Roll of Honour

Major Mohit Whig (1960 - 1997) and a quest from Australia

Diverse people come together to help the son of an Indian Army officer who was killed in Kupwara in 1997 in an IED explosion. Starting with the Australian Army's Military attache in the UK to his school mates, in an eye-catching and staggering feat, the group hopes to collect the funds required for the fallen officers son. A former classmate, Kunal Verma and Brigadier Bill Sowry tell us the story...

The year was 1997. Three of us from the '76 batch of the Doon School were standing within half a foot of an old man, each waiting to extend a hand of support should it be required. Bhrigubir Singh was on the right, Arvind Nigam just behind and I stood to the left. The old man, erect and upright, was staring straight ahead at a baggage trolley that was being towed by tractor. On it, draped by the tricolour, was a simple plywood coffin. On the side, written in chalk was the stark reality of war - WHIG, MOHIT MAJOR, 2/5 GR, KIA.

The old man was the father - Brigadier ML Whig, MVC who had commanded the same battalion in his time. Now he stood there at attention as the trolley came to a halt before him. For those few seconds, the world seemed to stop rotating... It was just the father and the son! The three of us, who thought he might collapse, were frozen and rooted to the ground. And we couldn't have been more wrong - the Brigadier didn't need us, we needed him! The father saluted, then took one step forward, and placed his forehead on the coffin. After a few seconds, he straightened, saluted and turned to walk away.

Mohit had moved to Kupwara just a few weeks before. We met briefly at the DSOI - Sanjeev Singhal, who was flying MiG 21s in the valley, Mohit who had just finished his tenure as a BM at Kasauli, and me. I had just returned from the Valley where I was shooting a film on the Indian Army. My QRT had come under fire in what was going to be Mohit's domain now. He wanted to know what had happened. When I finished telling him all that I knew of the sector, I said 'you need to be careful' and he laughed and punched me in the side. 'You bum,' he said, 'I asked you what happened there. I didn't ask you for advice.' That would be the last time I would see him alive.

I was in the studio working on the edit of the film when my wife, Dipti, called. 'Who is with you?" she asked. Sunil Rai was in the room with me, and Dipti insisted on speaking to Sunil first. By the time Sunil handed me back the phone, I had guessed that something terrible had happened. "Army HQ just called. Mohit's been killed. There was an IED at the side of the road.

He used to look like a Gurkha Teddy Bear in school, with light brown curly hair. In C and B Forms, we were thick as thieves, until one day he got mad at me for featuring him in a cartoon that was published in FAG magazine, which was actually just some cyclostyled sheets lazily written and then stapled together. We both sulked through the first term of A Form, but then got bored with the cold vibes and patched up by poking out a drop of blood from each of our fingers using the point of a rusty compass while Hari Krishan Dar watched us risk tetanus in the name of friendship. We were by and large content with our backbencher status in a school of overachievers, although Mohit came into his own when he was cast in the school play as the lead in Journey's End!

Mohit and Singhal went off to NDA, and I, like an idiot (it was only later when I made the NDA film 'Standard Bearers' that I realized what I had missed) decided to go to college instead. But we remained forever in touch and Dipti was with me when we visited him in Lucknow when he was ADC to Lieutenant General Bilimoria, and then again when he and Tina got married. He was in Wellington when Zorawar was born and around the same time Singhal's Dhruv and my Vallika, all first borns, also arrived on the planet.

And then he was gone - just like that! And there was the old man on the tarmac, standing there like a rock, refusing to bend even in his grief at the loss of his only child.

At the funeral at Barar Square the next day it was almost as if the whole of Delhi was there. There was the lines of Gorkha soldiers, the band with their drums draped in black, and Tina and her two sons dressed in white. As the flames took his mortal remains away, I think we all cried unashamedly, for with Mohit, a part of us also died that day.

As usual, life goes on, and we all dealt with it in our own little ways. I dedicated the Indian Army film to Major Mohit Whig and was told by his mother how the Brigadier would freeze the film on the dedication and look at the flickering screen for hours on end. 'You boys must keep coming to see him', she would say, 'it makes him happy. Aur mujhey bhi.'

