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)