This time the Photo Prompt by Sue has inspired me to write a short story. The story revolves around the unsung and the vastly unknown Indian heroes who fought in the World Wars. A staggering number of over one million of Indian troops served overseas during World War I, of whom 62,000 died and another 67,000 were wounded. In total at least 74,187 Indian soldiers died during the war. The India Gate at New Delhi was built to commemorate the Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting in World War I. Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from 1942 asserted that the British “couldn’t have come through both wars [World War I and II] if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.”
This story is merely a fiction and any similarities to any events, characters, actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
This was not the first time that Radha had burst out in tears at breakfast. It had become a daily chore for her since her father had announced that he was to go off to war the next month. At first, she thought that it was just a hollow threat. Her father would often say that when she misbehaved. But he never actually went anywhere. Of course, why would he? They owned a small textile shop in the nearby town and shopkeepers never go to fight wars. It was a soldier who did that. She was old enough to understand occupations now; her father had to be only only joking.
But not a fortnight ago, Radha saw her mother rushing about the house gathering her father’s stuff. A pair of freshly pressed trousers, a few shirts, his boots, caps, belt…as days went by more and more of his things were packed away in two large trunks.
Little Radha couldn’t believe that there even was a war to fight, for she still played with her friends, went to school, had to do homework and study. Wherever she went she didn’t see any war. But her father was definitely going off to a faraway country to fight one.
A country whose name she had never even heard of, ‘Gora sahib ka desh’. Try as she may, she couldn’t find a country with that name. The whole thing became even more confusing when her grandfather told her about a far away King and Queen who ruled Radha’s Bharat and wanted strong young Indian men to fight in their wars.
It just didn’t make any sense to her. Her father was going too faraway to even send him any mail. So her grandfather made her write a few letters to be packed in her father’s trunks and her father too gave her a small box full of letters, marbles, a frock for her doll and other sweet nothings. This way, he said, she would not be away from him and him from her.
The unfateful day finally arrived when her father was to leave. In a last desparate attempt to stop him from going, she decided to hide his shoes. But her father soon found her hiding under the kitchen counter, his shoes in her hands. With tears shining in his eyes, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her all the way to the bus stop. The whole time she clinged to him and begged him not to go but he had too. He promised to return before her birthday. He promised to bring back lovely gifts and cards for her.
As they waited by the big stone bridge over the river, ther were joined by the other men of her village. A few familiar faces smiled down at her but she was too sad to notice them. A low rumbling sound announced the arrival of the bus. As the tyres crunched to a stop on the dirt road, her father kissed her a goodbye and told her to wait for him by this crossing. He promised to be back real soon…
Radha went to the crossing every day. She would take a detour on her way back from school and spend a few hours waiting by the bridge. She even made a habit of writing down her test marks and other things she wanted to share with her father, what if she forgot them before he was back? The box that her father gave her before leaving was now full of pebbles which she brought back from the river. The pebbles helped her keep track of the days that he was away.
It was 19th of August again. This year it marked a full twelve years from the day her father left for the war. She had more pebbles than she had boxes to keep them. Her cupboard too was full of her stories that she wanted to share with her father. The war that took her father away from her was long fought and won. but the war was lost in her eyes…After all, it was the war that took her father away, the war that broke her father’s promises to her and her mother, the war that made her father cross a bridge he would never cross back again…..
© 2018 Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
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