16 years later, Army officer meets man who shot at him

In an emotional reunion, an Army officer who nearly died in an encounter 16 years ago returned to the Manipur village where the fire fight took place and met a girl whose life he saved as well as the militant who shot him thrice.

The officer, Lt Col D P K Pillay, who was then a young Captain, made the journey back to the remote Longdi Pabram village in Manipur last week as part of an Army goodwill gesture. His last visit to the village was in January 1994 when he was leading a patrol to the remote village on the trail of dreaded NSCN militants, at a time when insurgency was at its height in the state.

A gunfight ensued when his patrol from the Brigade of the Guards discovered that four militants had holed up in a house in the middle of the village. Pillay got hit by a volley of fire as he tried to enter the house and got wounded on his arm and chest.

While this was fairly a standard operation, things took a different turn when the officer decided to use the evacuation helicopter to send a little girl and boy who were injured in the crossfire to the nearby military hospital. Refusing to take the first chopper out, Pillay stayed back and ensured that his men don't take out their anger on the villagers.

It was this very girl, Maseliu Thaimei, now a mother of one that Pillay met after the gap of 16 years at the village. Also with her was her brother Dingamang Pamei who also survived the encounter despite being shot in the crossfire.

While Pillay did recover from his wounds and went back to join the Army after a gap of one year, his life hung in the balance for almost two hours that the chopper took to come back and evacuate him "I knew what I was there for, those guys knew what they were fighting for, but what was the fault of the children? They didn't know what the fire fight in their courtyard was all about. So I thought it morally right to give the children whose lives we were there to protect a chance to survive. Anyone else in my place would have done the same thing I guess," he says.

However, the bigger surprise was that Pillay got to meet the militants who had fired at him 16 years ago. While one militant was killed in the encounter, the other three surrendered and have since reformed. They now work as farmers and came for the reunion after hearing that Pillay would be present.

One of them even kidded with him about the fateful night. Kaine Bon, the militant who fired the three bullets into Pillay, told the officer that he should have aimed better and actually asked him to show him the scars to know where he missed.

Perhaps the most touching moment for him was the gift he received when he was about to return to the capital - a bagful of oranges that Kaine Bon presented to him, fruits that he had grown as a farmer after shunning guns 16 years ago.

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