Years passed and we all continued with our separate lives. I would often think of Mohit, and catch snippets about Zorawar who also recently finished from the Doon School. In batch parties we always remembered him, our Mohit, who made us all collectively swell with pride for he had payed the ultimate price "for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods." And then something happened this morning:

It was an e-mail from Arun Kumar aka 'Spy' who had forwarded a cryptic message on our batch hangout from Brighubir Singh who in turn got it from Suveen Kapoor with a link attached (how much more convoluted can it get?). Busy with my 1962 book, I half heartedly clicked on the attachment only because in the subject head it said Fateh Whig! I was even more puz,zled to see what looked like an Anglo-Saxon male, mid-fifties doing push ups. I scanned ahead on the video clip, half expecting an advertisement to enhance ones libido after crossing fifty, but all that I could see was the same guy still going up and down. I thought both Spy and Brighu had lost it, and made a mental note to spam these two guys in future. Two hours later, I decided to look at 'what the heck was that' again.

Brigadier Bill:

"Well it would appear I am the middle aged anglo saxon (Australian actually) doing push-ups.  Unlike Kunal I only had the pleasure of knowing Mohit for a year.  I was the Australian exchange student at Wellington and I think Mohit felt he had been given the short straw as he was directed to be my sponsor officer.  We got on well and became good friends, and it helped that both Tina and my wife Kath were expecting.  Zorawar and my Sarah arrived within a few months of each other, played in Mohit and Tina's front garden (well stuck their hands in each others mouths as babies do) and then the course was over.  We farewelled and bid each other well and went to our new jobs wondering if we would see each other again.  Alas it was not to be.  A year or so later in mid 96 I received a letter from Tina and I still remember the shock ( and I still have her letter) when Tina said Mohit was dead.  As is always the case the tragedy hit the family even more with the severe spina bifeda that beset Fateh, his second son.  Tina has been a wonderful mother but has subsisted on the Army widow's pension as Fateh requires constant care.  His medical care in India has been first rate but rehabilitative care less so due to a lack of facilities and specialist therapists. Tina wants Fateh to have more independence as he gets older and the ability to self care to some extent and since one of the hospitals that can help with this training is in Australia she approached me. I had only just started my new job as our Defence Adviser to the Uk and it took me far too long to get organised but I am there now.  I needed to raise about £25,000 in total and have now crossed the £20,000 mark owing to the phenomenal respomse we have received .  The challenge to catch the eyeballs was tough, 4 push ups for each kilometre of the 2014 Tour de France (3660.5 km in total or 14642 pushups in 23 days).  I was a few days in at the time and you can see what Kunal described here

The truth is I will need a lot of goodwill and support to get me to the target.  I will do the push ups if you can please help generate some interest and donors.  My link to the donor page is .

I said to Mohit before we parted that you can take the man out of the sub-continent but you can't take the sub continent out of the man once he has been there.  That is how I feel about India and my time there.  As a soldier  I felt I  had a responsibility to help do for Fateh what Mohit cannot do because he paid his price for his country.  Will you join me in helping in this task?"

It is now seventeen years since we lost Mohit. I'm putting this out now on the larger Doon School net, TV networks and the social media for it is time to repay Major Mohit's memory by honouring his family. I didn't know who Brigadier Bill Sowry was till this morning, but now he's likely to be imprinted on my brain like one of those Readers Digest stories that refuse to go away. The quantum of funds required for Fateh's rehabilitation are substantial, and Bill was being a realist by initially targeting the required £ 25,000 in tranches. At the end of the day it's not about Doon School or Gorkhas or ex-Servicemen – as a people we need to be a part of this. It is the ultimate universal truth about the soldier and those whom he leaves behind. Do contribute to the fund, but even if you don't, do pause to remember Mohit and so many like him who have stood between us and the enemy. Please do pass it on.

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