Tuesday, 6 August 2019

A Cat and Mouse Tale


Shardul was worried. He had a home territory of nearly a hundred square kilometers, which was rather large considering the density of tigers in the state. Other tigers in the state, by comparison, had just around sixty square kilometers of territory and were always on the verge or losing some of it to another younger and stronger male. He regularly undertook systematic tours in the form of a rough oval of sorts to inspect his part of the forest. and intended to guard every inch of his kingdom.  He was worried; for he had come across something that is most alarming to a male tiger – the scent of another male!

He nosed around the forest till he identified the direction in which the spoor was stronger and started out on a quick run. His strong muscles rippled under his skin as he ran.  The scent was a couple of days old and he would have to travel some distance before he caught up. He periodically paused to confirm that he was moving in the right direction and also to estimate the freshness of the smell. He also made out that the intruder was not alone and was accompanied by a female. Now that's interesting, thought Shardul. It was time he started a family himself, he mused.

As the scent grew stronger, he paused and set off at a slower pace. He stopped at every vantage point and looked around if he could spot the couple visually. A couple of stops later, he could see them resting at the side of a small pool of water. The male was slightly older than him and well built. And the female was quite comely, he observed. He saw that there were a couple of cubs too gamboling among the grass on the side of the pool. They got into the shallow water sometimes under the watchful eyes of their mother, who ensured that they did not venture deeper. Tigers are good swimmers but these cubs were too young to have built a good technique.

Shardul sat downwind from the family he was observing. The infiltrating male would have to be finished off. There was no way two adult tigers could share territory. He examined the female carefully. He thought that she seemed to be ideal to be his mate. The fate of the cubs could be examined later, he decided.

He chalked out his plan of action. He decided to slink through the grass which would camouflage his orange and black fur. Where the grass ended a few feet from the water, he would break into a run and go for the male's jugular. Hopefully, the element of surprise would be on his side.

He got up and started to slowly walk towards the pond. Careful placement of his foot pads ensured that no sound betrayed his movement. As he neared them, his pace was even more slower. He lifted one tentative foot at a time and cautiously put it down, softly and gently. As he was about twenty feet from the edge of the grass, the wind changed direction. He could see the male smell his presence. The male perked up his ears and turned round to face his, rising up and emitting a growl to meet his challenge. Shardul had lost the advantage of surprise.

Stealth was no longer Shardul's strategy of choice. It was too late to back out. Turning around would mean exposing his back to the intruder. That could end up badly for him if the intruder chose to give chase and attack. He decided to press on and broke into a run. At the right speed and distance he launched himself at the intruder, who too took a leap towards Shardul.

Their strengths were well matched and they grappled each other for several minutes. Each inflicted fang and nail injuries on the other, but without any decisive result. As they rolled together towards the water, the intruder dropped his guard for a moment as he looked towards his family. Shardul mercilessly bit the intruder's neck as it was turned away, and got a firm hold on it. His fangs punctured the intruder's windpipe. The intruder collapsed. Shardul was on the alert till he confirmed that the intruder was not a threat anymore.

He then got off the carcass and walked into the pool for a quick wash before he sat at the banks and licked his wounds. He found that the intruder had got close to cutting his flank open. It was time for rest and recuperation. He would have to be very careful for the next few days, and keep his wounds clean and infection-free. He would probably have to settle down at the pond for some time, he thought.

He looked over at the tigress. He had no eyes for the cubs. Now that he could see her at close quarters, he realised that she was a magnificent looking specimen. Quite majestic and a queen in her own right, he told himself. He would call her 'Sundari' – the beautiful lady. And now the spoils of war was his, he reasoned. But such a statement would be politically and factually incorrect. She was no chattel to be claimed by him, if she was unwilling. And, then she certainly was not a part of the winner's swag - she was the strategic objective of the whole fight. She had not intervened in the fight, which gave him some consolation that there was scope for friendship.

He looked at his own reflection in the water and admired his looks. A handsome and strong tiger looked back at him, even if he said it himself, he thought. But that did not seem to have impressed Sundari. He looked at where she was pacing around her cubs protectively. Couldn't she see that he would make a great step-father to those cubs and look after them as his own? But, in the first place, he needed to take steps to become a step-father, She did not seem interested in approaching him, the victor in the latest fight to death.

Shardul too did not approach her, because that's when he discovered that, in reality, he was not a tiger or a big cat. He was not even a small cat, he felt, but a mouse when it came to dealing with the other gender. He simply did not have the guts to approach her.

***


Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

Monday, 8 July 2019

A Bird in Hand


Inspector Murthy was on his morning walk in the woods near his residence. It was early morning and he could hear the wind blowing between the trees. He was a regular walker in that area and was fairly well known to other walkers. He was nearly sixty and on the verge of retirement. He was not as fit as he used to be and usually took a break half-way through his walk in the quadrangle near the office of the Forest Department. He spent some time there everyday doing some stretches.  He always carried a couple of fistfuls of grain with him for feeding the birds in the quadrangle, like some other walkers did.

As he approached the quadrangle, one of the regulars coming up the path wished him a good morning and said, "Sir, we have something peculiar today. There's a parrot among the birds feeding on the grain. It seems to be talking about a murder again and again."

His interest piqued, the Inspector quickened his pace. There were plenty of birds in the forests and he had often heard the call of wild parrots. He had seen them land in the quadrangle once in a while to sip a little water from a large concrete bowl kept there. But he had never heard one speak – at least in these woods.

He was usually comfortable with all sorts of animals and birds and they too seemed to easily take to him. He pulled out some grain and extended his palm to the parrot sitting on the rim of the water bowl. It picked up a seed and spoke in KannaDa, "My name is Totapuri." The Inspector was impressed to note that it had introduced itself first.

It was definitely not a wild parrot, he surmised. He did not know if parrots merely parroted lines they had heard or responded to questions or phrases spoken by humans with set answers. He was not sure if they were capable of carrying on a conversation in English or other language. He thought that there was no harm in trying the latter, but was unable to get any meaningful conversation going. It just seemed to be repeating random phrases. But in between random phrases in KannaDa, it kept repeating one phrase more often than the others, as if it was showing off the latest addition to its repertoire – "Listen to me, Kumar! Don't kill me! .... Aaah, you've stabbed me!".

