Extraordinary Men. Ordinary Wars.

Soldiers

I lay there in the bushes, waiting for the sun to come up. They say the average man can survive 3 days without water. But average men are not chosen to infiltrate enemy camps. No, it takes extraordinary courage to sit in these bushes. It takes sheer strength and will power to wait here until the right moment. You might get lucky and the right opportunity might present itself within a few hours. But I’m not known to be a man of fate. No, I make my own luck. From the colour of socks I will wear on a particular day, to the woman I’m about to marry, I choose each and everything. If I’m here, it is because I choose to be. I am not the dumb soldier I’m made out to be. I’m not simply following orders thrust upon me. I’m not merely a pawn in this bigger game of chess. I have reasons to do what I am doing, and these reasons can only be understood if you choose to see things the way I do. Whilst you sit on your sofas, comfortable, cozy and warm, wrapped in a blanket, contemplating as to how the bureaucrats and politicians make us fight the war they started, I sit here inside a bush, fighting for survival, 72 hours plus on the clock, scrambling to breathe. But do you ever wonder as to whose survival I fight for? Is it just mine? How the atrocities and attacks I face every day are just a news flash for you? And what does it make you do, but flutter words in favour of peace. But peace does not really seem such a viable option when you might just wake up among dead bodies the next day. Wars are not a product of the modern century. They’ve existed ever since man has. For it has always been a fight for what is mine and what is yours. And what is yours I will eventually try and take, by force or by words. If I fail to do my job, people die. If I continue to do my job, people still die. It is merely a choice between choosing to kill the people on the other side of the line, or watching the people die on this side of the line. And what is so moral about watching a man kill another man, whilst you have the ability and means to stop this killing. Is it more immoral to kill a man who is eventually going to kill another man? But how do we justify morality? How do we measure it? The walls created by society and strengthened by superficial laws are not a significant measure. There is good and there is bad. My actions do not justify what is what, neither does the outcome. It is the intent with which I kill. My intent can be viewed as that of a person killing people, or as that of someone defending people. I see it as the latter, and that is all that matters. Your view could be different, but then every action has multiple eyes scrutinizing it from multiple angles, but the action remains same, and so does the outcome. So what changes, if not the intent? And the intent is always mine; you cannot change or affect it. So what makes you judge my actions, when only I have the power to choose them, and only I understand the intent behind them. Don’t look so powerless now, do I?  But come tomorrow, and you will continue to sit on a chair, a fan over your head, and an air conditioner on the wall, and will continue to talk about peace, love, humanity and oneness. But what about me? I’ll be alone, in a ditch, or swamp, maybe a bush, or if I’m pushing on my luck, a jungle. But I don’t happen to be a lucky man. So I’ll be somewhere on the line, protecting you, killing for you, dying for you. Spare a thought for me, for I’m not the average man you believe me to be.
The clock on my wrist beeped. Average men cannot survive 73 hours without water.

 – The author does not promote wars. It is merely a piece of fiction.

Sinking

It was 2 am in the night when his phone rang.
‘Sudha..please..attend it’ he commanded, half asleep. The phone kept ringing.

‘Sudha?’

Sudha lay silent. And the truth dawned upon him.
He opened one eye and threw his hand on the bedside table to grab his spectacles.

‘He..hello?’

No one replied.

‘Helloo?’

‘Hellooo??’

He banged the phone and returned to his deep sleep.

It rained heavily the next day. It was Sunday and Sunday rain reminded him of her. She would prepare a hot cup of coffee for him while he read his favorite book. There was a comfort in her presence. Something magnificent about the silence. Only this time, the silence pinched him. He wished someone would prepare him a steamy cup of coffee just like Sudha did. With less milk and extra sugar. He wished he had thanked her for that cup.

‘Thankyou Sudha..’ he whispered. She would have smiled. The same smile when she had served him tea for the first time in her maternal house. Oldage did many things to her but never dared to touch her smile.

The ringing phone disrupted his memories.

‘Hello. Col. Vimal Rai speaking.’

‘Helloo Vimal!’ said the jolly voice on the other end and he instantly knew who it was.

‘Col. Singh! How are you..’

‘I am good Vimal! My wife and I are throwing a party on our 25th anniversary day after! It would be a pleasure to have you there!’

‘Ofcourse! The 23rd you mean?’

‘Yes yes! Do bring Sudha along! My wife wishes to meet her!’

This part was the most arduous of all. Gathering the right words, repeating the incidence and hours of condolence.

‘Sudha..Sudha passed away four months back Singh’

‘Oh! We are..we are shocked Vimal..we are sorry..we couldn’t be there for you..’

‘That’s ok Singh..Will see you day after’

‘Sure! See you Vimal..’

