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A Soldier’s Story

By Praniti Gulyani

It is difficult for you to write about love. And now, it has become even more difficult for you to read about love as well.

But, it isn’t as though you haven’t written about love before. You have written many a poem about your son’s wide eyes that were nothing short of almond shaped resemblances of the sky, at least for you. You have composed many a prose about the scent of lavender and baby powder that clung to him, and about those instances when you would bury your exhausted face in his rainbow t-shirt, forgetting all the worries of the world. That scent of lavender and baby powder could rid you of all the troubles of the mind, because in that little body – so much of you dwelt.

Today, you writhe and squirm under the heat of the moon, trying to rid your mouth of that bitter, metallic taste. They come to you, and your son does too –- clutching the thin volume of poetry you had published as a college freshman, the colourful post it notes which held split portions of the many Ghazals that you had composed. The verses that she had pulled out of from the back of school registers and grave files are sellotaped to your walls, yet you look at them with blank eyes. Your eyes are lifeless craters, devoid of all traces of life, all traces of emotion, craters that probably exist for the sake of existing. They seem to have no real purpose.

Your wife brings out your letters where you’d written that there could be nothing more poetic than war. You’d compared war to a skillfully written verse with a myriad layers. Yes, at times this verse does tend to attain a slightly lopsided position, but surely that does not determine the lyrical capabilities of the verse. You told her about how a butterfly sat on the top of your trigger, about how some of your mates wrapped their guns in blankets, because they did not want the snow to fill into the trigger. You spoke about the crackle of wine, the sourness of beer, the necessity of alcohol, which could at times become so bitter that it was almost startling.

On those occasional calls, you’d talk about the border, the way you saw a grass blade beneath the electrocuted coils, one half of it there, one half of it here. You spoke about how a flower growing there, let some of its petals drop into your land, and how no one fought over those petals, no one thrust bullet after bullet into the flower, because it dared to let its bullets fall on the other side. You observed too much, you thought too much, but you were tall and strong, so you made for a good soldier.

“Just subtract the unnecessary emotion,” a comrade had once told you. “Add some vengeance, some drive, and some hatred for the other side. Well, not just some hatred. A lot of it. Multiply it by five, even. It would do you a whole lot of good.”

The sin had cast its rusty hues upon the world that day, when the border could no longer restrain hatred, and it spilled over from either end. You stood at attention, proud and tall, and you shot many a bullet. You heard the resounding thud of sudden death – of young death all around you, but you paid no heed. Your heart had adorned itself in a frosty cloak of indifference, and you were proud of it.

Suddenly, you were pushed to the ground, and the barrel of your gun was shoved into your mouth. A boot heel crushed your fingers, as you felt your incisors bump against the cold, hard metal. For the first time in your life, you tasted your own blood. And then, they did what they had to do with you. You don’t remember any of it.

You just remember the stench of burning skin. Possibly, it was burning hair. Or maybe, it was burning clothes. The past and present had merged into each other, and the borders separating these three essential phases of time had melted away into thin vapor, the vapor that lingers behind after explosions. The borders of your soul had melted away.

Today, you sit upon your bed. Your son is prohibited from entering your room, especially after you advanced upon him with your gun a day ago. He had thrown his little arms around your neck, giving you his typical strangling hug, and that sudden tightness of breath was so unbearable, and so scarily familiar to you. You had hurled him to the ground and seized your gun. You had almost pulled the trigger. Your wife timidly tiptoes in with your meals and leaves them on your table. She has tried her best – cooking your favorite meals almost every day, ranging from the pav bhaji and makki ki roti you would fall for. She has stopped saying anything at all. Most often, she clears away untouched plates.

The evening shadows dance upon your wall, as you stare at the cracks that have formed over the week, after you constantly whipped the wall with a golf stick. You pick at your nail, biting it, peeling off the skin till it bleeds. Suddenly, your eyes fall on a diary. You grab it and examine it with confused eyes. A part of you wants to rip the cover apart, and pull out page after page, for destruction is your nature. But you open it – and run a finger along the blank pages, holding the diary to your face.

A tear trickles down your eyes, and moistens the page, which is already dotted with the blood from your injured nail. You watch the tear and the drop of blood merges, slowly and steadily attaining oneness. It is so intriguing to discover togetherness in absolute abstraction They merge on the page with grace and such easiness, crossing all the borders that lay between them. They were so distinct — so different from one another, just like contrasting countries, just like contrasting people. But possibly, borders are always a choice, never an action of necessity.

You don’t hurl the poem away. You don’t rip the diary apart. You don’t stamp upon it with your soldier’s boots. Nor do you jab your trigger into it and threaten to kill it. You revel in the pain of what you’d just created, for one doesn’t always need words and memories to create poetry.

Sometimes, it is just has to happen.


Praniti Gulyani is an aspiring poet from New Delhi. She enjoys debating, theatre and fiction in addition to haikai literature. She believes in voicing her opinions through her stories and poems, and sees literature as the strongest and most beautiful form of protest.

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