Remembering

From Eternity to Eternity

I’ve never been embarrassed about wearing my sentiment on my sleeve – if only on occasion. And 26th July, 2001 was one occasion, the 2nd anniversary of Vijay Diwas – the Martyr’s Day in remembrance of the uniformed ones who gave their lives during the Kargil war, 1999…a war during which a few dear friends in Army and Air Force had played active roles. Today being 26th July, here it is: for all fauji friends, for all men and women of the fauj, past and present and future. With respect, with love.

On the night of 26th July last year we lit two little lamps out on the balcony and gazed at the lambent flames while, and on the still air we heard the whispers of names…Clifford Nongrum, Haneefuddin, Saravanan, Kalia, Ahuja…names of men we had never met yet seemed to have known so well.

Surely, they would have been no different from any other young men in the world?  In their love for laughter and revelry, for the scents of rain upon earth and flowers in a woman’s hair, for home-cooked food, the warmth of a family gathering, a boisterous game with children…they too must have yearned for leisure, for romancing, for peace. One of them had played the guitar, another had a voice like Rafi’s. Rich and varied were their tastes in music, as indeed their backgrounds and origins. Yet fierce were the bonds that had joined these men of diverse faiths, united them in their battle to preserve this very diversity, this richness and variety.

A strange, overwhelming sense of loss came upon us even as the flames rose steady and unwavering. We glanced up at the high-rise apartment blocks all around, at their dark balconies and terraces. A stray breeze brought a brief snatch of canned laughter from some TV set in some curtained lounge. And bitterness and anger welled up, sudden and surprising. How could they all be so callous, the inner voice raged, how could they forget the martyrs of Kargil so soon.

But the self-righteous and sentimental mind’s voice was abruptly quelled by a remembered voice from childhood: easy, self-assured, slightly mocking in tone, the voice of a young soldier, slain in battle long ago.

“Listen,” he had murmured, “in life, what others think or do doesn’t matter a damn. What YOU do is the only thing that counts. Before you, before each one of us, there’s a path; the path of duty. Seek that path, follow it, all else falls into place. It is so simple…”

The voice faded back into the caverns of memory; the flames flickered. And suddenly the twisted, tangled coils of sentiment and anger dissolved into a moment of deep understanding. Indeed the martyrs of Kargil had fought obdurate foes, in the harshest of conditions. They had endured terrible pain, died warriors’ deaths. But they were men who believed – nay, who knew – that beyond death there is no joy or sorrow, neither friendship nor enmity; there are no borders or lines of control, nor remembrance nor names.

There is only the peace of Eternity.

That is why our soldiers treated even the enemy’s slain with dignity, with honour. And that is why they were victorious.

We turned away, then. Fleetingly, sadness returned as we beheld the dark balconies all around. A flicker of yellow drew our attention to the right…and we gazed spellbound.

Down there, beyond the compound wall, set in the humble doorway of a tarpaulin-roofed dwelling, two candles had been lit. Their flames rose steady and unwavering. And again on the still air came the whisper of names…Vikram Batra, Neikezhakuo Kengurüse, Kanad Bhattacharya, Vijayant Thapar, Mohammad Hussain…

[‘Slain victors’: The Pioneer: 31 July 2001]

Ancient writings, Beastly encounters, Potshots

In the Plutonium Doghouse

Sixty thousand years ago, our dear ancestral cave-people snarled and hurled abuse and rocks and bones at their neighbouring cave-people, even as their respective supporters cheered and goaded them on while keeping themselves at a safe distance…

Today, Russia devastates Ukraine with missiles and other frightful weapons after being goaded beyond endurance by NATO and EU and USA, and Russia and the USA and NATO and EU snarl at one another even as the USA and NATO and EU cheer on and goad the Ukrainians to fight back and pour missiles and other frightful weapons into Ukraine while keeping themselves at a safe distance…

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

Thus it is in this dog-eats-dog world that we humans have in our wisdom created…because we love one another.

Cheered slightly by these thoughts, I inflict ‘pon thee, O long-suffering and precious Reader, a piece I wrote over 23 years ago – in fact, soon after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance in this article to any persons or nations on Earth, however slight, is entirely intentional.

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A mysterious defence document has come to light of all places, in the wrapping paper used by a peanut-vendor who operates his business near New Delhi’s India Gate. Inquiries reveal that the vendor purchased eighteen kilos of waste paper from Raksha Mantralaya early in May, and noticed this particular document only while wrapping five rupees’ worth of peanuts. “The masthead on the pages was different from the usual Defence Ministry stationery,” he explained, “so I thought it might be important, and called the authorities!”