As it kept pecking at the grain between bouts of speech, he got up and started his return walk, still holding some grain in his open hand. It came and sat on his shoulder as he walked, occasionally getting off to have a grain and continuing its chatter. It appeared that it was  used to human company and had taken fancy to him.

He took it home and put it in one of the spare toilets for the time being. He did not believe in imprisoning birds, but  keeping in view it's refrain, had a premonition that it just might turn out to be a witness to a murder. Of course, it was always possible that the line was from a television serial. But for the present, he did not have a murder case on his hands. He decided he would buy a cage to house it till he found its owner or otherwise decided to let it fly free.

1. Totapuri is actually a type of mango, named as such due to its resemblance to a parrot's beak. Someone with a sense of humour seemed to have reversed the idea.

**

As Murthy was driving to work, the jeep radio came alive. The operator was paging him, saying, "Inspector Murthy, sir, a body has been discovered in house number 303 in Thunga Layout near your residence. Please go there directly. Other personnel are already on the way and will come directly to the spot."

He was not too far from the residential layout which was mentioned. Therefore, he took a deviation to go there. As he drove to the address,  Murthy remembered his early firing practice with the vintage SMLE, or point 303 as it was commonly called based on its bore. The other jeep carrying his assistant and junior staff was already there. The sub-Inspector informed him that the forensic team and an ambulance had already been informed.

Inspector Murthy was told that the maid had found the body when she had let herself in at around 9 in the morning. He went straight to the room the body was lying in. The victim was lying on her back and it was clear that the she been stabbed with a knife that still lay embedded just below her rib cage.

He made some preliminary inquiries with the maid. The house neither had any security staff nor CCTV coverage. In the meantime, the forensic team arrived and went about their task, looking for fingerprints and other evidence. The body was sent for post-mortem.

For him, the most interesting part of his investigation was the finding of an empty birdcage that fallen on its side, in the same room as the corpse. He was fairly certain that he was in possession of the bird in question.

2. Small Magazine Lee Enfield, still in service in many police stations in India.

**

As the investigation proceeded, it was clear that getting evidence was going to be difficult. The victim, Ms. Kumar, was working in a bank nearby, while her husband Ajit Kumar was a marketing manager, who was out on official tour. The forensic team did not find any other finger-prints other than the residents and the maid. No prints were found on the knife either. The time of death was fixed between 7 and 8 am.

Inspector Murthy had deduced that the parrot he had was a witness to the crime, but could not think of any way to interrogate the bird. He had suspected Ajit Kumar, but was unable to pin it on him due to lack of evidence, as Ajit had claimed to have left for Mysore at 7 am. The inspector got confirmation that he had indeed checked in into a hotel in Mysore at 12 am. The time taken for travel was a bit too long, but not impossible given the traffic scenario in the city and on the Bangalore-Mysore highway.

**

It was time to expand the scope of investigation. As a routine, Inspector Murthy visited the bank that Ms. Kumar worked in, and asked to meet her the manager of the branch. The Deputy Manager informed him that the Manager, Mr Sukumar was not well and had not come to the office for the last couple of days. He managed to obtain the Manager's residential address from the Deputy Manager.

As the Inspector drove to the Manager's house, he mused that there was a second Kumar in the reckoning now. But his preliminary interrogation of Sukumar did not yield any valuable leads. Sukumar had claimed to be walking in the very same forest that the Inspector at the time of the crime. To make things worse, the Inspector recalled seeing him in the forest around 7:45 am, just before he had reached the quadrangle.

**

The Inspector would have twirled his moustache when thinking deeply, but was seriously impeded by the fact that he was clean shaven. He couldn't chew at his pipe, since he did not have one. Instead, he chewed at the tip of his pen. It did not take a forensic expert to say that it was a well-chewed pen.

He had two suspects both with the name Kumar and who had incomplete alibis. Both could have committed the crime in a narrow window of opportunity. He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it over to his deputy, saying, "Get this typed and pasted on the pillar near the eastern gate of the forest."

He then called both the Kumars, one by one, and asked them some questions. When they enquired about his progress in the case, he informed them casually, "We are looking for the parrot that was missing from the cage in the victim's room. Perhaps, it can lead us to the killer. We have put up a reward notice offering Rs.10,000/- at the gate of the forest."

**

Around 3 pm that day, a motorcycle reached the gate and the helmeted rider got off. The gate was at the end of a dead end road. A labourer was digging near the kerb. The biker, who seemed to be in a hurry left the motorcycle key in the ignition. Without removing his helmet, he went to the gate and read the poster, which said;

Missing
Pet Parrot 

Reward of Rs.10,000
Finder may please contact mobile number xxxxx xxxxx

The biker tore off the poster and put it in his bag. As he returned to the bike, he found that his bike key was missing. The labourer stood nearby with the key in his hand. The biker got irritated and began abusing the labourer, asking, "Why have you taken my bike key?"

In turn, the labourer questioned him, "Why did you remove the poster?"

Enraged, the biker said, "Who are you to ask me? Return the key peacefully or else I will make you return it."

"I will not," was the terse response.

As the biker was trying to get physical with the labourer, a hand fell on the biker's shoulder. Turning around he saw a police inspector standing behind him. He immediately complained, "Sir, this chap has taken my bike key."

"I know. I saw." said Inspector Murthy, adding, "He is a policeman in mufti."

He continued, "I have been watching you from the opposite house and have your actions recorded on camera. What's you name?"

"Anil Kumar, sir," replied the now chastened biker.

Another Kumar, mused the Inspector, ... The more the merrier! Now why would he have murdered the lady?

He asked, "Why did you remove the poster?"

"Sir, I am just a simple office boy. I just removed it on instructions of my boss, Mr Sukumar," he confessed.

On further questioning, he revealed that his boss had been making passes at Ms. Kumar even in the office.

