Fallen hero: Col Manpreet Singh remembered fondly; Son still sends voice messages

In a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, seven-year-old Kabir remains unaware of the harsh reality that his father will never return and the young boy relentlessly sends voice messages to Colonel Manpreet Singh's number, pleading with him to come back.
Col Manpreet Singh remembered fondly; Son still sends voice messages
Col Manpreet Singh remembered fondly; Son still sends voice messages

Anantnag (Kashmir) | In a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, seven-year-old Kabir remains unaware of the harsh reality that his father will never return and the young boy relentlessly sends voice messages to Colonel Manpreet Singh's number, pleading with him to come back.

"Papa bus ek baar aa jao, phir mission pe chale jana (Papa, please come back once, and then you can resume your duties)."

Some of these heartfelt messages are whispered in secrecy to avoid his mother's watchful gaze, as Kabir implores his father to make a video call.

Colonel Singh's final act of valour came during a joint operation on September 13 last year, when he along with other soldiers engaged in a fierce gun battle with terrorists in the forests surrounding Gadool village. Despite their courage, Colonel Singh, Major Aashish Dhonchak, J-K Police Deputy Superintendent Humanyun Bhat and Sepoy Pardeep Singh made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving a void in the hearts of those who knew and admired them.

A revered commanding officer of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) unit, Colonel Singh is remembered as a hero in the worst terrorism-hit areas of Larkipora, Zaldoora and Kokernag in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district.

Many locals remember him as a symbol of bravery, leadership and selfless sacrifice in these areas that are mainly the Area of Responsibility, or AOR in army parlance, of the 19 RR. His legacy lives on in the hearts of people.

The absence of Colonel Singh weighs heavy on his family members, particularly his wife Jagmeet who vividly recalls the time when he planted two Chinar trees and affectionately named them after their children -- Kabir and Vani.

"He had said that we will return after 10 years to see these trees again. But now...," said Jagmeet, her trailing off voice encapsulating the uncertainty and sorrow that has befallen the family.

Jagmeet shared with PTI over phone from Mohali in Punjab how deeply passionate Colonel Singh was about improving the lives of people in Kashmir and also spoke about the difficulties in making her own children understand that he won't return.

"Often Mann (Colonel Manpreet) would get calls in the dead of night and he would promptly ensure that help was provided to them," she said, adding that the help could be to resolve a personal dispute or for hospitalisation, it could be for anything.

She said her martyred husband was invited by locals for marriages, to celebrate the birth of a child and Eid. "It was like one big family," Jagmeet said.

Remembering her last conversation with him, which lasted 32 seconds, Jagmeet said, "Operation mein hoon (I am in operation) were his last words before I did not hear from him ever."

Colonel Singh's dedication to the community extended beyond his military duties.

He was instrumental in rehabilitation efforts, particularly in helping those addicted to drugs find a path to recovery. Colonel Singh's impact on empowering women and fostering a sense of community through sports and education is fondly remembered by those who knew him.

Rubbiya Sayeed, a well-known women cricketer from Anantnag, recalled Colonel Singh's impact on the community. "He believed that sports played an important role in building a society...There were many drug addicts whom he sent for rehabilitation," she said.

Sayeed said Colonel Singh's focus on empowering women to be self-reliant and economically independent showcased his commitment to building a better society through sports and education.

"He actually was a healing touch to the people and the 19 RR headquarters had become the most people-friendly place where the focus was on building the youth and reasoning out with them about their better future," she said in a choked voice.

Local residents spoke of Colonel Singh's kindness and support, highlighting his gentlemanly demeanour and positive influence on the youth.

"I have never seen a gentleman officer like him. He used to treat me like his brother," Rayees said and recalled how his son would play with Kabir. "Probably, he was one of our last resort whenever we were in some problem," he said.

The Gurdwara at Zaldoora stands testament to his generosity. The 19 RR, that mainly draws its personnel from the SIKH LI, provided a generator to ensure no power cut and uninterrupted recitation of the 'Gurubani'.

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