It was Naik Kundalik Mane’s brother Vijay who answered the phone call from Poonch at noon on Tuesday. Unable to believe what he was told, he called other relatives, hoping they would assure him that it wasn’t true. In an hour, his cousin Ananda Kudtire, who is also in the Army, called the family in this village and assured it that Mane had only suffered a bullet wound.
Mane (36), a Naik in 14 Maratha Light Infantry, was killed along with four other jawans in Tuesday’s ambush on the LoC.
“We are keeping a watch over the house. We haven't let anybody enter since yesterday. It is a shock for the entire family. In a way, we want them to be mentally prepared and ready to receive the body,” Mane's cousin Tukaram Kudtire told The Hindu .
On Tuesday, as soon as TV channels started flashing Mane’s picture, a neighbour cut the cable TV wire that led to the jawan’s house. Relatives have been handling phone calls, and none of the immediate family members has been allowed to speak on the phone, villagers said.
On Wednesday afternoon, there was an eerie silence in the village. The lane leading to Mane's house was being repaired to allow the Army vehicle to reach there on Thursday. “The men didn't repair it all the way to the house, and stopped a few metres away. What if his parents see it and ask why all this was being done?” neighbour Mangal Mane said.
But the truth, however hidden, has not escaped the Mane family. “His father, Kerba Mane, asked me why there was no newspaper in the house today, why the cable has stopped working. He asked why there was such a silence around the house today. What should I tell him?” Maruti, a neighbour asked.
For the proud village that witnessed Mane’s journey from a hardworking student to a sugarcane labourer to a jawan, treating his death with the respect it deserves is a joint responsibility. “We know it's difficult accepting a son's death. We are trying to make it a little less painful,” another neighbour Rangrao Patil said.
“The family has been through extremely difficult times. They don't have much land, and all of them worked as daily wage labourers on sugarcane fields. It was only after Mane joined the Army at the age of 18 , were they living happily,” Mr. Patil said.
Mane got married in 2003, and he and his wife Rajashree have two children — a nine-year-old daughter Arti and three-year-old son Amol.
When he was in the village last month on annual leave, Mane helped youngsters prepare for physical tests. “He would always encourage younger people, guiding and mentoring those who also wanted to join the army,” his friend Kishor Mane said. More than 20 people from Pimpalgaon Bhudruk are serving in the armed forces.
The family was finally told about his death late Wednesday evening. In the house, visitors started to pour in after 10 p.m. But the only refrain from Mane’s mother and wife was, “why weren't we told before?”