Saturday, 26 July 2014

Behind the Lines


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  Straddling little Seep on her hips she walked down the road, pushing  the perambulator laden with the monthly grocery. The street lamps lighted up the path ahead while throwing everything else into the shadows. There weren't  many people out now. She wished she had asked one of her friends along. Seep was getting heavier and it was getting difficult to push the grocery too. She paused on the roadside and let Seep down who instinctively clutched on to her mother's knees and buried her face in the soft familiarity of the clothes. Tousling the little one's head she rested for a few minutes before hoisting her on to her hips again. The sooner they got home the better.

   Home. It was a little over two months since they had shifted to Ranchi from Leh and settled down quickly. however these days when the shadows grew longer, their home became a stranger.The cheerful sunshine streaming through the windows left behind cold frames at dusk. Each room was an empty space bound by the indifferent walls. It was strange how the homes  turned into huge voids swallowing everything that gave comfort. She latched the gate behind her and sat Seep on the platform around the frangipani  tree. She then pulled the pram up the steps and unlocking the door pushed it inside. She sat down with Seep inhaling the sweet fragrance of the white blossoms. They sat there for a while. She reluctant to go in and Seep happy anywhere as long as she was with her mother. In each of those homes across her's, only a couple of lights were on. Behind those hesitantly closed doors were women and children, putting up brave fronts only to shed tears under the quilts and wet one side of the pillows unknown to each other. Little  Shreyan, across the street, had kept his father's photograph under his pillow kissing him a teary 'good night'.  She swallowed her own lump in the throat and pulled her daughter closer crooning to her, more to comfort her own self than to cuddle her child.

    It was getting late and soon it would be Seep's bedtime. She hurried inside to get the dinner for both of them on a plate. That's what her dinner was mostly after her daughter was done. The left overs. She was never hungry now.
     " Mama, story!" demanded Seep rolling onto her side as they both lay in bed.
She pulled out a Ladybird book from the bedside table. Seep listened to the oft repeated story and finally fell asleep lulled by her mother's voice. As for her, she could barely sleep.

       The last one week she had been waking up from her light sleep in the dead of the night, listening to the convoy of loaded trucks emptying the cantonment. One after the other, the one tonnes, the two tonnes, the hired Ashoka Leyland with posters stuck on the windshield " On Army Duty",  rumbled past  with the men and the machines. Each rumbling truck came in faintly, then roared louder  before fading away as they drove past the houses. And with every rumble, fear clutched her heart. She sent out a prayer with each of the rumbles to all the men. Everyday the vehicles would assemble in the open ground with the men methodically loading it up and every night they would move out in a long never ending stream...thirtynine ...forty...forty one...with one of them carrying the red cross flag and another with the fluttering religious flag.

    With the first ray of the sun peeping into the cantonment, she was up and mechanically went about her chores. Warming the milk, keeping the dal to boil, kneading the flour for the rotis, soaking the clothes for the maid to come and wash. And all the while her eyes were at the gate waiting to catch a glimpse of the rolled newspaper tucked into the latch. The moment she saw it, she rushed down the steps and snatched it out. Did she miss anything on the TV last evening or the late night radio news? With trembling hands she opened the paper and spread it on the floor  scouring it with every cell of her being concentrating on the black prints.
 She was rudely interrupted by the phone ringing shrilly. Her heart lurched at the ominous ring.
    " Hi! Hope you remember the lunch potluck at my place today!" said Megha whose house was a lane behind her's.
 " Of course! I am bringing over the dal"  she said sounding relieved.
" No, just come over. Rashmi is getting the dal. You relax, you have got little Seep to keep your hands full."
" No, no please! Isn't it Akhil's birthday too? I'll get some noodles for the kids. They will love it " she offered.
" Umm ... okay! Rama is baking a cake, so okay, I guess we will have a nice birthday lunch after all."
Megha hung up after a few minutes.

    She cooled the dal and kept it  in the refrigerator for another day. She had actually forgotten about the lunch get together. She brought out the noodles packs and the vegetables now. The cooking would be  finished before Seep woke up. She finished her chores before settling down with the newspaper once again scanning the pages for any updates on the battle ready front. The fate of thousands  of those in uniform waited for the green signal at the borders.

    He had promised her he would come back, avoiding her eyes and kissing Seep before getting into the waiting Gypsy. The entire night the men were out loading, supervising, checking stocks and getting things in order. The women were busy packing the uniforms, the shoes and the boots and all the other things their men would need. The cantonment did not sleep that night.  She had stood there by the purring Gypsy with little Seep sleeping in her arms. It would not do to get silly and emotional now, she had reminded herself. Movies are different. This was real life. She had to think of the driver too. He was also leaving his family behind. She made a note to look up the families of her Flight as the vehicle pulled  out of the gate into the darkness of the wee hours. Minutes later, with the first ray of light, she had heard the choppers take off one by one thundering over the cantonment at the break of dawn, rattling the window panes as they flew away. She had counted each one of them till the sun crept in with a deathly silence.

 The phone ringing brought her back. It must be Megha again she thought.
" Have you heard?"
It was Ragini. She felt numbness inch up. Her hands and feet  were turning cold.
" No, what?..." she heard her voice escaping the constricted throat.
" A chopper crashed in Leh was fatal."
" Who..were in it?..." she managed.
" Major Ganesh and Captain Roy..."
Her stomach turned and her knees wobbled. She felt something building deep inside her and rising threateningly to erupt into hot streams.
" I'll call you back..." is all she could muster before she put back the receiver and collapsed on the floor as her knees gave away. All the fears of weeks, days, hours and seconds smothered and buried deep inside burst out from every part of her. She found herself gasping in the flood of tears howling unashamedly. She clutched her head leaning back on the bed. She pulled bewildered Seep to her, woken up by her mother's wails. They hugged each other and cried for what seemed like ages.
     The clock by the bedside ticked away. She slowly came back to her senses. She released Seep from her grip and kissed her on the forehead. Wiping her face she sent up a prayer for both the unfortunate families to give them strength and courage. Captain Roy was the father of a  month old girl. He had just replaced her husband two  months back in one of the Leh Squadrons. .. What if it was...




  1. Well written! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The trauma of the spouses of soldiers. So hauntingly portrayed, Ilakshee

  3. A very touching story Ilakshee. The narration is beautiful. May God give very strength to families and our army men.

  4. Heartwarming narration. May peace prevail in this world

  5. You've depicted the emotions and fear of a soldier's family so well... it 's poignant but so real...

  6. Suresh, the trauma is much more!

  7. Shweta, thank you for stopping by! They do need every prayer!

  8. Maniparna, thank you. Hope I could do justice.

  9. Vidhya, peace would resolve so many things!

  10. Too often we forget that there are some brave hearts who wager their lives to secure our futures. We forget that they too are men and women in flesh and blood like us. Thanks for reminding us.

  11. Can't imagine how families of soldier face all this. I think they are stronger than most of us.

  12. Its easily said that we bear what is given to us... your writing made the fear stare straight in face.The trauma I can't even imagine...this left me with a hollow feeling in my stomach ... What if...
    joined Ilakshee.

  13. Its easily said that we bear what is given to us... your writing made the fear stare straight in face.The trauma I can't even imagine...this left me with a hollow feeling in my stomach ... What if...
    joined Ilakshee.

  14. I was enjoying the lucid details of your story-all of it happening before my eyes as if-when that phone call gave me goose bumps.Thank God the end was happier-but it was sad for someone else---this is life.


Your words keep me going :)