Sunday, 11 November 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 14, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Aaye jo ashq aankh mein, hum muskura diye
(when tears welled up in my eyes, I smiled)                                                                                                                                                                 
The Rajdhani from Howrah was running late beyond all reason. The restless crowd sitting in wait at the Gaya station included the two youths who sat weathering the humid, miserable night, their ears trained at the announcements on the platform . The Rajdhani, that generally arrived by ten-thirty was late by an hour and a half.

"You are coming for no reason Arvind. It is too hot, and the train is also late.  I would reach Delhi comfortably sleeping on my berth." Wiping the sweat dripping down his brow with one hand Sudesh said.

"Cut it out ! Don't act over smart by repeating the same thing over and over again. The promise to show you round the city of Gautam Buddha was mine and in any case I was only looking for an excuse to go with you to Delhi during this vacation. What would I do sitting at home !" Arvind responded a little impatiently.

The simmering-with-heat night was also having a big impact on the gigantic clock hanging on the platform and its needles were bent upon setting a world record for moving at the slowest speed. Sudesh was beginning to look a little stressed now... the heat-induced sting in the foot was slowly going beyond endurance and the craving for a cigarette was held in check by the difficulty of walking a distance out of the platform. Taking pity on the collective hue and cry of the sting, the endurance, the craving and the difficulty, the night seemed to surrender and the clock, adamant on making a world record, had begun to show just a little past midnight when the Rajdhani, puffing, pulled up at the platform. Arvind picked up Sudesh's bag too. Bogey number A-three had stopped a little away from its designated spot. The tickets bought from 'tatkaal' - urgent slot - had allotted the two friends the same bogey but different berths. Sudesh had got the lower number three berth close to the bathroom. Arvind's upper berth on the side was a little further down at number twenty-four. Arvind reached the gate of the bogey and waited for Sudesh who followed just a little behind with a slight limp. Climbing up with the support of Arvind's hand, when Sudesh reached his berth he found a middle-aged man already sound asleep on it, snoring softly. A somewhat thickset woman lay on the adjoining berth and on the berth right above hers, a boy. Slipping Sudesh's bag under the berth, Arvind said with irritation "Wake up the gentleman, I'll be back after I check out my seat" Sudesh, with his inherent politeness shook up the sleeping man with some hesitation, "Bhai saheb, please get up ! This is my seat."

"What happened ? What is your problem ?" The cranky tone of the half-prone gentleman definitely held an elitist arrogance.

"Sir, this is my seat !" Showing his ticket even in the semi dark coupe, Sudesh said.

"Get lost ! TT has given me this seat. Don't you dare bother me!" The man's sharp voice was cutting into  the sting in Sudesh's foot.

Arvind popped in just then with his bellow of a question, "What's the matter Sudesh?" Familiar with Arvind's short temper, Sudesh, covering his reply of "nothing to worry" in a smile, asked him to go get the TT. Meanwhile the woman in the adjoining berth and the boy on the upper one had woken up by the man's voice. It became clear in a split second that the three were of one family and now the woman and the boy together were spraying arrows of sentences in halting English mingled with Hindi. The arrival of the TT. immediately set aside all the confusion. Looking at Sudesh's ticket the TT apologised to the man saying, "The seat belongs to him only. You will have to return to your upper berth... I had allotted this seat to you in haste." The three pronged bombardment of a mixture of Hindi and English seemed to have been stunned into silence. Arvind had this golden opportunity to give vent to a taunt but Sudesh sent him tumbling to his berth and mustering all his will-power began patiently to wait for that person to vacate his seat. Suddenly a voice coming out in a mumble from under the silence was pleading with Sudesh... "Bhai saheb, if only you would take the upper seat... actually papa is suffering from lower-back pain... so it will be difficult for him to climb up !" The boy on the berth above the woman's was imploring Sudesh.

"Sorry, I can't !" The smile on Sudesh's lips stayed on... "He will have to manage somehow. I have to sleep on my own seat. I am really sorry !"

Hearing this the grumblings of the woman on the adjoining seat began afresh... grumblings coated in phrases such as... "the youngsters today have no civic sense" etc. etc. and appearing oblivious to all this Sudesh was busy taking off his boots. The boot on the right foot took substantially longer to get off than the boot on the left foot and forgetting everything the instant he lay down on the seat, Sudesh stepped into his own peaceful, calm and carefree world.
       
With the arrival of morning another kind of silence descended on the tongues of the co-passengers of berth number three. It was actually difficult to say which - the surprise in the eyes of the co-passengers or a guilt of sorts on their whispering tongues - was greater. The passenger on berth number three however was fast asleep lying flat on his back, oblivious of that surprise or the said guilt... his right foot boot, placed in the isle between the two lower berths was much larger than the left foot boot, its height reaching the knee... an exact replica of the leg below the knee. The blanket covering the passenger lying flat had slipped and was about to fall revealing half his leg, amputated at the knee.

Just then, with two earthen tumblers with tea in hands and a wakeup call to the progeny of 'Kumbhakarn'- Arvind came and sat down, put the tea on the table-tray and covered his legs with the blanket. With a mumbled plea of "let me sleep some more" Sudesh turned to the other side. The silence of the three co-passengers sitting on the opposite berth was finally broken by the boy... "what happened  to him ?"
     
