It was a gory moonless night, tranquilized with inky black, but all our eyes could attend was red. We were enshrouded in mist. The red flowing in the soil was reflecting the somber starless sky owing to frequent shots of wandering ignitions. We were invisible, some of us behind the unending ocean of black and brown trees, some of us under unsettled broken tanks and the remaining hapless ones veiling the corpse of unknown. Gratitude to the ceaselessly increasing fog, none of us was visible to none of us. We were spread like the watermelon seeds, on the similar pulpy red ground, shoes dabbed in soil. The hushed yet crispy howling wind was holding her horses, a single clunk of arms we were carrying or a feeble groan of our thick and mortal wounds could lead us to our death. On the other side of the forest, behind some similar nameless trees, the shadows were waiting for a wave of betrayer wind, which would bring them the news of our existence. The extremity of the situation was mutual, both of us were waiting for one grave mistake of the other. I, the captain of my troop, the one who would be responsible for the sinking ship, the owner of the helm was changing the angle of the rudder carefully, I had already informed the Air force, about the uninvited intrusion of lavishly equipped enemies, till then, my duty was to keep the no. of casualties to a minimum. I looked at my wedding ring while searching for the moon and stared at it for a while. If it would not have been the unwarned attack, we would have been celebrating that chilly night around a campfire, near our tents, dancing and swaying on old classical Hindi songs, with trees and heavens as our comrades who would have whispered the melancholy with us, while ardently waiting for Friday. In the 21st century, when people were immersed in the debates regarding the economies and borders, food and technological inventions, actors and scandals, here we were, at the farthest edge of the country on mountain ridges, without signal connections, without internet, hiding behind barks, just feet away from dense deadly forest and hands away from the deep steep valley. If it would not have been the bloody slaughter around this time of the night, we would have surely been half dead, sleeping anywhere, regardless of the cold, in the influence of brandies. But now, the ones sleeping are not in the influence of alcohol, the trees were quiet, the heavens were closed and the rest of us, regardless of the situation, praying to our almighty irrespective of religions, to let us see one more Friday. I was waiting for the update from Air force, while holding the walkie talkie in my left hand, and a heavy gun in right, maybe in few years they would fix a telecom tower here which would catch satellite signal, but till then this dual-radio communication system was the only thing we had. It could have taken hours, for the response, getting help was a long procedure, a series of calls, some to the ministry, some to the general, explaining the situation to each of them, waiting for their orders after long meetings of diplomats and intellectuals in the air-conditioned rooms leading to some cliché talks of world peace, and then dominating their decisions back with just one phone call. The possibility of arriving the air force in time was minute, but the fatigue of arms, thirst, and hunger, the pain of our wounds and the chilly numbing winds were not as strong as our will and longing to see the coming Friday. We were not going to lose ourselves, Friday was still a day away. After standing for another half an hour, in the same erect position, I heard someone sobbing, the origin of the sobs was somewhere near, which meant that someone from my troop couldn’t bear his position anymore. I didn’t know who he was maybe someone among the new boys, who were unfortunate enough to get their first posting in this extreme border location, who yet, didn’t understand the nature of the life they would lead. I desperately looked around, to confirm his exact location, he needed to be quiet, but in the meantime, the patterned click of guns and boom of explosions stamped on our grave mistake, without laying out a single second, the attacks became mutual, the blares of gunshots, crashing of cymbals and thunder booms continued for the next 15 minutes until both of the sides lost enough of breadths and bullets to halt the harsh process for a minute or two, the grief of losing someone the rage of the remaining ones, the momentarily motivated vengeance and the regret after each falling bullet shell, cannot be measured by the selfish showy diplomatic talks between the nations. They can’t imagine the agony of these young men, who have been in the middle of the massacre. Their mental health when With those same hands with which they have slaughtered some unknown sinless people, they would feed their children, if they would come out alive. It’s a lifelong trauma. Anyone could have perceived the truth if they would have seen the body of the young boy, who was engaged to a young girl, just a month ago and who was one of those 8 comrades who died waiting for yet another Friday. Meanwhile, a bullet met my skin, it was a missed target, because it passed away touching my arms, I ignored the fresh soaring wound while assuring myself that wounds are the ornaments of soldiers. To recharge my gun with fresh bullets I hide behind the trees and let myself gasp, that I heard the most promising sound the moment could present, the deafening roars of the jet engines, I looked up relieved, as the captain of the sinking ship had found the shore, within the reachable distance of few minutes. I looked up, confirming the nationality of jet and everything turned blurry, out of the blue dizziness overpowered my wills and longings, and my eyes couldn’t witness the conformity of living the next Friday, half-conscious, lying on the ground, I realized that due to excessive blood leakage from my arm, weakness was mastering my eyelids, I struggled for consciousness till all my effort of keeping myself awake ultimately failed. And my last wish was, please let me live just one more Friday. Gratitude to the unknown who granted me my wish, the next day when I opened my eyes, I saw, rows of beds and a trail of promising man and woman, with medical kits in their hands, assigned one to each bed, some fixing the glucose bottles, some aiding the open wounds, and some helping the rejoiced soldiers to reach the carom board table with whatever resources they had at 4300m altitude from sea level. I was relieved, that the Jets were not from the enemy's ports. I didn’t want to imagine what had happened after I went unconscious. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I turned my head to left, Lieutenant Shankar, most senior of us all, whose daughter married a month back, was lying there, with a newspaper held by his severely wounded hands. Before I could say something, he looked at me, and then covered his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Was he tearing? or just glad, after a moment of pause said
“I am not crying, but thank god you are alive, I can’t thank enough for that, I had no courage of facing this Friday without you”, last night flashed in detail on my retina, he was right, another tough task was pending,
