"Thirteen years ago, Akshay was just like these cadets," says Major Arvind Kumar, Company Commander, 7 Karnataka Battalion, NCC, Jain University. He was referring to a group of young NCC cadets putting the national flag at half mast inside the university campus in Jayanagar.
On Wednesday morning, Arvind Kumar, who was supposed to leave for an expedition with his students to Gujarat, was supervising preparations for a condolence ceremony.
The service is being conducted in remembrance of Major Akshay Girish Kumar, an alumnus of Jain University, who lost his life in a terror attack near Jammu on Tuesday.
Akshay was among the seven soldiers, including two officers, who were killed after suicide bombers armed with guns and grenades stormed a military base in Nagrota sector on Tuesday. Security forces near the International Border with Pakistan later gunned down three militants and four attackers.
The son of a former Air Force pilot, Akshay is survived by his wife, Sangeetha, and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Naina.
Akshay hailed from Koramangala in Bengaluru, and it was in 2003, when he was pursuing BSc from the VV Puram campus of the university, that Arvind first met him.
"He was both my student and cadet. I taught him in the classroom and trained him in the field for NCC. He was with us for one year," Arvind says sitting in his office. "He was very keen to join the Army. It could be because of his background. His father was in the Air Force I believe."
Major Arvind Kumar
Arvind remembers Akshay as a "good, disciplined student" who was also a "dedicated, sincere, hardworking, and focused cadet".
After completing his graduation, he cleared the NDA and in 2007 he got commissioned to the 51 Engineers Regiment. He then completed his engineering from the College of Military Engineering, Pune after which he cleared the Services Selection Board (SSB) in his first attempt, Arvind recollects proudly.
Akshay's name on a list of cadets commissioned in the armed forces in Arvind's office
Like many of his students, Akshay too kept in touch with Arvind Kumar long after leaving college. Even though they could not meet personally too often, they spoke to each other over the phone or WhatsApp.
"In October, I had messaged him asking if he could make it to a reunion programme that we were organising. He wasn't able to come because his leaves are not in his hands," he says showing his phone.
On September 23, Arvind received the last message from Akshay. "A very happy Diwali to u sir Regards (sic)," the message reads.
Reflecting on the loss of a young and courageous life, Arvind, who calls himself a "father of 25 officers", has just one thing to say, "There's pride, but there's also sadness."
People who have known the late Major personally also have similar things to say about him.
Major Abhinav Kumar, who is currently posted in Odisha and was Akshay's junior in the Indian Military Academy, has fond memories of his senior.
"We both were from Jain University, but we had never met in college. After knowing that we were from the same college, he approached me in IMA. He came across as a jovial, supporting and encouraging person. He looked forward to life and was enthusiastic about the armed forces."