Arvind just sat for a very long time staring at the three sitting before him and then spoke out in an absolutely impassionate voice, as if chewing out each and every word...

"He is a war hero ! He was injured in the Kargil war... had a narrow escape from death but he is more alive than you."
 
The clickety-clack of the train coming in through the window-glass of the AC coupe was providing a strange background music to the silence come to sprawl in the aftermath of the statement. The middle aged man, coated till last night in the arrogance of a pseudo elitism, threw up his question mixed in a little hesitation or some confusion...

"Oh, you two are from the army ?"

"Yes... I am Major Arvind Sinha and this one... with one leg and a half... is Major Sudesh Singh, Vir Chakra... who had single handed defeated an enemy post and had later gone and gave up his leg in the minefield set up by the enemy." Arvind's voice held a strange kind of anger
.
"Hey, give me my tea !" Sudesh's voice rose just then.

"We are really very, very sorry... for yesterday ! We had no idea that you..." The man was still speaking when Sudesh butted in...

"Sorry for what ? Sorry that I am an army officer or that or that my leg is amputated ? Would you still be  sorry if there was another person in my place ? If not then this sorry has no meaning, Sir !"

And just a second later Sudesh and Arvind could be seen bursting out in a laughter over something... a laughter in complete synch with the clickety-clack of the train.

Who was the poet who had said...

khud apnee hee bekasee kee udai hai yoon hansee
aaye jo ashk aankh mein hum muskuraa diye

(Thus have I mocked my own helplessness
when tears welled up in my eyes, I smiled)                                                                                                                                                             

                                                                             ---x---

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 13, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Chote kee har tees ab to ik nai siskee hui
(each sting of the wound turns now into a new sniffle)

Knock-knock...knock-knock ! The month of March, sounding a new knock of age, drenches the entire being in a shower of such weird and wondrous feelings each year! Birth-day is probably the one occasion when we celebrate the loss of something. Does age increase or decrease ? As a child when I saw grown-ups around me I often thought how amazing  life over forty must be, when one would be free to take each of one's decision. Ha, ha... free ? I had no idea then that with each increasing year the said freedom  becomes increasingly enslaved ... to circumstances, ...to needs,... to family-ties and bonds,... to time,...to one's profession,... responsibilities,... extra labour being put in to stay alive,... enslaved to life itself,...! This new 'philosophy' is also perhaps a special gift from this over-forty age.

Out of the layers of this newly earned philosophy has emerged a new wisdom these days. The wisdom to turn a blind eye,... the wisdom to ignore,... the wisdom to deliberately overlook. The facebook posts engaged in debates, the whatsapp messages making a noise, the little tweets on twitter creating a ruckus, the  news channels working up a cacophany... to pass over all of these, to develop a devil-may-care attitude towards them all is a special achievement of this increase in age, believe you me diary dear. The practice in the social media to present events catering to arguments, convenience and to the advantage of a particular class, a particular ideology and a particular interest is becoming dangerous. What surprises is when a whole class of educated people, without putting to use its own maturity of mind, picks and chooses its own respective share of the truth. It  would still have been okay, had the matter rested with making a choice but the people then begin gradually to take their choice as the absolute truth and then start the exercise of thrusting upon others their own choice of the truth... this is scary.
             
Ever since I have learned to be blind to all this, I now see peace around me, peace in the country, peace all over. I wonder why, dear diary, do I not find more such people amongst my friends who can be blind to all this ! Shouldn't  this ability to be blind be, in a manner, the concept or the basic idea of having a perspective ? I wonder if the forty third rung of my age is making me a little too wise...!

This age of forty three years is also so weird... isn't it...when size thirty is tight on the waist and size thirty two, too loose. These darned jeans-makers do not keep any option for size thirty one!

There has been a halt in the snowfall for the past few days . But the white layers are piled so high that it makes one jittery to think ... how is all of this going to melt ? The ability of the faint lamp-like flicker of the Sungod is, for the time being, under a curtain of doubt, which will lift when it will. Till that time the terrible terror of this snowfall and bone chilling cold may well keep the spectres of jihad hidden inside some cave or the other, and its outcome is a stamp of approval from the brigade commander saab for a month's leave for me. I am going home after thirteen months. If the weather remains clear like this tomorrow too, I will reach Srinagar comfortably by the helicopter that brings in provisions. Otherwise, a seven hour trek down these high mountains... then a five to six hour journey by jeep on the snow-wet roads till Srinagar... and only then a flight to Patna.

Chhutki, my little girl, has grown older by one more year without her papa... she is ten now. A page from an eight year old diary flips open... with details of an eight year old leave... a yellowing page of the diary...pointing out the wound received from the enemy bullet and the smile of a two year old Chhutki.  Something like...

