Safe to call him one of the finest IPS officers in the J&K cadre. But HK Lohia was much more than just that. He was a dotting father, a loving husband, the best of friends and a fine human being. He will live on.
There are times when no matter how sharp a writer you are, you are just too numb to even type a word. This is one such instance.
I, like many of us in the friend circle, could never, in our wildest of dreams, have fathomed that one day we would have to write such a painful obituary for a friend we loved so dearly.
Losing my best friend, more of an elder brother —Hemant Kumar Lohia yesterday is a news my family and I haven't even been able to process yet.
How could it be?! We only spoke a few days ago. About the final preparations for his son's December wedding. Venues were finalised, the guest list was being closed, it was all so normal and suddenly this. Definitely not a way to go for such an amazing human being that HK Lohia was.
On the work front, Mr Lohia was a no-nonsense officer. He was very clear about his priorities and believed in ensuring policing was done right under his command while ensuring that the public experiences the human side of policing. And he himself was an epitome of that.
I often found him a methodical operator who always factored in the grey zone in which the world operates. He loved setting seamless processes in place so, not only the officers after him but the public at large benefited from it.
Quite recently, as Commandant General, Home Guard and Civil Defence J&K, what most officers would see as a rather insignificant posting. He was the most excited officer I've ever seen in that post. We spoke at length about his plans to have a set uniform for CD volunteers and how he was fixing the processes.
The highlight of one of our conversations in that office in ZPHQ premises in Srinagar was how he had installed an emergency rope-way exit in his office window —a safety practice he had been following for years. Back when he was DIG central Kashmir range, he had gotten a similar contraption installed in his then office. Now, losing such a fine officer to this freak of a crime makes it even more painful. He was very particular about security matters. "We can understand an encounter and terrorist attack and other natural or accidental causes, but this!," said a young IPS officer, whom he met last at a private party hosted at my Srinagar residence.
Last month, he visited us in a private vehicle, soon after he took over his new role as DG Prisons. I messaged him later that he mustn't ditch his Bullet Proof vehicle; an aberration he promptly agreed to address.
As DG Prisons, he undertook a slew of measures to fix the utter mess that the department was. He was excited to bring in jail reforms. His concern for the inmate welfare and his resolve to rid the J&K jails of terrorist and criminal activities was so strong. What he undertook as a mission in J&K jails was a deadly blow to the terror cabals in the jail ecosystem. He was a man on a mission, who wanted to do justice to every assignment the government entrusted him with. "Idea is to innovate and renovate and do what we can to make the lives of the public and officials easier", he once remarked.
Anyone who's ever met him will safely agree with me that he was an officer who would always deliver what he committed. He was a man with a conscience and a kind heart. His concern for the people of J&K was so enviable and this didn't change as he rose up the ranks.
He was one of the very few officers in my circle of close friends who never spoke ill of fellow officers. And I never heard anyone speak ill of him. Not even his detractors.
On the personal front, he was a friend I could rely on blindly. For almost 18 years of our friendship, he was there when I needed him. He was there for everyone. Quite literally. I've had instances where I rang him up in the middle of the night seeking help for people none of us knew personally and he ensured help is sent promptly to the persons in need.
I still remember his infectious and innocent smile when we met first ages ago, through SM Sahai, IPS.
During the 2014 floods in Kashmir, when I had lost contact with my family, like thousands of city dwellers, he was there for me. He promptly handed over the keys to his vehicle to me and told me to use them while I navigate this situation and manage to get to my family. This was a time when even the then chief minister was helpless. But he found a way to help a friend.
This year, after a long time I spent two months at a stretch in Srinagar, and he'd make it a point to visit us almost every week.
At a private family party, at our Srinagar residence recently, something so heartening happened. He knew I had been away from the valley for the longest of time, and wouldn't have the logistical contacts to get things rolling, so he personally oversaw the arrangements. A few things that I had forgotten, he called me up, to my relief, to let me know that he had taken care of those. He was such an amazing friend.
At times, when I found myself lost, he was there —a phenomenal guide.
A few months ago, when my family and I were going through a few health-related issues, he was there. He was there for my surgery. He was there for my dad's surgery. And his concern and actions were more pronounced and heartfelt than the closest of some family members. Such friends are rare. Rarer in the present day world.
A few weeks ago, as we were discussing his son's upcoming December wedding, he was so excited about the arrangements. We faced some issues with venue bookings, but he being the smooth operator and an enterprising person that he was, found a quick solution and locked the booking in no time.
Even amid all the family commitments, Mr Lohia never lost sight of the task at hand. How mission to fix the jails of J&K continued.
What an irreparable loss to the nation, society, friends and family. A void that can't be filled. J&K lost a son with his passing. A son who may not have been 'born on its soil', but certainly cared more and did more than many, genuinely, for the region.
In this moment of grief, my family, I and all of us friends are in solidarity with the Lohia family.
In Mr Lohia, I lost my best friend, my elder brother. But I do know that Hemant Kumar Lohia will live on. In the hearts and minds of the people whose lives he's touched.
A thousand salutes. Farewell, Mr Lohia. Farewell.