Squadron Leader Rajiv Pundir, Indian Airforce

Squadron Leader Rajiv Pundir, VM

Sqn Ldr Rajiv Pundir was born on 28 April 1962 in Dehradun. He completed his schooling from St. Joseph's Academy and thereafter joined NDA(National Defence Academy) in June 1979. He did his post graduate in Military Studies from the prestigious Defence services Staff College and was commissioned into the IAF on 29th May 1983. He had been posted to Squadron No.152 Helicopter Unit since 12th May 1998.

Sqn Ldr Pundir was an all round officer. Besides being a keen sportsman he had a passion for music and was an accomplished singer. Pundir had a zest for doing things well, a very enthusiastic and energetic young man, he remained at the centre stage of all activity. To improve his knowledge and to serve the IAF in a better manner, He underwent three courses from 1992-94, i.e., JCC, DSSC and NBC. He was awarded 'A' grading in all three courses and later on served as an instructor in CME, Pune for a period of three years.

Sqn Ldr Pundir had been a keen flier right from the beginning and had over 3000 hours of operational flying to his credit. He had flown almost all types of helicopters available in the IAF inventory today. He was experienced on, among other aircraft, the Heavy Lift Mi-26 Helicopter besides having 2500 hours on the Mi-8 and Chetak/Cheetah helicopters. During his tenure in 109 Helicopter Unit, he actively participated in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. He was awarded the CAS commendation for his dedication to duty and professionalism in 1988.

On 28th May 99, during the Kargil conflict, Sqn Ldr Pundir was flying as a co-pilot of a Mi-17 helicopter(piloted by Flt Lt Muhilan) during an attack mission against ground positions strongly held by Pakistani infiltrators in the Drass sector. The Mi-17 helicopter repeatedly carried out attacks in the face of fierce enemy opposition in the form of ground fire and missiles. Unfortunately his helicopter was downed by a U.S made Stinger SAM(surface to air missile).

Sqn Ldr Pundir's courageous action, unmindful of the danger to his personal safety typified the courage of the IAF's helicopter pilots who have time and again demonstrated such qualities during various operations including those conducted during natural calamities in aid to civil power.

On 8th October, 2000, Squadron Leader Rajiv Pundir was posthumously awarded the prestigious "Vayu Sena" gallantry medal. He made the supreme sacrifice for his country in keeping with the highest traditions of the service. Sqn Ldr Pundir is survived by his wife Sharmila and two children, Bhavya(7) and Karan(5).

Sharmila receiving the "Vayu Sena" medal from Air Chief A.Y Tipnis.

On 23rd October, 2001, at a special ceremony, Smt. Sharmila Pundir was allotted an IOC(Indian Oil Corporation) Petrol Pump at Janakpuri in New Delhi. This was a token of gratitude and the commitment of the Government to the Nation's brave son.

Shri L.K. Advani inaugurating the IOC Petrol Pump granted under 'Operation Vijay' Special Scheme to Smt. Sharmila Pundir. The Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Shri Ram Naik is also seen.

Speaking at the inauguration, Minister of Home Affairs, Shri L.K. Advani called upon the citizens of the country to exhibit unflinching amount of discipline and unity, especially, when the nation is facing emergencies. The Minister said that we should take lesson from the people of United States who showed exemplary patriotism and unity following terrorist attacks on September 11 in USA. He said that this was important as India is making efforts to earn its rightful place in the comity of nations in the 21st Century.

Shri Advani emphasised that safety and security are amongst the top priorities of the Government as safe environment is an essential pre-requisite for growth and development. Therefore, common man should also come forward in contributing to maintain safety and security besides the Security Forces.

Air Vice Marshal Shri D.S. Guram paid rich tributes to Sqn Ldr Pundir and asserted that the country's Armed Forces were well prepared to defend the Motherland in all eventualities.

Life & Ties - Not dead until forgotten
(by Sharmila Pundir, Hindustan Times 1/6/2001)

Leaving footprints on the sand of time two lonely and never-ending years have passed in a haze of grief and bewilderment. Two years since a brave son of the Motherland laid down his life defending the borders of his country. As I look back over these two years I feel a curious mixture of emotions, a pain that time will never erase but also pride, because it requires a special type of courage to be able to fly into enemy space knowing you may never come back. I am the wife of such a special man, Sqr. Leader Rajiv Pundir.

As the month of May approached there used to be a general atmosphere of happiness at home. The reason being very distinct. This was the month for us to relax after a year's hard work. Rajiv took his annual leave around this time. But who knew that this very month for which we used to wait throughout the year would change our lives entirely. Each incident of that month two years ago is fresh in my mind.

