Prologue: this is the journey of a soldier in the army, suffering from PTSD, and not willing to open up to even family members. This was written following the Uri attacks, in which 18 Indian soldiers died.
How are you doing? I’m fine. Well, a bit exhausted. Missing your dal, the rations they give us aren’t that great. Black rajma beans and rice that has lost its flavor after being packaged, with poppadoms adding a crunch of excitement from time to time. I saw the photo you sent, of Neha in the school play. Tell her she makes a beautiful butterfly, and daddy will take her and fly her over the boardwalk soon! Ah, not now though. My muscles ache from the rigorous training we are subject to. Puts our honorable countrymen into perspective, ha?
(Italics) I miss you Aditi, take me home so we we can sit on the porch again, and you can watch the kids tug me into their game of ‘galli’ cricket, and you can be the almighty empire.
My eyes are aching now, as I watch over the plains of dust and dirt, the barbed wire corrupting my view of the border once established for reasons of peace. I struggle with the lack of action, and hold my muscles tense, jerking at the call of a crow from afar. It’s like the crow is echoing the ghosts beyond the dry mirage of these plains, piercing me without touching me. The lieutenant tells us that we are in a low risk area, but the hush in the camp these days makes me question otherwise. You would be proud of my crisp uniform and straight posture. Give the kids my love.
(Italics)This is an immovable part of me now, Aditi. I can’t leave now, I can’t leave ever. I write tell-tales, fables with no morals in my letters, but the truth remains unseen beyond the dust clouds and soil blowing in front of my eyes. The nonexistent ghosts have been existent people, only sleep captures me before I can open my eyes to touch them, say my prayers, and apologise.
Today, I survived. Today, I met rocks and gravel in a bitter embrace as we both plummeted to the ground. Aditi, my best friend is gone. Inside, I am an entanglement of stray emotions, distorted pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, the imperfections of myself evident in the incomplete picture I build. My memories of home are blurred, but I remember the curve of your smile, the gurgle of Neha’s laugh.
(Italics) Take me home, Aditi, so that my arms will carry the weight of my children, instead of the weight of the armour, around me.
(Italics) Take me home, so I can feel the tickle of the grass, through the layers of ebony wood. Swing me through the meadow brook, and then take me home, and guide me to the depths beyond Columbus. In the absence of charts and compass, I’ll find my way, but first, take my helm, and guide me home.