Death, Be Not Proud

Originally posted on 1st Oct 2010 :

The four digit number 2997 may mean nothing to you, but for three long years at the National Defence Academy, it had great significance for me. It was an integral part of my identity. While many more cadets with my name may come and go, there never was and there never will be another 2997. When kit was distributed or the results of a test announced, I was called out by this number, and not the name given to me by my parents. I am not a numerologist like our Sergeant Major, (later, Col SK Kohli, EME) but I soon discovered that it was a propitious number. It ends with the lucky ‘7’ and if you divide it by three, you get 999. Do that three more times, and you get to a prime number which also ends with ‘7’. Try it and see for yourself.


But this story is not about 2997. It is about the cadet one number senior to me: 2996. Early enough, I noticed that he was more interested in the well being of others, than his own welfare. And he was a positive thinking person. On a dark and dingy night, if there was just one lonely star in the sky, he could conjure words to add light to it and make it as bright as moon.


2996  was commissioned in the Infantry, but the army soon spotted his high IQ, and therefore, he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps.  In due course of time his flair for the Chinese language was recognized and he was sent as the Military Attaché to Beijing. After completing the course at the National Defence College in 1990, and it was clear that he was going places. But his outstanding military career was cut short when he was diagnosed of cancer of the elementary canal in 1994. What followed was a series of surgeries and agonizing treatment. I went to see him in Pune, and before going to the ward, I met his doctor. I was told that his case was rather serious, and that his longevity would depend on his will to live and the affection he received from his family and friends. To contribute my two penny worth, I rehearsed my words of reassurance before reaching his bed. But what I saw left me surprised. 2996 had lost a lot of weight but his spirit was intact. Even before I could say a word he shot off a couplet and then ensured that the conversation did not drift to his health or all the pain and suffering which he had gone through.


We remained in touch, as always. The Internet did not exist those days, and even trunk calls were hard to get. And so we relied on letters. I once wrote to him from Bangalore, that I would look him up when I visited Delhi next. Prompt came the reply,


“Ek gustaakhi maiN karoonga mere yaar

Tu hoga paidal, maiN janaaze par sawaar”(Note: the silent N only  adds a nasal sound)

(You will have to bear with my misbehavior, my friend

While you will be footslogging, I will be ‘riding’ a bier)


I rushed to his house when I reached Delhi. He was in bed, but was surrounded by some shabbily dressed children whom he seemed to be teaching. His wife, Sneh told me that he spent several hours each day helping children from poor families with their home work and he also gave them books and stationery. He soon got up and when we hugged each other, he noticed a surgical belt around my waist. The conversation which ensued was all about back aches and how I must look after myself. He made his cancer look less serious than my silly little sprain in the back. He seemed to know a great deal about spinal complications, and gave me some useful tips on how to treat my back problem.


In due course of time he became a specialist on how to deal with cancer, and began to counsel cancer patients. Many people said that he knew more than most of the oncologists and cancer patients looked forward to his visits to their wards. They drew inspiration from his personal ability to fight the disease.


In 2002, I invited him to the wedding reception of our son. In the traditional envelope containing the ‘shagun’ money, there was a little note with the following lines inscribed in his own hand,


“Ik din maineN apni maut ki dua ki.                   (The silent ‘N’ adds a nasal sound)

Khuda bola, maut to tujhe maiN de dooN lekin unko kya kahooN

JinhoN neN teri lambi umar ki dua ki?!”

(One day, I asked God to grant me death

The Lord said, I can do that, but what do I say to them

Who have sought long life for you?”)


