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|by Andrew Tanner|
The Evangelist screamed at the cowering audience:
Rishi pushed open the bedroom door, and slowly peeked in. Farah was right there, exactly the same as he had left her. She was dreaming, he was sure. And it had to be a really beautiful dream ' exactly like her. After all, she had a right to dream. She was expecting. She had been overjoyed at the prospect of giving birth to their second child ' now that their first-born was ready for school.
The sheer curtains swaying in the gentle breeze outside cast flickering shadows on her visage. She was snoring, very very gently. He walked on cat paws into the room and moved the blanket, that she had kicked to a side, and covered her from foot to softly heaving bosom. She was breathing hard now. He very gently adjusted her position, and moved his hands gently on her abdomen, hoping to feel even the slightest movement of the fetus. The snoring stopped, almost instantaneously. He kissed her exposed neck, softly, and then walked back to the living room. The evangelist was still screaming on radio'.
Blood and gore, all around. Dismembered limbs, charred bodies and blood. Gallons of it. Enough to paint the snow-capped peaks a terrible tint of fiery rouge. It was a bad war. Well, so is every single war in the world, but this one was particularly bloody. Especially since, it was almost unnecessary. No one knew why the war had to be fought; they just knew that they had to fight it. One side called it the 'Jihad' - Holy War, and for the other side it was a matter of principle. Holy War or otherwise, they weren't letting anyone capture a part of their motherland. Both were adamant, and both causes were just ' from their respective perspectives.
There had been enough peace talks for the last 50 years to make the common public well aware of the futility of this charade played by political Godfathers. And there had been a few not'so'peaceful moments as well ' three major wars and countless smaller, nevertheless significant battles ' between the neighboring nations. And finally, this one. Accumulated frustration of fifty years had taken its toll. That's when one nation infiltrated into the land of its neighbor claiming it to be a part of their holy struggle, and all hell broke loose. The neighbors were warring, once again. On the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan ranges, the soldiers of both nations realized one simple fact. One's religion is like one's attire. The more one reveals, the more naked one gets. The soldiers knew they were fighting an infertile battle. A battle based on religious beliefs, and petty nationalistic principles. But they had to fight it, even though they did not like it. There was no choice.
It was raining bullets and shells. The gravelly soil beneath the soldiers' feet ran a gory reddish brown hue, with soft white flakes of snow floating on the silt. There was smoke. Lots of it. Smoke from the flagrant fir trees, smoke from the destroyed tanks and guns, smoke rising from the mouths of the artillery guns spitting hundreds of rounds of ammunition on the enemy soldiers who had managed the cross the border. Surprisingly, there was no pollution. The smoke was not oppressive. It was surely depressing, but definitely not oppressive. It was good, pure, almost divine smoke. Perhaps, because it was the product of a Holy War!
Colonel Rohan Khanna managed to dodge bullets and reach the desired distance from the enemy trenches. Close enough for a hand grenade to be accurately flung into the trenches, and far enough to escape unhurt. He had ran and crawled for around twenty minutes, lost four of his best soldiers and had killed at least six men in the process. He was inching close to the trench. His left arm was badly injured and he had a broken finger. He was losing breath too, but he knew he could not stop. Not now. Not when he was so close to completing his mission. His hands wrapped around the hand grenade, his finger slipping into the ring of the pin. At that precise moment he felt a pulsating pain shoot up from his thigh and he fell face first on the hard ground. The grenade rolled a couple of feet from his hand. He tried to stand, but couldn't. He looked up and saw the enemy soldier who had shot him. His aggressor was not in any better physical shape, but was rushing from the trenches towards the Colonel, his bayonet ready to strike. That's when the Colonel's hands found the grenade. It took him just a fraction of a second to release the pin and fling the grenade into the trench. He saw the bomb falling into the trench. Now he could see the enemy soldier clearly, running towards him, with an expression of terrible determination on his face. Under a different set of circumstances, the Colonel would have called him handsome, but all he could see now was death. That's when the explosion took place. The enemy soldier was lifted and flung by the force of the explosion onto a huge boulder. He hit the rock, head first and his body slumped down; his neck broken and twisted in an awkward angle. The Colonel crawled slowly towards the dead man. He found the dented dog ' tag on the dead soldier's chest and read the name written on it ' Major Amin Khan. He lay down beside the dead warrior and slept. His mission was accomplished. The trench was destroyed.
Finally, the war ended. One day the infiltrators pulled back into their own country. And all that was left to tell the tales of human foolishness were blood and gore, and dismembered, charred bodies in the valley. And of course, a lot of smoke'
The war was behind him, but the scars it left still showed, on his body and mind. He thought about his life, at times when he felt lonely. Sometimes he was invaded by memories ' some clear and the others extremely faint. Memories of his mother, Farah Khanna who was one of the first Muslim ladies to have married a Hindu. Memories of his father Dr. Rishi Khanna, the famous cardiac surgeon who met and fell in love with Farah, the daughter of a local politician in Lahore in the early forties ' years before the Independence and partition of the Great subcontinent. Memories of the partition, when he was just young boy and his father was forced to leave both his wife and his practice in Lahore and migrate into India. His father had struggled a lot to get his wife to accompany him, but her father was very adamant, and very powerful within Lahore. That's when his father secretly boarded a train to India, smuggling the young Rohan with him. That was half a century ago. He had never been able to find his mother due to the situation of civil and military unrest between the two nations.
Other than that, he felt his life was complete and wholesome. He was lucky. He had been awarded with a Veer Chakra, for exceptional bravery during battle. It is rare for the award to go to a living person; most of the times it's the widow of the brave soldier who accepts the award on behalf of her dead husband. He had a devoted wife and a beautiful daughter; he was pretty well off, he was a Veer Chakra recipient, and above all he was retired. Retired from duty, and not dead. It was good to be alive. He really believed he was one of the luckiest men in the world till one morning he found an envelope in his letterbox. It bore the address of an attorney's office in Lahore on it. Inside was a will that bestowed upon him ownership of an old house in Lahore ' his mother's gift. Along with the will there was a letter written in a spidery illegible handwriting in Hindi:
'My son, I am on my deathbed. This is to let you know about your younger brother, who was born after you left Lahore. He was with the army, fighting the Holy War, and he died fighting. You could never see him in life; I am enclosing his photograph'
Colonel Rohan Khanna sat staring at the photograph of a young soldier in full military uniform, with an expression of extreme determination on his face. The face in the old photograph yellowed and cracked with the burden of age and memories stared back at him. He sat transfixed. On the television in the hallway, the evangelist still screamed:
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