Freedom Is Red
Freedom Is Red
“Well. We will not recede. But, let’s see.”
The General thought it was a bad idea to leave the place. He thought it meant running away like cowards. But for me, I had hope. That I would go back home. And that was because he said, “Let’s see”, which surely gave me something.
It is December, 1971. I received messages from home after months. They were all preparing for 60th birthday of mother. The kids were arranging a gift too, it seems. My friend here got a message too, says everyone in his home were going to a pilgrimage. And he says they’ll pray for us all.
Pray for us, yeah. We badly wanted that. We wanted to be home. Away from the nonsense going on.
“We are fighting someone to liberate someone else. There’s no point of all this.”
You can’t curse the Army like this. At least that’s what I thought. But this was an outburst. A young soldier, lamenting on his life being snatched away. I couldn’t complain. On one side was duty, and the other was the idea of being sent to die, unable to see our families or anything other than the war, that’s killing us from the inside. The main question was, “who are we freeing by killing?”
The General didn’t want to hear wailings. He was a tough man, who wanted to just blow away anything that came his way. He was a man following orders, just like us. After all, what could he do? He had to act tough. But these mumblings would reach the General, so we were all quiet. Waiting for all these to end.
“Hey, do you know what time it is?”
We were on patrol. Someone gave the news that we were going to be on the field tomorrow, early morning. Some soldiers pushed that aside, calling it to be rumours also.
“Do you know, we are going to be on the field tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but shouldn’t we be waiting for the official order?”
“It’s official, man. The last outfit almost routed. We’re next, man.”
We were fighting Pakistan. We were fighting them for so long. I had come to the main war zone 2 months ago. Before that, I was on the lower base, as one of the war journalists. As people were becoming scarce, they had to bring in more. I was one of those. I knew to shoot, but I didn’t know to kill.
There were some against us in the camp. Calling us cowards, and questioning our killing capabilities.
“And what’s a newspaper columnist doing among a bunch of killers?”
They would laugh. But I had no other option. If I had to be in the war, I had to kill. I should also be alive, to be home. It was tough. But I could manage.
And the official order was there. We had to reach the outpost by dawn, and then take them from there. This was my first major assignment here, in a capacity other than a journalist.
I took my rifle and ran my fingers on it.
‘”Tomorrow you’re going to be with me”
The night was closing. It was just a few hours to dawn. I still couldn’t sleep. I mustered my toughness for tomorrow. I had to kill. I had to do it. For me and my family.
At 4, we set out to the outpost and from there we had to split into two divisions. The lieutenant leading us was a fierce person. He had the idea of no remorse and full on blasting. I had to cover him every time, there’s an ambush. Well, that was the order.
We were informed about militants being occupied in the buildings in this small town. There could be an ambush any minute. They could be waiting for the right chance. I rushed into a building, almost in ruins. There were 3 more soldiers with me.
“This place is about to fall apart”
“Looks like a school building”
“They’ve occupied on a Sunday. Maybe they didn’t want to interfere with the children’s education”
All of us laughed. They were all ok now. Ready to fight.
I climbed up a broken staircase. I had to be careful not to slip and fall on the debris underneath. I went up to the first floor and watched through the creeks in the walls. There was a sudden bellow from the street. Someone had been shot. The bullets followed. The sound of the gunfire was in the air. Constant bullet shots were fired. I rushed downstairs and found one of the young soldiers wounded. He got shot in his left knee and was crawling on the ground.
“I should take you to the medics”
I took him to the side of the building, away from the fighting. One of the other guys, provided cotton to place it on his knee. He was holding his pain. He didn’t shout from pain. I held him up.
“You should fight. I know you are against this. But… but fight for yourself and your family. This is for them”
The medics had come. I left him for them. And I marched ahead, with his words ringing in my head.
My dilemma about war hadn’t cleared yet. But, that young soldier who lost a leg, just seemed to tell me what I must be doing now.
I took down two militants in the next 36 minutes. We had covered almost half the town now. They said there were 15 more on the way ahead. After my double whammy, my “killer instinct”, as the boys would say, had turned on. I was itching for more. But my heart was still onto the question, “why are we fighting this?”
“…the Indian Army reports to us that a number approximating to 75 Indian soldiers have been killed in the war as on today. Some bodies have been brought over to Dacca hospital…”
With as many as 3,000 killed in total from our side in the war, our Government need to be reminded of why this war involved us at all. Families across the country wept for its soldiers. We defeated Pakistan and brought freedom to Bangladesh. Yeah, but at what cost? The soldier is asked to guard our borders, fight for our country, and risk their lives for our nation, but why now? Questions had to be asked. It had been asked then too. By a war journalist, brought in to field at dawn, rising to kill, to get to home, to celebrate his mother’s birthday. And that was the last of him.