Sukumar was arrested on the suspicion of murder and confronted with the evidence of Anil Kumar. He finally admitted having made advances towards Ms Kumar (though his job description and delegated power did mention 'making advances', this was probably not what his employer had in mind) and visiting her on the fateful morning and killing her with the kitchen knife when she resisted. During their tussle, the bird cage had fallen and its latch had opened. The bird had flown out screaming Ms Kumar's last words. After committing the murder, he had proceeded for a walk in the forest.

***

Epilogue: The Inspector retired soon thereafter and penned the episode in his diary as the Case of the Three Kumars. The parrot continues to live with him, though not in a cage. It often accompanies him on his walk. It occasionally alarms a visitor by screaming and repeating, "Listen to me, Kumar! Don't kill me! .... Aaah, you've stabbed me!". 

Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

Friday, 7 June 2019

In Deep Waters ... and Shallows


Meena was swimming in the warm waters of the Laccadive Sea just off Kochi, a city in Kerala – a state in the southern part of India, which probably has the largest number of female swimmers in the country. She was an excellent swimmer and liked to swim in the waters of the continental shelf that extended to about one-and-half kilometres from the shoreline and the various inland waterways in that region. She did not venture into the waters farther from the shore where big fish would be apt to lurk. She did not like to rub shoulders with big fish. She was approaching the colonial settlement of Fort Kochi.

Vasco da Gama, the hero of Os Lusíadashad once been a part of the mercantile establishment of Kochi. After landing near Kozhikode (Calicut), he had come to Kochi. He had passed away in Kochi on Christmas eve of 1524, a victim of malaria. He had continued to be a resident of the St.Francis Church for around 14 years till he was disinterred and sent to Lisbõa in 1539, one of the many entrepot exports from that fabled town.

Meena swam around the promontory on which the church was built.  A little further ahead she could see the Chinese fishing nets at the northern end of the Fort Kochi beach. These nets, on the southern shore of a channel that was around 400 metres wide at its narrowest, were having similar counterparts on the northern shore too.  She stuck to the centre of the channel in order to stay away from both sets of nets. The central part of the channel, however, did have a risk of encountering marine traffic, but that was easier to tackle than getting enmeshed in the nets. She was well aware that any fisherman would have loved to catch her.

There were a few boats, with outboard motors, fishing in these waters. Typically each boat had a couple of fishermen in straw hats and they spread a net to form a rough circle with about 50 metres radius. These nets could be identified by the little plastic buoys, attached to them, that floated on the surface. Meena kept away from these and swam further inwards.  She kept a lookout for the regular ferries that serviced Fort Kochi and kept away from their paths.

She had now crossed the container terminal on the northern shore of waterway and was now in a relatively deep part of the Vembanad lake system which was a part of India's National Waterway No.3. She swam some more and surfaced for the umpteenth time and beheld the squat but towering building of the Cochin Port Trust on Willingdon Island. She then swam along the channel on the eastern side of the island. Several naval ships were anchored in the area. An aircraft carrier was visible to her left, though she could not read its name. It was time to turn back, she decided.

As she was about to pass the Customs jetty at Fort Kochi, she heard the blare of ship's horn close to her and realised that she had been complacent and had let down her guard. She swam quickly to her left to get away from the path of the naval ship that was about to run into her. She swam faster and faster to get away from the inevitable wake created by the powerful engines of the ship.

In doing so, she got into the perilous shallow waters close to Hotel Seagull. Shallow waters are always more treacherous than the deep. To a good swimmer, it does not matter whether the water underneath  is just ten feet deep or a hundred. But shallow areas inevitably result in localised small and stagnant pools and have things like bits of ropes, seaweed, junk, and garbage, which can be hazardous to a swimmer.

There were quite a few bits of fish discarded by fishermen. The flesh on many of these had been eaten by other creatures till only their vertebral columns, the centrums and their accompanying arches, remained as single units.  Meena, being a fish eater herself, was not too bothered by these.

The restaurant had two piers extending into the water, the smaller of these was in disuse. The larger one was used as a seating area by diners in the evening. At this time of the day, the sun was bright and diners were sitting at tables under a large canopy. As she passed under the waters of the larger pier, she looked up and saw the skeletal remains of a huge fish. It was clearly around 20 feet long, larger than anything she had seen before. She wondered what kind of fish it might be and how it had landed in these shallow waters. She thought that like her, it had been forced into the shallows to escape some ship and had perished there. She shuddered at the prospect of an end like that.

                                                                                 **

A diner at the restaurant noticed Meena swimming under the frond and pointed out to his wife, "Look at that large fish under  that coconut frond stuck between the columns supporting of the jetty. I wonder what the fish thinks of the frond. Doesn't it resemble the fish skeletons on our plates?"

                                                                                *** 
Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Hogmanay Estate

Note to readers: Those of you who have not read The Day It Snowed in Ooty may read that story first, though it is not essential to this one.

I was the only lodger staying at the guest house of the Hogmanay Estate, a tea estate about forty kilometers by road from Darjeeling. I had just been appointed as the manager of the Estate and was yet to be allotted the Manager's Bungalow. My predecessor, who was yet to vacate the bungalow, had gone with his family to Darjeeling.  The present owner of the estate, a Marwari from Calcutta had purchased it from Captain Mc Donnell's brother's grandson, who inherited the estate on the Captain's death, and was not keen on running it . The owner was a busy man with many business interests and came to the estate once in a way. In his absence, the Manager was the lord of the estate.

It was a cold night in winter and the fireplace was blazing to keep the room warm. The splitting of the aromatic wood made crackling sounds now and then. From time to time, 'Bahadur' poked at the burning logs piled on the andirons. It was almost dinner time and he started setting up the dining table for my supper. Bahadur is a sort of generic name used for a Gurkha whose name you didn't know, or, in the case of many an employer, didn't care to know. It means 'brave', as most Gurkhas certainly are. It is also a common name in the community.

As he placed my plate, I asked him in Hindi, "What's your name, Bahadur?"

He was a bit surprised, and replied, "No one staying here has ever asked me that question, sahib."
He added, "My name is Jung Bahadur Thapa."

I smiled, thinking that a Gurkha had to be a Thapa, Gurung or Chettri, for these were their most common surnames. During my time with the Gorkha Regiment, I had been surrounded by a flood of these names. I had also picked up a bit of Nepali.  Though it had been a long time since I had spoken the language, I made my first overture with a simple, "I can speak a little bit of Nepali."

