On a cloudy morning, an Army Shaktiman truck was parked beside a tea stall on the outskirts of Baramulla in Kashmir. Several soldiers remained sitting in the back of the truck holding the rifles with their butts resting on the floor. They wore olive green Army fatigues. One soldier stepped down and headed to the tea stall. He brought back several plastic cups of steaming tea and passed the tray to the soldier sitting near the entrance. That man passed the teacups to the others and returned the empty tray to the soldier standing on the ground.
His name is Varghese Chandy. The Kottayam-based Varghese had joined the Army three years ago. The 23-year-old belonged to a lower-middle-class family. His father had been a struggling farmer. They had a tough time right through his childhood, making ends meet. So, Varghese opted for the Army. He knew he would get a steady income and when he retired, he would be assured of a lifelong pension. But Varghese knew there were dangers in defending the country. He could be killed at any moment.
But he had accepted this possibility from the very beginning.
In Baramulla a week earlier, there had been a gunfight between militants and soldiers. A 12-year-old boy had died in the crossfire in the Azad Gunj area. This outraged the local people. A vast crowd had gathered on the main road shouting anti-India slogans. Despite many provocative slogans, the soldiers remained calm. The burial passed off peacefully. The mourners returned home dejected.
Varghese knew the Kashmir people had suffered too much collateral damage in the unrest that had gripped the state since Independence.
The Army head had asked a fresh group of soldiers to Baramulla to relieve the pressure on the existing troops. Varghese had been drafted in.
He knew a stint in Baramulla would be risky, but he could not disobey the orders of his superiors.
Sometimes, he looked back on his peaceful life back in Kerala. There was hardly any presence of the police or the Army in the streets. There were no roadblocks. Nobody stopped and asked you for your ID card. The weather was manageable, although it was becoming clear that the monsoons had become unpredictable. There were large flash floods. As a result, several houses had been washed away, especially those who lived in hilly areas like Idukki. In some places, the entire slope had collapsed, owing to the random quarrying for stone. But what could he do sitting in Baramulla? Nothing.
The soldiers finished their cups of tea. Varghese picked up a large plastic bag from the shop and took it to the truck. They placed the used plastic cups inside the bag and returned it to Varghese.
The senior officer boarded the truck at the front, near the driver. Varghese paid the stall owner and jumped in at the back. He realised he needed to call home soon. He had not spoken to his parents or his younger sister for a week.
The driver turned the ignition key. The next thing the locals heard was a tremendous blast. Somebody had placed a bomb on the ground underneath the truck. 24 soldiers and the officer died at once. Varghese’s body was charred beyond recognition. The uniform stuck to his body like a second skin. His skull was fractured. Blood flowed from several head wounds. He passed away within minutes.
The people rushed up and pulled the smouldering bodies away from the carnage in a bid to save lives. It was of no use. The tea shop owner also died. This was a regular stop for all the Army trucks. Someone knew this and planted a bomb beforehand in the mud where the lorry would be parked.
The Army informed his parents. His mother wept bitterly. His father stared blankly at the wall. Both wondered why this happened. Varghese had been sending money home. At the prime of his life, God and the militants had taken their son away.
The Prime Minister said, “The nation will never forget the brave sacrifices of our soldiers.”
But the sad news is that the nation would forget. Like they did the many riots that took place in the country during the past several decades.
The world will move on.
Following a mourning period of several months, his parents would pick up the broken pieces of their psyche and try to stitch them together.
This is the resilience God gives human beings.
But they would remember Varghese at every moment of their waking lives till they passed away.
As for the militants who planted the bombs, there would be many high-fives, collective smiles, hugs, kisses, and congratulatory thumps on the back, followed by a celebratory dinner.
“Take that, India,” one of them shouted and showed an upraised finger at his comrades.
Celebration and sadness at the sight of dead bodies.
Some laugh at the tragedy of others.
What to make of life?
The Buddhist said, “Life is yin-yang: sunlight and darkness; male and female; beautiful and ugly; sweet and sour; love and hate.”