It was a cold, dark night. The thin crescent moon was unable to dispel the darkness in the ambience.
Captain Jagat Singh, Indian Army, crawled a few more feet. He was badly wounded. He lost both his junior officers – their chests torn away by light machine gun fire – and the radio equipment, the previous evening. He was hit by how many bullets and where, he was no longer aware. He crawled away from the site to safety and hid himself in a crevice between two huge boulders and lay there the whole night. Numbness pervaded his whole body.
Captain Jagat Singh hid in the crevice the whole of next day without food or water. After sunset and after darkness engulfed the entire area he started crawling. He had no doubt that he was dying.
‘I have no time for self-pity. The job on hand; always the job on hand.’
He knew that his target was less than a kilometre away. He crawled on.
They had planned the behind-enemy-lines guerrilla attack a week ago. The instructions from the Lt. Colonel and the Major were precise.
“Infiltrate enemy territory. Blast that fuel and ammunition storage yard. It necessarily has to be a small-team operation. Captain, you take two junior officers and enough ammunition.”
They discussed other details of the operation at length.
“Any more questions, Captain?” The Lt. Colonel asked.
Captain Jagat Singh answered in the negative.
“Then, get along and God be with you. And Captain…”
“Yes, sir…” He stood in attention, heels of his boots clicking.
“Jagat, don’t get yourself killed. Come back and let’s have beer.”
“Roger that, sir.”
Captain Jagat Singh lay hidden among the tall grass, his breath emanating in burning hoarse whispers. He was at the periphery of the storage yard. He could see hundreds of metal drums, containing fuel for enemy vehicles, and crates of ammunition under a makeshift canopy of camouflage.
‘If I blow away the fuel drums the ammunition will automatically explode; will serve the b*****ds right.’ He thought.
His fatigues were tattered. His elbows and knees offered a bloody chafed sight. His whole body ached; ached abominably. He ignored the pain ad crawled with feline stealth, millimetre by inexorable millimetre, to under the camouflage canopy. He looked around and did not find any human activity in the immediate vicinity. He found a small gap among the fuel drums and ensconced himself out of sight.
Slowly, he searched his uniform, or what was left of it. He had half-a-dozen hand grenades strapped on to his chest belt. He lay supine and placed five of them in a small heap on his chest. For the last time he enjoyed the dark sky high above the canopy – wisps of cloud dotting the sky, a beautiful silver crescent moon and myriad stars twinkling.
‘These grenades will do.’ He was satisfied.
For a minute he thought of his family – father, mother and Alka, his wife – and immediately brushed aside all such thoughts.
‘The job on hand; always the job on hand…’ He said to himself and reached for the sixth hand grenade.
Captain Jagat Singh held the hand grenade just above the pile of grenades on his chest. There was finality about his action and the expression on his face. He knew what he had to do. He was not afraid.
Jagat Singh held the grenade in his left hand and hooked the index finger of his right hand into the circular ring of the safety pin.
‘Alka, I love you,’ he said within himself one last time.
With the last vestiges of energy left in him Captain Jagat Singh, Indian Army, yanked the safety pin out.
A few days later…
An army Gypsy, carrying an officer, sped towards the small, non-descript village in Punjab wherefrom Late Captain Jagat Singh hailed. The officer was carrying a packet containing some personal belongings of the Captain slain in action.
It was dusk when the Gypsy halted in front of a rural house. He got down from the Gypsy, dusted and adjusted his starched uniform and walked stiffly, with the packet in hand, to the front door of the house. He stood in attention in front of the main door and knocked on the door…
The same evening…
Alka was dressed in Patiala salwar-kameez, in her husband’s favourite colour – baby pink.
‘You look like an angel in baby pink dress, darling,’ he always said with a hug and a kiss.
The door bell chimed sweetly.
‘He has come…’ Alka was thrilled as though she was on her first date, although their marriage was a couple of years old.
She ran to the door and reached for the bolt and opened it and…
The same evening…
“…It is because of your vigil at our borders that we citizens are able to sleep fearlessly and peacefully in our homes across this great nation…We are beholden to you…”
The Defence Minister’s speech was being aired by a TV news channel. He was speaking at a morale-boosting meet-the-soldiers event somewhere near the border with the neighbour.
…Rahul entered and looked at Alka and said, “You look like an angel in baby pink dress, darling,” and hugged and kissed his wife.
Alka threw her slender arms around her husband’s waist and walked with him to the drawing room of their humble abode in Chennai.
Shyam Sundar Bulusu