“where are the rest of them, how many?” I concerned,
“10 of us died", he took a deep sigh and continued,
"The newspaper is saying that troops clashed in the mountain forests ridges 10 died, but they sure are happy, because on the other side 44 of them lost their lives”, his smirked in mocking disguise,
“They think only numbers are the basis of loss and gains, so insensitive. For them, war is just a game of numbers, 10:44, and we have won”, no one can measure how soul drenching it is, to see buoyant youth dying, I became numb, the uncertainty of who was alive who was not, was shaking each of my living cell, who died? the one who married last year or the one who was going to marry next month, the one whose vacations were granted this Sunday or the one who was desperately longing for Friday. But I couldn’t face away from the situation. As a captain, I had to take responsibility and enquire about them, although it’s the thing I was reluctant to do. I took a deep sigh, fighting back my tears and coping with the fear and got up to perform my duties for the dead. I reminded myself Today was Thursday, yet another day to serve, another day for Friday. For the whole day I and Lieutenant Shankar, together did the heart wrenching agonizing work. Identifying and dispatching the martyred. The war is heinous and barbaric. The dead faces were covered in red and brown, some of them burnt and damaged, I had to console the primer comrade friends of the departed ones, weeping, and mourning, giving mental support to each other, I had to be with the remaining ones, who witnessed this kind of bloody conflict for the first time and who were still in shock. I neutralized them, by talking about their wounds, families and reminding them of coming Friday, somehow bringing them back to reality. All of this while keeping my fears locked inside the boundaries of a pseudo shell. Lieutenant Shankar was right, the headline stated ten of us died, with no names, no extra piece of information. Due to the absence of mobile signals in the camps, the headquarter was flooded with calls. Headquarters was 2 days away from the military camp, we could only contact them by a laptop, the only possible source for the transmission of orders and instructions from the commanders to subordinates, connected with military frequency, the network-connected us to ministries and generals, condemned for civilian uses. Any house, whose sons and breadwinners were serving here, would have been in extreme despair. Engrossed in misery, they would have been praying about the safety of their loved ones, while crying and growling at the same time trying to be brave, hoping at the same time fighting with hopelessness, until we would not recognize the deceased. As they say, with a soldier, his family too dies a hundred deaths. That’s why war is brutal, a moment before they took the bullet, or got eaten by explosions, they were all the protagonists of their lives, dads, sons, husbands, but a moment later, they became numbers, who will be published in the next day’s newspaper, and would be the basis of the further debate, if our Numbers are less than the other side, they would again intrude, and if our numbers are more than them, we will. In the dawn when I was reported that the ministry was mailed about the details of the late soldiers, from where they would inform their respective families about their loss, I decided to close my eyes. Waiting for the next day, trying to come out of phase I passed, the people I saw, remembering about the history they spent with me, the dreams they had, some of which were brutally buried in the same ground and the rest of which flew away with the winds to heavens. The night was going to be haunted, as my eyes witnessed the cruelest end of human lives, crashed faces, bodies in their extreme disorientation, covered with dark brown blood, some trashed, some stashed, ragged in corners, some embedded in the soil for which they were brave for. I tried to loosen my focus to the next day for which I was waiting desperately, with all those who were alive. So handing myself to the tranquilities present in the frigid crispy summer winds, I went to deep slumber. Without bothering the chaos of my half scratched body, and partially wounded battalion. When I opened my eyes, the next day, it was already noon. A refreshing summer wind, which was unintentionally chilled, touched my eyes. It was June, yet winds were chilly. I got up from the bed and perceived that all my comrades, were waiting for my orders, completely clean and ready for the Friday. In front of me, was placed a big biscuit colored box, and behind them, a troop, devouring to it.
“Attention,” I said, they erected themselves and faced me while tracing a null point. Funny it is, but that’s how soldiers get trained, to follow orders without rationalization. I decided to end their agony and desperation as soon as I could.
“yes, sir” he shouted,
“Distribute the stuff to the respective owners”,
“ok sir”, he followed and started calling the mentioned names one by one,
“Sergeant Ravi, Sergeant Rajat, Lieutenant Avinash, Captain S.P. Singh” he announced and handed over a yellow envelope to me.
Hundreds of yellow covers arrive every Friday. The springs of our strengths. Which ordinarily contain the concern of old mothers for their valiant sons, bangles or hairclips from passionate lovers, and responsible messages from beautiful yet lonely wives who miss the fragrance of their consorts, some squiggly written letters from unworldly children who don’t know why their fathers are not with them, and some of the strong words from the pillars of the houses, their fathers. I looked around, boys immersed in the messages, forgetful about the last night they had spent, yearning to run away to their homes. Just like this, letters arrive every Friday, from empty houses to lonely hearts, most of them ending with a similar line, when are you coming home They provide the warmth that their towns and villages had when they left their homes for serving their country. They will keep this letter in their pockets, closer than anything, some of them will write back, of whatever happened in the last week. I looked at the few deserted letters, who didn’t have receivers this Friday, no one knew, what kind of delights or sorrows they contained. I looked at my envelope and ripped it carefully, and opened the set of 2 stapled pages, one from my wife, who warranted me that everything was fine at home and that she misses me, and 2nd from my 3-year-old daughter, who just learned how to write, and wrote in a distorted cursive, I love you, daddy, you are the bravest. I stared that letter, long enough till tears blurred my vision and then kept it in my pocket. These letters gave us hope of surviving the next day, next week, next war, Vigorously preparing us for our coming tussles. For the coming days, We would survive firmly, with the memories of the dead, in the hope of new sunshine and a granted vacation to home. We would ceaselessly be convincing ourselves that it is going to be just another day, of our lifelong chosen service and just another war, in the trail of many. All while waiting for yet another Friday.