Twenty years ago, dawn was about to break at Pallanwalla in Jammu and Kashmir’s Akhnoor sector.In the early hours of July 15, 1999, a young Army major was busy commanding a post built on the bed of the River Manawar Tawi, close to the Line of Control. After a long lull in firing from the enemy post located 80 metres away, Major Devender Pal Singh had feelings of unease.”A 48-hour lull at the height of the Kargil conflict without a single bullet being fired was unusual for a combat zone. When the conflict scene is hot and nothing happens, you have a feeling something bad is about to happen,” recalls Singh, who was just 25 then.A few minutes later, Singh heard a whizzing sound and realised the Pakistan Army had used a parabolic weapon to send in a mortar shell that exploded just 1.5 metres away from him “I instinctively dived to the ground. A mortar has a killing area of eight metres. Looking back, I can say the bomb had my name written on it.” Singh lost consciousness and was almost declared dead.A specialist at an Army hospital revived him, but three days later gangrene set in. Multiple surgeries and an amputation later, Singh refused to give up and went on to become India’s first blade runner, running on an artificial leg and forming a support group for amputee runners called The Challenging Ones.In an exclusive interview with MAIL TODAY, Singh says the Kargil conflict of 1999 was a “positive” turning point in his life.advertisementHow did you stay motivated after losing a limb in the line of fire? I derived strength from the tradition of putting service before self that is the bedrock of the values of both the Indian Army and the teachings of Sikh gurus. The way the gurus sacrificed their families for the sake of their country without shedding a tear, and then making the best of whichever situation they have been put into, inspired me.That’s something I can relate to. I cannot get back the part of my body that I have lost. The sooner I accept it the lesser time I waste on repenting or sulking.What are the physical challenges of a blade runner? Difficulty of a physical nature is all in the mind. Out of the 50 shrapnel I carry in my body, 20 are in the stump. When I did my first run, part of the skin came off my stump because of the continuous rubbing of the socket with my skin. But I was better prepared the second time round. We always have choices. I purposefully made the choice of running since I wanted to come out of the injury. This choice made me innovate on the socket. It took me five half marathons after the first run to become totally injury free.Why do you call the amputation a ‘positive’ turning point?Lying in a hospital while my colleagues fought it out with Pakistan was not easy. My stomach had been operated upon twice, I was suffering partial deafness and doctors were struggling to extract the shrapnel embedded in my body.The world almost gave up on me. But I made a new beginning that day. I promised myself I’ll never compromise with my quality of life despite my disability. I made the best of whatever I had.That is what I’d done even in my childhood when my parents left me with my grandparents in Roorkee and that’s how I’ve dealt with other setbacks in my life.You didn’t give up after flunking exams in school, the NDA or the CDS till you reached your goal of joining the Army as an officer. Why is it important not to give up in the darkest phases of your life? Because that is how you will progress. Challenges come to you for your own benefit. It is only after undergoing these challenging situations is how you internally become strong. Unless you keep improving, you will become stagnant after some time.How do you motivate fellow amputees in your group? I don’t lecture anybody. The best way of motivating is by example. When I started running in 2009, there was not even a single person thinking about running on an artificial leg, or even telling people that they were wearing an artificial limb.That was the mind-set that amputees had, because of the stigma created by society. Every individual basically is a positive person. This hidden positivity can be brought out, only by making people do things on the ground. Physical activity isn’t everybody’s cup of tea including the so-called able-bodied.advertisementToday every one of the 2,000 amputees across India is setting an example in sports, adventure and Paralympic events.How about the 50 shrapnel lodged in your body? I’ve made peace with them. Anyone who does an X-ray of my body will still find bomb particles with the marking ‘Made in Pakistan’ (laughs) 20 years later.There are a few that give me more trouble: one in my elbow, one in the centre of ribs, one under my patella, one in the groin area. These are areas that are mobile, so the shrapnel keep shifting. But if I undergo surgery, I will be adding one more traumatic condition to my already dented body.