A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms

The clock had struck Twelve. I was sitting at my study table  in the dim light of the lamp. Lost deep in my musings, I recalled an incident of a far distant past. Twenty years ago, on this day after retiring from the military service, I had made a vow. A vow to never take up the arms. An oath of non-violence. A pledge of peace. I had turned into a diehard disciple of Gandhi.

On the wall facing me, hung the portrait of this apostle of peace. Draped in a simple white robe, with round glasses sitting on the bridge of his nose and lips parting into a soft smile, he is looking at me. And perhaps praising me for having taken the pledge of his principles – the principles of peace and nonviolence.

At first this farewell to arms came as a bolt from the blue to all. My wife and daughter were taken aback. They blamed it on an act of impulse. My friends in military service were shell-shocked and they laid the blame on my act of watching a lot of Hollywood movies. Movies based on the life of Gandhi and his uphill struggle from being the man on the street to the transformation as the messiah of the masses. And relatives? They were  quite amused and termed it as an act of complete madness. But all of that did not weaken my resolve, for my transformation was complete and set in the stone.

An year after I had turned into a Gandhian, I was ambling back home from the Sabarmati ashram. It was here that Gandhi had led the Dandi march known to the wider world also as Salt Satyagraha and had brought the high and mighty British empire down to its knees. So much power in non-violence. Little and frail David trounced the giant and brutal Goliath. And that too without picking up the arms. It had turned dark and I was walking down the narrow lane of Sabarmati. Quick as a flash, came a thief from nowhere and punched me on my face. I did not want to punch him back and readily handed over my belongings to him. I thought he might have been in greater need of those things. I returned home with a bruised face but a satisfied soul.

On the eve of Gandhi´s birthday celebration a few years later, I had invited a few Gandhian friends to my home to deliberate about the life and principles of Gandhi and how could we change the tune of the society to the Gandhian song and transform it all together. Friends from every nook and corner of India strived hard to reach the venue. Gandhian caps bobbed out here , there and everywhere. It was a spectacle to watch. And as we were inching closer to the saga of our sage, dark shadows of demons galloped through the dark alleys of the town. They got nearer and nearer. Soon they came within the hailing distance; the clip clop of hooves turned louder and louder and out of the blue, the men in the mask in dark attires barged into my home, followed by the rounds of fire.

“Hand over all your precious things,” shouted the chief.

Another burglar cried, “Raise your hands!”

Better bend than break. We raised our hands in total obedience. Our hearts pounded and limbs quivered. We were quaking in our boots. We shuffled and huddled in the corner to hide.

Two masked men marched out of the pack, moved closer to us and snatched all our belongings – the watches, the gold chains, the wallets and everything precious in their eyes. After the loot, the bandits vanished without a trace, leaving behind a cloud of dust and despair. We sank in the pool of deep agony and I called off the conference. 

The path of peace and non-violence is leaden with thorns. Gandhi had had to give the litmus test time and again. But bigger the adversity, the stronger was his resolve and in the end he prevailed upon all, with his utmost fortitude and tenacity. I must work as a beaver. Buoyed by this belief, I called up for the conference again, but this time only a third of the Gandhians could turn up for the show. Shaken by the horror of the last conference, the rest completely deserted the principles of Gandhi and slipped into something more comfortable for their lives.

“Dear friends, welcome back to the conference!” I announced.

A different member added, “No hardship can break us. We must get together for this goal.”

“Yes. We are all Gandhians, and we will always be,” said a Gandhian who was standing next to me.

“That is insufficient,” I added.

Another member in the first row inquired, “Why?”

“We must not only practice what Gandhi preached,” I said. Additionally, we need to spread its seeds everywhere.

A woman Gandhian who was sitting in the second row of participants questioned, “How?”

I answered, “We must also preach and spread the values of nonviolence and peace. We must visit towns, villages, cities, and other locations to speak with people and persuade them of the virtue of this proposition.”

A person in his seventies or older asked, “Would they be persuaded?”

“Indeed! They would become persuaded. You have to persuade them. A great society would result from nonviolence and peace. Wealth, harmony, and peace everywhere. Zero bloodshed. Zero violence. Everybody coexists peacefully. Isn’t that the world we all want to live in?” I emphasized.

The crowd roared “Yes!” in unison.

To spread the message of peace, I travelled to every nook and corner of India. I took the idea of Gandhi everywhere. Up in the North and across the Himalayas. Down in the South and across the Nilgiris. Across the eastern and western ghats. To the bustling metropolises. To the big and small towns. To the cities and villages. To the temples and mosques. Churches and Gurudwaras. Schools and Colleges. Every which where. 

Soon my name flashed in all minor and major newspapers -regional, national and international.


Indian and western TV channels started courting me incessantly  to give an interview. One day of a week I appeared on India TV, the other day on Doordarshan, the next day on BBC and yet another day on CNN.  My entourage consisted of a crew of media personnel, wannabe and famous politicians, social activists, NGO personnel, civil servants, doctors, engineers, teachers and common citizens.

The clock struck one and yanked me out of my musings. There was only the sound of silence. And the tick- tock of the clock, the rustling of leaves in the garden, the whirring of the fan and the chirping of the crickets. The night had hidden the whole world in its darkness and silence.

Rat-tat-tat! What was that sound? Hurried, I slipped on my shoes and dashed out of my house. Amidst darkness, only the lights of the neighbor’s house were on. The iron gate of the front entrance was pushed wide open. I tiptoed and what I saw. A German shepherd dead in a pool of blood. I was aghast. Blood oozing out of the gunshot wounds. It soon came to me that the criminals have broken into the house. At the threshold , I shuddered at the sight of the corpse of the owner of the house. He was also a close friend, who had too served in military service and was recently retired. He was shot on head. A gun on floor. Gunshot marks on walls and furniture. Windowpanes smashed to smithereens.

I heard the sobs and cries from the adjacent bedroom . I gathered courage and  shuffled to its threshold. I fidgeted and peeped out from the small window. And what I saw disgusted me to the core. The three criminals were half-naked. The mother and daughter had bruised faces and their tops were torn off. They were pleading and sobbing. Their chastity was on stake.

“Take off your clothes!” shouted the one brandishing the gun at the mother.

“Fast! Or else I would shoot you both to hell!” thundered another.

The mother and daughter huddled into the corner. With much hesitation they started to unbutton themselves with tears in their eyes and their entire frame shaking with fear and emotions. 

“No, please leave us!” pleaded the mother. But the goons did not relent.

Tears started welling up in my eyes. I prayed God for a miracle. 

And he listened. All at once three shots from somewhere. And all of them hit their target. No misses. A perfect job done. 

The next day the local newspapers flashed the news of the incident…

The retired colonel shot point-blank. Along with his dog. But the chastity of wife and daughter saved on time.

That gory incident transformed me yet again. I stopped giving interviews to the all the TV Channels. I discontinued attending the conferences on Gandhi and his principles. I severed ties with all the fellow Gandhians. I ceased preaching the ethos of Gandhi. I was no more a disciple of Gandhi. All the events were cancelled and I started living a life of solitude, far away from the maddening crowd.

Because deep down I knew that I have broken my vow. Broken my oath. And have pierced my pledge through the three gunshots…
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Birbhanu Singh
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