"The distance from Srinagar to Patna by a floundering Air-India plane, even though it has to fly over the mountain ranges of Pirpanjal, is covered only in four hours and a half hours... the five hour distance from Patna to Saharasa however is not coming to an end even though it is now close to nine hours. The speed of the train is motivating me to get down and start jogging by its side. But otherwise the chair in this train, which is moving with the speed of a turtle, is a relief after two and a half months on a white sheeted hospital bed. I do not have a reserved seat in the only AC chair-car in the train... but Kundan Singh ji knows me, properly, by my name. Kundan is the TT appointed for this only AC car and is quite perturbed over the fact. He is startled to hear my name and moving a sage-like baba from the seat by the window... the window on the left side...so my plastered up left hand doesn't have any problem, assigns the seat to me. As the AC in the chair car is on its full swing, the bone in my left hand has begun to sting... desire for a pain killer... opening the door I come near the toilet. Even 'Wills' manufactuerers wouldn't be knowing what an effective pain killer they've created in king size which goes by the name of 'Classic' !  Kundan Prasad ji is lurking around. I guess what he wants and offer a king size pain killer to him also. His hand, a little hesitant, extends and our conversation starts with the first drag. He wants to hear from me the story of this encounter of mine. 'You will not be able to digest the truth and it won't be possible for me to tell a lie'-  this weighty dialogue from me proves to be counter productive and inspires him even more to hear the story ! During this time I also come to know from him that a few local newspapers have, projecting me as a hero, printed a fully spiced up version of the the encounter. I get to hear again the clichéd phrases ... you people keep awake so we can sleep etc...etc. I feel nauseated to hear these phrases... my pain increases and the mobile rings just then... thank god... I get a repreive from Kundan Singh.  It is two-thirty at night (or in the morning?) when the train reaches Saharasa. Ma's tears are still awake. Why does God bestow upon each mother tears that are insomniac ? Papa tries, unsuccessfully, to laugh on seeing me. My wife is somewhat perplexed whether she should look at my face or at my plastered up arm and Chhutki is sleeping under the mosquito net surrounded by pillows. I make a noise and wake her up. She stares for quite a while with her eyes screwed up and then smiles... uff ! Why does the moment not stand still ! She smiles again. She has recognized me even though it's been six months since she saw me last. Ya hooo!!! She smiles...I smile...infected, the life smiles. The fatigue from the long journey becomes an absconder and the pain in the plastered arm no longer needs that king size 'Wills' pain killer....
                    
"Dard saa ho dard koi to kahoon kuchh tumse main
chote kee har tees ab to ik nai siski hui

(I would tell you of my pain only if it qualified as pain
each sting of the wound turns now into a new sniffle)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
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Monday, 22 October 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 12, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' ( फ़ौजी की डायरी )


Mere saath hee saath barra ho gaya hai mera dar
(Along with me my fear has grown bigger)

The pranks of the wanton youth of  new year had gone so out of hand that the weather has had to don the mantle of its guardian. Covering these dried and parched, green and brown mountains in spotless white capes, the weather, in this serious avatar has as if turned them into so many yogis practicing pranayama - yogic breathing. How these mountains, looking  so severe and formidable two weeks back, have begun to look like becalmed ascetics deep in samadhi - a meditative trance ! Snowfall did have a delayed start but now that it has started, is showing no signs of stopping, breaking -  like the famed pole-vault athlete Sergei Bubka - its own record of the previous year. Eighteen feet in just three weeks... whoa ! The barbed  fence has, as if, ceased to exist. It's white all over from this side to that. The territorial division by the border holds no good for this white sheet of snow.
           
... and the temperature, falling below zero due to snowfall, does not discriminate between anyone either, doling out cold in equal measure to both ... the border security and the mad jihadists ! The security personnel have, any way, not been given an option by their green uniforms... they have to carry on with their duties as always. Yes, all the spooks and the ghouls of the said jihad, scared and shivering in the bone piercing cold are crouched cowering under blankets, clinging to a 'kaangaree'- a small pot filled with lighted charcoal - to take in its warmth. The said pledge etc. taken by them and their handlers across the border for jihad to free Kashmir seem to be on casual leave for the time being. There is not even a suggestion of a jihad visible in the endless expanse of this white sheet spread out far and wide !
  
Meanwhile, the snowfall piling up in layers has, in a sense, provided some relief as one is no longer required to be on the alert each moment, but the problems now are of a different kind... the problem of continuously  clearing out the snow falling down the roof and windows of the bunker lest the roof gives way under its weight and rifle barrels are unable to point at the enemy because of blocked windows... the problem of cleaning out the path from one bunker to the other after every hour or two so that the regular patrolling on the border and unhindered supply of rations to the bunkers remains possible. Each bunker has, of course,  been provided with tea-making ingredients in plenty, hoards of maggie packets, barrels of kerosene oil etc. Many a time during blizzards, it becomes difficult to cover even the distance of seventy to a hundred metres from one bunker to another. But the greatest of all problems and fears comes from the possibility of an avalanche on the freshly fallen snow. Even though all jawans in the battalion have become fully trained in dealing with this crisis... an apprehension of sorts always lurks  in the mind. Its impossible to sit relaxed inside as long as even one of the patrol teams is outside the bunker. One sits surrounded by a strange anxiety... and in this strange anxiety , the initial 'kirr-kirr' coming before each wireless message makes the heart-beat leap up high until the ''oscar-kilo-over" coming straight after that 'kirr-kirr' reaches the ears. Taking pity on my jumping-every-now-and-then heart-beats, I have issued this standard order making it imperative to start any message with an 'all okay, over' before coming to the main message . Now, of course, it has become the trend.

