It goes without saying that the entire country is ever-indebted to the soldiers of the Indian Army, who put the country before everything else. The brave hearts proudly give their lives away to guard the country. But can a soldier's commitment to his duty surpass an event such as death? The legend of Baba Harbhajan, the soldier of 23rd Battalion of the Punjab Regiment, who sacrificed his life for the country at a young age of 27, seems to prove otherwise.
His story might seem unreal to some but is definitely fascinating.
Army folklore has it that even after 50 years of his death, the spirit of the late soldier still guards the eastern border of the country. Regarded as the Hero of Nathu La, there's a temple dedicated to him, where thousands of devotees pay their homage, every year.
It was in 1968, during one of the conflicts between the Indian army and the Chinese soldiers, that Harbhajan Singh died near the Nathu La Pass in eastern Sikkim. It is believed that he drowned in a glacier while trying to lead a column of mules carrying supplies to a remote outpost. Three days later, a manhunt launched to find him discovered the remains of his body, and he was cremated with full military honours. Legend has it that he appeared in the dreams of one of his colleagues and instructed him to build a memorial after him. His regiment followed the instruction, and a memorial was constructed, which later expanded into a shrine.
The shrine is guarded by the soldiers of the Indian Army. They polish baba's boots everyday, keep his uniform clean, and make his bed. The soldiers reportedly say that they find the bed linen crumpled, and the boots muddy. The presence of Baba's spirit is also acknowledged by the Chinese soldiers, who set a chair aside for him every time a flag meeting is held between the two countries.
Just like any other soldier serving in the Indian Army, the late soldier also draws his monthly salary and 'takes' an annual leave of two months. His mother, who lives in Punjab, is also taken care of by the soldiers posted in Nathu La, who contribute and send her a small sum of money every month.
The army payroll still has his name and he receives due promotions. It is said that the late soldier is presently treated as an honorary captain.
During the two months annual leave when the late soldier comes home, people of his village Kuka, in Kapurthala district of Punjab, receive him with much fanfare. His homecoming is fixed every year on September 13th, and two soldiers carry his personal belongings to his home.
A berth is booked in the the Dibrugarh express in his name, and the army officials bring his portrait, uniform, and other belongings to his village. The same soldiers carry the belongings back to the Nathu La region, once the leaves are over.