‘Your services to The Indian Government as a nuclear scientist have been terminated with an immediate effect.’
The bold, italic line, in a swarm of words, reverberated in the consciousness of Dr. Khurana.
The posting in arid deserts of Pokhran, Rajasthan was my first experience. I, Dr. Khurana was appointed as Chief of planning and execution department. Though for people we were archaeological surveillance officers, to renovate the dilapidated forts of Jaisalmer, only we knew what the hidden aim was. It was to change the image of India in the eyes of the world forever. One test under the grounds, and India’s image would upscale forever. India’s resilience had always been visioned as timid. It was time to change.
The day started at the fort and ended on deserted lanes. A single mobile was a precious asset of the team. The passwords flashed and the team would be allowed to enter the site only after it was handed to the security. The passwords, along with the handset had to be protected from the eyes of spies. If it fell in wrong hands, we would lose the only chance to shine on the global map.
On the site, we pretended to work and talk about reconstruction of heritage. We laid out maps daily, just to fool the spies around. One day,
‘Khamanganna Sahabji, I came to know this fort is being renovated. Can you please help me with a job? My mom is very ill and I am in a dire need of the money.’ Pleaded Sukhiya; a puppeteer earning his living, by performing outside the fort. I, who was moved by his poverty allowed him to do the remnant works along with the team. Soon, Sukhiya, with his honesty and hard work won my trust. Days progressed, me and my team engrossed ourselves deeply in work. As far as possible, we avoided talking about the mission while at the fort.
The main challenge was to keep the work earthed from the eyes of CIA, which hovered over us day and night. The only time those hovering eyes were shut was 8 hours at night. So, we the nocturnal military officers, were putting in full efforts to complete the task. The challenge was to not only complete the work of a particular day but also to arrange the things back to the way they were before the satellites hover again. So that CIA could be successfully misguided.
D-day arrived. The password flashed on the screen of the handset – ‘A Lost Mobile’. Had the government lost its mind? What was the reason for such a stupid password? But by not pressing my energy on the petty issue, I stepped out in bright sunlight for the day’s work. As I prepared myself to step out, Sukhiya entered with the tea. After sipping the cold tea, I searched for the mobile to culminate the mission. But my worst nightmare came true. I ransacked my belongings, but couldn’t find the mobile. The world came crashing down on me. Soon, the news reached the headquarters. Accusations followed. How could I be so irresponsible? I was given the handset on the foundation of trust but shattered it. Feeling dizzy and called out to Sukhiya for a glass of water. The incessant calls to my faithful, went unanswered.
What if I don’t get the handset back? It was given to me with all the trust and responsibilities. How could I lose it? How could I be so careless about the most important part of our mission today? Would I be able to conduct the last and the most important segment of the mission today? If we don’t do it now, CIA would understand our planning and we would be blacklisted. The whole country would suffer because of just one person’s carelessness. What about my job? Not only the country, even I would be declared as traitor who sold himself to the enemies for sake of some millions to fill his own pockets. My post, my job, my entire life would turn topsy-turvy all beacuase of this lost mobile.
Running away from the deserts of Jaisalmer, Arbaaz also known as Sukhiya- the puppeteer, waited at the borders. A stray camel with a huge bell hung around its neck would traverse, and he would then be transported into his homeland. The journey of the past six months was exhausting. The rainbow colored pagri, white angarkha– the Indianness scorched into his skin.
“What an idiot that scientist was! Escaping with his mobile is another feather in my trope’s cap.” Arbaaz smirked as he felt the mobile safely lying in one of the turns of his pagri.
“Insha Allah, now the chief would be thrilled, and my family will enjoy some luxuries, for which I had left school joining the Mujahedeen.” The entire plan would soon be revealed to CIA and dreams of India will be shattered once again.
His reverie was broken by the clangs of a bell, which galvanized Arbaaz.