Thapa gave a big smile and encouraging said, "Sahib's Nepali is very good. Where did you learn it so well?"

I told him of my military service with the Gorkhali, as my men had called themselves, and said that they were the most loyal and bravest soldiers to have at one's side.

"My great grandfather was in the army," he replied. "He was an orderly to Captain McDonnell sahib," he said, adding, "and that his how our family came to this estate."

"Come and sit here at the table and tell me more about it," I invited.

"How can I sit at the same table as the sahib?" he demurred, his native deference for the master surfacing.

Relenting, I said, "Okay, bring your chair from the kitchen and sit here."

He went and brought a low stool from the kitchen. He placed it near my chair and sat down and started narrating the estate's story.

**

The Captain sahib had started his military service as a young subaltern in the Sirmoor Battalion of the British Indian Army. When Indian soldiers had risen in mutiny in 1857, a milestone in India's struggle for freedom, the unit had marched to Meerut to quell the rebellion. The colonial administration had called it the Sepoy Mutiny. The uprising had been crushed, at least according to the administration's records.

Some years later, as a Second Lieutenant, McDonnell had married an Englishwoman and in time had a daughter, who was named Kathy. He had inherited a substantial sum of money and had decided to retire to the hills. His orderly, Sher Bahadur Thapa, had suggested that he buy a tea estate near Darjeeling, and McDonnell had seen wisdom in the advice.

Hogmanay Estate had been purchased by Captain Douglas McDonnell in the 1890. The previous owner had died and the next generation, which was staying in London had no interest in moving back to India. So, they had put it up for sale and the Scotsman had got it at a rather cheap price. But it had been badly maintained for years and it took him quite a few years to get things rebuilt and repaired to his satisfaction. The estate had prospered and in time, he appointed a manager to take care of its routine responsibilities.

The Captain had also got the chapel renovated and, as he was musically inclined, had got a pipe organ imported from Europe and installed in it.  He used to spend his free time practicing on the organ as he felt it gave him peace, especially after his wife had passed away. He lived for only two things in life – his daughter Kathy and the pipe organ. It was his greatest delight that his daughter too had become proficient in playing the instrument.

But, one day, Kathy informed her father at breakfast, that she desired to marry the son of the owner of the neighbouring estate. Subroto Mukherji, who frequently took her to Darjeeling in his jeep, was, like his father, an Indian. Long drives, for it takes quite a bit of time to cover forty kilometres in the hills, on winding roads in a cold climate amidst beautiful surroundings, can be quite intoxicating – especially if one's companion is comely or handsome. The Captain was incensed at the idea of his daughter marrying an Indian. He specifically forbade it and ordered her not to leave the estate in future.

That night, at dinner, Kathy informed him that she had gone to Darjeeling during the day and had got married to her beau. The Captain's pink face glowed red – redder than the flames in the fireplace. Wordlessly, he got up and reached for the shotgun which was mounted over the mantelpiece. Kathy, who knew that the gun was always loaded, was scared for her life. She opened the door and ran for the shelter of the chapel which was quite close by, in the belief that he might not shoot on hallowed ground.

She entered the chapel, sat at the pipe organ and started playing his favourite piece of music, hoping that it would soothe him. The Captain was not in control of himself. He walked into the chapel and unloaded both the barrels into her. Seeing her dead, he realised the destruction his rage had caused. He collapsed next to her and never recovered from the tragedy. Both had been buried near the chapel.

**

Thapa ended his narrative saying ominously, "People who have peeped into the chapel say they still see her hanging around the organ, though no one has heard her play it."

I reasoned with him, "A ghost, even if there is one, does not have a physical body, so it cannot play an organ."

Curious, I asked him, "Have you seen the ghost?"

"No, sir," he responded, adding bravely, "I have always been a bit wary of the ill effects that the ghost may have. But, if the sahib is willing to venture into the chapel, I shall be glad to accompany him. I am not afraid."

"Let's do that tomorrow evening," I told him, saying that I had to make some purchases in Darjeeling the next day, before I ventured into the chapel.

He, no doubt, thought that I was planning to buy some amulet, charm or, perhaps, a crucifix, to carry into the chapel.

**
The next evening, we had a Patiala peg each before we embarked on our spiritual enterprise. He had lit a hurricane lantern to carry, since the chapel did not have power supply. He had spent a good part of the day cleaning and sharpening his khukri with its chakmak, though I am not sure what damage it could cause to a non-corporeal being. He probably did it to comfort himself for the impending ordeal, if any.

As we approached the chapel, he touched his belt and was reassured by the presence of the khukri in its scabbard. He pulled out a long and heavy key for the chapel door. Though the lock had not been opened for long, to our surprise,  the key turned smoothly and noiselessly in the lock.

He pushed opened the heavy double doors, which too swung without a creak. He held the lantern over his head and ahead of him to illuminate the innards of the building.

The chapel was modest in size and the pipe organ was quite large. In fact, it actually dominated the small altar. As we entered, some unknown disturbance blew some dust off the organ. Thapa muttered, "I think, she is here." 

Right next to the organ was a large window with four shutters. The glass in the windows was coated with decades of cobwebs and dust. Each window had a horizontal curtain rod above it.  I opened my little bag of tricks and pulled out four different wind chimes made out of metal tubes. Each chime had seven tubes of different lengths and a metal striker in the middle to hit the tubes. Every one of those chimes produced a different note making up an octave. I hung each of the four chimes,  covered four octaves, to the curtain road grill in each opening. 

 All was silent, as I put a napkin on the stool in front of the organ and sat down and started to play. 

I had gone over my repertoire during the day and had selected Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Composed in the 18th century. it is considered to be the most terrifying music ever written. But I simply loved the piece. Also, it was old enough to be recognised by the Kathy or her father. The organ, which had holes in some pipes and dust in almost all pipes, produced an even more scarier and distorted version of it. After playing the prelude,  I stopped and waited. 