It has since been my habit to turn to him whenever I feel low. We rarely talk about his health or struggle with his disease. My latest call to 2996 was answered by his wife, and she told me his exact condition. He is virtually a bag of bones, weighing no more than 50 kilograms. His intake is very little, but with the little that he eats, he is able to do what he is the best at: to spread cheer. I requested Sneh to ask him to call me up when he returned. When the phone rang, I knew it was 2996, and he pre-empted me with the following lines,


“Apni haalat ka nahiN hai ehsaas mujhko

 MaineN auroN se suna hai ki maiN pareshaan hooN

(I am not cognizant (or aware) of my condition

I have heard from others that I am troubled)

Death has knocked at the door of 2996, whom the world knows as Brig SC Sharma, several times during the last 15 years. But when the Yamaraj sees so many people swarming around this blessed old soldier, he goes back without completing the errand.

  1. Joseph Thomas says:

    Had the pleasure and privilege of meeting SC and Sneh earlier this month. A great inspiration for us all.

  2. i will like to know family history, his present successors of the GREAT MAN. says:

    Please apprise me about the family background of the great man Brig S C Sharma. i think he was known to my grand father..

  3. yoginder says:

    Wow, amazing story.
    I have known SC briefly. He and I were admitted in Comd Hosp Pune in contiguous rooms. His malaise was just confirmed and when I was leaving after refit/repair of my leg I didn’t have the heart to say bye to him. We lost contact thereafter and I feared the worst. Am so delighted of his fight and victory-Ayushman bhavo, SC’ You are indeed great.

  4. Debashish Chakravarti says:

    I knew Brig. SC Sharma from the early 1980s while serving at the Indian post in Hongkong. He used to come on duty to Hongkong from Beijing occasionally. Among the best people I have met and one who kept everyone enthused by his presence.
    Debashish Chakravarti

  5. Lt Gen Amarjit Singh says:

    Brig S C Sharma is an inspiration for all of us. It is a pleasure to talk to him. He was also SCC of our Sangro Coy and I share fond memmories of those days. In 1993, in Arjun Vihar, I used to meet him frequently when he was diagonised of esophergus cancer. My son who was doing MD then told me that his days are numbered. This shocked me really and I could not reconcile. The will power of SC reinforces my faith in God. May God continue to give him all the strenght and good health.

  6. Ata Hasnain says:

    Dear General Surjit Sir,

    That was a masterpiece and I enjoyed every bit of it. I w
    knew Brig Sharma from my days at MI Directorate. He was in China Cell and I in the Pak Cell. But we often met in the corridors of Sena Bhavan. I salute the spirit of the man who keeps his friends and colleagues in such good humour and spirits.
    God bless him.

    Ata Hasnain

  7. Vinod kumar says:

    Gen Surjit,
    Thanks for sharing this Story. What a MAN. The fear of death is a life
    long companion, though it stays submerged in the background. Lot of Philosophers
    and practically all religions talk about how to handle it. But it needs a person like Brig Sharma to truly face it despite adverse opinion of the doctors. It would be wonderful, if we can compile a short summary of his idea’s for all of us who are in the Grey Zone . One can learn to live for the Moment.Our salutation’s to this great soul.

    Regards Vinod

  8. Dear Surjit,
    Its been 15 yrs that I have been in close touch with SC, after having come to Noida on 31 Jul 97. Have seen him going through some very tough & testing times medically. However, SC is one Course mate & friend who has had the broadest & hearty smile whenever we have met irrespective of the situation, including one when he was being wheeled in for a major surgery. He went in with his big smile & came back with it.
    His counseling patients suffering from the dreaded disease, is a folklore in the NCR & he is the most sought after person, the best being that he is with the person/family irrespective of his own condition. All major hospitals in the NCR welcome him as the treating doctors find in him a source who contributes immensely to the well being of their patients. He has indefatigable energy & determination, & these 2 qualities combined with his “GOD given gift of the ever smiling face” reassures any one forget the patients.
    He has been currently given a counseling room at an International Oncology Center, set up by an internationally reputed doctor at Fortis Hospital at Noida. He is also passing on his wisdom to some patients whom he had counseled & who recovered. They now form a part of his team. His yeomen service is a lesson for all of us who, medically, may be healthier than him. His giving back to the society, from the God given gift, is a trait to be emulated by everyone. The best part is that he has never known how to say no when approached for help.
    He, for me, is the sunrise of life & even on being called selfish, I wish & pray he continues with his smile for yrs like that of the sun.