A sinister silence always enveloped the valley. Yet, Arbaaz felt at home in the cold, hostile environment. The village of Baramulla, trained many aspiring youths like him, for whom decapitation in the name of nation, was a pathway to Jannat. After a month of dodging the Indian army, Arbaaz was finally united with his lashkar.
The Indian Government had to call off the mission due to international pressures. In fact, it strongly knew the device was stolen by the Mujahijdeen. Officials were on the prowl, to nab Arbaaz. The scenario with Mujahedeen chieftain too was the same. Arbaaz was the prime suspect, who would expose the mastermind.
“Kher Mqadam. You are welcome my hero, my dost!” the sonorous voice which never had a face echoed in the dilapidated cottage, when Arbaaz was brought here blindfolded. The veil would never be lifted unless he was back in the lashkar area.
“We value your contribution to the pride of the tribe but dost we value our survival too.” The voice continued and Arbaaz’s throat parched sensing the impending doom.
“Allah Tala, qurbani Kabul karo!”
I just could not take the accusations inflicted. I formed a team with the army and left on the mission to nab Sukhiya, as he was the prime suspect. But I knew, he was just a puppet in the big game, been played by Mujahedeen.
The search through the deserted terrains, on the outskirts of Baramulla was not an easy one. Here, the deceptive spies always outnumbered the able army officers. The news that a team was coming for investigation alerted the deceptive men across the border.
Days rolled into weeks, before we understood the fact that Sukhiya aka Arbaaz had left for heavenly abode. The authenticity of the news was confirmed by his mother who had considered her son dead, the day he had joined Lashkar.
The team contemplated staying back, as a futile activity. The main suspect been killed, the clue out of their hands, retuning to base camp would have been a best solution.
I was flummoxed, whether to stay back or return to the usual routine chaos of the life. What was left in that city if I return? Same old stories of hatred filled glare, with people considering me as a traitor. Oscillating between various government offices to prove my innocence, it was better to stay back over here.
A small cottage became my blanket to weep alone. Days passed, I tried to develop relationship with the villagers. But in vain. The only hope was Arbaaz’s mother. We became strong shoulders for each other’s weeping hearts. We were labeled traitor, terrorist….. meals or no meals, rituals or no rituals, days began and ended with grief.
On one such grieving evening,
‘Where did I go wrong? Why my child? I was blessed with child after waiting for eight long years only to lose him again. As I was blessed with this, I was cursed for been a widow for life. I managed to survive just for the sake of my child,’ she lamented.
‘My entire life has turned upside down. Neither can I go back nor can I stay over here for a longer period. I am a traitor for the nation. Guilt poked me, as I have dejected my motherland. Will she embrace me during my last breath?’ I too joined the old woman in the brooding.
‘You still have a long life, dear. You can make best out of it rather than just crying over spilt milk.’ She comforted.
‘What Ammi? What should I do? How do I overcome my pain, my guilt?
‘Allah, jab ek raasta band karta hain, toh sau nae raaste khol deta hain. Dhyaan se dekhoge toh shayad se tumhe tumhari manzil yahin mil jaegi.’
The words of Ammi reverberated in my ears, the whole night. I couldn’t sleep. I sat on verandah gazing at the no moon sky. The pitch-black sky was indicating something.
Did I see a silver lining or was it a figment of my imagination?
Can I still work for my motherland and abolish the label of traitor from my name? Is the destiny trying to pin point something to me? Maybe I have chance of take two in my life…..
Pondering over the possibility of a new life, I dozed off.
The city of Baramulla was so beautiful. The fear of death was diminishing from the minds of people. It was slowly getting restored to its original stature of 1947. Again, it was growing culturally, financially and becoming trade hub. The beautiful dynasties of Nawabs were restored with the harmony coming to no man’s land.
As I sip the kawah, I still remember how all this had started.
