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The Indigenius' Den by Ankit Kumar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 India License.
Based on a work at www.theindigeniusden.blogspot.com.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Point-blank

Lt. Raghav was still trembling; reeling with those images in his mind, reliving the moments when he had stared imminent death in its face; the gory details sharpening with each passing second.

Still and red, lay Ajay beside him: the reason why Raghav was still breathing. Even Raghav’s leg needed immediate attention. But, he was too numb to feel the pain yet.

The ambush was quick and sudden, perpetrated by trained men; men who knew what they were doing, even to trained soldiers. Post Kargil, such events had become quite frequent, situations under which Gurkhas have always been known to thrive.

Distant yet strong, Colonel Tiwari’s words filled Raghav’s ears.

“You young boys are too young and foolish. The horrors of war have fettered many brave men; men rendered incapable of a normal life thereafter. Tell me. What, according to you, is the worst that can happen in the battlefield?”

“I can get killed,” Raghav had answered bravely.

“Haah! That’s where you fellows go wrong! Boy, you would be lucky if you die. Seeing the man next to you take a bullet are the images which will haunt you for the rest of your life…” the colonel had said, staring ahead of him, the lines on his forehead deepening.

Five of them had constituted the Wednesday patrol party. Their task was to check for infiltration at the foothills near the camp. Four men had attacked them. Two were gunned down, one escaped while the informer had been captured alive.

They had returned to camp with Ajay propped on Vishal’s shoulders; the informer dragged, tied strongly with a rope. Ajay had lived up to his reputation in this inconsequential battle, fighting bravely and securing his friends.

An eerily stunned silence engulfed the camp; a camp which was generally abuzz with foolhardy chatter by this time of night. Men walked briskly attending to their jobs. Major Singh had sent out a search party to catch the escaped militant. The informer was being questioned to gather intelligence about other militant groups operating in the region.

Subedar Rana walked into the makeshift tent. He had been with them during the unfortunate incident. His left arm was heavily bandaged. “Sir, Major Saab has asked for you. He is in his tent.”

Raghav looked up. Nodding his head, as he tried to get up, he winced with pain in his right leg. He looked down to find the bottom part of his trouser wet and dark.

Though taken aback, Subedar Rana sprang into action. “Sir, aap rukiye. I’ll bring the doc here.”

The shock subsided to be replaced only by pain; pain like Raghav had never felt before. He gritted his teeth to stop himself from howling out loud. He shut his eyes tight and clutched his leg above the wound.

A very short while later, Raghav heard heavy footsteps approaching him and opened his eyes. The doctor was at the door. Raghav’s eyes trailed from him to Ajay. Ajay’s face was absolutely clean and calm—untouched by the violence of the night. He seemed to be resting, even dreaming…

The doctor walked in briskly. He acknowledged Ajay with a sudden ‘Oh’ and turned his gaze to Raghav in a businesslike manner. Losing no time, he cut out the bottom part of the trouser with a pair of scissors and spoke as he examined the bloody wound, “Two holes – Entry and exit wounds. The bullet ripped through. That’s generally good. Still, you have lost quite a lot of blood. I’ll clean and dress it.”

The doctor helped Raghav remove his shoe. Even a slight movement of the foot sent waves of pain radiating through his body. And, each time, he gritted his teeth to overcome it.

After the doctor was done, Raghav’s right ankle and foot were completely covered in bandages to restrict movement of the joint. The wound had gone numb again; this time due to antibiotics. “That should do it for now. We’ll have to take care against infection though.” The doctor advised Raghav.

With this, the doctor took Raghav’s leave. At the door, he spoke softly to Subedar Rana, “Take the body to the medical wing.”

Raghav reached Major Singh’s tent with much difficulty; gathered himself up and saluted his senior at the door. Major Bhairav Singh was seated in the left corner of the slightly bigger tent; his legs on the table in front. Vishal occupied the chair opposite to him. In the farthest corner, on the floor, was the informer, quite curled up. He held both his legs tightly in front of him and buried his head in between his knees. His trouser was soaked in blood, probably a gunshot wound. Raghav could hear soft sobs. It seemed the informer had just finished crying out loud.

