The color of the battlefield was sketched in different shades of red and black. One could have looked it from the stains of a broken glass and it would present itself to him or her as a Goya masterpiece. Who could have thought there was a necessity of a painter of battles in a time of peace? Who could have thought the nation would still be sacrificing its bravest sons to a feud which it hasn’t been able to resolve for seventy long years?
“Fuck you all. If I go down, I will be taking twenty of the pigs who attack us, from the front, with me.” Oh the exuberance of the youth! Aamir had proclaimed this to his unit in that desi bar where they always used to go and drink. “Look how steady this hand is when it is holding on to a gun. I will kill half a dozen before they come to know just what hit them.” Today, as he lay dying from the wounds of the battle, he could not help but smirk on the realization that he was true to his word.
Mother, I have always loved you.
Father, please don’t be surprised, I have loved you too.
Sister, you have been the cherry of my life.
I had no idea that I was going to leave you behind.
Cherish from the fact that the victory is as yours as it is mine,
And I hope you are proud,
There wasn’t one who could cross the line.
The letter from his parents was in his pocket and he took it and carefully he lay by his side. The crumbled paper looked as peaceful as the white it wore; the lashes of ink sprayed on it reminded him of the clear blue sky which welcomed him whenever he was home. The frailty of the thin papyrus echoed with the growing weakness of his breath. He looked at it and wondered if he could have done anything different at the places he didn’t know at the moment but had already visited for the last time. A gush of wind passed through and he shivered with the cold and it took him to when he was home.
“Aamir! You better finish off all what’s in your plate before you go off.” Aamir’s mother implored him to eat and he couldn’t help but suppress a smile. Years had passed by but he found solace in the knowledge that some things would never change. And how he loved the mango chutney which his mom prepared come summers! The aroma of the fresh picked fruit, the taste of the amalgam of mirchi, dhaniya, pudina and whatnot, the aftertaste of the love with which it had been prepared – he loved it all. He licked his fingers after every bite he took and said, “Amma, this food has the power to bring me back from the grave! How can you even think that I would go off with my friends leaving it behind?” He might have meant it as a joke but picking up the topic of one’s supposed death in front of his or her mother can seldom be considered as a good idea. Aamir could not fail to notice the sudden change in his mother’s face and the drop of tear which she quickly tried to hide. “Oh I am so sorry, amma. This was meant as a joke. I am sorry for being a little crude, the army has hardened me a little bit, you know. You know your son, right? You know that I will come back to you from wherever I go. I love you, and I love the smell of this house, I love the warmth with which the city greets me whenever I am here. And you know how I enjoy having food and tell me this- if not for anything- how can I not come back to eat the food that you prepare for me, always.”
“Who taught you to talk like this, son?” She asked him with a smile. She knew her son; he would do anything to keep her happy. But what about the fear of the mother whose son is leaving for the battlefield? She was one part happy and five parts sad, and every single night she cried a silent lament. Every morning she had prayed for his safety, every afternoon she wished that he would never leave. “Oh the birds taught me that” he said as he looked at the sky. It was blue, the color of his mother’s eyes.
Friendships made, memories written,
For sounds of laughter, these haunted valleys beacon.
The mountains call you on the pretext of freedom,
Amidst all the gunfire, you ask questioning the heavens.
A sharp cough to the right where he was lying brought him back to reality. The red in his commander’s eyes reminded him of the price one pays for the greater good. Aamir had gone half deaf from the sound of explosions and he yelled, “We did it, captain! They failed, yet again.” The general winced from the pain, he could taste the blood in his mouth. “Do you really think so, comrade?” he asked. “Look around you, look at the bodies of your brothers which lie beside these fuckers. What can we call a win if the price to pay for it is inexplicable?” Aamir looked at the man he had admired since the day he had first met him, and he smiled at him. “Don’t worry, Sir. It has all never really been about us, has it?” The general knew his life was ending, seconds at a time, he looked at Aamir and remarked “Then what has it been about? Farts and rainbows? Hahahaha.. haha..ha”
Aamir looked at him in amazement. How could someone find a laugh when everything around him was black, dark as the starless night? He struggled to reach out to his captain, hold him for one last time. He still remembered, to this day, when he had first met him.