When I first stepped here, my aim was to nab Arbaaz. Here I couldn’t catch hold of him but my destiny caught hold of my second chance. The second chance born out of Ammi’s encouraging words and help of villagers. To eradicate Jihad from the roots became the purpose of my life. So that no more Arbaaz meet their ill fate. So that, no other scientist was dejected in similar manner. So that no more courier boys stand at your house with AK47 in their hands. And finally, so that no more train blasts or parliament attacks continued.
The work was tedious, to convince the villagers was even more. Two problems encountered me – first to convince people to send their children to school and second was their monetary status. Poverty was the main factor driving innocent mind into Jihad. So, I used my knowledge of being a scientist and brought my savings of years to its best use.
Even the discussions with Ammi and many of the ill-fated villagers helped me a lot. But to put the plans into action, I needed help of localities. And who could be better person than Ammi herself?
‘Ammi will you help me? We both together can really change the fate of children, like Arbaaz. We can actually prevent many of youngsters falling prey to Jihad.’ I pleaded.
‘How can I help you? I am just another illiterate female of this hamlet. How can I be of any use to you?’ retorted Ammi.
‘Ammi, you can be. I know, we both have been labeled as traitors, but this is our only chance to prove our unconditional love for our motherland. I can train these students, but language barrier can only be overcome by you.’ I explained.
Ammi with much reluctance agreed to help. At least, she didn’t have anything to lose.
So, there we started with our mission by tying up with the only local school in the town. Initially, I designed small science projects where students were taught simple experiments. As the experiments started attracting more children, I expanded my scope to astronomy. A simple telescope was set up and they were motivated to aim for the stars.
In all these endeavors, Ammi was my greatest strength. She helped me procure materials locally, and also feed the students occasionally, so that they do not get diverted. Her Urdu translations were of immense help. Thus, the school saw an increasing number of young girls and boys, with budding enthusiasm joining the tribe.
The first major breakthrough came, with hydro power project. A mini hydro power tower was installed cumulatively on the banks of the river. This bought the extended supply of electricity to the houses of Baramulla and an ever-extending smile on the faces of villagers.
The numbers were growing by leaps and bounds. But the problem of poverty, still needed to be tackled. With the load increasing, I encouraged elder students to teach their younger counterparts. And the younger ones were assigned task of collecting the material which would help them to earn mini sums. The things went exceptionally well, beyond imagination.
Some suspicious villagers still eyed us with doubts. We joined hands with local communities and food joints on how they could help in giving employment to the young enthuse.
The picture started to change, slowly and gradually.
Then came the test day. The intruders intruded the valley again. Every time they would enter the schools, lecture kids for about an hour. Convince the young minds about the jihad and return back with truck full of children, unaware of their fate. This was like a repeat telecast for the people of Baramulla. They felt, again some of their kids would be lost forever and return only on four shoulders, if at all they were lucky to see them for the last time.
But today scenario was different. The jihadis returned empty handed. Not a single child thought for even a second to join the bandwagon. What happened today? Even the Jihadi leader was shocked. He shook his head in complete denial of the incident that unfolded in front of him. His golden valley of opportunities had gone bankrupt today. What could be the reason for this change?
The principle was happy beyond limits and so were people of the valley. Finally, their kids were saved and not martyred in the name of Jihadis. Everyone thanked me for this complete change in the picture today. Ammi and me, both were elated with the way things transformed, in just few months.
I was happy, I could save at least few of the attacks on my motherland. Satisfied to the core, I would now lay in the warm graveyards of my motherland. But why was it so cold? Why was it so wet?
‘Oh, gosh it was just a dream!!!! It is snowing beautifully in the valley.
What a beautiful dream it was!!!!! A smile flittered on my face after months of struggle.
‘Can my dream become a reality?’
‘Do Ammi and me really have a chance of take two in our life?’
I was thrilled with new opportunity awaiting me. I couldn’t contemplate the sheer beauty of the dream and walked in to start my life, again.
This could be the take two for both of us…
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