“Come in, Raghav, sit. Tough night for you boys…” Raghav didn’t quite understand whether it was a question or a redundant statement of fact.

“Yes sir. We were attacked suddenly. It was totally unprovoked and we were caught unawares. Though, I don’t understand why four men would give their positions away so near the camp.” Raghav answered in detail with no lament about Ajay’s death—the hardened soldier in him speaking.

“Yes, Vishal had similar questions and the bastard in that corner answered them.” Major Singh stated, emotionlessly, lighting a cigarette. Getting up and moving towards the corner, he continued speaking, “The three militants are part of a larger group which is camping somewhere not far from here. They had come here to map our location and gauge our numbers and ammunition. They were on their way here when they suddenly ran into you. Although, their task wasn’t complete, one dumb-witted fuck among them opened fire on your group. But, it’s fine. It has us forewarned and we have this slug to feast on.” He seemed to relish his last words.

Without warning, Major Singh bent down and extinguished his cigarette on the man’s bare forearm. The informer let out an ear piercing cry. Major Singh shouted loudly over the screams, his eyes menacing. “It was hatred that compelled that bastard to shoot first. Similar is the repulsion I feel towards these fuckers!”

The informer removed the ash off his skin and touched the fresh wound gingerly. Raghav realized that he was a middle aged man—a mere commoner from the nearby village. The left side of his face was cut in a gash and his lower lip was torn. It was bleeding slowly but constantly. For a moment, Raghav felt pity for his condition.

Apparently, Raghav’s moment of weakness was palpable.

Major Singh said to Raghav, “He sold Ajay’s life for a meager five thousand rupees. Such cheap death! Is that a price for our heads?!” Raghav felt threatened, not by the information, but by the Major’s demeanour.

Major Singh turned towards the informer again. He cowered in terror and in a reflex, covered his head with both hands, apparently expecting another blow from the Major.

“What else do you know? Which hole are those rats hiding in? Tell me!” Major Singh demanded.

“Sir, I don’t know anything more. Please let me go. I have told you everything. Please let me go. Please…” the informer pleaded, crying.

“Let you go?” Major Singh laughed loudly. “OK, I’ll let you go.” He pulled the pistol out of his holster and aimed it at the man.

“Sir!” Raghav blurted out. He couldn’t control himself!

Major Singh turned again. He didn’t say anything. He just stared at Raghav. Raghav looked down at his bandaged foot. “Look up, Lieutenant” Major Singh shouted. “How dare you question my ways?!”

Raghav didn’t utter a word. He merely stared straight slightly to the right of the major’s left ear.

Major Singh spoke with a reduction in pitch and decibel. “Vishal, hold the guy’s left hand and legs.” For a split-second, Raghav expected Vishal’s grasp on him but realized that he was moving towards the corner executing the command.

Major Singh placed his pistol on the table and walked slowly towards the informer. He got hold of the man’s free right arm and twisted it to reveal the cigarette-burn. The wound was still open. The informer had already begun screeching fearing the worst. Inhumanely, Major Singh pushed the index finger of his right hand into the cigarette burn slowly. Dark blood started oozing out from the periphery of the wound. The man yelped louder than ever and his limbs flailed about uncontrollably. Vishal did his best to hang on.

Raghav couldn’t take it any longer. The sight made him sick. He felt he would vomit and backed towards the exit slightly.

Raghav’s shadow from the bulb hanging in the middle of the tent gave his movement away. Major Singh called out to Raghav loudly, “Come back here this instant and look into the man’s eyes.”

Raghav stood still, almost dead in his tracks. The Major stood up and whirled around. “You want to say something, tiger?”

“No sir,” Raghav lied.

“Out with it. Reprimand my behavior. Call this torture inhuman.” Major Singh dared Raghav, speaking fast and loud, his words running into each other.

Raghav said nothing. Major Singh spoke, this time overcome with emotion, “I have given the better part of my life to the army. It is because of these behenchods that we lost so many of our men, our brothers during Kargil. Even enemies are better than these two-faced fuckers. Bloody traitors! Selling the country to Pakistanis… It is I who will have to explain why we lost a man today during a mere patrol.” He ground his teeth while saying the last line.

