The Other Side
The Other Side6 mins 205 6 mins 205
There isn’t anything more to change than a lot of pain.
And, in his heart, Anirudh Bansal knew this too. As he stood at his duty spot, a few kilometers away from the borders that curled and curved before him, cutting into the layer of snow, bruising the Earth’s breast, he shifted his uniform over his shoulders so as to balance out the agony of a cold, metallic uniform over the surface area of his shoulders. His fingers unsteadily wound themselves around his gun – and after a span of five to six seconds, he would cast glances at the trigger, ensuring that his fingers were away from it. This military newness was truly overwhelming.
He was a soldier now – having soared over, or rather stumbled across the tests at the Defense Academy, and he had managed to make it through the five months of vigorous training, most importantly, in one piece. He was a well-built man with a broad chest, swollen muscles, and sturdy arms, towering over most of the world at a height of six feet and three inches – he had met all the physical requirements that were needed of a soldier. It was only the emotional requirements that posed a challenge. A moment later, he heard the commander call out to him, heralding the end of his day shift. The tension in his tight cheekbones and poker-straight back that was always at attention seemed to drop almost instantly. Just the way a doting father would wrap his child in a blanket on a cold winter’s evening, tuck the child under his strong arm and lead her into the warmth of a well-lit home, Anirudh Bansal wrapped his gun beneath a red blanket with a Santa Claus woven onto it. The only difference was that instead of a well-lit home that bore the fragrance of dinner cooking, complete with the silhouette of a mother behind a frosted kitchen window, drawing out a square-shaped cake from the insides of an oven – the gun was being led into cold, dimly barracks where the brass coatings of the banisters were decked with a layer of sharp, penetrating frost. Anirudh made his way to his room, set down his gun, stepped out of the crisp perfection of his bottle-green uniform and retired into his comparatively comfortable plainclothes, making sure to don a double-layered bullet jacket, taping it to the ends of his shirt, because anything – just anything can happen in a soldier’s life.
He went downstairs, and devoured a meal of frozen chicken and beef – his vegetarian’s heart grimacing all the while. But, truth be told, the consumption of meat did lend some warmth to his frozen bones. After this pathetic ritual, with his taste buds indulging in a tussle with his comfortably full stomach, he went back to his room and lay down on his thin, cotton mattress. He could hear the soldiers on night duty softly converse with each other. This period of the night was somewhat relaxed, and apart from conversations about what could be going on in the mind of the enemy, he heard them talk about their families and how they missed the warmth of a child nestled in their arms. Every other night, this soft, buzzing sound would lull him to sleep, but today, this sound made him stay awake. As he tossed and turned in his bullet-proof jacket, he was seized by a desire to go downstairs and join them. His life, experience, and training as a soldier had taught him to prefer his head over his heart – to shed his usual self and embrace logic and pragmatism. But today, he decided to succumb to the calls of desire and found himself moving outside. The gibbous moon shone brightly overhead, and he almost felt as though it was bestowing a silvery smile upon him. As he reached outside, his bulletproof jacket in place, and his gun in his hand, he did not see a host of soldiers as he had expected. Instead, he saw one soldier – a curious, green-eyed man with a dimpled chin and twinkling eyes, standing at attention. This soldier did not look like any other soldier, but still had a gun in his hand, and seemed to be talking to himself. Anirudh looked around in curiosity because the voices that he had heard most definitely belonged to more than one person – but the question was, where were the other people?
He turned around, scanned the area, but there was no one apart from this one soldier. As he approached the soldier, the soft buzz of probable self-conversation ceased, as the soldier raised his eyebrows and looked at him. The sharp, green light that emerged from what seemed like the core of his pupils penetrated through Anirudh, and he almost felt as though the soldier’s eyes were searching through the innermost alleys of his heart, trying to quest for those bits and pieces of truth that made Anirudh who he was. “I…. I thought that I heard voices” Anirudh whispered, as the soldier smiled. “Of course you did!” he replied, his voice soft yet clear. “But, I don’t see anyone. I mean, if there were voices, there must be people too, right?” Anirudh asked as the soldier nodded almost instantly. “There are people. But, who says that the people who were conversing have to be here? Are we the only people who can have a conversation? Are we the only people around?” he inquired. “I think so! We are the only people who can talk about their mothers, daughters, and children” Anirudh answered. The soldier shook his head and instructed Anirudh to follow him. Anirudh felt the grip on his gun loosen, and his taut shoulders beneath the dimensions of his bulletproof jacket shifted to a position of comfort and ease. The soldier showed Anirudh a tear in the electric wiring of the border, and asked him to bend down, and position himself at a safe distance. He heard the voice of his enemies, and a sudden shiver ran down his spine. To be so close to them, and not have his grip tightly fastened around his gun, all ready to fire, was indeed a very strange feeling.
“You know, my daughter called me yesterday. She didn’t say anything. In her sing-song voice, she just said ‘Papa’! I don’t know, what is wrong with the telephone line these days. I don’t know if anything is wrong, actually. I think we are just too far away from the world. From most of the world, at least. That is why maybe we can’t even sustain proper conversations with our family. But, this one word – ‘Papa’ was so loud and clear, it echoes in my heart. This one word is the light that has found me in this dark world. I am trying to hold onto it, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. After all, you do not know the people on the other side. They can do anything, at any time…..”