And then, as foreseen by me, something peculiar happened.  The silence of the night was broken by notes emanating from the wind chimes. There was no wind, but the chimes were being agitated by some unseen force. Initially, they produced random notes, as if being tested. And then, to my delight they continued into playing notes of the Bach composition. Though the original piece had multiple voices in the fugue, limitations of the instrument used here resulted in the constraint of being in a single voice. But it was quite clear what composition was being played, though in a diminished form.

The presence seemed to be utterly in love with music. But I am not sure whether it was Kathy or her father who was playing the chimes. Maybe, some day I shall be able to figure out how to ascertain that. For the time being, I resolved to continue playing duets in the chapel with my new friend.

***


Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.








Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Yet I think I met a Yeti


We had crossed the upper snow line,
And left it far behind.
To see the Yeti, a fond hope of mine,
Was at the back of my mind.

The mountainside was steep and cold,
My hands were feeling rubbery.
There was hardly any crag to hold,
The climb was very slippery.

Suddenly I saw something very queer,
Large footprints in the snow.
And saw as I went some more near
Small footprints were in tow!

Large feet in front, small feet behind,
Almost like a reverse kangaroo.
Another thought jumped into my mind
Was it one or were there two?

I looked for it everywhere around,
Up and down and all about.
I thought it might be behind a mound,
And felt I should check it out.

When I neared the snowy outcrop,
I noticed a smell almost like a goat.
Then I climbed over the mound top,
And saw it came from an old fur coat.

As I saw more my heart beat faster,
That she was not all alone.
In her lap was her li’l young master,
A small kid, her little clone!

To see a Yeti, many climbers dub
As their lifetime’s pinnacle.
But to see a Yeti and her little cub
Was nothing but a miracle!

I stood still, my heart quickly beating,
Snowing had now increased.
The magical moment was fast fleeting,
As visibility became decreased.

I heard a loud growl behind my head,
And turned around to see,
The father, eyes glowering bright red.
It was time for me to flee.

Shouting, jumping and scared I fled,
Waking up in the dark night.
Found myself safe in my warm bed,
Woken up early by my fright.

Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

Friday, 19 April 2019

An Ancient Cryptic Society's Meet

Note: Basic understanding of how cryptic crossword clues work is desirable to understand this story

Circa CE 30
Jerusalem
Running commentary of a meeting of The Cryptic Society (adapted into English)
Location: A Crypt
Time: Evening

A dozen members troop in, one by one. One of them is holding a bag. Each makes an entry into the attendance book. After they are done, it looks like this*:

1. Domesticated animal sits next to the queen (5)
2. Sweet preservative and egg sandwich, for starters (5)
3. Prohibit the endless spinning of wool around Middle East (11)

4. Jerusalem's chaotic, in absence of rule (5)5.
5. Move - adjust endlessly (5)
6. Wander hither and tither (6)

7. Son, I'm worried (5)
8. Greek letter's border (6)
9. Had duets composed (8)

10. Hydrogen atoms spin around (6)
11. For starters, terrible toothache hurts Englishman in mouth (7)
12. Trojan horse turned, ejecting roaster (4)

**

Author's Note: Rules for writing cryptic clues were still evolving and none of these had any definition. Arthur Wynne was yet to design a crossword grid to hold answers to the clues . Readers interested in solving cryptic clues are advised to take a pause here and solve their entries.

* Remember, these people saw well ahead of their times, and somehow used terms not yet in currency in those days.

**

The last entrant into the hall takes a look at the attendance register. As he goes through each entry, he smiles. He muses aloud, "Maybe we can interlock the answers so that they cross each other ...".

He writes below the dozen entries: "That's correct. HE's universally admired by leaders (6)"

Twelve persons are already sitting along one side of a long table. They rise as he approaches... He bids them to sit down. He sits in the middle of them, half a dozen on each side of him. He looks at the man with the bag and says cryptically "The sack is beginning to bulge with silver ..."

Supper is served. He says, "Now that we have sat down to sup, could someone please pass the salt across?" The man with the bag passes over the salt container and it topples over spilling some of the contents on the table. No words are exchanged. No one gets cross with him.  The cross performs its role a little later ...

At the end of the meal, their leader gets up and says, "I shall be going away on Friday, but will return on Sunday."

Author's Note: People have speculated as to why all of them are sitting on the same side of the table in this famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci.  The answer is quite simple, really. The diners were sitting just like people sit at long tables at most Indian festive or religious meals. The other side of the table was the pathway for use of the people serving the food.  On second thoughts, if  some people were sitting facing away from the painter's perspective, you would not be able to identify the dramatis personae in the painting, which would have made it a bit odd, to say the least. After all, 13 is an odd number ...

**

Ancient prospective cruciverbalists' fixation is an event that preceded crucifixion.

**



**
Solutions: (* indicates anagram of letters preceding the sign)

1. Domesticated animal sits next to the queen (5) PETER (PET ER)
2. Sweet preservative and egg sandwich, for starters (5) JAMES (JAM Egg Sandwich)
3. Prohibit the endless spinning of wool around Middle East (11) BARTHOLOMEW (BAR THe WOOL* around ME)

4. Jerusalem's chaotic, in absence of rule (5) JAMES (JERUSALEM-RULE)*
5. Move - adjust endlessly (5) JUDAS (ADJUSt)*
6. Wander hither and tither (6) ANDREW (WANDER)*

7. Son, I'm worried (5) SIMON (SON I'M)*
8. Greek letter's border (6) PHILIP (PHI LIP)
9. Had duets composed (8) THADDEUS (HAD DUETS)*

10. Hydrogen atoms spin around (6)THOMAS (H ATOMS)*
11. For starters, terrible toothache hurts Englishman in mouth (7) MATTHEW (Terrible Toothache Hurts Englishman in MAW)
12. Trojan horse turned, ejecting roaster (4) JOHN (TROJAN HORSE - ROASTER)*

and finally

YES H U A

***

Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

मैं होली क्यूँ नहीं खेलता - Why I don't play Holi


आज सुबह माशूक़ा मेरे घर मुझसे मिलने आयी,
वह प्यार से  बोली, "होली है, जान,  मुझे रंग लगाओ
मेरे माथे पर थोड़ा नीला और गालों पर हरा लगाओ" ,
मैं रंग पहचानने मेँ अक्षम हूँ वह शायद भूल गयी,
फिर आइना उसने देखा और लाल पीली हो गयी !

