Farewell, O Lance that defended India
Truly, you are our Naik – hero – I’d say
You stayed alive
In a prone position
Icy challenging heights
Stared at death
In the face
With smirk on the lips methinks
Idiot box amateur announcers
Termed you Hanuman Thapa
After the deity
Adding a Nepalese warrior suffix
Hailing from Karnataka
Belonging to Madras Regiment
To be Th[e]appa
To inspire us all for an eternity
Got a chilling message from you
Stop eyeing the snow peaks
You ain’t gonna land
A grain of sand
I can hear you
Querying the Almighty
We salute you sir!
As they say in France
Till we meet
In your myriad incarnations
At the borders
Guarding Mother India
As a mark of respect to Martyr Hanumanthappa, I dedicate a short story I wrote some time ago.
India’s shameless political classes and sections of its officialdom were snared by the media after allotting themselves 100 plus posh flats in an upmarket district of the nation’s financial capital of Mumbai under the guise of building a structure for the widows of army martyrs who laid down their lives in India’s northwest frontier with Pakistan called Kargil – not far from Siachen – where Martyr Hanumanthappa stared death in the face squarely.
There are other injustices doing their rounds.
I feel peeved over this not because of anything else but my inability to change the accursed system in India.
Pardon The Delayed Tears, Child!
Justice Advait Aher of India’s Supreme Court summoned his trusted stenographer Kaatyaayani Khandelwal to dictate his ruling in a school fire tragedy matter that had killed 94 school children in Tamil Nadu – a southern state some 7 years ago.
Exactly 94 children – most them little girls had perished in a devastating conflagration that had spread due to illegal thatched roofs in a building unfit to be a school, locked collapsible gates meant to prevent children from cutting classes which ensured their painful death and a rather callous teaching staff who had no pity or any feelings for the children.
The criminally culpable school management had managed to hire the best legal brains money could buy in India’s capital New Delhi filing an appeal against the Madras High Court’s judgement that had sentenced them to life vide a special leave petition.
Not many in India know or bother to know that a “life sentence” means exactly that as per prevalent laws.
Premature release is not a right of prisoners to be released in 14 years.
All the same, this is being done at the discretion of a host of authorities that include the relevant state’s governor, chief minister besides, a unanimous recommending resolution signed by all the members of the cabinet of ministers.
The judge knew that the appellants were guilty as sin for mass murder. But, numerous holes in the police investigation and the shoddy conduct of the case in the lower courts had been thoroughly exposed by Chatturbhuj Daryanaani – one of India’s senior most and smartest criminal lawyers. That, the judge felt, could result in only one inevitable finality.
The portly stenographer walked in carrying her shorthand notebook and her mobile phone – something she used to record the dictation of her boss as a kind of back up.
Ever efficient, she did not believe in getting her boss to correct her mistakes by hand on a draft.
“Recording the audio of what you dictate will aid its verbatim transcription without typos Sir,” she had said the first time when she had brought the gadget into his room.
Aher was surprised.
His stenographer had never hesitated to say anything before.
“Go ahead, Kaatyaayani. You want take an off today? I can always dictate the judgement tomorrow.”
“No sir, it is not that. I will switch on my mobile phone that contains a recorded conversation given to me by a friend who is researching into things termed supernatural. Please hear it before pronouncing the verdict. It will take some 7 minutes. The narration is totally offbeat in nature. I know you never believe in super-natural events. Nevertheless, do listen. It is a sincere request sir. Thanks.”
Without a word, she flicked on the play button and began walking away.
The way a young voice began surprised Aher.
Ouch…ooh! It’s paining Amma!
Better learn to bear pain, Jambu! You are born as a girl, you know!
I had hurt myself on the knee while playing.
My mother always called me Jambu – the shortened version of Jambukeshwaran – that ought to have been my name had I been born a male.
I had been named Jambakalakshmi.
My parents always had wanted a son.
I keep hearing my mother telling all our relatives that that sons get money into the family when new brides come home with a lot of dowry – whatever that means – and daughters are only expenses.
We have to be dressed beautifully, married off with a lot of presents and cash for our future even if we have a job and all, my mom adds to the end of each conversation.
Somehow, I feel unwanted at home.
The doctor auntie told me the other day that Amma will soon be giving birth to my sibling.
I hope it will be a brother.
But, the pain is unbearable. I feel my leg is on fire, Amma!
Don’t worry, darling! A little coconut oil and turmeric powder on your wound will make it go away in a day. But, you should be more careful. Supposing you get scars from wounds, it will be very difficult to find a good husband for you. Now, now! Don’t cry, please! It is just a small wound on your knee.
Sometimes, I do not understand whether you are comforting the child or chiding her!
My father, an officer in the Indian army, loves me more than my mother.
His words, ticking my mother off, comforted me more than mom’s turmeric mix.
Dad spends most of the time guarding our country in a place called Siachen – somewhere in north India.
He came home yesterday afternoon after six long months.
Just before I was tucked into bed yesterday, he said it was very cold out there.
