Vivek Singh Bhandral known as Kuky by his loved ones and as ‘Bhandu’ by those who served alongside him was born on 16th January 1970 in MH Golconda to then 2/Lt. Pritam Singh Bhandral and Mrs. Rajkumari Bhandral.
Childhood and Education
Vivek was born in a family of Army officers. He was a third-generation officer. His father served in 9 Maratha Light Infantry. His father’s first posting was in Nagaland where he had seen the Kuky tribe, who were great warriors. Vivek was given this nickname after that tribe. Vivek’s initial days were spent in his village in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. As a result, he learned only his mother tongue Dogri. In 1973, his father Capt. Bhandral got posted to Maratha Regimental Center in Belgaum. He and his wife wanted to seek admission for Vivek at St. Joseph School. But he didn’t even know Hindi, leave alone English. However, the school co-operated and gave admission to young Vivek. Soon, in a matter of few months, Vivek had not only learnt the new languages and coped with school, he had also topped his class. A testimony to his brilliance and dedication, even at that young age. He was an avid reader and very fond of photography, who loved to click lots of pictures of his surroundings, his family and friends. He also had a very good collection of books and had created an elegant library.
Like any other Army brat, he too did his schooling from schools in various places like Jallandhar, Assam etc. In 85, they reached Udhampur and both Vivek and his brother Vikram Singh started studying in Kendriya Vidyalaya there. Vivek became the school’s Sports Captain & also got selected for National coaching in Football but he declined it. When his father was handed over the command of 9 Maratha Light Infantry, he moved to Nowshera J & K but the family continued staying in Jammu where Vivek completed his graduation in B.Com.
Stepping into the Military Career
Vivek, further applied for direct entry and cleared his SSB for Air Force as well as Army. He cleared his medicals too for Air Force. But, eventually he joined Indian Military Academy on 17 Jul ’91. Although he wanted to join Armed Corps, upon his father’s wish he got commissioned into his father’s battalion 9 Maratha LI on 19 Dec 92.
From Infantry to Special Forces
Although he had made a mark on his superiors in 9 Maratha LI through his superior physical capabilities and tactical acumen, he was interested in joining the elite Special Forces. In 1994, Capt. Vivek volunteered for probation in Special Forces when 21 Maratha LI was due to get converted into Special Forces. In Jun 1995, Capt. Vivek started his probation in 21 PARA SF. After completion of his rigorous six-month probation, he was marooned into the Battalion. His performance during his probation was highly admired by even the most seasoned Special Forces operatives. His father, Col Pritam Bhandral recalls that Vivek had high fever during the final test of 40 kms. with 40 kgs. but he successfully completed the probation. In Feb’ 96, he got married to Shalini Jamwal. She was a very beautiful and intelligent girl.
Vivek Singh also excelled the Young Officers’ course and the Commando course. He didn’t stop at this and also attended the Signals’ course. He had qualified to be an instructor at the All Arms Wing, MCTE, Mhow and was also a qualified combat free faller.
His efforts during OP RHINO in Assam were highly admired as well as Op Vijay in Kargil. He was Special Forces Team Leader during Op Vijay (Kargil Conflict) and led his team in the icy heights of Drass and Kargil. His stint there had involved many exploits. During his stint there, he was awarded the Army Chief’s Commendation card. In 2001, he was appointed as Instructor CI B and posted to All Arms Wing, MCTE. But, upon his insistence, he was allowed to re-join the Unit in Op Parakram, soon after the attack on Parliament. Maj Vivek soon began leading operations in Kashmir and would pursue the militants relentlessly.
Brig. Saurabh Singh Shekhawat KC, SC, SM, VSM, a highly decorated officer of 21 Para SF speaks very highly of Maj. Vivek Bhandral. He recalls couple of incidents involving him and Maj Vivek when they served together. It was one of those nights when Capt. Saurabh was unable to sleep and was restless. Seeing this, Capt. Vivek came up to him and said ‘Why are you feeling so restless? Try to go back to sleep. There is no point in worrying, when your time to go will come, you will. Why worry about it now?’ This is just one testimony of how cool and composed he was.
