This is my son. You all know his name. Even his face. Thanks to all the news flashes that have been going on. But do you know him?
He came to me on a very, very stormy day. I remember wondering how the world is still standing when all I could see outside the window was cascading rains and insanely high speed winds. I also remember being more concerned about the storm going on inside me. The first I knew of him was a pitiful little wail. Protesting against the cold, against being woken up and I think, against being separated from me. But he quieted down soon and spent the day alternatively sleeping and observing me through slitted eyes.
He grew up very quick. Too quick it would seem, to give me time enough to adjust to one phase of his life before he moved on to the next. He was always quiet. Except of course, with the people he knew well. Boy! Could he kick up storm of endless chatter then! On the whole though, he always preferred reading, playing with his toy soldiers and of course, the movies! He was a crazy, crazy movie buff. However, everything was about the Army for him. The books would be about wars, heroes, leaders. The toy soldiers would always be at attention. Ready to pounce on the enemy at a moment’s notice. Be it the big dog, the father’s shoes or anything green on the dinner plate. The movies would always have soldiers. Tough, handsome men in rugged fatigues and cocky, well deserved attitudes.
It was no surprise when he decided to join the Army. I would have been surprised if he had decided to become anything else in life. He was radiant the day he left for training and I was miserable. There wouldn’t be anyone in the house hogging the television or anyone who I could pick up after or someone whose toys and shoes I could trip over while walking around the house. I was miserable but I was thrilled. My boy was getting what he wanted! He was going to be a soldier! A guardian! He was going to be a hero.
He trained and worked. He made friends and my little boy, the skinny little thing with big eyes, slowly turned into a fine young man. I can always close my eyes and visualise the day he passed out of the academy. I took a week to decide what to wear. I matched everything. Got my hair and nails done. I had to be perfect. I wore the sari he loved best and waited with bated breath till I could cheer him on. All too soon we were seated, the young boys in crisp uniforms marched past us and after a while, the parade was over and it was time for us to meet our brand new officers.
We walked over to the group full of excited people and located our boy. Looking so flawless. So tall and fit and….and…..and THIN! Had he not been eating!!! Immediately concern floods me and when I ask him, he pulls me close and asks me if I wanted him to be a fauji or a halwai? I laugh happily and shrug him off. Looking at him so radiant and handsome, all my worries dissolve and I bask in the glory of his joy.
Time again flies by. We get used to having him over only on holidays and we enjoy the attention we get when we go over to meet him. The uniform becomes a part of our life. Headlines declaring skirmishes at the border and peace talks catch our attention more often. But we were happy. I was happy. My little boy, my toy soldier was happy. One morning I had just stepped out of the bath and I peeked out to see a jonga standing in the driveway. A bubble of joy filled my heart. He came home! He surprised me!
I raced downstairs and skidded to halt. Something was wrong. I crept into the living room and there my boy was sleeping on the living room floor. He was covered in white. I sat next to him and told him I was there. I touched the lines at the corner of his eyes. There was a smattering of white hair on his head. He looked so peaceful. Quiet. Older. I touched him again and asked him to wake up. He didn’t budge. Once again I asked him to wake up. He wouldn’t. I got angry, I pleaded, I cried, I begged him to wake up or his breakfast would get cold. He didn’t wake up. Firm, gentle hands pulled me away and a priest came to perform the final rites. Final rite!. Sacrilege! When my son wakes, he will be furious I tell him but no one listens to me. Soon they took him further away from me and they tell me he was cremated with full honours. All I remember is the killing pain I felt when the flames reared their heads. Now I look at his picture adorned with a garland and I wait for the phone to ring, telling me he will be home for Diwali.
I know this is a long story. Boring to many. I wrote this so you know who it is whose face is flashed on the news. Whose ‘sacrifice’ the country regrets. Whose mother waits for a call as the world debates peace.