Looking Back

 Looking Back


Gently I moved to the beats, as much my body permitted. This trick often helped me, even if for a few minutes, to drown away those helpless cries. But tonight was different. For the first time after so long, I was in a trance. I literally danced the night away. It was beautiful. In my 62 years of existence, I have never seen a beautiful night culminating into an even more splendid dawn. I have always found the first light beautiful, no matter how stressful the night was or what the day ahead was to bring. Because it always brought with it the chirpings of birds, soothing mind, and distracting me from my preoccupations, leaving my mind to concentrate on the marvelous world around me. A Darjeeling woodpecker hopped from one tree to another. What a start! I should walk around a little in this faint light, observing whatever species cross my path, looking for nothing and ignoring nothing.

I had rarely been so widely observant other than bird watching. Otherwise I just focus on a particular thing and ignore everything else. That day I liked the lentil more than the vegetable stew, so I just left the stew there in my plate, untouched. I don’t know if the stew felt my ignoring painful, but I know how my family would have felt, left just like that stew. When you are in the army, family merely becomes an accessory to go through life. You don’t know when your kids grew up, or what your wife's ailment was, you just stand with them in family portraits. And when the service is over then you realize what have you left behind. And however you plan or strategize, you cannot retrieve them. Oh, there's the Himalayan Cutia. What a day it is turning out to be! Me and my binocular, all alone in this Himalayan forest.

“Excuse me Sir, I guess this is far enough. We can turn around or go this way,” said one of the soldiers accompanying me. Of course I forgot about those two idiots. Don’t think me rude, I call them idiots because they aspire to be me. I am guessing they like being followed by next two idiots. I have never been able to figure out the question even after pondering over it for so long. The question of why we do what we do? Like why these soldiers would want to be like me or in the Army in the first place. And the answer always boils down to- because we are born and breathing, so we got to do something. So just because we are born we subjugate, enslave, torture and eventually kill people. I don’t think so. I think it’s not just our breathing but more importantly it’s our boredom. Yes we are bored, so we have created games to play which keeps us busy.

I stood at the edge of the cliff looking down on the valley. I stood there for a long time, staring into nothing. After about 12-13 minutes of wait, one of the soldiers couldn't hold it in him any longer. He asked, “Sir if you don’t mind my asking, what were you thinking about?”

“Son, you stare into peaceful surroundings, to subdue the storms inside. To answer your question, I was thinking about Jinor. Why I did that?”

“Sir, when someone does something in a particular moment, he has reasons for it in that moment. Those reasons might seem unreasonable later.”

After pondering over for a moment on what he said, I replied to him, “Son, if you think so clearly you won’t be able to reach anywhere. If you want to reach to the top ranks in army, advocate war not peace. Irony of life.”

Soldier smiled at this but didn’t say anything. I went back to my valley and birds.

In the evening, I as a matter of habit sat with my glass and ice. Both the soldiers were standing guard just outside the room. I called them inside and offered them a drink. They denied saying they were on duty. But I insisted because I didn’t want to drink alone. Put in some sentimental words inside a cramped sentence and most of the time you can get your way. They accepted. Fire was burning brightly and window slightly open. My chair was so placed that it looked directly at the open window and they were on my left.

“You know I have two daughters and you two remind me of them. I mean not that you look feminine, but when they were little they used to trot behind me like you do right now. I was always busy and didn’t quite enjoy those moments, but I am glad I have those memories to cherish now. I thought they would join army someday, based on their little march. But they both decided not to, I guess taking me as an example.” I looked at their faces to see if they register anything. But I guess they didn’t have the pleasure of drinking such fine single malt every day. They were happy to listen to anything as long as they were fed their drinks.

“Your life with them sounds lovely. Where are they these days?” asked one of the soldiers.

“Well I don’t know where they are or what they are doing. I lost touch with them 7 years back. Needless to say with my wife too. This is everything that is left of me.” I raised the glass and everybody sipped their drink simultaneously. I stared out the window for a long time, forgot that I had company. They were silent as well, thinking it best to not to disturb my meditation.

“I was full of anger, so much anger I could have strangled everyone with my own hands. Even the children on the street, those innocent, clueless children. I still see their faces, each and every night. I don’t know from how many nights; I have not slept. I just cry.”

Soldiers remained silent, they knew no response was needed here. It was a soliloquy meant to be overheard. I continued, “I have seen deaths of so many people around me and in the country, whose culprits were all from one town-Jinor. And when that bomb blasted in the capital killing more than a 1000 people, my anger knew no bounds. Something had to be done, but nobody seemed to be capable of doing anything. Everybody just delegated or played their political games. Fucking morons, troubled souls who can’t make a single proper decision.”

“Sir those limitations make us what we are, otherwise we are all brute animals inside. Anarchy is not solution to anything but just a way to vent out your anger.”

I smiled at his wise words. What else are wise words worth for.

“I blew a whole fucking town, killing 3500 people in one single go. They christened me Impaler, Man eater, Cannibal and what not. I vividly remember the children playing on those streets, smiling and waving.”

