Windows quivered, as the train passed by the houses that made a beeline along the tracks. Sudha rushed to see the speeding train. Desperately, she searched for a glimpse of that craggy face drowned with responsibility but floating for a fuller life.
“Bapu, isn’t visible? He told me he will come by the morning 7:00 AM Ajmer Express. He broke his promise.” Thus, started the saline flow. “Foolish girl!! How can you see your Bapu in fraction of a second that the train fled?” Is he a Superman to hang on the doors?” Angrily Sudha’s mother Shamla, picked up the broom and started sweeping the muddy floor.
‘What is fraction of a second’ was not understood by Sudha’s little brain. But her heart knew that her father indeed was a Superman. A Superman who handcrafted the Jaipuri mojadis, day by day mirror by mirror and then sold them in the urban markets. It used to be a joyous affair, when the father -daughter duo hand in hand went in quest of colorful fabrics for the mojadis. Back home, she used to sit attentively to glue the mirrors one by one on the final craft piece. The work was nothing short of a Zen meditation. Very carefully, very diligently the mirrors picked up and slid on the destined spot. Mentally, danced the determination to take her Bapu’s art to a global spot. She too fancied designing and decorating the lively mojadis which would be then adorned by beautiful fashionable feet. Somewhere there lay a dream of becoming a handicraft artist.
Nevertheless, when these exclusive pieces were ready Radheshyam, Sudha’s beloved Bapu, would pack the whole lot in shining plastic bags and heed to the city. This expedition happened once every three months. The toughest waiting months for Sudha. “Mai, is it the 11th day or 12th? Still how many to go before Bapu arrives?” Sudha used to innocently pester Shamla into answering. “Whenever he comes, is he going to bring a gold mine? Whatever shallow earnings he will bring, it will not bring great joy. Now don’t you trouble an already troubled me!” Admonished by Shamla, Sudha used to rush to the courtyard were the mojadis lay. She used to find immense pleasure in the company of these footwear in the absence of her Bapu. After a month-long struggle, Radheshyam used to return with meagre earnings to splurge on his Sudha.
This time too he was on such tiresome expedition and Sudha eagerly awaited his arrival. “HURRRAY!!!! My Bapu is home. My Bapu is back home!!! My Mojadiwala is back to his creation……Maiiiii…. Bapu has arrived.!!!”
The neighbourhood was filled with Sudha’s excited cries. Sudha had never failed to bring a smile on Radheshyam’s ragged face. Her childlike joy would always set his linear lips into a happy curve. He had enrolled her in the Mahila Shiksha Vidaylay in Ajmer. Shamla had vehemently disproved of this exorbitant responsibility of buying new uniforms and books every year. Turning a deaf ear to his wife, Radheshyam had an eye for his daughter’s success. So fertile was her brain, that she bagged the first position in her 10th grade all over Ajmer.
“Radheshyam, the village lacks a good female doctor. Our women have to walk miles till they reach the Government hospital at Ajmer. Your daughter deserves to be a doctor. We need to train her so that the village benefits from her service.” The school Principal spoke animatedly while handling the passing certificate to Radheshyam. Sudha knew what the discussion over dinner would be like.
“Titli, I know your heart lies in your Bapu’s art. But see what has this poorer man earned out of it? Nothing. If you become a doctor, I can retire from this daily labor of traveling miles for earning few coins.” Bapu’s words never failed to get that desired effect on Sudha. She knew Bapu never asked, only gave. But today he was asking and it was her duty to agree. Her deep hazelnut eyes gave a longing look at the mojadis. The colours were no more attractive. The mirrors didn’t reflect her. Some mojadis had lost their beads. So, had she by now lost the attraction towards the dying craft? Thus, the mirrors and colors were superseded by needles and pills.
“Arrange the tables next to the chemist’s tent. Set up an entirely new tent for examination and checkups. I will see one woman at a time.” Sudha gave comprehensible instructions to her staff at a medical camp at Army base in Jaisalmer. “Life is what you give to others.” Her Bapu’s adjurement stayed with her wherever she went. Whatever she did.
The Army base that it was the Men in Uniform foraged nearby villages and assured debilitated women to the camp. Mann Wahi, fiercely handsome was one such proud Officer who made Sudha’s heart flutter. The camp not only brought an oasis of relief to the women but also saw the cupid ‘s artwork. Sudha won over Mann’s mann by her simplicity and passion to serve humanity. Mann wooed her with his reliability and resilience. Thus, began the journey of two uniforms- one eager to shed its blood while the other ready to heal it.
The couple nestled in Kalina Army camp; Mumbai post a simple marriage in Ajmer. Both were duty-bound and the call of service held the highest reciprocal from both ends.
Amidst the regularities of life, Mihir happened to them. The birth of Mihir made them homebound for a while. But Mann’s call of duty was far higher than Sudha’s, which she knew from the day she first saw him in the deserts of Jaisalmer. She always knew the Nation was above everything for Mann. Even Mihir and his affectionate cooing couldn’t deter Mann from going on a mission.