Titled “In the Plutonium Doghouse”, the document is typed on the memo-pad of the Defence Ministry’s shadowy Department of Strategic Planning and Control (DSPC), and appears to be a sweeping account of global nuclear history. With Defence Ministry officials refusing to comment on it, the document is reproduced in its entirety below.

In the Plutonium Doghouse

Delhi, May-June 1998.

Once upon a time there was a kennel, in which lived dogs of assorted size, shape, faith and hue. Oldest among the dogs were Big Yellow and Big Brown. The two were neighbours, and like most senior citizens, pretty peaceful characters; in fact, Big Brown spent most of his time sleeping. Then came Big White, Big Red and a host of smaller dogs.

In the beginning things were just fine. Each dog had its very own space, with enough food supplies to last forever if managed well. But over the years some dogs got greedy and gobbled up their own supplies, and then they took to stealing other dogs’ food. Naturally, a stage came when they were all fighting like cats over the supplies that remained.

One day, Big White dug up an ancient bone from somewhere and discovered that by blowing on it he could make a fearful racket; enough to reduce all the other dogs to quivering, defenseless puppies! Naturally, he put on a lot of dog after that. He strutted about the kennel, brandishing his new pipe and helping himself liberally to the others’ provisions. But soon thereafter Big Red dug out a terrible bone-pipe of his own, and he was followed by two smaller white dogs; and barely had the echoes from their cacophonous pipes died down when Big Yellow nearly brought the roof down with a resounding trumpet-blast of his own.

Realizing that it was futile to aim their pipes at one another, the five dogs went into a huddle and came up with a brilliant idea: an exclusive pipe-wielder’s club, from which other dogs were debarred! For a while, then, the Plutonium Club (named after Pluto, the Almighty Celestial Dog) ruled the kennel; The five P-5 mongrels strutted about the kennel while the other dogs cowered in terror.

But Big Yellow was hungry for variety in his diet, and soon his crafty eyes turned towards the mountainous stores of Big Brown (who of course had slumbered while all this was happening).

Now, there was a little brown dog aptly called Li’l Brown who lived right next to Big Brown. Kennel folklore had it that once, very long ago, both Big Brown and Li’l Brown had belonged to the same family; but then a bitter quarrel had taken place over property, and Li’l Brown had thrown a tantrum and moved out to live by himself. Since then, Li’l Brown had developed a habit of filching food from Big Brown or nipping him while the old dog was asleep (which was almost always), and whenever the old dog protested Li’l Brown would roll over and yelp, “Help! He’s bullying me!” Baffled, Big Brown would go back to sleep, but soon Li’l Brown would be badgering him again, egged on by Big White who found it all very amusing.

Big White had other reasons too for befriending Li’l Brown. Right next to Li’l Brown lived a host of small dogs with vast supplies of delicious Afghan and Mughal food. Now, both Big White and Big Red were partial to Central Asian cuisine, but being much closer to these little dogs, Big Red had been hogging the lion’s share of these goodies.

So Big White made Li’l Brown his ally, promising him limitless supplies of hot dogs and cold fizzy drinks if only he harried Big Red and kept him away from the neighbourhood of the little dogs while he, Big White,instead carted off their provisions by tanker-loads and pipelines … oh, their oily pilafs were simply delicious, though the skewered meats did generate a lot of gas…

Well…such were the dog-eats-dog politics of the kennel.

But even while all this was happening, a day came when Big Yellow turned to Li’l Brown and growled, “Here’s a present for you… a little bone-pipe of your own! Now be a good fellow and wave it under Big Brown’s nose. It’ll distract him while I take a bite out of his Sikkimese pudding…I’ve been fancying it for years!”

But even as he spoke, a deafening roar shook the ticks off the kennel walls. Big Brown had sounded his very own bone-pipe; how he had dug it up while asleep, no one knew.

“Blast!” growled Big Yellow.

“Dog-gone it!” howled Big White.

As for poor Li’l Brown, he was inconsolable. “I can’t hound Big Brown any more, his bone-pipe’s bigger than mine,” he yelped and wailed. Finally Big White went over to him. “Aw, come on,” he rumbled soothingly, “tootle on that little bone-pipe of yours, chew on this nice piece of Afghan kebab, and you’ll feel better. As for Big Brown, just wait till the old duffer’s asleep and then take a nip out of his tail.”

Note from Special Directorate, Intelligence Bureau/DSPC, Raksha Mantralaya: Unfortunately the remainder of this secret document is untraceable at this point. Peanut vendors and their clients in Delhi are requested to keep an eye open, and to inform us at once in case any more pages are found.