On the mantelpiece of this dimly lit room are neatly arranged pictures, in beautiful identical silver frames. Pictures of a young girl of around 25 wearing a red dress with a red and golden embellished dupatta draped over her head, proudly showing off her henna decked palms to the camera. Pictures of the same girl resting her head lovingly on the broad shoulders of a ruggedly handsome young man with a crop cut and look of pride in his steel grey eyes. Pictures of these two together, the woman holding a white little bundle in her arms, looks like a newborn baby, him with a red tilak on his forehead and a few flower petals falling off her head. And on the wall behind these, a huge portrait of the same man, this time in a uniform, several medals decorating his breast and the same glint of pride and fearlessness in his eyes.
The woman repalces some wilted flowers from the pot and lights a diya in front of the picture. The flame dances and draws patterns on her face, illumiting her red rimmed eyes, swollen a bit at the corners and a slightly reddened nose. She must have been crying. She looks painfully at the man in the picture, needing answers to a million questions that he’s probably left unanswered.
A racket of toy bullets can be heard in the background, a rutt ta tutt admixed with shreiks of imaginary enemy soldiers who have been vanquished.
The flame of the diya flickers a bit and she sees slight movement in the glass pane framing the picture. She turns around and is shocked to see a man around the same age as the man in the picture, a similar crop cut, several brown scald marks on his face, his fractured right arm hanging from a sling around his neck and the other arm driving the wheelchair which he’s been riding in. “Ranjeet!” exclaims the woman in horror.
“I’m sorry Rohini. I’m really sorry. It should have been me in place of Viren.” the grief spilled onto his cheeks from his eyes.
“You were there with Viren Ranjeet, tell me everything. How did it happen? Was it very painful? Did he hurt badly? Tell me everything in detail Ranjeet.” Rohini almost lunged towards him, forgetting to even ask him to come inside.
“We were seething with anger after the Uri attacks. We were humiliated. Our soldiers were’nt even given a chance to fight. They butchered them in sleep. Those Bastards.” Ranjeet was shaking with anger. His fist curled into a tight ball. “We needed to retaliate,we needed to tell them that we knew how they operated, where they operated out of , who were their masters and where they trained. We needed to hit them where it hurt most. We trained hard, did reorientation exercises and were just waiting for a nod from high up. And finally launched ‘Operation Retribution’. in the early hours of 26/11. The pristine white of the snow covered landscape soon got painted red. We took them all out but one. He was hiding somewhere in the woods, he took us by surprise as we were about to retreat successful, having achieved our retribution. But he charged with his AK 47 shooting blindly in an arc. We shot back but his bullet had found a couple of targets one of them being Viren. No Rohini he didn’t hurt, the bullet caught him in his chest. He passed away immediately, wearing a smile on his lips. He had achieved retribution.” Ranjeet was breathless as he told Rohini of the most critical operation of his life. An operation that had caused him his dearest friend, his career in the army and both of his lower limbs. His spine had been blown into smithereens. Four surgeries later he landed in a wheelchair.
“Viren’s life is but a small price to pay for the pride of this great nation of ours.” Said a brave widow.