Mihir was barely four months, when one evening Mann received a call from his seniors at LOC. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had declared an emergency and the Kargil war had began.
“Life will come in full circles to us. We will meet in ways lovers may not have known. We will for the story is still incomplete. We will meet where breathe turns air. The forms may differ. The conditions may change. But we will meet for sure.” Mann spoke with her face cupped in his palms. Sudha once again reminded herself that she had fallen for a Man in Uniform. Her love at first sight also had Mann in uniform. She stood rock solid by Mann as she also rocked Mihir’s cradle.
The Pakistani troops had infiltrated the Kargil village of Kashmir on 3rd May, 1999. On 10th May, Mann left to join the bloodshed at Kargil. Not once he looked at Mihir, for the fear of going weak first time in his life. Somewhere in her deepest realizations, Sudha bid a final goodbye to her Veer Jawan.
For two months, she lived on hopes and prayers than food and water. Telephonic conversations with Mann went zero in June as the war took an ugly turn. On the morning of 5th July1999, she heard what she had already known. Martyr Major Mann Wahi’s body was to arrive in Mumbai for its last rites on 7th July. Not a tear wept nor a cry moaned. Sudha watched her dreams fall in the lit pyre. August went by in the military formalities and returning to her hometown Ajmer.
The Fall of 1999- September started seeping into her. Life stood threatening in front of her. It was now vast and barren like the deserts of Jaisalmer. No hope or no shoulder to rest on. No love to thrive on. She was now like the tree of fall. All empty due to the atrocities of nature. Once laden with leaves of happiness, now standing exposed, unprotected in the hands of fate.
“What is the use of such a tree which can neither take nor give? What is the use of a life so empty and barren? Let the tree sacrifice itself before it falls down after a snow storm. Let the tree finish itself for it can’t bear to see the deserted land.” A tempted suicidal Sudha was jolted as she heard Mihir’s hungry cries. She rushed to nurse a hungry baby who would have sacrificed his childhood if this fall was to happen. His faith in love, respect for the country and desire to live too would have fallen. Sudha gathered herself and opened the doors of the almirah to find an envelope, handed over to her by Mann’s Army friends. She assembled the courage to open it and found a letter with a piece of cloth in it. This piece of cloth became her strength to strive, to live, to stand firm on the barren land.
Years passed by, little Mihir was enrolled in Rashtriya Military School Ajmer. Mihir’s touch, his talks, his eyes only spoke of Mann. He was now her oasis of relief in the deserts of life. Mihir was proud of his father and met him in the memories of his mother. Sudha on the other hand had rejoined her service to humanity by joining as the AMO at Government Hospital of Ajmer. On one facet she worked tirelessly to serve the lesser privileged. A dream her doting father had seen. While the other facet devoted to Mihir’s upbringing. A sign of her lost love. Occasionally the mojadis peered at her from the cottage backyard. But now they were a past left back long ago.
As the fall of 2019 had arrived, Mihir was home on preparatory leave for his sixth semester at Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur. Sudha after a tiring day at the hospital was about to fall asleep when a troubled Mihir entered her bedroom. She knew these lines of anxiety were not from examination stress for in him ran the blood of a brave soldier. Never a fall or fail word had deterred the ambitious spirits of Mihir. So, what was the worry about?
“Ma, errrr… .I want to talk to you. I know life has always been asking from you. You have always been a giver, first to your father then your husband. Today too your son has come on his knees and I know this time too you will give with full heart.” Silent Mihir looked in her deep hazelnut eyes. There were greenish signs of early cataract. He was unable to muster the courage to speak the last line. Sudha knew what was coming. With a lump in her throat, “Go ahead Beta I’m always listening.” Is all she said. “I want to join the Indian army, Ma!” Mihir hugged his pale mother. Instantly she smiled. This was the smile; she had inherited from her own father. “What was it that children took to their fathers so much?” Thought Sudha and blessed Mihir to fulfill his dreams. Mihir’s departure made her dimly lit room, darker. His dead father had more of an impact on him than his living mother. Tears fell which she had held for so long to hide her vulnerability. Had she succumbed to the suicidal thought, she wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Mihir’s name- The Rising Sun. Had she not opened the envelope to find that piece of cloth, today Mihir wouldn’t have dreamt of a career in Uniform. Yes, that piece of cloth was not any ordinary fabric. It was a part of Mann’s Uniform. Part of his dying wish that his son adorned the same Uniform. Today she met her Mann after long. Today she found meaning to what he had said that day. “We will meet for sure.”
She felt the pricking of the mojadi mirrors and her own needles. She was tired of saying yes to her loved ones. Exhausted from being the fountain which quenched thirst only to keep itself thirsty all life. But once again she was reminded,‘Life is what you give to others.’
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