Just see diary dear, how in the past one and a half - two years, I seem to have turned into an image that is forever engulfed in apprehensions, unease and unknown fears. No one will ever know how this colonel, constantly talking to his junior officers about ardour, vigour and valour, is always so anxious within him, with regard to the safety of these same jawans and junior officers. Goodness knows why there is this fear... this dread ? And why after a certain stage in life, this fear, this dread is less for your own self and more for those your own ? This fear too comes in so many different forms. Changing its veneer as per the time and the occasion, the fear appears in its many different and overpowering avatars. I recall an incident in Premchand's novel 'Seva-Sadan'. When Sadan had to go out of the village on an important errand in the dark, he didn't want, even if he wanted it, any thought of a ghost or a spirit to come to his mind. But the same thoughts, even if unwanted, keep invading his mind... and then, on his way, he comes across the infamous peepal tree, known in the village as an abode of spirits. Sadan's mental state at the time ! Height of fear and dread ! And then in a state of some kind of mental aberration, Sadan goes round the tree at first and then grasping the tree trunk, shakes it with all his might. And this is where Premchand writes, 'Fear, at its height is courage.' If my memory is correct, Premchand has repeated this line time and again in his stories and novels. But where am I to find the height of this unknown, undefined fear of mine ? Where has the rascal sprung up from all of a sudden ? Is it that it has has it been growing silently with me from childhood ? Some day... yes, one day I am definitely going to write a few such stories of this fear... this dread, never before heard or told till now...

hurfon kee zubaanee ho bayan kaise wo kissaa
likkhaa naa gaya hai,jo sunaayaa na gayaa hai 

(How to tell in words the tale
never before written nor told)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        i
A poem by Naresh Saxena raises its head suddenly in the middle of this cold and freezing night...

Hawaa ke chalne se
baadal kuchh idhar-udhar hote hain
lekin koi asar nahin padataa
us lagaataar kaale padate jaa rahe aakaash par

mujhe yaad aataaa hai bachpan mein
ghar ke saamane taaron par latakaa
ek mare hue pakshee kaa kaalaa shareer

mere saath hee saath badaa ho gayaa hai mera dar
maraa huaa voh kaalaa pakshee aakaash ho gaya hai


(The blowing of the breeze,
moves the clouds hither and thither
making no difference however
to that increasingly darkening sky

reminding me of the blackened body
of a dead bird in my childhood
that had hung down the wires before the house

Alongside with me, my fear has grown bigger
that dark, dead bird has become the sky).


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Sunday, 7 October 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 11, English Translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji kI Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Dolate Calender Ki Ei Udaas Taareekhon
(O Sorrowful Dates In The Swaying Calendar)

New dates make me sad now. They didn't, earlier. Back then, in the gone-now-like-a-dream-childhood,... I had wanted to fast forward the clock needles, turn the calendar leaves quickly over to see what all the future years had in store for me in their books of account and now... for some reason arrival of the new year fills me with an undefined despair. The year two thousand and eighteen...seeming more formidable and daunting than these sky-kissing mountain ranges... where I have been seated  watching over the border for who knows how many centuries... is filling my whole being with an nameless foreboding. Will this new year... strutting happily for now on its arrival...  squealing joyously at its being... still be strutting and squealing thus, by its end ?

New year celebrations are on with full gusto in the civilization below. I find the congratulatory calls and whatsapp messages appearing on my phone to be distressful. The congratulations and photographs of friends being posted on facebook are causing more pain than joy. However, there was a good surprise from across the border.  An officer from their side had come to the post in front to convey their best wishes and congratulations. Their officers, unlike ours, are not generally present on these forward posts... so it was a 'surprise' of sorts for me when I got the message. The tall, lean and fair major was shouting out his best wishes. He didn't tell his name when asked. He said, "Sir our commanding officer sends his regards and best wishes to you and your entire battalion." When I asked why he hadn't come himself the major said, a little hesitantly, " He is a bit busy, sir." I liked his hesitation. This hesitation on the part of the major from across the border was a sign that the shoulder to shoulder presence of our army officers alongside our soldiers at each front as against the absence of their officers who stayed far behind the frontline, gave our army an 'added advantage'. Meanwhile Lance Naik Mahipal Singh, sitting beside me in camouflage with a sniper asks whispering, "Saab, should I shoot him down ?" My response of 'shut up' to the query put so innocently by Mahipal Singh dampens somewhat the enthusiasm of the jawans at the post on January, the first, which I have to make up for later by accompanying them on dholak and harmonium. The fixed barra khaanaa - feast - at the langar - community kitchen -, included delicacies like Kashmiri pulao, puris, alongwith 'rista' cooked by Irshaad Ahmad Vani, the favourite porter of the jawans, also wazwan and gushtava.  Aha... had all the hands of these kashmiris, instead of picking up AK47, exhibited these 'wazwans' and 'gushtavas' this said paradise of earth would have been seen heading the best food-tourism in the world !