Another incident that Brig. Shekhawat narrates is; one day a Village head (Sarpanch) came to these officers and said that there were these militants who used to come to his house and were misbehaving with his daughters and hence he needed the Indian Army’s help to deal with it. The officers said that they would be there, near his house that night but it was up to him to give an indication when these militants would be there. Then the Army would take care of the rest. But the Sarpanch was a bit worried as to what would happen to him and his family since they would also be inside, along with the militants. To which Capt. Shekhawat and Capt. Bhandral assured him that they would handle it in such a way that the Sarpanch and his family won’t be affected. So that night, Capt. Shekhawat went and laid an ambush but the Sarpanch got scared and never gave any indication. So, he and his jawans had to return. After 2 days, Capt. Vivek went with his men. The Sarpanch didn’t give any indication once again. So, Capt. Vivek too thought of coming back and was lifting the ambush. Suddenly, he and his men spotted the terrorists trying to enter the Sarpanch’s house. Out of fear, the Sarpanch didn’t open the door. Capt. Vivek in the meantime, spoke to his men that the terrorists were here and they had to be taken. He was organising his men into laying an ambush again. The terrorists while moving to another house, spotted these army men. Capt. Vivek while trying to reorganise the ambush, saw the militants coming towards them. He just kneeled down, on the open road and he took three shots. Capt. Saurabh Shekhawat was at his base which was around 3 kms away. He heard these shots and immediately checked on the radio set as to what had happened. Capt. Vivek replied ‘I shot them’.
Brig Shekhawat says ‘3 shots, 1 man, 3 down’ (3 shots fired by 1 man led to the elimination of 3 terrorists). This incident speaks volumes about how cool, composed and brave Maj Vivek Bhandral was. Brig Shekhawat adds that such bravery was one which was beyond compare. Not only this, he had planned and executed many long-range operations that would last between five to seven days and had been successful in many of them too. His excellence was not only in combat, but he would also participate the international exercises with Friendly Foreign Countries. He had also performed exceedingly well in the Jt. Indo- US Special Forces Exercise, ‘Exercise Vajra Prahar’ held at Nahan. So much so that the visiting Special Forces officers had specifically mentioned Maj Vivek in their closing address appreciating his dedication, skills and professional acumen.
On 29th Aug’02, Maj. Vivek had received inputs about presence of militants in the hideouts of the jungles of Machal sector, Kupwara. When a contact was established, the terrorists escaped into the jungles and took refuge in a cave. The leading scout and the squad commander were injured in the process. Major Vivek quickly deployed his support group and closed in from the flank. Once he located the terrorists, without paying any heed to the risk, he closed in and lobbed a grenade. This resulted in killing of the terrorist as well as helped in evacuating the injured comrades. However, Maj Vivek suffered a fatal gunshot on his forehead and succumbed to his injuries.
He was awarded the Sena Medal Gallantry posthumously, for his gallant act of bravery and his supreme sacrifice.
It has been two decades since he has gone. His father Col. Pritam Singh Bhandral Sena Medal mentions ‘He had cleared all his exams always and was also selected for Defence Services Staff College, Wellington along with Major Shekhawat. . He was so brilliant.’ He recalls ‘Vivek was around 6 ft and was called Prince in his younger days. He was extremely handsome. He loved spending time with his family whenever he would be home. Did not believe in the dignity of labour, would not sit idle and would keep doing some household work. He was a simple, down to earth and very respectful’
It has been two decades since he has gone but the pride and pain is still evident in his father’s voice.
Maj Vivek Bhandral was survived by his wife Shalini, his daughter Aarushi who suffered from Autism, his parents Col. Bhandral and Mrs. Bhandral and his younger brother Vikram. After Maj. Vivek, the sole reason in the life of Mrs. Shalini Bhandral was her daughter Aarushi. However, on 17th Feb, 2009, Aarushi too joined her father in heaven. Maj Vivek’s younger brother Vikram is now married to Rumi Bhandral and has a daughter Aditi Singh Bhandral.
Mrs. Shalini continues to be connected with the family of Maj Vivek Bhandral and also his Battalion. She makes it a point to meet Col. Bhandral and Mrs. Bhandral whenever she is enroute to Jammu. The thread that tied them together may have gone but their bond still stays on.
Two decades is a long time in one’s life but not for those who have lost their loved one, early in life. Maybe God too calls back the best, at the earliest. His family and his close friends continue to remember Maj Vivek Singh Bhandral with pride and pain. His exploits and memories are etched in the minds of those who served alongside him, even now.
Such is the cost of our freedom. Someone somewhere guards our borders on icy heights, someone somewhere spends sleepless nights so that we sleep peacefully and someone somewhere came back wrapped in the Tricolour. A soldier dies once when he makes the supreme sacrifice for the sake of his motherland. But he dies once again, when an ungrateful Nation forgets his sacrifice. May we never forget our Heroes who gave their all and may we remember to be grateful to their families and pray for their well-being always.
Lest We Forget!