Translation:
Today morning my beloved came home to meet me,
She said lovingly, "It's Holi, dear, apply colour to me,
Put some blue on my forehead and some green on my cheeks,
But she seems to have forgotten that I am colour blind,
She then saw the mirror and became red and yellow*.

* That is the literal translation. In idiomatic Hindi, becoming red and yellow is to become very angry.

Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

Friday, 8 March 2019

A Day Amidst the Canidae


Like any other day, I got up at 5. After spending an hour on household chores, I laced up my walking shoes at 6 and went for my first 'short' walk of the day. I went around the block twice. It took, like every other day, around 20 minutes and I covered around 2 kilometres. This was just my usual 'warm up' walk in preparation for the 'long' walk. I usually walk alone, for I am a lone wolf and do not prefer to be burdened with conversation during my walks.

The 'long' walk usually lasts a minimum of one hour and sometimes two or more hours. The daily one-hour walk is in a small wood near my house and does not involve much gradient. The two-hour walk, once a month, is more of a trek at a nearby forest. It involves walking up some mild as well as steep slopes and also scrambling up some rocks. It is much more strenuous, especially in the hot summer months. Considerable sweating is involved in this trek, necessitating carrying some drinking water to replenish the loss of fluid.

I prepared myself for the trek. I packed my backpack with a few essentials. A bottle of fresh drinking water, a roll of crepe bandage, a pain relieving spray, and a collapsible alpine stick. I had to take these along as I am prone to missing my footing and twisting my ankle on gravelly and uneven surfaces. If I twisted my ankle, I would need to follow the RICE routine for recuperation, but though rest and ice would have to wait till I got home, I could apply compression immediately with the crepe bandage. Exercise, of course, would have to wait, though getting back to my car would expose me to some of it. The stick would help me hobble along. And my pack also contained a trophy Swiss Army knife which had never been used for any real purpose.

**

It is an unfortunate truth that our people dump garbage. No, I am not talking of the trekkers in the forest. They are quite eco-conscious and carry their garbage to designated bins placed at the gate of the forest. Some even carry garbage all the way home. I refer to the house-holders living on the periphery of the forest. Many a time they senselessly dump their garbage at the edge of the forest. This includes not only plastic and glass but also contains food scraps, which attract the local mongrels.  

There are a few packs of dogs in the forest and each pack has demarcated its 'home' territory. They guard this territory fiercely from other packs which may sometimes make adventurous forays into their territory.  But this does not deter them from raiding other packs' territories. It is generally a free for all, as the alpha male of a pack leads the raiding party from the front, armed only with sharp fangs and nails. 

Sometimes two packs confront each other and make threatening growling noises at each other and try to out-stare the opponents. This may or may not develop into a melee. Sometimes, one or both packs call off the staring match and slink away with their tails tucked between their legs. I don't blame them. It's a dog-eat-dog world, anyway.

As these dogs usually hang out near garbage dumps, they do not bother trekkers unless one walks into the dump. But,  as the house-holders were becoming more aware and had started using the city's garbage clearance services, the dumps were running short of edible scraps. This dearth had caused the affected packs to foray out of their territory and venture into other parts of the forest looking for small creatures to fill their bellies.

The dogs had, of late, probably got tired of the same items being on the menu regularly. An enterprising pack had decided to try something new. Recently, there had been reports of some trekkers being attacked and bitten by these dogs. Groups of trekkers had approached the forest authorities with a request to round up packs that had become feral. They had advised the forest department to seek the assistance of the city municipal corporation's dog squad for necessary help. But nothing had happened as the animal rights lobby had approached the court for a stay and got one.


**

Court orders, however, do not apply to animals, and little did these dogs know or care about such matters. Lack of food in the belly can lead a creature to desperation, and today they had decided to taste a trekker. As I turned a bend in the path into a clearing in a secluded part of the forest, I saw several dogs lounging about fifteen metres ahead of me..As I slowed down, they got up and gave a low howl. That was an indication to another part of the pack which had hung out among the trees. On hearing the signal, they trooped into the clearing a few metres behind me. It was clear to me that I was their target today. 

No human being can face a pack of a dozen dogs, especially if they have not eaten for a few days. The whole of me was desirable, of course; but if not feasible, at least a few large chunks of my arms and legs would be welcome, I supposed. I tried using my stick to shoo away the dogs as they closed in upon me. I made threatening noises, which I hoped would dissuade them. But the rough circle around me in the clearing  got progressively smaller and smaller as they kept just outside the swinging arc of my stick. 

The leader of the pack, an alpha male, was getting restless. As I was turning with the stick to shoo a couple of dogs which had got uncomfortably close to me, my back was momentarily facing the leader and he pounced upon me.

My tough and thick jeans afforded me some protection as he tried to take a bite. He did bite through the denim, but just managed to graze my calf before he fell back.  Something came over me in that moment of desperation. 

I turned round and grabbed the dog in my bare arms. My talons drove into his sides as I lifted him up and sank my fangs into him. The other dogs cowered and backed off. They had seen the change that I had gone through. They had heard the lupine howl that I had let out when bitten and seen my face turn into a snout and my bare hands develop thick fur. I broke off a chunk of the dog's side and wolfed it down. I am sure they must have seen the ferociousness in my eyes as they backed off from the clearing. They knew they had to elect a new leader.

I was left with the carcass of a rather well fed dog on my hands. It was obvious that the leader always got a lion's share of the takings, for his other pack-mates were definitely scrawny by comparison. Well, now that I had a few kilos of a freshly slain dog, it was a shame to let it go waste. 

As my body returned back to its human form, I took out my Swiss Army knife and tried to hack off a few pieces of meat. I was very unsuccessful in this enterprise. So, I used my teeth, though not as sharp as a wolf's, to good effect and cut off a few choice pieces of the meat and wrapped it in the paper bag which was holding my trail food. The left over carcass would be eaten by some scavenger.