Anyway, what happened after that delicious feast was that in the urgency of reciting a poem written by me on the jawans' request, I failed to remember anything written by me and immediately a poem by a very dear friend on facebook appeared on the screen of my mobile phone to the rescue of my failed memory. You lend a ear too, diary dear, to this truly genuine poem by Neeraj Dwivedi...

Jis vaqt samvidhaan ko kheese mein daal aur
loktantra ke chabootare par baith
netagan sab de rahe honge lambe lambe bhashan
Marx aur Lenin ke larraake
kar rahe honge kaagazon par kraantiyaan
moonchhon par taav dete facebookiye kavi
likh rahe honge tutahee rachanaayein

Main, ek sipaahee...
aath bai aath ke tamboo mein baith kar
dhoondh rahaa houngaa
tumhaare prem mein doobee
apnee ek bataa chaar kavitaaon kaa nayaa arth
aur
jorr rahaa houngaa apne jeevan kaa haasil


(At the time when, putting the constitution in their pockets
and seated on the platform of democracy
all political leaders would be spewing out lengthy speeches
the warriors of Marx and Lenin
stirring up revolutions on paper
twirling their moustaches, the facebook poets
wrting their broken down poems

I, a soldier
sitting in an eight by eight tent
would be looking for a new meaning
in my soaked-in-your-love, one by four poems
and
adding up the gains of my life
                                                                                                                           
And while, listening to the poem, everyone this side gets lost in the memory of his beloved... the Jhelum on the other side, under the company post... right under it across the road, meandering and rustling, squeezed in between its closed, crushed shores, gazing at the sky with a strange sourness, asks it... 'chille kalan* has since started, why aren't you starting your shower of snowflakes ?' The expanse of the sky is adding a little more enigma to its mysterious silence while the whole valley has been squirming with exasperation at this arrogant air of the sky. The sky is showing attitude thinking if the darned clouds do not have the time why should this be any of my concern. Engrossed in their play with the sun, the clouds are oblivious of this exasperated squirming of the valley as also the sourness of the squeezed-in Jhelum. The issue is one of ego-confrontation between the sky and the clouds and it is the global warming that is getting blamed for the delay in the snowfall that is increasing each year. Snow had fallen twice already by this time last year. This delay in snowfall will affect the crop produce and the blush on the apples in the valley below on one hand and impact also the frequency of infiltration by jehadists on the other.
Do make the snow fall now, O weather gods... so the water in the Dal and the Wular lakes becomes fragrant with the scent of saffron at the right time... so the banks of Jhelum and Kishanganga can carry on their wazu - their morning and evening ablutions - with the juice drippng down from the apples... so these alert-each-moment border-sentinels can have access to nights to get a little peaceful sleep... so the faith in your godhood remains intact, yes, the same faith which just now, in the year just gone by, came very close to losing its existence !
Notwithstanding all this, the occasion of new year has brought to my bunker an unusual, unknown warmth - all due to Deepika padukone's one thousand watt smile. Such is the impact of my well renowned obsession with regard to Deepika that the 'youngster', back from leave, has brought me a beautiful new year calendar in which Deepika appears with all her charm in different poses on the leaf of each month. Such a huge contrast, isn't it... distressful dates along with Deepika's radiant smile ! A few couplets of a gazal have come to form just this instant...

Chhoo liya jo usne to sansanee uthee jaise
dhun kee guitar kee nas-nas mein abhee-abhee jaise

jaise-taise gujra din, raat kee naa poochho kuchh
shaam se hee aa dhamkee, subah tak rahee jaise

tum chale gaye ho to wusate simat aayeen
ye badan samander thaa, ab huaa nadee jaise

dolate calnder kee ei udaas taareenkhon !
raunakein mere kamarein kee hain tumse hee jaise


(The instant of her touch set me all astir
like a melody strummed on each guitar-string - as it were

somehow the day wore out, don't you ask about the night
landing up in the evening, she stayed till the morn - as it were

your going away has made the expanses close down
this body, that was an ocean, is now a river - as it were

O, sorrowful dates on the swaying calender !
my room owes its radiance only to you - as it were)                                                                                                                                           

* chille kalan -- The fiercest part of the Kashmir winter that lasts forty days, starting generally from the 21st or the 22nd of December to the 30th or the 31st of January.

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Thursday, 4 October 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 10, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' ( फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Kuhre Kee Mustaid Jawaanee Jaise Sainik Roman... Uff
(The youth of the fog stands alert like a Roman soldier... uff)                                                                       

The autocracy of the fog is on. Finally, the conspiracy of December to challenge the power of the sun has  come to fruition. The darned December has no idea how by challenging the sun it has increased manifold, the challenges faced by the people living at the border. If only words could describe how, as against the infiltration by a few mad jehadis at the barbed wire on the LOC, the inability to see just a yard ahead makes things so much more difficult for soldiers standing on alert twenty-four hours at the border...  how these razor sharp ranges and its jagged ups and downs make difficult the posting of security forces covering - chappa-chappa - each handbreadth of the land. And... oh, this mention of 'chappa-chappa' has brought to mind a very interesting episode.

