Know your past
Grow in the present
And prepare for the future.
That’s what her life
As an officer’s wife had taught her.
She stood in the kitchen making his favourite food…Sambhar and Dosa, when he entered and headed straight for the bedroom searching for her. “Madhu..? Where are you he called out,” and then reached the kitchen following his nose. This aroma always made him hungry but today was different… He went in and hugged her from behind planting a kiss on her cheeks, “We leave tomorrow. Mobilization will be at 1800 hrs,” he whispered as he felt her body stiffen.
Mobilization. War. These were two words that could make a fauji* wife’s blood run from hot to cold in a nanosecond. While people feel their blood rush up and get their adrenaline flowing at these words and Media goes berserk carrying photos of men in uniform, publishing photos of the martyrs and grossing money out of controversies and careless statements made by our so called political leaders… she, a fauji wife has got everything to lose and nothing to gain.
It was the year 1999 a hot May afternoon and the sun was burning with all its fury and a counter offensive by the Indian Army had been launched also referred to as Operation Vijay, in the Kargil sector of Kashmir valley. All the battle units were being mobilised and Maj Anand Saxena was told to lead the advance party. (The Indian Army, later supported by the Indian Air Force, recaptured a majority of the positions on the Indian side of the LOC infiltrated by the Pakistani troops and militants. Facing international diplomatic opposition, the Pakistani forces withdrew from the remaining Indian positions along the LOC.)
None spoke on the dining table each was engrossed in their thoughts when suddenly Madhu spoke up, “any idea when it’ll end?” and then shook her hands in the air as if dismissing the question to which none of them had an answer. She had wanted to tell him so many things, especially about her visit to the gynaecologist regarding the abyss in her stitches. “Ma’am this is a bad wound the stitches have not dissolved and are now coming out. You’ll need dressing daily. Tell Maj Anand to bring you here daily for dressing without fail… Ok?” the gynaecologist’s words still echoed in her ear. They had been blessed with a baby boy in March by caesarian section. But shortly after a month, her stitches that had healed had started getting infected and now it was difficult for her to even bend.
Just as suddenly her vision blurred up and she made a beeline for the washroom excusing herself. “You don’t cry when your husband goes to war,” these words had stuck in her memory.
“Let’s go out for dinner tonight,” he said breaking into her reverie. Then repeated himself on seeing her puzzled look.
“Let’s go out for dinner. And I’ll stock up the kitchen groceries for month and veggies for a week.
“And I’ll top up the petrol tank of our car on our way back home so that your visit to the petrol pump is reduced by a few counts….
“Make a list of important things that you may need while I’m gone…,” Anand continued in his typical way.
“I don’t need anything except you screamed Madhu’s heart,” but she smiled and kept up a brave front. “No crying, no tears, no melodrama,” she reminded herself.
Her future lay next to her
Softly drifting to sleep
She kissed him gently
And lay down cradled in his arms.
Listening to the rhythmic beating
Of his heart
She pushed back the overwhelming
Feeling of sorrow and donned her smile.
“Come on, get up… have your coffee or we’re going to be late!,” whispered Madhu softly, waking him up.
“Ok I have asked Reddy bhaiya** to get you trunk ready anything specific you want to be put in?” she asked as Anand sipped his coffee. Nk Reddy was Maj Anand’s buddy and out of respect for the soldier, Madhu used to add bhaiya as a suffix to his name.
“Your bedding is out and will be packed once the mattresses have been aired properly in the sun tomorrow.
“Your pillow, a set of bed sheet and a quilt duly covered will be packed along with your bedding by noon tomorrow.
“No don’t touch my uniforms,” he cut in suddenly… surprising her, “I’ll do them myself,” he added softly this time, finishing his coffee and put his mug down.
“Come on beautiful get ready… we have a long evening ahead of us today,” Anand smiled and pushed off to the washroom to get ready.
“Indeed a long evening and a longer night,” Madhu mused to herself as she followed. But first things first. She had to get their daughter aged 3 years and son of 2 months ready quickly and then herself. The pain in her abdomen was killing her. But it would have to wait one more day till Anand was gone. She didn’t want him to have any more worries than what he already had.
I pack my life’s past 5 years
Into your trunk
Tucking my inner thoughts
Into loving compartmental compositions.
I latch your suitcase
Which brims with your immediate needs.
Discreetly; I wipe my eyes
Blurred with tears
Pledging them not to fall.