He looked threateningly at the man who seemed to be passing out from the pain. Major Singh moved towards the table, picked up the pistol and gave it to Raghav. Raghav held the gun unwillingly.

“Take aim, tiger.” Major Singh told Raghav. He seemed to be enjoying it. Vishal had moved back to his original position. Raghav looked at Major Singh unbelievably.

“Vishal killed one. Our Ajay got one. It’s time you popped your cherry.” Major Singh laughed and looked at Vishal as if he were expecting him to join in. Raghav still looked at the Major in sheer bewilderment. Raghav was trembling exactly as he was when they had been ambushed.

“Go on, tiger. It’s a sitting duck. It can’t get easier; your first step into blood and gore, into manhood at the army. Point blank range.

The unfortunate man in the corner had still not understood the fate he was about to get subjected to. He was merely looking at his wounds, whimpering in pain and pleading with the almighty.

“Sir, he is unarmed. He can’t defend himself. How can I shoot him in this condition?” Raghav found his tongue at last.

“Unarmed! Principles!” Major Singh laughed, his entire body shaking from amusement. “Vishal, give your gun to the beggar.” The Major mocked Raghav.

“Shoot the damn fuck or I’ll have you court-martialed.” The Major shouted loudly.

Raghav was startled to attention. He took aim of the man’s forehead. He wanted to make it as short and as painless as he could for the man. Raghav’s hands shook as he judged his action and contemplated his position. He suddenly remembered his father’s refusal to sign the forms allowing him to join the Indian Army.

The man saw the pistol aimed at him and realized the sealing of his fate. Almost automatically, breaking all restraint, he leapt for Raghav’s foot.

“Sir, please forgive me. Please forgive me.” He pleaded and cried. “I have two small children. I took the money because they were hungry; because I was hungry. Please forgive me. I’ll go away from here and never come back.” Raghav stepped back, a tear rolled down his right cheek. He looked to the right, away from the encroaching gaze of the Major.

The Major came to Raghav’s rescue. “Bloody motherfucker!” He kicked the man back into position.

“No country for old men.” Major Singh cracked another of his piercing jokes and laughed alone.

“Shoot.” He finally ordered; his voice heavy and determined.

The pleading man, somewhat resigned to fate, looked imploringly into Raghav’s eyes. Raghav looked away from those eyes and aimed at the wrinkled forehead; his arms outstretched into position, his fingers ready at the trigger. Please forgive me, he said under his breath and shot with the precision of a trained soldier.

The gun went off with a loud bang startling the dead of night. Raghav’s arms jerked with the recoil but contained it as they had done so many times in front of other cardboard targets. The man’s forehead registered a clean hole with a single streak of dark blood welcoming death to his troubled frame. The back of his head blasted like a ruptured watermelon and splattered and spewed blood all over the canvas behind him. His body slumped lifelessly against the tent. The glassy stare in his vacant eyes froze at Raghav, almost incriminating him.

“What a clean murder, tiger!” exclaimed Major Singh. “My first one was very messy, missed the head and hit the eye, busting open the head like a piñata!” The Major still joked.

Lt. Raghav said a silent prayer, kept the smoking pistol back on the table and stumbled out of the tent without looking up either at Vishal or the Major or down at those still and open eyes.

7 comments:

Ashtung said...

haunting and compelling...

Ankit Kumar said...

@Ashutosh: It's heartening to see that the narrative succeeded in striking the intended chords in you.
Thank you..

Ashutosh Burnwal said...

Awesome:ankit, u catched Raghav Feelings aptly.

Cannt say i enjoyed the narration, but seems like, i am seeing the whole scene by my eyes..

Good Work Indeed..

ati said...

i liked the pace of the narrative!!!gud wrk champ...

Ankit Kumar said...

Thank you Atishay and Burnwal for the appreciation. :)

@Oti: We'll have a detailed discussion offline. :)

Maverick said...

I could see precision in your way of story telling. No-Nonsense stuff. Keep it up. :)

Ankit Kumar said...

Lovely comment, Abhushan. Thank you.. :)
Sadly, there's no 'Like' button here...

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