Information about suspected infiltration received from region falling under the neighbouring battalion a month or two back had created some sort of a furore in the valley down below. Intending to do away with the hypothetical and preposterous news stories being put out by the media, the local police proposed to call a press-conference. The SP city was deputed to answer the questions put up by the journalists . A very lovable young man from distt. Samastipur in Bihar, appointed as SP city, has come here... with passion and fervour in his eyes and in his heart... baskets full of resolve and purpose in his grip. He calls often to enquire about the situation in the upper region and has therefore become a good friend.  As he was going through the list of probable questions a little before the start of the press-conference to keep ready his answers, SP saab got stuck on one question. Experiencing the natural nervousness of conducting the first press-conference of his career and looking for an apt answer to that absurd query he, for some reason or the other, thought of this friend from the high mountains . In a somewhat excited voice he first, as a preamble, apprised me briefly about the press-conference and then repeated the sticky question . An absolutely absurd question... one that could cause the blood rushing through the veins to boil... "How, when the army is posted at each handbreadth - chappa-chappa - of the land, does infiltration become possible ?" How does one explain to  these news-people the many hurdles the terrain poses in this place ! If only we had the freedom to make them stand here with their cameras at the chappa-chappa of the land, I would have countered them then by asking what all their camera, with its zoom lens, was able to cover ? Any way... the SP was anxiously waiting at the other end of the phone for a befitting reply. It made no sense to go into the details of the hurdles faced at the line of control, the hazardous ups and downs in the narrow mountains and the ferocity of the weather. The answer to this nonsensical question had to be given at the same wave length but making full sense . As the SP repeated his question words tumbled out on their own from my mouth...                                                                                                                                                                                         
"Between chappa-chappa, there also happens to be a hyphen"

The ear-splitting laughter ringing from the other end of the receiver after a moment's silence on the SP's part on hearing the reply had given the reply the stamp of being a foolproof one. It came to knowledge that the press-conference had been a colossal hit and a few local newspapers had used the statement about 'hyphen' as their headline.
News headlines however cannot be used as a cure for the 'hyphens' present along these razor sharp ranges, nor do they have any hold over the misdeeds of this brutal December. But then, December always brings with it certain special memories also... memories of the Passing out Parade. It's been twenty years now. Twenty four, if I also count the training period at the Academys...uff ! It is not just an era that has passed by during this period! A lot has changed during these twenty four years. In the country... in the army. To think that  the boy who had - even after clearing post-twelfth the IIT entrance exam respected reportedly throughout the country - opted for the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla had, at one point,  dwelled in this very frame makes me laugh now. And the credit to make NDA an obsession goes to no other but a darned film. Years back... I must have been in class nine or ten at the time... could anyone have thought that watching such a very ordinary film as 'Vijeta', on the black and white screen of that small Uptron TV in the house would leave so extraordinary an impact on that teen-age mind ! The journey of 'Angad', the film's protagonist, from an average youth to an exceptional warrior was so intriguing and invigorating that the fourteen-fifteen year old boy, staring as if spell bound at the screen of that small Uptron TV, had wanted to become the live Angad on that screen... to be the cadet Angad undergoing rigorous training in the enormous, grand premises of the NDA... right there, right then. The world changed for that boy after watching the film. He had as if become obsessed by this passion that chanted  'NDA- NDA' each moment and then ... when the entrance exam conducted by UPSC and the qualification to sit for it was still more than three years away, he had begun to prepare himself to become 'Cadet Angad' in real. Is this called fate... destiny ? The film had released seven years after his birth, he had seen it seven years after its release and that too on the shimmering black and white screen of a fourteen inch TV, and this 'seeing' had turned the earth around on its axis for him in the opposite direction. Yes, perhaps ! This is destiny... laughing out loud in its most magnificent avatar ! Govind Nihalani Saab, the director and Shashi Kapur, the producer wouldn't have any inkling whatsoever that one of their films has transformed the entire life of a boy.
Now... after all these years I wonder if I had not viewed that film that day, would I still have been sitting here like this, keeping an eye on the border on this high mountain ... devising ways of making a mince of the conspiracy cloaked in the December fog !!!
The one way of arresting this wilfulness of the fog is by snowfall... only. However, there is no way the snow would fall before chille kalan... the time from the latter half of December till January end... when the winter is at its cruellest in the Kashmir valley... and it is still at least two weeks before chille kalan starts . Till then the alertness on the part of security forces demands to be at its peak. I had at some point written a few lines on this darned December. Will you listen to them, my diary ? Here goes :-

Thithuree raaten, patla kambal, deewaaron kee seelan... uff
Aur Disambar zaalim us par phuphkaare hai san... san uff

Boorhe sooraj kee barchhee par jung lagaa hai arse se
Kuhre kee mustaid jawaanee jaise sainik Roman ...uff

haanph rahee hai dhoop dinon se baadal mein atkee-phatkee
shokh hawaa ei ! tu hee isme daal zaraa saa ab eendhan...uff


           
(Freezing nights, flimsy blanket, wetness on walls... uff
And at that the dreaded December makes hissing calls .. uff

The dagger of the aged sun seems to have been rusted forever
the youth of the fog stands alert like a Roman soldier... uff

The sunlight has been panting for days, in and out of clouds in a duel
O pert wind ! Its for you now to add to it some fuel... uff)