**

I will use the  pieces in my bag to prepare some Boshintang, which will no doubt delight my date for the night, So-young, a young lady from Seoul. I sincerely hope to click with her. She has admitted that she admires men who are lone wolves and chart their way distinct from the pack. We plan to have dinner on the terrace and it can get a bit cold in the night. A light woolen sweater seems to be in order. I am sure she will like this wolf in sheep's clothing. On the contrary, she might feed me most of the soup, as I understand Koreans believe it makes a guy more virile ...

***

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Day it Snowed in Ooty

It was in January 2019, that I visited a hospice in Ooty. It also gave me an opportunity to try out my new car. A group of us had raised some funds for the hospice which took care of old people and we thought we would hand over our little contribution in person. Our employer had added a handsome amount to the collection and our Regional Manager was travelling with us to deliver the cheque. The weekend before Pongal was approaching and Ooty would be crowded, as people would swarm there in droves. The roads from Coimbatore and Mysore would be clogged too. So we decided to go a few days early to avoid the weekend rush.

When we passed Mettupalayam and started driving towards Coonoor, we felt a perceptible drop in temperature. That was quite normal and usual when we left the plains and started ascending the hills. The increase in elevation and dense forest cover, not doubt, had a role to play. But I had never felt so cold on that route earlier. I had to roll up my windows to avoid shivering. I suspected the light woolens we were wearing might not be sufficient for the night ahead of us.

We were discussing the modalities of presenting the money. I got an idea and said, "Why don't we hand it over to their oldest resident? After all, it is an old age home."

The boss, hugged his jacket a little tighter and nodded approvingly, adding, "That's a nice t-t-touch!"
Mr. Chatterjee's teeth were chattering due to the frigid temperature.

**

It was at the hospice that I met Stella Urquhart. She was introduced as an Anglo-Indian and as the oldest inmate, the person designated by the hospice to received the cheque. I found her to be of sharp intellect, though frail in structure. No one knew her correct age, as there were no birth certificates in those days,. Nor did the local church records have any mention of her. But she was definitely the oldest person in the hospice. The fact was attested by none other than the second oldest person in the hospice, a person who did have some record of her own birth. This lady, who was 99 as per church records, had on several occasions mentioned that Stella had taught her English in her teens as a private tutor. This conclusively proved Stella was older that the second oldest. But no one knew her real age.

When I asked her, over dinner, whether she had been to Scotland, which was obviously the source of her surname, she said, "My late husband Sean, had taken me to Drumnadrochit once. We had stayed for a week and walked along the shores of the loch every day. I like the place but was disappointed for I did not get an audience with our legendary neighbour Nessie. I wish I had seen her. But what I miss most about Scotland is the snow. How I wish it snowed in Ooty!"

Someone remarked, "I have never heard of snowing in south India. Wish it had snowed during Christmas!"

Stella responded, "The newspapers mentioned that it had snowed in Munnar just a couple of days back!"

"May your dream of snow in Ooty come true," I said, and asked her out of curiosity, "How do you spend your time? Which newspapers do you read?"

Her reply was quite perceptive: "I read Wodehouse. Nothing can beat him for humour. I get several newspapers, but they are quite biased these days and are always promoting or debunking some point of view based on their political leanings."

She continued, "I read all news with a pinch of salt because they exaggerate so much. Politicians 'slam' and 'mock' each other, and call each other names on a daily basis. The courts 'pass strictures' daily, though nobody cares about it or bothers to follow its rulings."

Then to my delight, she confided, "It is for the crossword puzzles that I ask for the papers, not for the news. I really enjoy them.They give me a lot of pleasure everyday." 

I bent my head towards her conspiratorially and confided, "I too am into crosswords."

"Which setter do you like most?", I asked.

She replied, "I specially like Gridman in The Hindu. He has a wonderful way with words."

I said, "I have had the pleasure of meeting Gridman a few times and have enjoyed every minute of our interaction."

She requested, "I would like to meet him too. Since I don't travel out of Ooty, could you please try to bring him here some day?"

I replied, "I certainly will. Though he is over 70, he still travels quite a bit. I am sure he would love to meet you."

"Sounds like an interesting young man," she observed.

She said that she had heard that I was interested in music and that I played music on my mobile phone too. She asked me to play something. I pulled out my phone and played a few bars of 'Auld Lang Syne'.  The eyes of the old lady with Scots lineage became moist, as she murmured her thanks.

As we retired for the night, I resolved to spend some more time with Stella and find out what kept her so sharp at an age when most had memory and reasoning issues. It was a very cold night and the fireplaces in the rooms definitely contributed to our comfort.

**

When we gathered for breakfast the next morning, we were informed of the incredulous thing that had happened during the night. It had snowed in Ooty. A thin blanket of white was visible on the lawn. It was the topic of discussion at the breakfast table and we recollected the previous night's conversation.

Stella was excited. "Your good wishes have worked," she told me.

She continued, "But this is too little to be enjoyed. It used to snow heavily in Mussoorie when I used to stay there. Himalayan hill stations are something quite different."

Our boss, who claimed to have slept in due to the extra-ordinarily cold weather turned up at the breakfast table. I knew his excuse was fake. He  always rose late and often snoozed in his cabin. 

He was also a person with quixotic logic. Seeing the snow, he asked, "How come it is getting colder in Ooty than ever before if the world is going through global warming?"

Stella had a ready answer. She theorized, "This must be due to eruption of Anak Krakatau in the Sunda straits near Sumatra last month. The ashes from the eruption must have created a dust cloud leading to drop in temperature to its west." She smilingly added an obiter dictum - "Both Sunda and Sumatra start with my initials, SU!"

The boss was unconvinced. He said, "That's in Indonesia, isn't it? It's probably too far away to matter."

Stella struck to her theory and explained, "Volcanic eruptions in Indonesia have caused tsunamis and other climatic disturbances in India several times earlier too. Nothing is too far for cataclysmic natural events."

The boss argued, "But has it ever snowed in South India because of that?"

Stella patiently explained, "A couple of years back, some newspapers reported that it had snowed in Madras two centuries back as a result of the dust clouds, formed by eruption of Mount Tambora, which traveled towards India.'

