A salute to the youngest Param Vir Chakra awardee, Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Yogendra Singh Yadav who has retired from the Indian Army.
It is a rare occurrence when a soldier awarded the Param Vir Chakra -- India's highest honour for gallantry in war -- retires from the Indian Army.
The last time a Param Vir Chakra hero hung up his boots was when Honorary Captain Bana Singh, the Lion of Siachen, retired in 2000.
Twenty-two years after him, Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Yogendra Singh Yadav wore his uniform for the last time on December 31, 2021.
"The officers and junior commissioned officers gave me a warrior's send-off that I will never forget," says Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Yadav, 41, in a phone conversation with Rediff.com's Archana Masih from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, where he now resides.
He was also invited for tea by the General Officer Commanding -- the senior-most officer of the area -- on his last day in service.
"The officer told me I was too young to retire and that I must continue to serve the nation in civil life."
"This is exactly what I will be doing in the next phase of life."
Soon after leaving the Junior Leaders Academy in Bareilly where he was posted as an instructor for the last eight years, Honorary Captain Yadav traveled to his ancestral village in Aurangabad Ahir in UP's Bulandshahr district. Twenty five years ago, he had left this village to join the fauj and this is where he returned.
His mother, brother and the entire village gave him a hero's welcome.
A convoy of bike riders waited on the highway 15 kms outside the village. Honorary Captain Yadav boarded an open jeep and was driven home accompanied by the motorcyclists.
"I was given a hero's welcome with garlands, aarti and patriotic slogans. Over the years, the country has given me so much honour for which I remain grateful," says Honorary Captain Yadav who spent two days in the village before returning home to Ghaziabad.
Subedar Major Yadav was 19 when he received India's highest gallantry medal and remains the youngest soldier to receive the Param Vir Chakra.
He had fought alongside a legion of brave men of his unit in two pivotal battles of the Kargil War -- Tiger Hill and Tololing -- which turned the tide of the war and brought victory for India.
He was part of the strike platoon of seven men of the 18 Grenadiers tasked to capture Tiger Hill. The men climbed the vertical snow covered cliff and cleared the enemy bunker.
He was hit by bullets in his groin and shoulders, but charged into the next bunker killing three Pakistani soldiers. The lone survivor of his team; his action allowed the rest of the platoon to scale the cliff and capture the feature.
The soldier suffered 15 bullet injuries and spent one-and-a-half years in hospital.
It was a difficult time, he says, but there were many others whose condition was worse than his.
"At least, I had my limbs. There were many of my brothers in arms who had lost their arms or legs."
"My pain was nothing compared to theirs."
In his years of service in the army after the war, he served in various army institutions educating and training soldiers in leadership and man management skills.
He travelled across the country delivering talks to school children and youth.
"I have travelled to every state, with the exception of maybe a couple of north east states and have addressed lakhs of children in these 22 years," he says.
He served two tenures in Jammu and Kashmir and says Kashmir will always occupy a special place in his heart.
"It was my ran chethra [battleground] and karm chethra [professional arena]. It gave me my identity."
"Time, place and circumstances can change a person's entire life and that is exactly what happened in the playbook of my life," he says.
Every year for the last two decades, he has been at the front of the grand Republic Day parade with the small and exalted group of soldiers awarded with the nation's highest gallantry honours.
It remains the highpoint of the parade.
This year due to Covid restrictions only serving soldiers -- awarded the Param Vir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra -- participated in the parade.
The only other Param Vir Chakra still serving in the armed forces is Subedar Major Sanjay Kumar, who is currently posted at the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla.
Both Kargil heroes appeared on the popular show Kaun Banega Crorepati last year. They won Rs 25 lakhs (Rs 2.5 million) and donated the prize money to the Army Battle Casualties Welfare Fund.
As the brave soldier starts a fresh chapter of life, he hopes to continue mentoring young people in leadership skills both online and offline.
Honorary Captain Yadav has two sons -- one in Class 10 and the other in college. They hope to continue in their father's footsteps.
"I am no longer in the fauj and feel an emptiness within, but wherever I go, I will carry the fauj in my heart."
Watch: Honorary Captain Yogendra Yadav's homecoming after he retired from the Indian Army:
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com