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Monday, 17 September 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 9, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Mujhse ek kavita kaa vaadaa hai milegee mujhko
(I have the word of a poem, it'd be there for me)                                                                                       

The evenings are growing chilly. This darned September... stuck here since who knows when... was refusing completely to make its exit. It seemed the month had become so enamoured of these sky-kissing heights of thirteen thousand feet that it would not give way to October. But in the end October did arrive... breathing hard from the slope far down ...shoving September away. At times it feels as if I've been here, encamped here on this mountain... for aeons. Did I ever exist anywhere else before this? Or is it that I've been here since the beginning of creation ? Who do I ask ? There are times when even this enormous family of twelve hundred jawans and fifteen to sixteen officers seems to fall short in filling up this vast loneliness stretched all around. There is perhaps no job more lonesome than leading a large family ! Each phone call coming from the bunkers, each message received on the radio set, unless it begins with an 'all okay' ... invariably makes the heart miss a beat at first. What if, in this utter desolation, this damned, anxiety ridden heart stops beating ! What a futile death would it be ! This clammy death-smell clings so close to the body during the month of September! The month has become a little too saddening in the past eight years... extending the desolation more and more with each year.

It was a moment that the gloom had struck... it is the load of a century that lies sprawled. Eight years have passed already since bidding farewell to Suresh. Yes...eight years ! Suresh... Suresh Suri... Major Suresh Suri ... whose very existence defined valour in motion... but whose exit had been pre-ordained somewhere in it's list by destiny in order for me to exist. Everything becomes so easy, doesn't it, when we assume that it had been so written... destiny ! And death, when it occurs, is complete destiny in itself. The other day when captain Rakesh, at the mention of Suresh, had asked me, "how does it feel sir, in those last moments of death"... I'd almost laughed. Last moment of death ? How can any moment of death be its last ? Life... it is life that has a last moment . Death has just that one moment, isn't it... whether its first or its last.

All the officers had wanted that day to hear from me the story of that September of eight years ago. I had again put it off and in lieu, had been lobbed that poser... how does it feel in the last moments of death ! It had almost evoked laughter, but it had disappeared in a blink - the laughter... alarmed that it had dared to appear when it was Suresh who was being discussed ! In these past eight years he comes alive almost daily, courting death again and again on the cruel canvas of memory. Mulling the thousands and thousands of options such as - had that happened,  this wouldn't have happened or had this not been done, it wouldn't have come to that - the mind brings Suresh to life each time and then kills him again. There was probably no moment for him that could be called his last...whether of life or even of death.  That last moment eventually has remained stuck only to my 'self'... as my destiny. When I think of Rakesh's question now, I recall the nature and number of thoughts assailing the blood-soaked body on the day. The first being that Suresh is alive... everything will be fine in a moment...that this is a mere nightmare and will disappear immediately on waking up. And the second about how my Chhutki - my ilittle girl - would grow up without her papa in case I did not survive ! And some other pointless thoughts... the anger on this unexpected turn of an absolutely well planned operation... anger on the blood drops dripping from the body... anger on the about-to-run-out bullets. In those last seconds, perhaps only anger was the foremost emotion. Something like life flashing before eyes in the fashion of a moving reel ... ha ! Perhaps that happens only in films .

Would it be poetic or realistic... to say that the bullets that are stuck in the body do not give as much pain as do the bullets being extracted from that same body by the doctors' scissors despite the administration of anaesthesia...? This dialogue had made all the officers laugh for a long time that day and this laughter of theirs had brought, for the first time, solace even in the month of September . May be... it just may be that the pain is finally accepting the might of destiny ! Many a time I feel like calling up Suresh's place... to have a long talk with aunty... tell her of all these realistic or poetic thoughts assailing my mind. She perhaps is the one person on this earth who may be able to reach to the bottom of all this turmoil. But then I can't muster the courage ! Something begins to pound deep down the chest... somewhat like the pounding rising in the chest on the day when bullets had begun to boom suddenly from all directions.

Right now...right at this instant, sounds of fire coming from far afar out in the space are as if providing a  background music of drum beats to these sad memories making a march ! 'Sad'... 'Suresh'... 'September'... why do all these begin with an 'S' ? September, the 'sadist'... ha ! what a cliché !!
   
Brings to mind a verse by Gulzar...

Maut tu ek kavita hai
Mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko

Doobati nabzon mein jab dard ko neend aane lage
Zard saa cheraa liye jab chaand ufak tak pahunche
Din abhi paani mein ho, raat kinare ke qareeb
Naa andhera naa ujaalaa ho, naa abhi raat naa din
jism jab khatm ho aur rooh ko jab saans aaye
mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko  


(Death, thou art a poem
A poem has given me word, it'd be there for me

When in the sinking pulse, the pain begins to slip into sleep
When the moon, with its pale face, makes its way to the horizon
When the day is still in the water, the night, nigh the shore
Its neither dark nor light, neither day nor night
when the body ceases to be and the soul begins to breathe
A poem has given me word, it'd be there for me)



