For A Few Extra Yards
For A Few Extra Yards7 mins 285 7 mins 285
The cavalcade consisted of five vehicles. Decked with flowers, the motorcade moved slowly towards Islampur, a tiny hamlet in the eastern Uttar Pradesh town of Ghazipur. Subedar Jameel looked calm. Despite his heavily plastered right leg, he was standing on the open jeep. The fleet of vehicles reached the hamlet's most revered spot, the pedestal on which the bust of Brigadier Suleman was mounted. Subedar Jameel went down the open jeep and placed a garland on the bust of his illustrious grandfather. This was indeed a proud moment, the victor of Pakistani outpost number 5 was paying homage to the lion of Mahshera, one who had destroyed the Pakistani army's most important outpost in the 1948 war. As Jameel stood before the bust, dreary eyed, his thoughts wandered to the memories of that fateful day when he had captured the enemy post killing ten Pakistani soldiers, one of them being the descendent of this great soul on whose head he had just placed the garland.
There was a strange heaviness in the air. Islampur had never witnessed such a divide. Bashiruddin had been teaching in the local secondary school for the last thirty-two years. Today when he entered the class he observed that the students were sitting in two separate groups. The communal divide was more than visible. Returning home that afternoon Bashiruddin felt a deep sense of helplessness. Is this the price of Independence from the British? Local newspapers were full of vitriolic messages exhorting the members of the minority community to migrate to Pakistan.
The local community leaders were also active in fanning communal hatred. Although Islampur was still not affected by violence, reports from other parts of India were very disturbing. Bashiruddin just could not understand the logic of the partition of the country on the basis of religion. In his thirty-two years of teaching, he had preached that religion was a tool to follow a righteous path. How could religion suddenly become an instrument to divide the nation?
Among his three sons, Bashiruddin had an inkling that Suleman, the eldest, was the brightest. The youngest Zamir was the most difficult. Bashiruddin had an idea that Zamir was frequently visiting local religious leaders and harbored some radical feelings.
The atmosphere of Islampur worsened. Several Muslim families had left the village heading for Pakistan. People had become wary of venturing out alone in mixed neighborhoods. Bashiruddin felt heavy at heart. On that day when the family sat for dinner, it was around half that Zamir broke the silence. Without meeting the eyes, he said loudly that he intended to go to Pakistan tomorrow with a family which lived a few houses away. Bashiruddin felt a lump in his throat. He could never imagine that someone from his family would be so unpatriotic so as to leave the homeland. The look on the face of Zamir was nonchalant. Everybody knew it was worthless to argue.
Life moved on, Bashiruddin breathed his last a few years after partition, however in Suleman he had left his legacy. Suleman was bright in every aspect and wanted to uphold his father's patriotic instincts. He qualified for the National Defence Academy examination and became a proud officer in the Indian army. Brigadier Suleman became a legend and died fighting the Pakistani army.
The word haveli was a misnomer. What remained of the ancestral house were only a few rooms with leaking roofs and walls which resembled rubble. Jameel had received news that he had been selected for the Indian army as a non commissioned officer. The worn-out outer door of the house proudly displayed the nameplate: Subedar Jameel.
Fifty years is a long time. Islampur had forgotten the pangs of partition and was back to its roots. The age-old traditions have been revived. The temple's kirtan would pause while the muezzin recited the azan in the adjoining mosque. Every Thursday, there was a trickle of village women to the bust of Brigadier Suleman where they placed sacred flowers in obeisance to the martyr.
The television set in Jameel's room broke the news. War had become inevitable. The enemy had intruded several sectors across the border. That evening, through a messenger, Subedar Jameel received information from the army high command to report immediately to the base camp at Jammu. Before proceeding to join his command, Jameel went to his grandfather's memorial where he recited the fateha and silently prayed.
Helicopters ferried the army unit of Subedar Jameel to the forward post. The temperature was below freezing. The eerie silence of the hills told a story that was far removed from the romance which poets usually weave in their songs. The platoon had been extensively briefed by the commanding officer. The task was cut out. Indian territory had to reclaim and also the strategic forward postcode number 5 of the enemy was to be captured.
The last camp of the platoon commandeered by Subedar Jameel was between a cliff and a gorge. The attack was to start at 4 am. Nobody slept. A makeshift temple and a mosque was set up at the camp. Although the places of worship were different, significantly the faithful showed no discrimination between both the places of worship.
The attack was underway, the first shot was fired just before dawn. The enemy was taken by surprise but the retaliation was swift. A heavy barrage of fire was being exchanged. The terrain was difficult and only a small distance separated the opposite armies. Subedar Jameel was leading from the front. His rifle vision caught a glimpse of a movement and the burst from the gun brought down a body rolling down the ridge.
The battle for forward post 5 went on for four long hours. The intensity of the gunfire slowly decreased from both sides. Jameel was inching close to the enemy camp, he could sense the forward post of the enemy barely a few meters away. The bodies of enemy soldiers lay strewn. Jameel had also lost nine of his soldiers. Grenade shrapnel had injured Jameel however he kept moving forward, his hand proudly held the tricolor.
He had received two bullets in the stomach. Barely able to move, the Pakistani soldier was waiting to die. His ammunition had finished. He checked his emergency revolver, there was only one bullet left. The pain was unbearable, he wished to die. His mind wandered, Zehra was waiting for him at his ancestral house in Buzurga village of Sialkot. They had been married just six months back. Before he received the duty call, Zehra had told him that she was pregnant. He carried the photo of Zehra in his inside pocket but he did not have the strength to pull it out.
The pain was becoming intense. Death was inevitable. The soldier took the revolver in his hand and pointed to his head, perhaps the last bullet would end his agony. Suddenly he heard a sound. An Indian soldier with a flag was slowly crawling towards his side. The soldier pointed the revolver towards the enemy and was about to pull the trigger. His mind again wandered to the image of expectant Zehra. He realized that the other soldier with the flag was like him. He too was fighting a war for invisible stakes. Probably a 'Zehra' would be waiting for this Indian soldier somewhere in his country. Almost two dozen soldiers have lost their lives for a few extra yards of barren land.
Jameel went past the Pakistani soldier thinking him to be dead. He reached the place where the green flag of Pakistan was still fluttering. Subedar Jameel snatched the green and white flag from the post and mounted the tricolor. The sun was shining bright. Forward post number 5 had been captured.
A faint voice interrupted Jameel. He heard someone say 'brother, can you give me some water'. The Pakistani soldier was in intense pain. Sometimes even death plays tricks, it makes you wait. Jameel understood the agony of the dying soldier. A pint of water still remained in his water bottle. Jameel opened the bottle and poured some into the parched open mouth of the Pakistani soldier.
His mind again took him to Sialkot. It was springtime and there were kites in the sky. A kite had cut another kite in the sky. He could barely make out the face of the Indian soldier who had just put some water in his mouth. Angels are even found on the battlefield.
The water made the Pakistani soldier speak to his Indian counterpart. He had grown up in Sialkot watching Indian movies. The soldier told Jameel that he too had an Indian connection; his grandfather had migrated to Pakistan in 1948. Grandfather had told him that they belonged to a small village named Islampur in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh.
The Pakistani soldier tried to smile. Perhaps death was waiting for this moment. His face became silent and his breathing stopped. Jameel covered the face of the Pakistani soldier with his towel which was already soaked with blood. For some moments he sat beside the dead man, a silent prayer went through his mind. He recited the fateha for the departed kin.