Where Peacocks Fly-24

by Prema Sastri
(Bangalore)

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Chapter 24

The newspapers were full of Chinese activities on the border. Their troops had been sighted on the Line of Control demarcating the limits of the two countries. There were rumours that they were diverting the waters of the Brahmaputra river into their own territory. People felt the government was inactive.

“This is a serious situation.” Ramaswamy frowned at the paper.
“Minor infiltrations will lead to a major attack. If the Brahmaputra is blocked, the farmers will have no water for their crops. There will be a shortage of water in the region. There could be dam bursts.”
“It sounds alarming.”
“It is worse than alarming. It is threatening.”
“When the Chinese invaded India, the government said it was taken by surprise. Yet, for months the Chinese army had been crossing our border.”
“I am shocked to hear that.”
“Our men were sent to war unprepared. They walked in the Himalayan snow without boots, without rations. Many lost their limbs because of frost bite. Scandalous!”

Meera had never seen Ramaswamy so agitated. Did he have a caring heart? Was it mere analysis? She remembered her parents talking about the invasion .The defence minister was in Sri Lanka. “Hurl the Chinese out,” was his command to the Indian army. The army went into action. Every day there were reports of Indian soldiers being wounded and killed. The Chinese took prisoners en masse. They marched right into the country. The prime minister who was in Africa, and featured watching tribal dances, made a hasty return. Military hospitals were full of the wounded and the dying. Amputation centres worked day and night.

Suddenly, the Chinese retreated. Rumours were rife. The Indian army had attacked first. The Chinese were forced to retaliate. They had shown who was the master.

Women worked overtime knitting socks and caps. They collected bandages and blankets. They felt they had done their bit for the armed forces. Later, the rumour mill had it that the contributions had been misappropriated and sold in Chandini Chowk.

It was an hour of shame, humiliation and defeat for India. The brave deeds of armd forces were killed bythe complacency and ego of politicians.

Meera recalled the conversation. It was horrifying. She wondered what would happen now. The government was riddled with scams. The Commonwealth Games held in Delhi had provided sub standard housing and facilities while those in charge stored money in Swiss banks. Indian athletes were caught in dope scandals. Ministers were accused of mishandling money to the tune of thousands of crores. The welfare of citizens and the security of the nation seemed to be the last thing on the minds of the ruling party.

She wondered how Rakesh had taken the news. She had not long to wait. The familiar voice came over the phone. “I have been called to a forward area.”
“Where?”
“I can’t tell you. I’ll keep in touch.
“Congratulations! I hear you are a proud father.”
There was silence. “Thank you.”
“Let us know how you fare. All your friends will be worried about you.”
“You’ll see me back before you know it. Take care of yourself – for me.” He rang off.

Meera could not believe he was not in her life. From the day she met him he had become part of her blood stream. A lot of her time was spent thinking of him. His touch made her burn. His voice sounded in her ears even when he was not there. He was the only person who acknowledged her. She felt loved and desired. She disregarded the thought that two marriages were betrayed. Their closeness was so natural it did not belong to the world of norms.

Days passed. She did not hear from Rakesh. Her blood congealed.
Months later she got a call from Wing Commander Menon. “Madam, I have sad news for you.”
She almost dropped the telephone.
“What is it?”
Major Khanna is dead.”
Meera wanted to scream. She forced her voice to remain low. “How did it happen?”
“Khanna was on the Eastern border. He intercepted a formation of Chinese troops. He fought them single handed. They were on the way to attack his regiment. His action saved many lives. The Chinese retreated, but not before one of them got a bullet through him. It was only the next day that he was found, barely alive.”
“Oh God!”
“I was the surgeon who attended him in a N.E.F.A. hospital. It was too late. There was nothing I could do.”
Meera could not control herself. A cry of pain escaped her.
“Don’t take it badly, madam. He did not suffer much. At times he spoke. I got an idea of what happened. He called for you many times. I know he had regard for you and your husband. I thought I should inform you.”
“Thank you.”
“The country will not come to know of his brave act. The government does not want to provoke the Chinese leaders. The incident has been described as an accident.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. Don’t think. As a doctor in the services I have seen so many good men pass on. I have stopped thinking.”

Meera could not stop her thoughts, Questions and answers went through her mind. How long had he lain on the ground, bleeding and unattended? His country was not going to honour him. His death would be written off as an accident. Aside from Wing Commander Menon she was probably the only one who knew the truth. How many brave soldiers were buried in official reports by people who knew they were writing lies? In his last moments Rakesh had remembered her. The thought pierced her heart.

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