grade in Frank Anthony Public School. Lunch break in school was always an extremely crowded time of the day with loads of kids running around on the field and multiple games of football and cricket being played side-by-side.
A bunch of us were playing cricket at the far corner of the ground near a cluster of trees and another couple of matches were going on using the neighboring trees as wickets. It was the usual confusion with fielders from one match regularly running across the 'pitch' of the other matches while chasing the ball down.
As the ball from our match went on the off-side and towards one of the other trees, the fielder running after the ball was accidentally struck on his forehead by the swinging bat of the other game's batsman.
Within minutes his forehead sprouted a lump the size of a golf ball and the matches were abandoned while we took him to get some medical attention.
Despite the lump taking a life of its own and turning a weird shade of pink, the injured fielder insisted on staying on in school for the remaining classes of the day, during which time, as any dutiful friend would, the rest of us pulled his leg about how he was looking.
Eventually, we all went home that evening assuming that we wouldn't see him for a few days - afterall, a hit like that deserved a few days at home with comics!
But to our surprise, he turned up at school the next day - with the lump on his forehead and all - like it was any other day.
Our class teacher (Mrs.Ross...?) brought him up to the front of the class to let us know how she thought it took a brave person to come to school despite such an injury and not take the easy way out by staying back at home.
We were all asked to clap for him. And, though we were being made to clap for him, I guess somewhere, we all knew that no one else we knew would choose to go to school when you had such a reason not to!
Over years, he and I started hanging out with different people, we chose different courses and moved into the 'he-used-to-be-in-my-class' mode. He was always among the brighter ones our school had - a top ranker in academics, excelled in sports and took part in extra-curricular activities as well.
Which is why, when many years later he got in touch with me to congratulate me on the birth of my daughter, I was surprised to find out that he'd chosen to join the Indian Army.
Surprised, because this was someone who had the grades and aptitude to choose any course in any university of any country he wanted. He could have gone on to study medicine or, become an engineer, write a code or get into management - all the things a lot of our batch-mates did, but instead, he chose to stay back and join the Army!
It definitely takes a brave one to make that kind of a choice these days! And certainly, no one else I knew, had made such a choice!
A few months after we reconnected, during the terrorist attack on Mumbai, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the National Security Guard was killed in action while fighting the terrorists inside the Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel. And, just like that, that fielder, the bright one, the one who chose differently....the brave one, was no more....
In the days to follow, I watched an interview where a member of his squad described how while fighting the terrorists inside the Hotel, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan arranged for the evacuation of his severely injured colleague first, and while chasing after the terrorists, told the other injured member, "Do not come up, I will handle them".
Despite not having known Sandeep closely towards the latter part of his life, when I thought about it, his choice of words and actions did not surprise me - afterall, he was the bravest guy I knew!
Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Ritesh Purohit (ANI)