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One Deadly Smile

One Deadly Smile

4 mins 10.6K 4 mins 10.6K

You know how it is when you desperately want to drink? It was one of those days, when I hit the ‘tavern’- the non-descript drinking hole in the east end of town. There I met an old soldier- once an officer in the President’s service. He was just about two drinks down, when I took the stool next to him. He asked me for a match to light his cigarette and that is how we got talking. Having not much idea of a soldier’s life; pouring him a drink, I asked my companion to recollect some evening from his bygone years in uniform. Slowly taking a sip of the scotch, he revisited an old memory...

            "After walking stealthily for about eight hours we finally reached the pre-determined site and settled into a quiet ambush, in a thick grove of walnut trees (this was in South Kashmir, during the peak of insurgency in the state). With bated breaths we waited in the grove, at the edge of this notorious village – ready to pull our frozen fingers on the cold metal triggers if any terrorist walked on the track towards us. That night, the dogs barked and barked - which was a likely indicator for move of terrorists within the village (at that unusual time of the night i.e. one am); but no luck!  Though we kept looking at the track unblinkingly through our hand-held thermal imagers, but no one walked into our death trap that night. The terrorists perhaps took a different route out of the village.

            "As if that was not bad enough, just about the same time, a heavy rain broke out from nowhere. ‘Heavy’ would be an understatement. It was rather a pouring of water over us. Now two choices lay ahead; either continue sitting in the ambush and getting drenched, or walk seven to eight hours in the rain to get back to our camp. Despite the bloody rain, we waited in ambush for two more hours – in desperation for a kill. Each minute was like an hour and the raindrops only seemed to be growing larger. Water now ran in steady driblets down each man’s neck, over his back and into the ground below. By now most men had begun to sneeze. As surprise could no longer be maintained, we finally decided to call off the ambush. Swiftly we moved out, met at the rendezvous, took stock of ourselves and commenced our move back to the camp.

            "I won’t forget that night easily; I couldn’t see the track or the road, or even the soldier ahead of me. I had to literally put my hand on the back of the guy ahead to know which way to walk. Everything seemed the darkest possible shade of black. I have lost count as to how many times I slipped and fell into the knee-deep slush of the paddy fields that night (while on our way back).   I was in a foul mood, trudging along silently and cursing our futile ambush effort – with clothes completely drenched and water still flowing down our back and legs. Nothing (repeat nothing) was visible – and the goddamn road was still an hour’s walk away. After what seemed like eternity, we finally hit the road. I swear I will never forget that one deadly smile!  As we hit the road there was this forlorn bulb, which was hanging there in the rain - naked on a bamboo pole, to illuminate a small ‘peer baba tomb[1] next to it.

         "Some light from the dim bulb fell on the road, and in that pool of light I hesitated and momentarily halted when I saw an animal’s bonny smile lying on the road. It was an old decayed jaw bone - of a cow or a horse, complete with teeth and all; which had been washed and weathered over time to a smooth and gleaming white - and now shone without pity. I heard what this deadly smile had to say, it said “Cheer up old boy! If I still have reason to smile - you f***ing well smile as well! Life’s not that bad if you are still alive!” And then I confess, I hesitantly smiled a little to myself and then a little more. It came to me in a flash that I was kicking and alive, and on returning to the camp a hot bath and a drink awaited me. And then of course, just a week later I was due to proceed on leave; and at that moment, I dare say – my smile outdid the one lying on the road."


[1] An anonymous tomb believed to possess magical powers to help the faithful

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