The Soldier; A mother writes:- My son, Arjun, has been fascinated by life in the uniform ever since Ican remember. He used to pick out fighter jets from toy stores at two,choose books on tanks and naval ships from book stores at three and hecould sit through an entire republic day parade at the age of four!Many of his painting are about soldiers or about fighter jets andbattle tanks. There is no blood and gore in them though. His soldierssmile as they march along holding the Indian flag aloft. The skies areblue, the grass is green and the sun has a big smiley face! I havenever bought Arjun a gun as a toy, but he continues to be mesmerized by military life.
When I realised that he was genuinely interested in knowing more aboutmilitary life, I tried to channelize this interest. I took him tovisit the NDA, the Tank Museum in Ahmednagar, bought him books onmilitary life and took him for aerobatics shows. ‘Mamma, I want to bea soldier painter when I grow up,’ he used to tell me, his faceshining with determination. I felt proud. His grandfather, my husband's father was an officer in the Indian army, while my fatherwas one of the celebrated freedom fighters of Goa. My son had inherited the fighting gene from both sides of the family. His fatherand I felt a quiet surge of pride when he declared his intentions tobe a soldier though we never said it out loud.
These days though, I cringe visibly when he talks about becoming anIndian soldier. Someone once said that a nation that cannot respectits fallen heroes has no right to be free. I think India has reachedthat sorry stage. A group of enemy soldiers violate a nine year oldceasefire, walk into our land with impunity and kill and behead two ofour soldiers. The head of one soldier is never found. Yet, all our‘honourable’ polity can say is that the attacks were highly'provocative'! Provocative? Really? So when are we going to be provoked into retaliation? When a few more soldiers lose their limbs,lives and heads?
And this is not the first time either. Remember Capt. Saurabh Kalia?Yeah, the same Indian officer who was captured by Pakistani soldiersand subjected to tortures that I shudder to even mention to myself!His old father is made to run from pillar to post as he tries futilelyto hold the state of Pakistan accountable for what they did to hisson. The Indian state just does not care. Forget the state, even theprivileged citizens of India do not care. Our idea of patriotism is tolight a few votive candles, buy tickets in black for India-Pakistancricket matches and wave a few cheap plastic tricolours! Once thematch is over, we can then trample those very tricolours beneath ourfeet and go home and sleep in our cosy beds, our role as a cheerleaderfor the Aman Ka Tamasha show over for the moment!
India is a country where everyone has human rights. Rapists,murderers, child molesters, serial killers, terrorists, Maoists. Everyone. Except soldiers! They are paid to fight, remember? It istheir JOB to die unsung and unlamented, to have their eyes gauged out,to have their dead bodies returned to their families headless!
A few years ago, all major newspapers in India splashed a picture onthe front page. It is a picture that still haunts me in my darkest dreams. Some BSF soldiers were ambushed by a bloodthirsty mob ofBangladeshi villagers. The soldiers were killed after being subjectedto the most inhuman tortures. The very telling photograph showed adead soldier being returned to India slung on a couple of bamboos,like he was some kind of a dead animal! Yeah, that is the respect webestow upon our fallen soldiers.
Even now, when I close my eyes and think of that picture, I feel likethrowing up. I feel revolted by the attitude of our emasculated, spineless political leadership, by the selling out of our media thatcan fund meaningless extravaganzas like Aman Ka Tamasha, but does nothave the will to follow up a soldier's story. I feel revolted by theattitude of our thinkers, writers, film-makers, human rights activists, lawyers..all the people who don't give a red farthing for asoldier's suffering. I feel revolted by the Indian people, whose ideaof patriotism is to light a few candles and paint their faces in thecolours of the Indian flag as they cheer the Indian cricket team at anIndo-Pak match and I abhor myself, abhor my sterile helpless, uglyrage that cannot do a thing to change any of this!
There was a movie called Dhoop that was released a few years ago, avery sensitive portrayal of the struggle that a fallen soldier's agedparents have to go through to establish ownership of a petrol pumpallotted to them. There is a scene in that movie that continues to beetched in my mind indelibly. The dead soldier's parents are visited bytheir son’s comrade-in-arms, who fought along with him in his lastbattle. The mother cannot bring herself to speak for a long time.After a long, oppressive silence, she asks only one question, ' Did myson eat anything before he set out for his last battle'? The visitormerely shakes his head and she breaks down completely. She can onlysay one thing over and over again, ' My son went to fight on an emptystomach. He was hungry when he fought his last battle'! I have tearsin my eyes even as I write this.
I am that mother. I am every mother and I will never ever be able totell my son with all my heart that if he chooses to become a soldier,his father and I would be very supportive of him!