Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Short Story: All in the family

It was in the year ’62 that the Chinese attacked us”, said the old man.

The retired colonel gulped down some brandy and set himself erect on his chair. “ Yes, we were the first troops to confront them on the border. The Assam Rifles.” He spoke with pride. “Child”, he continued, “ I fought with real men. Our unit was reduced to seven men before we were ordered to retreat. 152 men died that day and we survived”, he said, almost sadly.

Colonel Sukhbir “Bob” Singh’s family had a history of army men. From the mutiny of 1857, six generations had served in the Indian armed forces. Five had laid down their lives in the line of duty. They were worshipped and the colonel envied them. To him, there was no greater glory than dying for the country.

The colonel’s grandson, a lad of twelve, looked up and smiled softly. Sitting at his grandfather’s feet, he looked up with admiration. “Go on grandpa”, he said.

Outside a storm raged. The colonel gulped more brandy and continued.
“It was a fine morning when we returned home. The agony of war replaced by the joy of reunion. In our village at Tarantal, I was welcomed a hero. Your father, then only seven, ran to my arms. When I picked him up, he put on my cap and sang out the national anthem. The Lord is kind to me. Few men feel such pride.”

The boy hugged his grandpa’s knees.

“Your father”, continued the old colonel, “ was a very bright boy. And a strong lad. Like his father and grandfather before him, his only aim was to join the forces. He joined army school, graduated with honors and then joined the National Defense Academy.”

The old man shut his eyes and leaned back on his chair. A tear ran down his cheek but he continued.

“Your father went one up on his old man. At the academy, he graduated as top student. Your grandma and I were there at his passing out parade. I remember General Rathod’s words to me. ‘The boy is following in your footsteps Singh’, he said. ‘Watch out for that one’, he told the others.”

“When your father joined the Air Force, he quickly proved his mettle. He was very good . An outstanding combat pilot with a very strong heart.”

The old man fought back tears. His grandson sensed the turmoil.

“Grandpa”, said the boy,” don’t be sad. One day I too will join the air force. I will be a good fighter pilot like my father and you will all be proud of me.”

The old man smiled feebly. He couldn’t hold back longer. “ And child”, he said, “ your father was a leader of men. He led the first attack against the enemy this morning.”

And then he broke down. And the boy cried too. For his father would never return.

For Colonel Singh, life had come a full circle. A few hours back he had received news of his son’s death at the war front. Now his grandson’s words filled him with pride. Life would surely go on.

Strange are the ways of life. For the Colonel, his son was now memories, remembrances in his old age. For the boy, his father was now hope, the flame that would shape his destiny.

And for the family, it was just an episode replayed so many times before.

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