September 2017

   
                                                                             --x--                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
   

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Diary Of A Soldier - 8, English translation of Gautam Rajrishi's 'Fauji Ki Diary' (फ़ौजी की डायरी)

Ik Rasta Hai Zindagi, Jo Thum Gaye To Kuchh Nahin
(Life is a path, in case we stop it comes to nought)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Far from this bunker built with cold and damp stones, beyond the butt of this lifeless AK 47, some place away from the piercing winds on this high mountain... I wish to get distributed between a few big and small phrases jotted up and down in some disorderly lines, free from all bindings, let loose, rid of my wits... so that I could sweep together in my poetry... papa's deteriorating health, the wrinkles on ma's worried brow, the smell of gun powder, all these sandbagged barricades, Deepika padukone's smiling eyes, forgotten names of a few girls, The pealing laughter of my only little girl and lots... lots and lots of leave of absence... all of this at one go.
       
It is so difficult to explain to everyone... anyone, that to a soldier standing on duty, it often appears like a sin  to even think about taking leave ...

...that moving was implicit in even my pause, and all you saw was, how still I was...

...that the gut wrenching wails of moments you wouldn't want to hear even in your dreams, I was destined to live through and you heard not my scream... but the squeals of destiny...

...that the fingers, broken while writing new definitions of commitment, are unable to write down answers to accusations hidden in your questions...

...that the truth is that this has no meaning... this watching, this hearing, this raising of questions...

...when my valour, my devotion has no place even in my father's gradually dying out memories... what still has a place there however, is the unjustified  uselessness of my justified absences !

And thinking of papa while on apprehensive night vigils on these stretched out borders, I am reminded of the story of Yayaati.  As a result of the curse coming from the wrath of Guru Shukracharya - his own father-in-law and the guru of the daityas - Yayaati, in ancient times, grown old before his time had, under some mental aberration, requested his five sons to lend him a slice of their youth. What I remember of the story read in childhood is that perhaps only Puru, the youngest of the five sons, had been willing to fulfil his father's wish. And the story gives rise to a wayward thought... a wish that science had some such mechanism in these amazing technical times... a wish that a son could, like blood and organs, donate a slice of his own youth to his father... ! Ah, too many of 'wishes' !!!

The spell of these night vigils weaves a number of such bizzare 'wishes' !

Meanwhile, it has come to knowledge... that the grey, sprawled out stone... had kept sneezing till late last night . Yes, that same stone... that largish one, the one that, owing  to its size and greyness, seems absolutely  different even from afar on the descent of the slope, whereafter begin rows of the pines and the cedars and a little after that comes the root of all the false and imaginary disputes - that line called the border. Yes, that very stone whereon sits either a wearied 'noon' or a tired out 'evening' each time on return from a patrol to take a breather and light up a tiny, eighty four millimetre long cigarette stick before it embarks upon the steep, two and a half hour long climb.

...and somehow or the other, each time immediately after the patrol ends, one or the other voice - nervous and concerned -  calls out from the rest of the patrol coming from behind, "It's not advisable to sit there for so long saab, that stone is within the range of the enemy snipers and those nuts are not to be trusted." Hmm...the concerned voices are right. But there is some sort of a trust on that stone... on the grey stop-over on that stone, on the few minutes of laid back sittings... on the 'devtakaaar' - godly (not 'daityakaar') heights of those pines and cedars and on the little smoke-spewing stick. How does one explain this to those nervous and concerned voices ! So, with a nothing-happens-you-know smile, the wearied 'noon' or the tired out 'evening' begins to think that the next time it would certainly leave written on that sprawled out greyish bosom of the stone, either a couplet by Ghalib or a verse by Gulzar. You never  know when a crackpot of a or evening from the other side may come patrolling and leave something written in reply...!!!
           
Many a page
must have been buried
in the vast bosom of the stone

Let me look for a verse
or find myself a song
so
one page at least be mine...

...and last 'evening', was bathed in rain as it returned from patrol. And the two and a half hour long climb had slipped many times under the 'evening's feet, pleading each time as it slipped for the 'evening' to make a stop for the night around the stone. Making a stop was difficult for the evening, however that minutes long stop-over did get stretched... for the thin and tiny Wills classic stick, dampened by rain drops, took a very long time to light up and irked by the delay, the wet socks in the water-filled boots became very adamant...  demanding to come out of the boots to lie awhile on the sprawled out stone to soak in its warmth. Grape wine has it that there was also a lengthy exchange of verses between the socks and the stone. The socks had dried up... that supine looking stone had stayed wet.

...and that stone had sneezed through last night... splayed out, greyish sneezes !

A song in the voice of Naik Mahesh, standing guard at a far off barricade, comes floating in...

Jaate huye raahee ke saaye mein simatana kyaa 
ik pal ke musafir ke daaman mein lipatana kya
aate hue kadamon se, jaate hue kadamon se
bharee rahegee rahguzar, jo hum gaye to kuchh naheen
ik raastaa hai zindagee jo thum gaye to kuchh naheen...

(Why shrink into the shadow of a voyager going away
why cling to a traveller, here for a moment's stay
steps that come in, steps that go out
shall keep the road abustle, our leaving matters not
life is a path, in case we stop it comes to nought


                                                                          --x-- 

August 2017