Archive for December, 2020

At the Dawn

Saturday, December 12th, 2020

As usual, the forest woke Rishi up. The sounds of birds and the elephants in the distance always wakes him up. There was a muddy pond close to where they were camped. At the dawn, birds and animals get together for their berry breakfast and cold muddy water drink. He does not need to look at the clock to say it is five in the morning. This is what he had been doing for the past two years since the day they withdrew into the forest.  He knew it was is five o’clock. He had set up sentry points last night and assigned boys to the points in a circle with a 1 km radius.

He normally patrols the points a few times at night to make sure all is well. In the mornings, he would go another round to check that everything is under control and to make sure the boys change shifts.

Last night when he checked around at 11 PM, everything was in order. Boys were at the designated places maintaining silence. You could not hear anything except the sound of the wind rustling the leaves. It is a unique sound. They have learned to differentiate the sound caused by the wind and the sound caused by small animals like rats and rabbits and also humans. He had asked Miller to do the rounds at 2 AM as he was very exhausted with digging a well for the girls who have camped 5 km from here. Now it’s his turn. He woke up Kali asking him to accompany him. Kali is the youngest boy on the team. Nineteen years old.

Kali joined the movement when he was waiting with uncertainty for his admission from the university. The unfair standardization process of university admission has left the youth of the Tamil community with despair and rage. That was the partial reason why the boys and girls of that era took weapons in their hands. Rishi kept an eye on Kali to protect him from the other boys bullying him. The boys were not cruel and they think it is only for fun. But for Kali who was still with raw emotions of leaving home, it was tough.

Kali came out of the hut with wrinkled clothes and ruffled hair. With a big yawn, he put the sling of the AK 47 on his shoulders. The boys at the first sentry point were having tea. ‘Anna, have a cup of tea’ they invited. He waved his hands at them and moved on the usual path they take for the next point.

Something felt wrong. As if something had been disturbed. A new smell lingered in the air. It couldn’t be. How could anyone infiltrate between two sentry points? While his brain was analyzing the possibility, he stepped on something. He knew. He had stepped on it.  Before his cells became alert, and sense the situation, his heels came off from the object. A landmine.

The piercing pain struck on his head like being drilled by an electric driller. Some pink and bright red mixed pieces of something flew around him like the tree canopy over his head was shedding some flowers. The four inches stump hung loosely from his right thigh.

The knowledge that it was his muscles, bones, and nerves flying around him strangely struck him. It was not new to him. He had seen it before. But this was his leg, his right leg. He knew this would be the first challenging task for the medic team. There had not been any landmines incidents in the past. They would not know how to treat it and they did not have the resources for that. Was this going to be the end or Was it the unraveling of a new long path to travel? Thoughts flocked his mind. He could sense a blurriness beginning in his eyes. All those years of hardcore training and experience handling the unexpected events at the frontlines pushed him to awareness. He tried to look around him for a way to get out of that area as there might be other mines too. They don’t just say it, a minefield.  It really is a field of mines when enemies intend to make a hell of it.

At the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Kali running towards him. “Stop. Kali. Don’t come into this area”, he shouted forgetting his pain for a blinking second. He would not forgive himself. If Kali gets injured or get killed, that lifelong pain would be insufferable and incurable. Didn’t he already carry a load of guilt and pain?

He directed Kali to give him a long strong stick. Holding it he jogged on his one left and came under a big trunk of a tree. Sat on the thick root that looked like a crocodile. Removed the sarong he was wearing on top of his shorts ripping it in big pieces and started wrapping the stump again and again.

When he bent down, the cord that strung around his neck with a cyanide canister hung before his eyes reminding him of its presence. Fingers wrapping the sarong involuntarily stopped.

Is this it? Is this the moment I decide to bite the cyanide canister? Blurring eyes and rapid shallow breathing urged him to bite it. Hardcore training and leading young men of various walks of life, making spur of the moment decisions at the war front nothing prepared for him for this moment. He is just twenty years old. A twenty-year-old young man to lose his leg and think about the life that lay ahead while the blood dripping from the leg that hung loose is not a possibility at all. The piercing pain and the darkness surrounded his heart tempted him to bite the canister.

The presence of Kali stopped him from doing it. His shaking body and saucer-like eyes made Rishi strong. It was unfair to this young boy who joined my team with ambitions. He raised his hand towards a tall tree. Kali understood. Rishi had told him many times before. This is the longest tree in the surrounding area and anyone would hear him if he shouts. Through the closing heavy eyelids, he saw Kali running towards the tree.

While his eyelids were closing and while he was falling through the dark tunnel, he never stopped believing that there would be light at the end of the tunnel and his comrades would be waiting.