Like A Diamond In The Sky
Like A Diamond In The Sky7 mins 17.7K 7 mins 17.7K
"Look Ma, I'm a bird", wrapping his mother's red nylon saree with the cheap zari embroidery, around his little body like a cape; a huge trail behind, soaked in yesterday's rain collected in the verandah corner, Veenu flapped his hands like a bird. The toddler bundled into that oversized piece of cloth; a wide grin running ear to ear between the dimpled cheeks with a rosy tinge, his lean figure spelt flamboyance. A resplendent gleam in the eyes and you had a regal Macau, just waiting to soar above.
However, soaring was difficult if you had your mother's rolling pin holding you down. Showering light blows on his back, his mother was running after Veenu. "How many times have I told you not to touch my saree. Now it's all wet. I have to put it out to dry
again.This boy and his stupid games. Always up to some mischief. I can't get a moment's rest."
Quickly getting himself out of the cloth, Veenu pranced away to safety, just like always. Docile as a deer, he ran faster than lightning, as though the wind carried him. No one in the village ever dreamt of outrunning him. They nicknamed him BirdBoy. Just like the other boys, he would run around stealing mangoes and guavas, chasing dogs and monkeys, splashing in the pond, lazing around on buffaloes.
But BirdBoy also spent his time looking up at the sky. See the clouds float away, sometimes talk to them. He would watch the birds, how they flied; swoop down or flap up. Tiny coloured specks against the bright blue backdrop, owning their territory in the vast sky.
But more than that what fascinated him was the occasional big, grey bodies whooshing past the clouds with a screeching noise making the earth under his feet tremble, when he visited his Uncle's place. He didn't know what they were; he had heard people in that village refer to them as "Pilan". If they were out in the open, playing, spotting a "Pilan" meant they would huddle under a certain banyan, as though it would protect them from its supernatural shadow. Unlike his friends though, Veenu was never scared of this "Pilan".
Some evenings, lighting the lamp, Ma would ask him to recite a rhyme. Every time Veenu would act out in a sing song voice, "... Up above the world so high, like a Diamond in the Sky." Ma did not understand the language until Veenu explained the meaning he'd learnt in school. She would smile and kiss his forehead. "My little diamond", she'd say. It was their favourite rhyme. Veenu knew Ma loved him, even if he soaked her favourite saree in the rain.
Everyone laughed in class at Veenu that day. The inspector from town had come on visit. He was talking to the class. " Do you know what a dream is? When I was your age, I used to dream day and night about places I'd never seen, things I'd never done. So do you dream too? Dreams of what you want to do in life, where you want to go, what you want to be?" Veenu raised his hand.
"Yes?", the inspector asked, keen to learn about this young mind's dreams.
"I want to be a bird", Veenu said.
The class rose in an uproar of laughter. Veenu crumbled, wondering what he had said wrong. The inspector was intrigued. This was an answer he hadn't expected. He hushed down the class.
"Why do you dream to be a bird, son?" he asked, without a frown or freckle, rather inquisitively.
Hesitant at first, Veenu mustered up his courage to speak again.
"I want to fly up in the air, Sir. Float beside the clouds, glide alongside birds as they chirp merrily. I want to touch the rainbow and bathe in it; catch the raindrops before they fall."
There was pindrop silence in the class. The inspector was amazed. This was truly a child with a wagon of dreams and imagination. He believed in magic and could make it happen.
After class he called Veenu.
" So, young man, have you heard of an aeroplane?"
A baffled Veenu didn't understand the word. "Aero.. What Sir?"
The inspector laughed. "An aeroplane is like a bird, only man made. It flies in the Sky.. Alongside the birds, with the clouds, through the rainbows and above the storms. And there are people sitting in it, travelling around the globe."
"Is it like the big bus from our village to Chandanpur?" Veenu asked innocently.
"Yes you could say so.. But it looks different and flies in the Sky. You could learn to fly it."
Suddenly he remembered the "Pilans" he'd seen.
"Are you talking about the "Pilans" sir? The grey, big things that fly in the Sky.. ", he asked.
"Oh yes, PLANE not Pilan. Those are the ones. You could learn to fly one", the inspector let out a sigh of relief, as Veenu had confirmed sighting a plane.
"So I will be the driver?", asked BirdBoy trying to fathom the new concept.
"Not a driver. It's called Pilot. Pai-lot.. Pronounce it", the inspector explained.
"Pilot...By doing that I can fly, just like the birds?"
"Yes, you will fly, up above this world. See new cities and countries. Meet new people. You cannot grow wings like the Eagle, but you can ride on the plane's wings and soar high".
He felt a subtle joy in giving wings to this child's dreams. The enthused spark in his eyes told him that BirdBoy would fly one day.
"Tell me more about the plane sir!" Veenu insisted. And so the inspector gave him detailed accounts of the insides of a plane, told him the story of Wright Brothers and the invention of the aeroplane, how it felt to be so many feet above the ground, and all of this was enough to ignite a fire in the little heart. A flame of ambition to rise high.
"You are destined for the skies, Veenu", he'd said.
Several years and many milestones later, here he was, Wing Commander R. Veenu, Indian Air Force, waiting in the cockpit, looking back on his journey from BirdBoy to Commander. He had become the "driver" of a different kind of plane. But he had reached the Sky.
The day he'd witnessed the majestic plane before his eyes for the first time, learnt his first takeoff, he still savoured that moment of ecstasy. He knew he could not allow anything to compromise his vision, but the tears seemed unbound. Flying into the clouds, rising above them, looking down at the diminutive earth below; like little blocks of clay at the potter's place, with sprays of green and brown here and there.
The uniform and badges that adorned him, the tricolour trail on Republic Day; it all seemed unreal at times. It was incomprehensible for the people in his village that their BirdBoy could actually scale such heights. The road wasn't a cakewalk, the scholarships were elusive. Countless sleepless nights spent with books, the rigorous training sessions were painful. But he had earned his place in the skies, travelling far and wide, defending his people, but always coming back to his roots, to the land of "Pilan".
But not this time. He looked back at the flame slowly gulping down his cockpit. The crew had been evacuated with parachutes. It was impossible to evade the fire, and he couldn't outrun the enemy to reach safety, unlike childhood. Even if he flapped his hands, BirdBoy couldn't fly out of there. For the first time, the boy who dreamt of flying craved for the ground.
So this was what the end looked like. He wondered how his funeral would be with the official gun salute. Ma would cry a lot. He remembered the day when he received the recruitment letter and told his mother, "I'm going to be a bird Ma". It had taken a long time to explain it all to the perplexed old lady. "If I fly at night, I'll be like a sparkling diamond in the Sky. Your little diamond." They had laughed together that day.
The heat was building up, and the "Pilan" would explode any moment. Shattered to splinters and pieces, taking him with it, to become an untraceable speck in the Sky. He closed his eyes.
"You are destined for the skies."
" Hey BirdBoy, do you have a dream worth dying for?"
Ma's "little diamond" was coming home.