As you get into the compartment
While the heavy iron wheels roll away
I realise how
Little and insignificant I am
When the duty
To the motherland calls
The whole day went in a blur. Packing first aid box, shoes, and basic necessities into his trunk and making edible munchies for him that will last a week or two took up most of the time. His bedding aired and duly packed stood in the lobby from where it would be hauled out of the main door. There wasn’t much time to be emotional. He had to go and go on time that was it. Period.
“Ah, that hurt badly…!” winced Madhu. She suddenly felt excruciating pain in her abdomen and felt something trickle down as she helped the buddy get the trunk out in the lobby. She ran to her bedroom and on closer examination found that the wound had burst and puss and blood were oozing out from a gaping hole. “Oh no… What am I to do now?” she thought as she cursed her luck.
Hurriedly she cleaned it with water and applied a bandage over it to contain it.
“Reddy bhaiya, please get the car out it’s urgent!” asking the buddy to get the car out of the garage she ran in to get her son.
Thankfully the daughter was still at preschool. She would be home by 12:30 pm. And she had only one hour with her. Anand would be back by 2 pm or 3 pm depends on his work in the regiment.
Reddy had a confused look on his face but he decided not to inquire and did as he was requested. “What should I say to sahib if he comes homes or calls,” he managed to ask finally.
“Ah… Just tell him that I have gone to the market and should be back in half an hour or so,” Madhu replied hurriedly as she tied her son to the car seat they had bought for him. Today she was thankful that Anand had insisted on buying this even though she had objected to it.
She hurriedly drove down to the Military Hospital and to the Family Ward where she knew she would find her gynaecologist, Col Tripathi.
“It has burst doctor…!” she managed and the tears of helplessness and despair welled up in her eyes. It was okay she could cry here she thought. Col Tripathi had been her friend, guide and counsel through the whole pregnancy and delivery.
“I don’t have time today… and this had to happen today
“Anand has to leave today…
“His unit is being mobilised and I haven’t told him of this…
“There was no time and now I don’t want to disturb his peace of mind…
“He has enough on his mind… what to do I have to be back home by 12:30,” she realised that suddenly she was babbling and the tension that had been welling up inside her since yesterday was now at loose…
“Don’t worry Mrs Saxena lie down and let me have a look. We’ll make you fine within no time,” he assured her comfortingly. His calm voice soothed her distraught nerves as she lay down for examination.
“Hold the baby,” he motioned to one of the ayahs and asked the other to assist him to clean the wound and dress it. It was a bad wound. The stitches had not dissolved and were now oozing out. It was approximately an inch deep and a cm board wound. He tried to be as gentle as could be but knew it would pain.
After 15 long minutes of painstakingly cleaning the wound and dressing it up, he gave Madhu a thumbs up. “There you go, ma’am, it’s done,” he added smiling.
“Lie for about 5-10mins till the pain subsides and go when you are able to walk,” he instructed as he wrote the medicines and explained them to her.
“Keep a watch and send someone to collect the medicines for ma’am. Get it done fast,” he instructed the ayah as he closed the curtains to see other patients. Gynecology Section was one section other that Surgical OPD which was always overflowing with patients…
Now that we are here,
In it together
I know it’s not the last goodbye.
I know that for a fact…
But the heart suddenly feels so heavy,
The future looks bleak
And my soul feels so empty,
Like a walking shadow without its body,
Those wishful memories keep begging please,
Calling us back together like how we used to be.
Later in the evening as they sipped their last coffee together both sat quietly as if living each moment with each other and taking in each other’s company. None dared to speak and break the bubble. When suddenly Maina walks in chirping, “When will you be back papa?”
“When papa has shot them all down and thrown them back where they came from sweetheart,” said Anand very calmly as he gathered her tiny frame in a bear hug and looked at Madhu lovingly over her head. Just as he had put her down they heard a vehicle pull up outside their house and the doorbell ring.
“Guess this is it,” said Anand as if speaking to himself as he got up to answer the bell.
“Jai Hind sahib,” the driver said saluting Anand.
“We are ready to go when you are—” he stopped midway as he saw Madhu and greeted her.
“Two minutes and we go,” replied Anand as they started moving his luggage into the Gypsy.
Anand gently closed the door behind him. “I love you sweetheart, and don’t worry I’ll be back soon enough,” he whispered into her ear as he gathered Madhu into his bear hug as if he was scared to let her go. Both wished that the time could freeze today. Then planted a quick kiss on her lips and forehead released her to hug his kids before he turned to leave.
The door closed with a soft click as he left. And Madhu stood there holding his promise to her heart waiting for him to come back.