[Disclaimer: The incident described below is a true story of a soldier’s life. We initially wished to interview him but due to confidential reasons the man was unable to give an interview. So we interacted with one of his neighbour suggested by the soldier himself. Details like the soldiers name, dates, and nation are kept hidden. The incident is mentioned nowhere else, provided how significant it was to keep it a secret, for the security of the soldier (who is still serving the nation) and his family.]
Some things are suffused so deeply inside you that it is not possible to root them out. I have bit of a confession to make. I don’t know how to start. The incident shook my insides and I am sure it will quake yours too.
I was in 3rd grade when I met Chotu for the first time. He was my new neighbour. Chotu’s dad was in defence services and his mom was a housewife. I always called Chotu’s dad ‘Hero Uncle’ because he seemed one to me. Six feet tall, biceps as thick as my two thighs combined. Chotu was 6 months old then. I remember Hero uncle taught me to play chess. For hours we would play and I always backed out just when he was about to clobber my king. I was a cheater, his version. He could never beat me, my version.
It was summer of my 4th grade when Hero uncle had to go to a war. “Do you actually fire bullets and see rockets flying high, tearing the mass out the men on the other side?” I had asked him the night before. He didn’t answer me, just smirked for a while. “We’ll have a healthy game of chess when I come back and you’ll not abscond this time like a looser, okay?” This time, it was me who smirked. As planned, he left the next day. My life was back on the same humdrum. Days starting with school where I would look a zillion times towards the clock only to discover that it was just half a minute more to what I had looked previously.
One day when I reached home I found Chotu and his mom at my house. Chotu was in aunty’s lap, tears coming endlessly out of her eyes. I could not make out what was her trauma but I sensed something very seriously doleful. In the evening, my mom broke the news to me-Hero Uncle was no more. He had passed away fighting for the nation. I didn’t know how to react then. The news had blown me away. How can he leave all of us so steeply? What about a year and a half child he had left behind? What about the game of chess he had promised me?
The incident brought a storm of thoughts into my mind. Why don’t they just settle it all with a game of soccer or say cricket instead? No one would die then, no bloodshed, no grief. Probably that is the best way to solve a conflict between two countries-through a game of soccer. A group of soldiers brought Hero uncle’s clothes, medals and other belongings a fortnight later. Seeing those medals, I had a frenzy urge to give him medals for those innumerable games of chess we played, where he was the actual winner, had I not backed out of them. They could not bring the body as it was already cremated by the army. That day I learnt something about the iffy attribute of life. It changes everything in a blink.
It took some time for aunty to pull herself out of a cloud of sorrow she had locked herself in. The wound never healed but Chotu and aunty had learnt to live with it. Every evening she would come to my house to spend some time with my mom. Life had begun to form a dull routine for her. I had reached 10thgrade then. Every time news related to destruction came, her heart ached. Aunty could only curb the fire burning inside her but could never extinguish it completely.
It was a cold December evening when I was playing with Chotu. We saw a guest coming to Chotu’s house. Suddenly out of nowhere Chotu’s mom screamed for Chotu. We all, including my mom and dad went to their house. When we stepped in, aunty said to Chotu, “Dad’s back”. Those two words pushed the ground beneath my feet. Did I just hear that a dead man is back? Alive? It all seemed like a Sunday dream that would end at any given moment. When I dared to look at the man, he had long hairs that seemed uncut since a long time. He had a beard that almost covered his neck. He looked like a Tarzan with clothes. We all were numb for a moment. There were a lot of things going on in lot of minds. When we started firing questions at him, this is what he came up with.
“When I reached the defence camp, I along with few people was told to cross the border and enter the enemy’s territory. It was a very confidential mission. So as we were told, we crossed the border but were caught by the forces on the other side. When they were taking us to their camp, we waited for the right moment and when we found it, we killed them all, exchanged our dresses and went on to become a part of their military as spies. When their government found dead bodies lying, they handed it over to our government, which is the reason you received my uniform and medals but not the body. After the war was over we stayed there for few years searching for the right moment to escape. After six years we found one. We again crossed the border and reported to the defence camp which made arrangements for me to come home.”
Really? So many things had happened to him in those six years? There were tears in the eyes of everyone. Aunty had been given a very precious gift-life. It really requires a steel heart to be able to stay away from your family for six years when you know you have a wife and a son grieving for your death, although you are alive serving India. I was still recovering from the shock I had received minutes ago. I recognised him only when he shaved and became the same Hero uncle again. I still can’t scale his persistence, bravery and endurance. The incident changed me. I started valuing small things in life. I now understand the ascendancy of being able to breathe freely.
As promised, we did play a game of chess the next day. “Check and mate”, he said. I didn’t escape this time as now I had the courage to digest failure. “Can I just hide my king for the next six moves and then make him alive suddenly?” I tried to tease him. “Not kings can do that, only heroes can”. We both laughed.
This mission has not been mentioned anywhere due to its confidentiality. You would not find it even on Wikipedia or any books written on that particular war. The chessboard remains the only witness of the man’s unfathomably stout-hearted life.
We are proud of our Defence.
Post by: Falan Vachhrajani