  9. Colonel Y V Tuli (Retd) says:

    General Surjit,
    Frankly speaking and having known those good old days of 1950s-1960s, I wish we had more officers of equal calibre and intergrity now leading the Indian Defence Forces. Eventhough I was not lucky enough to have served with you, or No 2996, during my 40 years in IEME/EME, and having been to Indian Embassy, Ankara (Turkey) and India Embasy, Belgrade (Yugoslavia),
    I feel Brig Sharma will remain an ICON for many of us who are in over 80 age group. God bless you both.
    with high regards,

  10. KK Khanna says:

    Dear General Surjit,

    Thanks for circulating info about the course in H Sqn. Unfortunately I have not known them. My wife and I offer our deep condolences. It is good to hear of a soldier passed on leaving a high reputation and pleasant memories behind.

    Wish the family all the best to live after him



  11. Surrinder Nakai says:

    Surjitji, your piece on 2996 is undoubtedly a superb intellectual endeavour that adequately highlights the very best of human nature. Kudos. Brig SC Sharma’s unending enthusiasm for life in the face of the stark reality of his affliction, is contagious to say the least. The world needs many more 2996s, if I may dare! Permit me to close my reply with a quote from Dr Mohd Iqbal-

    “Nishaan-E-Mard-E-Momin, Baa Tu Gayaam
    Chu Marg Azad, Tabbasam Baar Lab-E-Aust”.

    Mard-E-Momin(man of faith), Baa Tu Gayaam(
    what is his identity), Chu(when), Marg(death),
    Tabbasam(smile) and Baar Lab-E-Aust(on the lips).

    To a question that what is the identity of a man of faith, Iqbal
    responds by saying that he carries a smile on his lips
    when freed by death.


    Surrinder Nakai 06 Sep 12

  12. mulkjit singh kandal says:

    Dear Surjit Jee,

    Lord’s choicest blessings be showered upon you,your family and all your loved ones. Deeply touched by the personality of your & now my friend too,Brig SC Sharma. Your Bhabhi joins me in praying to the Lord Almighty to bless our friend with good health,long life,unending happiness & continued zeal to share HIS benevolence with the poor & those needing cheering. There is no doubt that he does live by”Jis murne tey Jug Drey, Merey Mun Anand; murne he tey paiye Puan Parma Nand” and also by “Tera Bhana Meetha Lagey” to the letter.
    I would like to meet him and salute him.Oblige by giving me his address and phone number.
    With profound regards,
    Mulkjit Singh Kandal

  13. J Thomas says:

    Thanks 2997 for this classic article. Indeed 2996 SC Sharma is the tallest man of our course. When my time comes, I hope I can be half as good as him.

    It’s my good fortune to be a member of XIX NDA and of E (now H) squadron.

    Exactly half our squadron is now in a better world.


  14. Maj Gen K.P.Deswal says:

    Hi Surjit,
    Great to read your write up on 2996.Incidentally he is living in our neighbour hood and we bump into each other quite often.SC is a very spirited person and despite his illness takes keen interest in all our meetings on improvement of our surroundings and envoironment.He is dedicated towards counselling cancer patients and encourages them.Wish we had more people in the world like him. Never knew that he was your course mate.It was sad to learn of the demise of K.D.

  15. Maj Gen K.P.Deswal says:

    Hi Surjit,
    Great to read your write up on 2996.Incidentally he is livung nin our neighbour hood and we bump into each other quite often.SC is a very spirited persona and despite his illness takes keen interest in all our meetings on improvement of our surroundings and envoironment.He is dedicated towards counselling cancer patients and encourages them.Wish we had more people in the world like him. Never knew that he was your course mate.It was sad to learn of the demise of K.D.

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