A sip and I continued, “You know, I have been cursed throughout my life. Heartfelt curses, curse of a mother, a widow and what not. Nothing ever bothered me or moved me, I was like a stone. Yet those smiles haunt me. They scare me, they make me feel like I have buried the future. They never leave me now, I see them everywhere. Everywhere!”

“I am sure you also remember all the missions you have lead that were successful, which not only brought peace for the land but also some satisfaction for yourself,” offered the soldier.

“Our own minds work as the collective of a society, we remember more clearly what is lost rather than what we have achieved. Our dreams when realized, tend to make us happy for a while then we forget all about it but the embarrassments on the way to achieve it, they walk with us forever. So all those victories for peace are all just distant faint memories, but those haunting smiles will always be with me. They are my reward for all those victories and so called peace. Have something wise to say on that?”

Soldier smiled and said, “May God help us.”

I laughed loudly. “And I thought you were wise.”

Both the soldiers laughed on this. We called it a night, a night that the three of us spent sleepless in our own way, them as a matter of duty and for me it was more of a compulsion. I wanted to sleep, even if for an hour but it wouldn’t come to me. I sat in my chair where they left me and stared outside. And in the dark sky I saw those innocent faces smile at me.

Nothing mattered, money earned or money lost, pent up anger, plotting to get back, satisfying your ego, your achievements or your dreams. It all boils down to the moments you have spent with your loved ones or moments which had love in them. You can recollect only those when the sun sets. But as of now the sun was coming up, and the chirpings of birds were calling me out. I gathered my things and went out. Yuhinas were very vocal today, along with tits. This was a good sign, it meant the bird activity will be high today. And the chances to observe some rarities were also high. Blyth’s Tragopan never left my mind. Well the day brought to me some amazing species like the White browed piculet, Scaly breasted cupwing and a beautiful Mizornis . This is the only thing over the years that has brought some peace to me. Only when I looked at birds, those faces left me alone. We sat for a while in the sun, the golden summer of the Himalayas.

“I was so sick inside that only the times of War brought me peace. I always trained my men as if they were preparing for war in the next two days. I have seen two wars in my time, that’s as many wars a General would see in his lifetime. My strategies in the first war earned me a medal for bravery and in the second war they have brought me here. Just to satisfy my need for war, I have sacrificed so many young boys. And the thing worse than that is that I have forgotten them. I can’t remember even ten names who have lost their life fighting under me. And then I go and tell their families and the nation on the whole, that they were patriots. They died fighting for the Nation. When the truth is that they were fighting for me, for officers above me and the politicians above them. They were fighting a war invented by us, which never existed and would not have surfaced if not for our boredom and the greed for promotions.”

“Sir with all due respect, coming from you, this all is a little disorienting. I will request you to let us find our own way and learn from our own experience. I hope you don’t mind.”

Any other time, for just thinking about something like that, I would have flogged him myself. And to say it out aloud in front of me was unthinkable. I must remain calm. In a stern voice, which represented my agitated mind, I told him, “Well that’s another way to learn. Learning from your own experience makes you experienced but learning from someone else's makes you wise.” I smiled at him and turned back to my birds. They didn’t seem to mind me that much.

I invited them again for the drink, after all it was my last night. We chatted a little and sang a song or two, couple of oldies which were good melancholies about Zindagi (life). Songs bring out your emotions and showcase them on the surface for the others to see. I cried a little while singing and then I involuntarily repeated, “I miss them, I miss them.”

At dawn, I thought about last night and that brought a smile on my face. I don’t know if I deserved it or not but it was a good one and I didn’t feel guilty about it.

I was scheduled to leave at 9 am sharp. It was around 6 am so I fancied a little bird watching before leaving it forever. Two hours of bird watching invoked in me such peace that I had never experienced before. Yet at 8 am, bird activity was reduced to nil, and I didn’t quite understand why. I wanted to tell goodbye to my most faithful friends, but that was not to be. At 9 am sharp I bid goodbye to those two idiots. In such situations, one is usually not sure if one would ever return to a place or will see those familiar faces again. But I was sure, I will never see them again. But what hurt me most was that even Mother Nature has not forgiven me.

It was a 5 hour drive and then straight to the chambers. “What time have they decided for the gallows?”

“It’s 5 pm sharp. I am sorry sir.”

“Well don’t be, It’s my own karma. And come to think of it, with my Karma I didn’t deserve even these two days here. ”

As soon as I finished the sentence, I saw two beautiful Blyth’s Tragopan, male and female, crossing the road just in front of us. Both of them gave me a view of few seconds before flying down in the valley or so I thought. When I looked back, both of them were trotting behind the car not unlike two daughters. Even after the turn in the road, I kept looking back. For what else was there to do but to look back. 



Vipul Lunia


Vipul writes based out of India, listening to the stories of the land. His work has been published or is forthcoming from Kitaab, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Active Muse, Visual Verse, and other places.   


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