My husband had gone on temporary duty to Srinagar for 15 days. This was in April. His birthday fell on April 27, and he would generally forget all about it. But this time he did not, and we all wished him when he called us up from there.

Rajiv and his crew were supposed to return on May 3, 1999. But as usual due to some reason they got delayed and landed on May 4. I, like any other wife, sighed with relief, and hoped for an interregnum of peace for a month or so.

We started doing our packing and arranging things at home as we were to proceed on a long leave. On May 21 we all went out shopping for relatives back home. Rajiv had to go on duty again the next day for two or three days, as the Vice President of India was to visit Musooriee. He returned on May 24, and reached home at about four in the evening. We had a late lunch, and I told him how I had been packing while he had been away, so that he needn't bother about it.

As we were resting in the evening there was a siren for General Recall. Rajiv quickly changed into his uniform and left. It was night when he finally called me up, and to my utter shock asked me to pack his suitcase as he was supposed to leave for Srinagar immediately. I just could not understand what was so urgent. He came home at about 10.00 pm. We had a late dinner that night. He did not reveal anything about his mission, just saying that some load had to be dropped. He knew that were he to tell me the truth I would not have been able to take it.

Just after an hour's sleep he got ready to leave. Take off time was 5 am, May 25. Our daughter, who would be generally sleeping at this time, came out running to say bye to papa. Our last goodbye. On reaching Srinagar, he called us up to inquire about our welfare, and told me to proceed to Dehradun, our hometown. The idea was repugnant to me, as I had never gone without him anywhere, and I told him so. That was to be the last time we spoke.

Like a bolt from the blue came the evening news bulletin, with its shattering announcement of the declaration of war. The blood froze in my veins: this is the news every service wife dreads. The night was spent in frozen fear, without a wink of sleep. On the morning of May 28 came the mechanical and cold announcement: an MI17 helicopter of the IAF had been shot down.

The previous day, IAF had lost two MiG aircraft. And the very next day, as a part of new strategy, the IAF sent in four MI-17 helicopters in Kargil sector. One of the four was brought down by a Stinger missile fired by the intruders. According to eyewitnesses, even when the chopper was coming down the IAF personnel inside it continued to fire at the intruders. After few seconds the helicopter crashed and also my happy world.

The face of the newsreader still haunts me in my dreams. The next few hours passed as if an eternity: kind friends and neighbours kept trying to convince me that it couldn't be my husband's chopper that had been brought down. But this was soon proved wrong: my happy world collapsed like a house of cards around me, and I was trapped in a void of unimaginable grief.

May 29: Today was Homecoming day. The prodigal son who did not think twice while staking his life for his motherland, was coming home. A short halt on his onward journey from where no traveller returns. When the coffin draped in the Indian tricolour and decked with flowers came down there was more anguish in Bharat mata's eyes than grief. This is how the brave sleep. The last rites were performed with full military honours. When the last post "O soldier, your work is done", sounded I choked.

I often relate Rajiv with the Almighty. Many a times I question myself as to who is god. Neither you nor I have seen him. We only believe that he is one who loves us, cares for us, who would listen to our prayers in whom we have faith and respect. My children and I have firm faith in him, we know he loves and cares for us, no matter where he is.

Life goes on, but it has become very suffocating and seems to be devoid of colour or purpose. The wound is raw; it will take a long time to adjust to being alone. No one to laugh, cry or worry with. Sometimes I wonder at the strange ways of god, why he deals us such cruel blows. But then I realise no one can know what fate holds in store for each of us and how slender are the relationships that binds us.

My memories of happy times continue to haunt me, the appearance of mango blossoms was a reminder that it was vacation time, time to go home on annual leave with the children, to my parents' and in-laws'. Now, when I see the trees in full bloom it only serves as a poignant reminder of those days.

Rajiv did his duty, he did not defer it. Now I have to do my duty towards my family and my country. My life now revolves around my children and bringing them up as he would have wanted to. I must never let them feel his absence and also work hard to bring them up with the right values and principles. For this I have to be both father and mother to my children and provide them with emotional and mental support.

I also want to do something for those children who lost their father while defending the borders of this country. For this purpose I formed a small trust called the Kargil Foundation. As a humble beginning, the educational expenses of two children would be borne by this trust. I want to cherish the memory of my husband through the activities of this foundation.

Last year the Government organised an exhibition to mark the first anniversary of the Kargil war. A small sentence written on a board on that occasion made a big impact on me: "A man is not dead until he is forgotten."