The temperature, most of the time, hovers around minus 25 degrees Celsius, Jambu. The mountainous surroundings are beautifully white in a cloak of fresh snow, but the cold leaves an unpleasant feeling. One of my friends recently died while urinating in the open. Apparently, the salty liquid waste froze in an upwardly direction when he relieved himself without protection. Somehow, the cold always gets into our feet despite our wearing the correct dress, shoes, woollen socks and a lot more.
So how do you manage the cold, Appaa? How do you sleep at night?
The human mind is all powerful because it is given by God. It can do anything. The blankets, smokeless fire, sleeping bags and a lot of other equipment, for some strange reason other, allow the cold to enter our bunkers all the time. High altitude fighting involves psychological warfare. My commanding officer lieutenant colonel Simranjeet Singh Chibber taught me a trick which always helps me relax.
Whenever the cold is so unbearable, I imagine that I am at home – here – where most of the year, it is unbearably hot. The imagination takes over and the mind, with some concentration, makes my physical body forget where I am. Slowly, I feel comfortable. The discomfort returns only upon being jolted when gunfire erupts.
Can one forget one’s cold by just imagining the heat?
Yes. And the opposite is also true. You can forget the heat by imagining the cold.
But I have never been to Siachen…because you have never taken me there.
Not a place for young ladies, darling! But, you have been to the nearby hill station Kodaikanaal many times! Supposing it is very hot somewhere, just imagine you are there without a blanket. Sometimes, you may feel cold enough to ask for one!
You are joking!
I am dead serious!
I tried it out.
The green Kodai hills swam into view revealing the hat lifting and suicide points besides – the snapping, whistling wind.
Suddenly I felt cold.
The wound no longer hurt.
It was miraculous!
Amma broke my reverie.
Come on Jambu! You are getting late for school.
At school, as usual the teacher was scolding some of us, including me.
I put the trick to use again.
By thinking that my grandmother was narrating a funny story, I even began to smile.
The nice feeling was cut short rudely when I began smelling hot smoke.
A moment later, I saw it coming from the first floor of our school.
The teachers sternly ordered us to stay put.
I began teaching my trick to as many of my friends as possible.
Many began giggling.
Suddenly, as the fire burst through the roof and the ground all of us were scared and the trick stopped working.
The stair-case was very small and narrow.
But, we could not use it because the collapsible gate outside our classroom on the corridor that led to the exit downstairs was locked as always.
The princi does not want as to escape from school and play truant.
So the exit is locked and can only be opened by the watchman uncle.
Perhaps he has gone for his cup of tea and Beedi smoke.
Some of my friends passed out.
The actions of the fire brigade breaking open the ventilator – the only one in the room caught my attention.
I called out to the firemen and helped them locate us through the thick smoke that was blinding them and us.
I think I managed to help many of my classmates.
The firemen uncles scolded me.
Charity begins at home, young woman! Help and save yourself!
The sari of my class-teacher who had asked us gruffly to stay put was on fire and she was screaming.
Even as she was being rescued, I fainted.
When I surfaced, I felt a burning sensation all over my body.
I used the trick again and began feeling comfortable.
So far 91 children have perished. I am afraid you daughter will add to this tally, major!
Is it paining too much, Jambu?
My father’s kind voice felt like a cool balm.
No Appaa! Your trick is working fine. Where am I?
You are in a government hospital, getting treated for burns.
I lost consciousness again.
My father’s kind touch patting me on the head woke me up.
I found him crying.
Major Krishnan, your daughter has only a few more minutes to live. Nevertheless, please don’t tell your wife who is here in the neighbouring maternity ward as I do not want her to go into a shock and worse.
I did not understand why doctor uncle looked so sad.
Suddenly I felt a very pleasant breeze and very light.
I could see a girl’s burnt body in a completely singed dress…upon close examination, I recognised myself from the red ribbon that held my pigtails.
Your presence is required in the maternity ward. Please, hurry up!
The voice was gentle.
How can I come? I am here!
That was just your body. Your mother has developed labour pains. It is time for you to become your own younger brother Jambukeshwaran.
I do not understand this. And more importantly, can you find someone else to be my brother please? I really wish to stay back here with my friends now and later, play with my younger brother!
Your existence on earth was not supposed to end now. Further, you have an important task of informing the truth of what actually happened in your school today to some important person in your next birth because your current physical condition now does not allow you to continue as the currently known Jambu. Soon, you will be a Jambu again…this time…a male. Come on, child! Let us go.
I had a final look at my friends. Sadly I will never see them again here…or in the place called heaven.
The judge slowly wiped his tears.
He knew what to dictate for the two cases for which he had reserved the judgements earlier.
The first was of course, that of those seeking to end their incarceration for killing 94 innocent children.
The second one involved what Aher perceived as an insult to the memory of the martyrs of Siachen over the years.
Faulty equipment meant to prevent seepage of the effects of chilling snow and betrayals in the Indian defence ministry had killed several army personnel without anyone being the wiser.
Worse, a massive building with 31 floors meant for their widows and children that had come up in New Delhi’s fashionable Defence Colony was being misused and abused by self-seeking, well-connected, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
With a grim expression, he pressed the buzzer to summon Kaatyaayani Khandelwal to dictate two landmark judgements.
This tale had been penned long ago. Its link: