Thursday, July 26, 2012

Guilt and Redemption

Grief. The grief of a child being torn from a parent's bosom - that's what the people of Hindustan faced when the battlelines were drawn. It's that grief that has made India - and Pakistan - angry, it's grief that has held her back.

Sixty five years ago, on the night of 14th August 1947, the child and parent separated. People walked away from their homes to their new lands, to their new lives. I was there. I saw the police standing in line, I saw the heavy security. I was a part of the group that was supposed to ensure that nothing went wrong, that no one was hurt beyond the grief that was now everyone's legacy.

I knew that it was a situation fraught with danger, an underlying hatred was burning through the land, infecting everything in sight. I knew that the only way to stay untouched was to deal with it behind a shield of calmness, strength and empathy. I failed.

The unending lines of people filing past each other became structured. I was nervous about "them" - my brothers who had suddenly become strangers. One man-made line across a contract of freedom ensured that I didn't trust them, their bleak, angry faces held secret plans to hurt "my people, my land." So, to forestall any malicious moment, I stole across to their line of control to "help" them. I knew the only way I could save my people was a preemptive strike. The cold was seeping through my uniform, clutching my heart in its grip, not letting me shake off my fear of the other.

Someone must have heard me. Like me, they too must have sought any advantage they could get. We were already opposing warriors across one bold rivulet of grief. As I walked into a clearing with Zafer, my armed security guard, there was pin drop silence. We stopped. The air pressed down upon us. And then everything exploded - men came running down the sides of the mountain, trees were infested with soldiers, armed to the teeth. They saw Zafer's gun and suddenly seventy odd barrels pointed at us. I knew this is how I die. As I raised my rifle as a final salute to my life, gunfire ripped through the angry silence of the border. I fell, clutching my stomach, a bullet tearing apart my insides, and my final moments were spent watching the sorrow-laden people break rank and run to the other, intent on washing off their rage with the others' blood.

I caused the first bloodbath that has ever since become the norm for these two countries. That load is unbearable to carry.

Until today. I found myself back there - pulled through time and space, back to that fateful night. There I was, once again surrounded by my team. Zafer was looking at me, wondering what we should do. The night was the same, the situation as grim. Nothing looked different. I nodded to Zafer, "Let's go."

Zafer looked at me doubtfully, but I set off, determined to change things this time around. We reached the enclosure and I sensed rather than heard the people crowding us, fingers tightening on the triggers. The night waited. In the ensuing burst of activity, I saw Zafer raise his gun, ready to attack. Trembling with the audacity of changing the future, I shouted, "Hello?"

There was screaming, and thundering footsteps of armed soldiers shook the ground, the unmistakable sound of their rifles being cocked and I knew that before too long, the first bullet will tear through me. I was terrified.

"Hello?" I shouted again.
"Who is it? Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm from the Indian security, this is Zafer from my team..."

Guns got whipped out, seventy barrels pointed straight at our chests. This was a firing squad. Zafer instinctively put his first victim right in the crosshairs, uncomprehending of my motives to lure him out to this potential death field, but unwilling to go down without a fight. I put my hand on his gun, pushing it down to point harmlessly at the ground. I put my gun on the ground and raised my arms high above my head.

"What the fuck is this? Blow them apart!"

In the midst of the screaming and shouting, a woman leaned down from the tree and said with a voice of pure authority, "What are you doing here?"

Behind them, I could see the single file of people getting antsy. There were a few furtive looks, some glances to see if they could get away with murder. I looked at the woman.

"I just wanted to ask if you could use some help."

There was pin drop silence as Zafer looked incredulously at me. The woman smiled.

"Yeah, we definitely could."

There was no bloodbath that day, or the next. Till date, India and Pakistan remain as family just separated by an easily jumped neighborhood boundary wall. I wept, as the burden of sixty five years got lifted from me.