“Thodi si mein wife hoon, thodi si mein nani hoon, lekin pehle Hindustani hoon,” says 57-year-old Anuradha Prabhudesai, an ex-banker, whose story dates back to August 2004 when she was holidaying in Ladakh with her husband and friends.
Anuradha was ambling along the roads of Drass, drinking in the friendliness of the locals and the soldiers in a war-ravaged town, when she first spotted an army caption that read, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lay down for the country.’ Intrigued, she stopped an army Khansama to enquire what had happened there. He in turn, unassumingly asked, “aapko pata nahi, yahan toh haazerein laashein giri thi?” That was Anuradha’s moment of introspection.
She pondered about her comfortable life back in Mumbai, the brief news about Kargil (in 1999) and the pseudo-patriotism she wore in her heart. Moved by what she heard, Anuradha, along with her friend Vikram Joshi, took an oath at Vijay Stambh (War Memorial in Kargil) to bring to light the sacrifices made by the Kargil soldiers and to visit Kargil for the next five years.
Back from the trip, Anuradha wrote several letters to army officials seeking permission to visit them during Raksha Bandhan in 2005. After some initial resistance, Colonel Jha finally conceded. The mission was possible but the trail ahead tough.
Driving through rough roads from Manali to Sarchu and finally into Leh, all seemed worth it when, after tying rakhis and distributing homemade food, the soldiers expressed, “Aap jo pyaar dete ho rakhi ke zariye, woh hosla deta hai ladne ke liye.” The bond strengthened when she returned in 2006 with a group of 36 girls.
Anuradha has visited Kargil 14 times in the last ten years, and her work has been cherished by the army. She has published more than 400 copies of Hindi poems authored by her and several booklets on the Kargil martyrs. “As Indians, we do not know the names of the Paramveer awardees of our country but we know the names of new-born kids of movie stars, film award winners, etc. Where are we heading as a nation?,” asks Anuradha, who is the only civilian and only woman with access to all the regiments in the
Having lived up to her five-year oath, in 2009, when Anuradha expressed her uncertainty to continue the mission to Brigadier Pal, he simply ordered, “Continue the good work.”
Subsequently, Anuradha formed the Lakshya Foundation with an objective to instill a spirit of patriotism in the youth.
In her journey so far, she has travelled to Ladakh with 450 civilians giving them first-hand experience of army life, delivered 105 lectures across schools and arranged get-togethers of army wives and war widows. Fondly called ma’am, maasi and ma, by the soldiers, Anuradha’s role in their lives kept expanding. On 26th July 2011, she received a memento from Lt Gn Dastane for boosting the morale of the soldiers and bridging the gap between civilians and soldiers.
This memento, she says, is life’s best gift to her.
Anuradha’s work for the soldiers through the Lakshya foundation has grown multifold. Their first activity was ‘Diwali with Soldiers’—an initiative to distribute sweets to the families of the soldiers. “Aaj kal insaniyat ki kami hai. It’s all about me, my family, my job,” she says voicing her pain.
Sharing several anecdotes of the lives of soldiers, who stay put at an altitude of 18,000 ft in bone-chilling conditions for several weeks, Anuradha urges, “If you meet a soldier, give him respect and love. That’s all he needs.”
Taking a leaf from the lives of the soldiers, Anuradha has evolved as a human being—less temperamental, more disciplined, calm and collected, with a better sense of time.
She has reoriented her life to a different compass. Now, 26th July, Army Day, is incomplete without Anuradha and Lakshya Foundation. Leading two lives—one of a middle-class, hard-working wife and another of a woman who is a beacon of hope for our soldiers, in January 2012, Anuradha quit her job, “I wanted to work for my country,” she says.
Anuradha persists in her efforts to break the barriers between soldiers and civilians. She believes her mission will be accomplished when every Indian dedicates five years of his or her life to the country. That would be a truly patriotic India.