Short and crisp. Just the way he wanted this conversation to be. He immediately noted down the date and the event in his diary. Without Sudha, it was hard for him to remember things.

He returned to the balcony to drown in his thoughts. He took his chair along by lifting it. No screeching noises. As soon as he held the chair to sit, he found his fingers buried in dust.

Oh, how he hated dust. The mere sight of it would bring out his worst temper. Dust in His house was absolutely unacceptable!!

‘Sudhaaa!!!!’ he yelled.

Later, he cleaned the chair with his old pair of undergarment. He hated this task. Even the dust missed Sudha. She would keep the entire house as clean as a rich man’s boots. In that moment, he sighed and whispered..’Thankyou Sudha..’

The doorbell rang. Foola ushered herself inside the house. He wanted to complain about the untidy mess all around but he didn’t know how to. Talking to maids was too shallow to him and these were Sudha’s matters to handle. Her department. But, he had to survive.

‘Ahem..Foola ji..its been two days and I have observed that..that the house is very dirty..especially the corners..and the floor below the table..and the bathrooms’
Foola stood aghast. He had never said a word to her in five years. She was so scared that she swallowed her pan as it is.

‘Sahab..I I don’t clean bathrooms. Sudha Madam knew it…And I can’t bend too much..you see.. I am a patient of arthritis.. Sudha Madam..knew..I will clean the corners carefully..’
‘Hmm.’

Even the servants missed her.

He wore his favorite black suit for the party that night. Just the way Sudha would have liked it. She would have worn that red saree with golden borders. Once she was ready, nobody could believe it was Sudha. Not even him. She would look marvelous in those gold earrings he had once gifted her. She would compliment him while wearing the black bindi in front of the mirror.

‘Looking nice Vimal’

And he would smile proudly.

‘You look beautiful Sudha..’ he murmured as he stood there staring at the bindi stuck on the mirror.

The party was monotonous. Everybody thought of him as a poor pig and offered their sympathies because everybody loved Sudha. He wished she was around so that he could tell her how Mr Dubey’s son was hogging on food. That Fat Goblet. She would have giggled.

‘Vimal! You musn’t say that!’

He locked the main door and changed his clothes. The bed desperately needed a new bedsheet. The yellow pillow begged for a new cover.

‘Vimal! Wait wait wait!’

‘What happened??’

‘Don’t you see how yellow it is? Let me change it.’

‘Not now Sudha..do it tomo..’

Even before he could complete, she would have snatched the pillow and changed the covers to shining white.
‘Now you may sleep’ she would smile with pride.

‘Goodnight Sudha..’ he chanted as he slept off.

The phone rang. He woke up in frustration. This time he knew there was no escape. He threw his hand on the bedside table and wore his spectacles.

‘He..lloo?’

‘Helloo?’

‘Hello Vimal’

Vimal was taken aback. He lost hold of all the words. Of language. Of senses.

‘Sudha.?’ he questioned.

‘Yes..how are you?’

‘Sudha?? Who is this???’

‘It is Sudha..calm down Vimal..’

It was her. He knew it. It was Sudha. Only her words had the power to silent his storm.

‘Am I dreaming??’

‘Maybe’ she smiled innocently.

‘How are you Sudha..?’

The leap of formality had never escaped. Even love couldn’t kill it.

‘I am fine Vimal’

‘I am happy to hear that..I missed you tonight..’

‘Did you?’

‘Yes..Mr Dubey’s son you remember?’

‘Oh yes! That sweet boy!’

‘He isn’t so sweet anymore. He has grown enormously fat and eats like a bear!’

‘Vimal! You mustn’t say that!’ she chuckled.

He was afraid the dream might come to an end. He didn’t want to lose this opportunity.

‘Sudha..I miss you..I miss your face..I miss your presence..’

‘I miss you too Vimal..I am always around you..’

‘No one cooks baingan ka bharta like you used to..’

‘I will cook it for you tomorrow’ she assured him.

‘How is Niketan?’ she asked.

‘Niketan is fine and so is Aditi..they returned to America last month itself’

‘Are they happy?’

‘Very much’

She breathed a sigh of relief.

‘I have to leave Vimal..will see you tomorrow’

‘Sudha! Sudha!!! Sudha???’

‘Yes I am here!’

‘Oh.. I wanted to say.. That.. I wanted to say.. Thankyou Sudha..’

He heard her smile. The very same lovely smile when they had gone out for their first dinner.

‘I have been ringing the bell for the past half an hour Madam Ji!! I am worried ! He usually opens the door in the first bell itself!! The milk! the newspaper..everything is kept outside!!’  said Foola frantically.

The neighbours ran to break his door.