It was only 4.30 in the morning. Karan woke up. It was not a good nights sleep for him as his mind was perturbed by the recent events life was compelling him to witness. Moreover, the day followed would be a long one and, he had to face that much dared moment. He got up and removed the floral curtains of the window. The black sky was poked by an orange hue, very faint though, just the initial preparation to unclasp the world from the darkness once again.
“Just like I’m hoping to face the moment wearing the bravest countenance when I’ve to reveal that harsh reality to Mrs Ahuja.”
He sighed and started his preparation for the long day ahead.
After about one hour as Karan came down to the lounge, he was looking soigné yet disturbed. The car arrived punctually at six and, as he seated himself inside his mind revved up along with the engine.
Sailesh and he, they both shared the same dream of serving the country, not as a civilian but as a soldier. It was no surprise to anybody when both of them joined IMA, Dehradun. Incidentally both, as Gentleman Cadets, were placed in the Zojila Company of the Manekshaw Battalion. Those were the days of hardship and rigorous training to mould their physical and psychological traits in the toughest possible way. As they came upon finishing summa cum laude, they were placed in the Ladakh Scouts regiment, infantry division.
Ladakh Scouts are also called Snow Warriors in the truest sense. Ladakh is a part of the Indian sector of divided Kashmir and Ladakh Scouts are considered to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Indian army.
Karan primarily found it a tad difficult to cope up with the extreme weather condition, the temperature reading most of the times being well below the freezing point but Sailesh was as enthusiastic and zealous as he always was.
“If only you been a bit less aggressive and brave, buddy, I shouldn’t have to travel this way”, whispered Karan.
Sailesh was assigned with some special task, a clandestine operation, of which Karan knew little. Exactly two months ago Sailesh, along with his small force consisting of only five members, was out on his way to the Turtok Sector, an inhospitable and uninhabitable terrain where not a speck of green was to be found anywhere. Four out of six soldiers returned after three days, but, there was no trace of either Sailesh or the other one, Tong Fuk. According to the official report, there was a severe snow blizzard, the troop lost their connections with each other and, all of them were badly bruised with snow bites. None had the least idea about the fate of the others. Combing operation was initiated but in vain. Finally, it was surmised that the two of them couldn’t be alive in such climatic condition for more than a month and they were officially declared …lost..in this case, Karan knew, it meant..DEAD.
And, so, now he was on his way to Sailesh’ house, to deliver the news to his mother.
Mrs Ahuja looked petite and pale, but she welcomed Karan warmly. Karan already informed her about his arrival and she was waiting for him. This was not the first time they were meeting each other, but, definitely, this rendezvous was unique as it was not accompanied by Sailesh. Karan was feeling flummoxed as for where or which to start with. She was looking so calm and patient.
Mrs Ahuja served him tea and offered some home-made cakes. The situation was becoming heavier for Karan and finally, he started the prologue.
It was a long story and, she was a patient listener. Throughout the narration, she never interrupted him nor asked any question.
“So you understand, Auntyji,” he said, “we couldn’t find their bodies ..but..but….you know….nobody can survive atop 20,000 ft, battling the chilly blizzards..no food..no..nothing…..”, his voice crumpled and he stopped abruptly.
Mrs Ahuja sat still, contemplating. A bizarre silence was hovering around the room. Finally, she spoke.
“You said his body was not found?”
Karan nodded sheepishly.
“That means he is still alive”, she smiled.”I know my son… he never gives up, he is sure to return. He must keep his promise ..I know.”
There was an awkward firmness in her voice, her eyes blank and desolate, her breathing intensified as she uttered the words.
Karan was dumbstruck. He had no idea how to give solace to this lady who voluntarily wanted to turn her face from the fact.
He brought out a brown envelope from his pocket, “Here are some papers on which your signs are needed”.
Mrs Ahuja behaved as if she was not listening as if no one was sitting in front of him, as if there was nothing else more important in this world except her own fingers which were tightly clasped with each other.
The day was ending…..slowly but surely. The approaching evening was readying itself to enwrap the meek rays of the sun…..darkness would be there.
Karan stood up and, as he attempted to switch on the light Mrs Ahuja shouted abruptly, “Don’t”!!
“Don’t”! she repeated. “I no more need light. For sometimes, light has not that all warming, all-loving, propitious effect. Rather, it has that omnipotence to reveal everything, it makes everything candid…it chases the darkness annihilating those shadows in which hope and dreams live…let them live in peace in their repose.”
She had to live with her phantasmagoria…in order to keep her son alive- Karan understood.
The trees outside rustled in the wind.