Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was one of the bravest NSG Commando who laid his life during one of the biggest terrorist attack at Taj Mahal Hotel, Oberoi and Chabad House in Mumbai (2008). During the Mumbai Terror Attack 2008, the battle was handed over to National Security Guards we lost Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Havildar Gajender Singh Bist. On the day of his birthday (15h March) here we recall, how different personalities explain the life of Major Sandeep.
What Major General Raj Mehta (Retd) Says:
In September 2010, I was invited to Sikkim, to participate in a military seminar. I later addressed young soldiers of a military formation deployed at the 14,300 feet high Nathu La Pass on the Indo-Chinese border on our work ethics.
I had finished my address when a smart young officer walked up to me. He was an NSG colleague of Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Ashok Chakra (Posthumous) and was at the iconic Taj Hotel on 26/11 with Sandeep Moved by my references to selflessness and courage under adversity, he spoke with deep feeling about his pride for this bravest of brave “mad cap” colleague, as he put it; a person forever taking the first step; putting his life at risk before his men could.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan lived the Indian Army’s heroic “Follow Me” credo to the fullest, knowing that he would have to pay the price. Tragically, in the moments, preceding his death, he broke his own rules. “Do not come up, I will handle them”, Unni selflessly told his men.
What NDA Friends Says about Major Sandeep:
1- A buddy who would stick with you no matter what, of a top-class sportsman, of nostalgic songs and imaginary girlfriends and of a soldier’s soldier who was always aware that the uniform came with great responsibility.
Who knew that 13 years on, he would make the ultimate sacrifice – lead from the front and die saving a fellow commando? He lived up to the “Olympian” spirit (as NDA Oscar Squadron cadets call themselves), striving to go “faster, higher, and stronger”
2- It showed itself during Camps Greenhorn and Rovers (said to be the toughest for the age group) at NDA. He never knew the word ‘quit’. He just kept going. During the 15-km cross-country races at NDA, there would be shouts of ‘Unni, Unni’ in the last 500 metres. Most of us were dead by then. But he would tuck his head into his chest, close his eyes and run for his life, for his squadron.
3- It was this ruggedness – and a great sense of humor – that helped him survive three tours of Kashmir, two stints in Siachen and the tough NSG training.
4- The army was his life. In his room in Bangalore, Major Sandeep had a collage of photographs of each of his coursemates and from life in the NDA. He took it everywhere with him. He was always very calm and composed. We ex-NDAs have a short fuse but I never saw Unni angry.
5- We always ribbed him about his nonexistent, rippling biceps. But he surprised us all by joining the NSG. He was always a fighter. I cannot believe that he is no more. Only a few weeks ago, he had joked, ‘Finally, I am putting on some weight’.
6- Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was a Selfless, generous, calm and composed.
What Deepak (an NSG Officer) Says:
Major Unnikrishnan was extremely focused whenever a task was given to him. He sometimes argued with his seniors or commanding officers if he felt they were wrong. It speaks a lot for his leadership qualities. He was a dedicated and brave officer. His presence of mind saved lots of hostages, hotel staff and colleagues.
What Major Naren C Says:
Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan was a total movie maniac. In civvies, he didn’t look a commando. Whenever anyone asked him what his profession was, he would say, ‘non-productive human resources’. He could speak five languages and he just loved to give gaali in all five.
What Major Sushil, One Of His Coursemates Says:
I couldn’t imagine the rather skinny Major Unnikrishnan in the NSG. But just as his happy-go-lucky face masked a ruthless and determined soldier, so did his thin physique hide a tough, never-give-up spirit.
What Parents of Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan Says:
1- Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan never wanted a dull face. Always sported a smile. In fact, he had a problem getting his ID card done as his GC wanted him with a serious face!
2- Even from his childhood Sandeep loved adventure and bravery. Even when in the Army, he was never away for long.
3- Sandeep never discussed work with us right from his NDA days. It was only recently that we realized that he had a tough time in all the three Jammu & Kashmir postings in his early days. He also went missing for about 50 hours in an icy trench without food and water.
4- “Perhaps, he kept us prepared.” Two years ago, when a close friend’s son passed away in an accident, Dhanalakshmi didn’t eat for almost a week. Back home then, Sandeep had told her — “For Kaushik, you are so upset, what will you do if it was me?”
“But, this didn’t happen. Strangely, in Sandeep’s case, we only missed one day’s meal,” says a surprised father. He was well prepared, but he kept preparing them as well. “He didn’t like people living beyond a certain age. He was not sympathetic to aged people. But, at least another 10 years more would have been sufficient for him,” says the father, trying to sport a smile.
5- Even when he was away, he was always present for us. Once when the solar installation at the house was delayed for two weeks, he called saying — “It’s the 15th day I’m calling to remind you. Tomorrow is your ultimate date.” I still feel he’s there doing the same. My mind knows that he will not be still. Whenever I commit a mistake like when driving, I feel he’s there to change my version,” explains Unnikrishnan.
6- Quiet, yet frank and curious, Major Sandeep was four months when they moved to Bangalore. His childhood was spent in Domlur. Before he turned four, his favorite pass time was cutting any paper he lay his hands on with a pair of scissors. He was also fond of animals. He was always thin, yet physically agile. A few inches short of 6 feet, he last weighed 68 kg. “You needed to shake hands with him to see how strong he was. He even suggested we use this clutches to strengthen our palms,” remembers Unnikrishnan, demonstrating the action.
7- “It was on his own. He decided on it when he was in class 8 itself. All said and done, the respect you get in Armed Forces in India, you never get it anywhere else, even with parents. That’s what perhaps attracted him then,” explains his father. His father would have wanted him in IT. Sandeep wasn’t interested. “What is it you do sitting in front of the computer 13-18 hours? was his main worry. Sandeep Unnikrishnan was very keen to join the National Defence Academy. His first choice was Navy. But he had a slight vision problem, so he had to go with the second option of Army. Even as we stood in a queue at St Joseph’s for a BSc back up in case he does not get into CET, he said: “It’s futile, dad. I have already given my NDA and results have come. I will be joining. That day I realized he was serious about it. First two years I feared his safety, then I was confident.”
8- After a total 20 years of service, Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan was planning on a civilian job.
9- “There was nothing Sandeep could not talk to me. I used to talk to him the same way. However, we almost never agreed on anything without any argument. He was not the person to agree to anything easily unless convinced. We were stark contrasts. Right from Sandeep’s preference for brands to cars and even wearing a formal tie. Those things I really miss now.”
10- He never missed his parent’s wedding anniversary. He made it a point to be back home on every August 31. “He was always there to get us to cut the cake.” “‘Whenever he wanted money, he used to ask me. I thought he was spending left and right, but it was not so. He was spending on charity and on his subordinates,” Unnikrishnan says.
Dhanalakshmi also recalls an incident when in Domlur. He was in class 6 then. “He came back excited, telling me he saw Sivarasan (planner of Rajiv Gandhi’s murder who was killed in a police shootout in Bangalore) in the 137 bus he boarded. How, he was dressed as a blind man, with a walking stick in hand and wearing glasses. He got down in HAL II stage. We never believed him then. But, I still faintly remember, how he came back angry when it was later reported.Even today I don’t know if he really saw Sivarasan. And perhaps it’s too late,” she says, trying to laugh but unable to control the tears anymore.