“Always be on the lookout for an attack.” The general yelled in that husky voice you associate with the Army officers. “The coward the enemy is, it will try to surprise you. The check-posts catch hold of almost every insurgent that tries to break in. Your job is to ensure you deal with the ones who escape. The ones who, God-forbid, might catch us with our pants down.” A junior sniggered at the latest comment. It was routine, for the old timers, to listen to the general and go off for a smoke, with the discussion being which curious innuendo thrown by the general’s mouth was the flavor of the day. The whole camp tried to keep a straight face, they knew what was coming. “The fuck you sniggering at, rat-face?” The general bellowed. “Haven’t you been ever caught pants down, pretty boy? Go, go outside and pull your pants down. Sit as you would if you have to take a shit. But you will have something coming if I see a single shit stain on the ground”, said the general. “Report back to me in two hours. You will have another thing coming if I find you otherwise. Ask anyone, I always know”
Aamir could not understand for the life of him what happened to the general! But having lived the past three years in military camps, nothing used to surprise him much. The sky was a brilliant blue that day and he could see the stardust coming off from the clouds. His butt and he both tried to bask in the brilliance of the weather. Seeing just the imagery of Aamir grinning with his pants down, looking at the sky in the peculiar position of what people in India call morning job, it could have made one believe that Aamir was a buffoon. If only they could have looked at what was going on in his mind.
The general called Aamir to his room after Aamir was done with the punishment. “I hope you have learned your lesson”, exclaimed the general. “I couldn’t help but notice”, the general continued, “that you kept grinning from time to time during your punishment. Why was that?”
“Oh that !” Said Aamir, “if you were sitting where I was sitting, you would see a rainbow down the road far-far away.” “now”, he continued, “if you trace the origin of the rainbow, it felt it started across the same lines where I was. A rainbow feels like it starts from the ground, and the closest to the ground was my butt. It felt as if I was farting rainbows. It was hilarious, sire.”
“Hahahahahahahahahahaha!” The general burst into a laughter. “come with me”, he said, “we’ll have a drink”
The pain in his groins kept increasing by the minute. He closed his eyes to suppress the tears, he started to pray for his fears to subside. Every time he closed his eyes, he could see only the love of his life and what could he not have given to teleport to wherever she was. He could see her face in the darkness, and he prayed to it to give him warmth. He remembered a quote he had read somewhere, “find what you love, and let it kill you.” He wondered between two two- Nausheen and his country, who did he want to provide the privilege to. He closed his eyes and thought of the last time they were together.
She can cure him, can’t she
Every second he lives a little, every other he dies,
And she has, with her, a magic wand,
She swings it by.
He could imagine her standing in the sand,
For she carries a magic wand in her hand.
And god he wishes,
She could swing it by.
“Don’t tell me you are leaving!”, yelled Nausheen, “you just got here a month back. We haven’t even started on whatever we planned to do when you would come… when you would stay. With me, be mine. Mine to hold, mine to caress.” She was almost on the verge of tears. “This is not fair to me- what do I hold on to when you are not around? What do I pin my hopes on when I know you are going to the border? How do I bring myself to taste anything when it is your lips I crave? How do I go anywhere without you holding my hand? Tell me what do I do when I cannot breathe without your breath on my neck? You are leaving and you are taking a part of me along with you. Tell me, why do I have to compromise on what’s mine to own?”
Aamir looked at her and her flushed puffed up cheeks. Her eyes were bloodshot red and it killed him. She looked like the angel that he had always worshipped and now that when he was leaving, it seemed he was going forward but everything he ever laid his heart on was being left behind. He loved her more than she would ever know, and she loved him more than she could ever show. He had realized this, and had played this discussion over and over in his head the day he knew he was going to be assigned his posting.
He knew that she was going to understand in a little while. She always did. And it killed him even more. He could look at her all day and admire the perfection that she always said belonged to him. “Come here”, she said. “Hold me. Hold me for a while and do not let go. Run your fingers through my hair as you always do.” The tears had left their stains on her cheeks, and the mascara that adorned her eyelashes so royally had smeared itself all over. Her eyes dried off in a little while, as she thought did her dreams. Her voice, it croaked and she whispered to him. “Kiss me. Be with me..in me.. till you leave.”
What would I not give?
To have you all in my arms again.
Be with you, love you,
Breathe with you every breath.
Aamir looked at the sky and could see the faint beams of sunlight getting through the emptiness of clouds. The rays gave him hope that world might still have a chance, it reminded him of the sacrifices which his brothers and he made to keep whom he loved safe. He could find his peace from the warmth of his memories. He had lived a good life, been a good son, a good lover, and a great soldier. He was proud. He was proud till his last breath left him.
Deepa Sinha said:
I liked/loved this one…it is just beautiful…you are a good or I should awesome writer… This one reminded me of ” thousand splendid suns”
oh that’s a huge compliment ! Thank you. 🙂
I used to like Khaled H’s writing a lot. : )