This will be the last time I wield my pen. My eyes are weak, I can barely see. But I sit myself down at the end of my days because I know I can’t leave without ever having said what I have felt everyday for almost half a decade. And I write this in the hope that in a rare lucid moment, it might catch your eye and speak to you in a way I haven’t been able to.
The first time I saw you, you were but a kid- probably in High School with dreams of a brighter future. And I was a fresh young graduate all set to join the Assam Civil Services. Remember those nights we sat in your house- Young ‘educated’ men enthralled by your father’s talk of nationalism and a movement that was brewing? Those nights created dreams of a future where our children would study without discrimination, where library books wouldn’t be passed around just so a “tribal” couldn’t get his hands on them. A future where you and I could walk around without being taunted as beggars and fools just because we looked different. As the dream transformed itself into a vision, I found myself picking a green uniform over the life of a civil servant, wielding a gun instead of a pen- without a shred of regret because I believed I had been called to serve my land and my people.
Imagine my joy when I saw you again two years later at Boys’ ME School at Aizawl, among the volunteers who had come forward to cook for us greenhorns playing at war. The songs we sang, our stolen looks of promise, all fed by the hope of a better life after the guns were silent. Your happy smile is the last thing I remember before the attack, before the chaos that turned our worlds upside down. In the days and nights that followed while we hid in angst waiting for a chance to right a wrong, I was tortured by thoughts of you and wondered if you lived through that horrible day when the sky rained death upon our happy fellowship. I beat myself up for not having taken you along but then reasoned that was not the life I wanted for you. Days and nights in wild hideouts, a fugitive in my own land, fuelled by the need to chase the usurper out, knowing I needed to be a guerilla against the man with bigger guns. The vision by then had become a cause.
At Ruallung I said a thousand prayers when I saw you. You were still so beautiful and my cause became so much dearer because you were still a part of it. But you were unhappy; my dear, how your eyes had grown dull. And your smile couldn’t reach them, I know you tried. There was never a time for a guerilla to feed the flame of a romance but my heart had no room for doubts. Seeing you was all that mattered, I never even thought to question why you were so sad. My walk home with our supplies was lighter than my journey out with an empty rucksack, only because I had seen you and knew you were alive, waiting for me. It was only at night, in the cruelty of a watch under a moonless sky that my heart bled, that I felt it squeezed till I could breathe no more. Major Pritam Singh. The name replaced every beat of my heart while all I wished for was to hold you in my arms and blow everything else away.
March 20, 1968. The dreaded man was dead, we had been planning for days and he was finally dead. Taking the spoils after an attack like we always do, I walked right up to his dead body because I wanted to frame in my head the face of the man who had tortured you and whose name had tormented me for so long. It was then that I saw the little notebook in his pocket. It had your name on it, as it had other names, but yours more often than others, and dates against each written name. Even in death, this devil was to haunt me. I traced each night you were forced to be with him, wishing I had known and that I had come to shield you. But a guerilla could not be your knight in shining armour. Forgive me, my love.
The next I heard, you were at the Civil Hospital in Aizawl. The kindly doctor there had done his best to heal your wounds they said. But those who had inflicted them could not be more indifferent and no one could tend the hurt inside. I was told you were not yourself anymore, that the trauma of the many invasions had done you in. My love, it would have been too much for even the strongest of us. But your life had been spared and this I felt was in answer to my prayers. The day we said our vows you were happy, you were once again the girl I had loved from so many years ago. When you trembled at my every touch I never blamed you. Each day has been worth it just knowing you are now safe and I could watch you sleep in peace. And on those nights you stayed awake, when fear took over and their faces came back to haunt you, I could finally be that knight you needed and my presence calmed you. But I cannot point a gun against ghosts and memories of tragedies that were all too real. Watching you slip further away from me and from a world that had been cruel, all I could do was pray that it would all end soon.
Yet here we are today, both invalids. Waiting for salvation and a life of love undisturbed by rememberances of horror; living in a world that shuns us exactly because we had fought for it. It’s hard to understand my love, I know. What felt so right then still feels just as right. If we could go back we would probably do just the same- for what is life worth if not for the struggle of a better one? Even if those we thought we were fighting for do not understand, I still believe in the cause that drove us; and I believe their todays are so much better for the years we spent in anguish. If we could go back, I still wouldn’t have offered to make you the wife of a servant who slogged for a Government that wanted to trample him and his people. It would not have been right to see you in a plush home tending to nothing more important than your flowers or hosting parties for ‘Babus’ who secretly looked down upon us.
There’s only one thing I would change could we choose to go back, my love. I would take your hand on March 5, 1966 and not let go as I run, to meet whatever fate awaited us, together. Then, perhaps, I could always have been your knight.
March 2, 2013.