Updated: Sep 8
He was shocked into silence, unable to move or react to the devastation all around him. The rucksack on his shoulder, gifts in his arms all slipped, as he stood helplessly. The young captain Ajay Pratap Singh Rathore back from the first war, flushed with victory as his unit had crushed the enemy, who after a relentless fight had finally called for truce, when they realized that they were overpowered and out-numbered. Ajay was lauded for his bravery and was granted a two day leave. Victorious and elated he decided to visit his family which was not too far from the border. Family was Retd. Lt. General Rudra Pratap Singh Rathore, a highly decorated officer, father Retd. Brigadier Veer Pratap Singh Rathore. Mother, who was constantly praying to keep the family safe and God could also not ignore her fervent prayers when all her three sons had joined the army. Born into this family Ajay was the baby of the family and he had dutifully followed the family tradition. First, boarding school, then NDA and finally commissioned in the army as the entire family watched the passing out parade with pride and joy.
While the boys went from one place to another wherever they were posted, his parents and grandfather had decided to settle down in their ancestral home. Close to the border, surrounded by natural scenic beauty with the sound of a clear stream gurgling away and tall deodar trees standing like guards to this beautiful village, uncluttered by tourists and plastic bags.
Coming home was always relaxing and calming. The only sounds to be heard were the chirping of birds, the men folk going about their daily tasks and women busy with household chores. The cheerful laughter of the children in the nearby school sounded beautiful. Ajay's father and grandfather had settled here, back to their roots after a glorious army career and enjoyed the leisurely pace of the village amongst the bounty of nature.
It was on his last visit to the village, when Ajay was taking a stroll, that he saw the most beautiful apparition step out of the bus. He could barely take the eyes off her and followed her at a discreet distance as she walked towards the doctor's house which was not very far from the highway. Before she could raise her hand to knock at the door, it was thrown open and she was enveloped in the big bear hug of Dr. Manmohan Batra, very swiftly Mrs. Batra came behind him, tears of joy flowing down her cheeks, then came the twins, shrieking with excitement as they took the bags from her and ran inside the house.
Ajay stood in a shocked silence as realization dawned on him, so this was Rishita, aka Gudiya, doctor uncle's daughter with whom he used to play as a kid and tease her mercilessly as he pulled her hair tied into long plaits by her mother. How could she have grown into such a raving beauty, he still couldn't believe his eyes. He walked back towards his home, brooding and kicking all the stones in the path.
On reaching his house he realized that there seemed a suppressed excitement as Ma and Bhabhi exchanged secret smiles he knew he would not be able to get anything out of Ma so he decided to concentrate on Bhabhi. After a lot of requests and cajoling and promises of a big fat bribe he was told that Doctor Uncle's daughter, Rishita was home and they would be going to meet them in the evening. His heart skipped a beat but he feigned indifference though he was not good at hiding his excitement.
After trying and discarding nearly all the shirts and ties and a strict warning from his father to hurry up or else they would leave, he was finally ready. He had no idea how good he looked. They all walked down to Dr. house which was not very far. Ajay was quieter than his usual self as he was lost in his own thoughts. They were welcomed very warmly into the not opulent but comfortable home. Everyone was busy talking to each other when there was a sudden silence. All eyes were rivetted towards the vision in pink. It was Rashita who had come into the room and greeted everyone with folded hands. Suddenly, there was a huge round of laughter and his bhabhi nudged him.
He realized that he had been dumbstruck and was staring at Rishita with his mouth half open. She also burst into laughter and the ice was broken. He could never forget how much she teased him once they started talking and recollecting all the childhood memories.
Whatever took place after that was a foregone conclusion. Both the families were delighted and within a week they got engaged. War seemed imminent so Ajay went back to his unit and Rishita went to complete her post graduation. She would be coming back after her exams and then would begin the most beautiful phase of their lives, when they could be together for life.
He came back to the present with a jolt. He remembered the victory, joy and dancing after they had annihilated the enemy posts, remembered the burning embers, smoke emanating from somewhere along the border. Sounds of wailing as families mourned their dead.
Ajay seemed to be completely disoriented as he looked around and wondered if this was his village or the enemy territory he had seen the day before. The same embers burning sporadically, the same smoke billowing out of the few houses that still stood. He heard a loud wailing but could not understand if it came form here or across the border.
He heard some footsteps behind him, a sniffing and sobbing, and as per his training he whipped out his revolver and turned around ready to shoot. The ghost like figure slowly came forward and with a loud wail fell crumpled at his feet. As he looked up, Ajay realized that this apparition with bloodshot eyes was the village chowkidar. He started wailing again. Ajay's curiosity got better of him, he made Ramu Kaka sit on the ground beside him, trying to make some sense of his incoherent blabbering.
It took him quite a while to understand what he was saying. It seemed Ramu Kaka was alive only because he had gone to his village to make sure that all was well there. His village had been evacuated and everyone had been taken to safer places. But when he came back there was this, devastation all around. No one seemed to have felt any threat when the attack came by surprise in the dead of the night, they were taken unaware as they slept. It seemed to be an aerial attack and looked as if the enemy aircraft were not willing to carry back the bombs and offloaded them randomly. No one survived to tell any tales.
Captain Ajay Pratap Singh Rathore, stood rooted amongst the devastation all around him, the same devastation that he had seen across the border. The burning embers, the bombed out houses, the mournful wails, smoke billowing out here and there, all seemed the same. So who had achieved what? The feeling of victory, the pride, the glory, all seemed to have left him as he wondered if the war was really worth it. . . . .