Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Hero of 71

The Hero of 71 was confused. There was a stranger sitting in his drawing room holding a cup of tea. Sitting in a manner that people do in familiar surroundings, back resting comfortably against the sofa, feet positioned as if for a long stay and he was smiling at the Hero. Another salesman, thought the Hero, wish they would go away. Though there was something very familiar about that face. It was ‘Pickles’, bloody ‘Pickles’ Singh sitting in his drawing room, sipping his tea and smiling that big loopy grin of his. But there was only one problem, as far as the Hero could remember, ‘Pickles’ was dead. Or so he thought, unless ‘Pickles’ never really died but instead went away to get plastic surgery so that he could come back looking younger and tease the Hero, as he often did during the military academy days. Then again tea was not something Pickles drank at four in the afternoon.
“So who are you?” the Hero heard himself say.
“Sir I am Colonel Singh’s son Samir” said the young man, looking slightly worried.
“Who is Colonel Singh?” asked the Hero, turning to his wife as she walked in to the room. “I don’t know any Colonel Singh.”
“Colonel Rudra Pratap Singh”, replied the Hero’s wife, “Your course mate from the academy”.
“Ah! Pickle’s son”, said the Hero, “So where is your father? Why hasn’t he come with you?”
“Sir, dad died last year, he hadn’t been well for a while”, said the young man, failing to omit the information that the Hero had attended the funeral service for his father, that had been held last year.
It was 10 pm on a Friday night at the officer’s club. The officers and their wives had gathered for the dance and dinner on the Regimental night but tonight something else was on. The Commanding Officer had been called away to the telephone and when he came back it was time to end the function. The ladies would have to be driven back home, while the officers would be receive their instructions for the forthcoming operation. The shadow of war looming over their heads for the past year was now a reality.
“Time to dance with the Pakis, eh Pickles?” said young major to his tall and brooding friend.
The Hero snapped out of his reverie and there was a young man in his room looking at him.
“Hello”, said the Hero, “I don’t think we have met before.”
“Sir I am Samir”, said the young man, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“And have you been here before? Do you stay close by?”
“I am Colonel Singh’s son sir, your next door neighbour”.
“Really?” beamed the Hero, “You must come over some time. So do you stay here or have you come from somewhere?”
“Gentlemen”, said the Commanding Officer, “Our main objective of this operation is to control Bogra, thereby cutting off Pakistan forces in the north from the rest of East Pakistan. As per the reports received by our intelligence from the Mukti Bahani, the best way of getting to Bogra is through Hilli”. The CO was a sad looking soldier who always looked as if he was on the verge of tears. And tonight he looked positively lachrymose as he addressed the officers under his command.
“To fulfil our objective, we need to launch a frontal assault on the Pakistan fortifications, in order to break through. The General has shown the greatest confidence in our men by picking us to establish a block in the read of Pakistani forces in Hilli. This will force the enemy to withdraw to the defence of Bogra.”
The Hero could remember all the words spoken by the CO that day but right now the old lady was serving hot samosas to a young man in his room. Was he one of her relatives or was he one of Amar’s friends?
“Are you here to meet Amar?” he asked “I am sorry we haven’t been introduced yet.”
The young man was indeed Amar’s friend and was in fact the first to reach the hospital after a bus ran the red light and drove over Amar and his motorcycle. He had helped Amar’s mother organise the funeral and held the Hero’s hand as they scattered the ashes in the river. But he couldn’t say all that to the Hero.
“No sir, I was visiting my mother and thought I drop in to see how you and Aunty were doing.”
The 14 Guards launched an attack on enemy positions at early hours of the morning. The Hero’s troops came under intense shelling and heavy small-arms fire, but led by him they pushed on regardless, and were soon engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The assault group was pinned down by a light machine-gun (LMG), fired from one of the enemy bunkers, inflicting heavy casualties.
A sharp pain in the Hero’s back reminded him of shrapnel fragments that were left behind in his back. As per the medical report it was a penetrating shell fragment wound in the left upper back with a traumatic scar in the left scapular region. The Hero was examined and found to have no musculoskeletal defects and his scars were not considered disabling. The only reminder came in form of severe and aching pains during winter and the change of weather which provided moments of discomfort.
“Are you here to sell me the insurance bonds?” said the Hero sternly to the young man in the room. “I said I was not interested on the phone, so why are you here?”
“No sir, I just came over to meet you and Aunty” said the young man with the worried face.
“Aunty? Which bloody Aunty is he talking about?” said the Hero to the woman sitting next to him.
Hero’s wife sighed inwardly. It was with much trepidation she had asked Samir to come and pay a visit. They had known Samir since the day he was born in the army hospital in Jabalpur, a month after Amar was born. Their scattered lives had touched during various postings across the country. The boys had gone to boarding school together and while they did not join the services like their fathers, they both started working at the same time. Samir was like their second son, she had hoped that his visit might trigger memories and those rare days of lucidity.
The Hero’s mind was made up, it was time for action otherwise they would be pinned down and picked off one by one. Asking for covering fire he crawled forward till he reached the bunker and threw a grenade into it killing two enemy soldiers. The MMG was still firing and had to be silenced.
“Are you waiting to meet someone?” asked the Hero to the young man who was sitting facing him. The Hero looked around his own house as if it was an unknown place. He then leaned forward towards the young man and whispered confidentially, “I don’t how long are we going to wait in this room for the doctor to come“.
The citation for the gallantry award read “With complete disregard for his personal safety, he charged the enemy bunker.” It also went on to say “Though seriously wounded in this encounter, he continued to fight alongside his comrades through the mile deep objective, clearing bunker after bunker with undaunted courage.”
There was a familiar face in the Hero’s drawing room.
“Samir!” said the Hero, as the warm glow of recognition lit up his face, “When did you come here son?”


  1. einsteinwallah7:34 am

    good story. plz increase font size for easy reading of us baddhaa loags.

  2. Beej.Kumar@gmail.com8:56 am

    I liked it, too. Of course, not everyone probably would. As a story, many people don't like pieces which don't "go" anywhere.

  3. Ranger11:01 pm

    Nice. Love military fiction.

  4. Anonymous12:35 am

    Wow, this was such an awesome tale, although my personal opinion is that you could have probably added a small paragraph after the post stating that the Hero suffered from Alzheimers' so that all readers are clearly aware of why the Hero is behaving the way he is with Samir.

    Just my opinion, please don't take any offense, I personally loved the story though.

    1. Thank you for reading it. I left that part as implied and up to the reader's imagination. Just showed the contrast between the man he was and man he is now.