We see God in our son: Mother of 26/11 martyr
Rajesh Karkera and Abhishek Mande tracked the couple as they entered Mumbai on the eve of the second anniversary of 26/11.
She sat there motionless, her face betraying nothing of what she felt or thought.
Around her, men holding microphones called her Veermata (the brave mother), Jagat Janani (the universal mother) -- and told a small crowd that had gathered around, that they were all alive only because she had chosen to sacrifice.
Amidst all the platitudes and words of apparent sympathy, Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan said very little.
Then again, there was nothing to be said.
Yet, when she was called on to 'say a few words' she spoke.
Dhanalakshmi Unnikrishnan held the microphone, towered over the crowd of sympathisers and shared something her son told her once. "There is more to life than getting married and producing children," she said.
She thanked the people who had gathered and for the love and affection they had showered on her husband and herself.
Dhanalakshmi lost her only son, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan in the 26/11 terror attacks two years ago.
Show that you remember: Light a candle for 26/11
Image: Dhanlakshmi Unnikrishnan listens to speakers mourning her son's death
Photographs: Abhishek Mande
'Today I see god in my son'
Unlike her husband who has cycled the entire 1,600 odd km, Dhanalakshmi covered it in a car that trailed him and his cycling partner Hiralal Yadav.
Yadav, who met the couple when he was on his Bharat Jodo rally from Kanyakumari to Delhi, suggested the cycle yatra to the couple in May as a way to pay tribute to the 26/11 martyrs.
Dhanalakshmi regrets today that she never learnt to cycle.
As she addressed the small gathering, she said at first she believed in multiple incarnations of God.
"Today," she said, "I see God in my son."
Image: Dhanalakshmi and husband K Unnikrishnan said they were overwhelmed with the love they've received
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera
'Our task is complete'
Unnikrishnan and Yadav have travelled through Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra, meeting families of martyrs, speaking with army aspirants and addressing small gatherings of locals quite like this one.
The former ISRO employee said in a way his journey had been complete today.
"We planned this from our home in Bengaluru and today we have reached Yadavji's house here in Dahisar (part of greater Mumbai)."
"It was a difficult journey -- at times the roads were really bad, at other times there would be heavy vehicles all around us."
"We met a lot of people, addressed a lot of gatherings but today it rained for the first time on the dais. It feels as if we've completed our task!"
On Friday the couple will leave to complete the final leg of their journey to the Gateway of India, light a candle outside the Taj Mahal hotel and observe a day-long fast.
With this, says Unnikrishnan, their journey will come to an end.
Image: K Unnikrishnan with the cycle on which he travelled from Delhi to Mumbai
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera