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First brave child, braving the odds at 59...

Harish Chandra Mehra was the first recipient of the bravery award. Conferred on him for saving the life of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, life has not turned out the way he visualised after a brief dalliance with celebrity status, says SARTHAK SHUKLA... .

AS THE bravery award winning children will pass through Rajpath taking part in the Republic Day parade, the first child, now a man of 59 summers, would be watching them on his TV set in a sombre mood. Meet Harish Chandra Mehra, who had saved the life of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on October 2, 1957 when he was a 14-year-old child.

Mehra recalls the incident, "Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi and many other dignitaries were watching Ramlila at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi. I was doing duty as a scout in the shamiyana where all the people were sitting. It was around 5-30 in the evening. Suddenly, a fire broke out in that shamiyana due to a spark from the firework. Immediately, I entered the burning shamiyana and started climbing the 20 feet high electric pole. On reaching the top I whipped out my scouts knife and cut off the burning shamiyana clothes. I took me less than five minutes in doing the job.'' All those who were sitting under that shamiyana watched his daring act. In the process Mehra's hands were severely burnt. He was taken to Irwin Hospital, now called LNJP, for treatment. Jagijivan Ram and many other personalities came to see him there. When Mehra recovered fully from his injuries, he started going to his Girdharilal School in the Walled City.

He recalls, "One day our school principal came to our class and informed me that I had been nominated for a special National Gallantry Award which was being instituted by the Prime Minister. I got that award from Nehruji at Teen Murti Bhavan in February 1958. My parents were also with me. Pandit Nehru said to them, `Your son has saved my life and he will certainly become a great man in his lifetime.' Indira Gandhi was also present there. Pandit Nehru remained with us for around 15 minutes. My parents were so happy that after the meeting they distributed sweets to the people in our locality."

Newspapers published profiles and interviews of Mehra. The DAVP made a documentary on his daredevilry that was screened at cinema halls across the country. The owner of Novelty Cinema where Mehra lived, made it free for anyone wanted to come and see the film. The All India Radio invited him for a ten-minute talk.

For the first time on January 26, 1959, a civilian boy of barely 14 also took part in the Republic day parade. It was after this bravery award to Harish Chandra that the Government decided to institute the National Gallantry Awards for children.

But today, after more than four decades, Harish Chandra is a sad man. After his brief celebrity status, he had visualised an excellent career for himself, but is today seen behind the desk of an upper division clerk. He is today a totally dejected and weary man. He got his first promotion only after 25 years!

Sitting in his modest Katra Neel House at Chandni Chowk, Harish Chandra says, "I wonder whether the nation was really serious when it honoured me with the Gallantry Award. Despite promises by successive Prime Ministers, none of them ever bothered to help me in any way. I can't understand why, when policemen got promotion for saving the lives of people, which in any case was their duty, couldn't I be given any promotion for saving the life of the Prime Minister of the country?

Any answers?

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