The boss pulled out his tablet and browsed online to cross verify this statement. He rebutted, saying, "It says here that temperatures did go down below zero in Madras in 1815 and lakes froze, but it was unconfirmed if the reports of snow were true."

Stella, not to be beaten, hammered in the last nail in the argument, saying, "I don't know where online sources get their information from. They just tend to quote each other or cite unnamed sources. But, Mister, I assure you that it did snow. And I can give you the source of my information unlike your untrustworthy media. My mum was twenty at that time and she told me that it did snow in Madras in the last week of April, 1815. Are you telling me she was a liar, young man?"

I got busy trying to compute Stella's age. Even if she had been born twenty years later, she would be 170 – definitely more than 150!

The boss too had independently performed a similar computation and with an incredulous look, had asked, "I don't get it. Then you must be over ...?" He did not complete the sentence.

She continued, "My younger brother Douglas McDonnell was serving in the army during the Mutiny and later settled down in Darjeeling after  buying a tea estate called Hogmanay. I have letters from him, which I have not disclosed till date, which can convince you. I am sure you can also verify the dates from the land documents in Darjeeling if you wanted to."

"Do you want to carbon date me?", she asked, arching an eyebrow. 

I wrote "CL+? Date?"  on a paper napkin and pushed it to her. She reached for the little sling bag that always hung by her side, pulled out a pen, wrote something on the paper and returned it with a conspiratorial wink. The paper now read "CL+?" "EVER". It also had a heart drawn in red, accompanied by a smiley and a few Xs, and followed by the words "Will you be my Valentine this year?"

I smiled back at the young lady and nodded, wondering whether the red colour was from a pen or a lipstick.

**

Post Script:
Today's the date of our date. It is also her favourite author's death anniversary. I am at the hospice in Ooty. I am shattered to see Stella lying. I gaze upon the young lady lying  in repose, a serene smile on her face. She has gone to Sean during the night. As my hand placed the red rosebud that I had carried for her across her chest, I was sure that she must have seen, if she could see through her closed eyelids, a silhouette of Nessie. And thus fulfilled another of her wishes* ...








* I am not sure if her wish of snow in Ooty was really fulfilled.  "It might have just been frost, after all," naysayers may say, adding, "Everyone knows it does not snow in Ooty," but any doubts that may arise may be scotched on the authority of a lady with Scots blood in her.

Please read more about her brother's story at Hogmanay Estate
***

Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com. 


.


Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Somewhere on the Western Front


It was in the dark of a cold night in December that the enemy attacked. They came over the sand dunes in large numbers and were supported by several tanks. The defending troops were small in number and the weapons they had were no match for the strength of the attack. Reinforcements and air support were not forthcoming – at least till the morning*. They were given the option of strategic withdrawal, but the CO decided to stay put. His men too welcomed his decision and hoped they would last the night. It turned out to be a long, long night.

It was nothing like the Battle of Thermopylae, where a force of a few thousand, facing a much larger attacking army, defended a narrow pass. Here the canvass was much wider than a narrow pass; the sands stretched in every direction. There was no bottleneck to hold the invaders and the invaders were in armoured vehicles.

Subedar Major Janjua was mortally wounded in the first few minutes of the attack on their outpost, and fell into a shell crater. Though he was old, weary and injured,  he was determined to do his best. He slowly dragged himself over the edge of the crater and crawled to his billet. He pulled out his PIAT** and three  expired bombs. He planned to outflank the tanks and get behind them. He skirted to the right where a jeep mounted RCL*** had got stuck and its crew were struggling to move it. He lent a shoulder and helped to move it out of a crater in the sand.

He then crawled slowly and painfully between a couple of approaching tanks, dragging his PIAT. Once he was past them, he turned around till he faced the rear of the tank. He loaded a bomb into his PIAT, took careful aim and shot at a tank. His aim was as true as ever despite his age and injury. He was taking a chance as both the weapon and the ammo were decades old.The expired bomb worked as if it was new. It easily penetrated the tank's armour. The tank burst into flames, further fuelled by the extra fuel and explosives it was carrying.

The tank's crew did not know what hit them or from which direction they were shot at as they did not survive the attack. Neither was he noticed by other tanks which were facing to their front and engaging his unit. Even if they had, he was too low on the ground to be hit by their main gun even at its lowest position. The RCL crew aiming for an adjacent tank were surprised as they seemed to have got two tanks with one shot. They presumed that a mortar shell had destroyed the other tank.

He changed his angle of shot to the right and got one more tank in a similar manner. He then turned left and repeated the process. He had ensured that the three tanks had turned into blazing infernos.

He had no more ammo for the PIAT and was fully drained of energy. His role in the battle was over.


* The planes did arrive the next morning and destroyed the tanks still functional at that time in what the pilots called 'a turkey shoot', resulting in victory in the battle, but if the army had withdrawn in the face of the enemy, the tanks would not be sitting ducks. They would have advanced and dispersed, making it more difficult.

** Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank: A portable anti-tank weapon of WW2 vintage, forerunner of the bazooka. More details here

*** Recoilless rifle. More details here

 ** 

The Subedar Major had joined the British Indian Army as a rookie a year before the second World War had ended. He had been underage and, like many others, had reported his year of birth wrongly by a couple of years to circumvent that. His large build strengthened the illusion of being of recruitable age. Adding to his credentials as a potential soldier was the fact that his community, the Janjuas had been designated as a 'martial race' by the British. Janjuas were Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs by religion and soldiers by profession. There were no birth certificates in those days and the recruiting officers, tasked to enlist large numbers, were only too keen to get sturdy and willing men. They did not mind overlooking some minor details, which anyhow were not verifiable. They took him on and after a short training course, sent him to the front.

In that one year during WW2, Janjua had been trained and assigned to use a PIAT.  Most PIATs were operated by a team of two soldiers, one assisting the other in loading the gun. Lot of men shorter than him had difficulty in cocking the gun. But the tall and well built young man was quite comfortable handling it alone. He had a reputation of deftly loading, cocking and firing with an unerring aim. Each platoon had one PIAT and Janjua was fondly called the Paltan ka PIAT* by the other men.

In due time the war ended and the British Indian army was partitioned. PIATs went out of service, but Janjua retained his trusty weapon as a souvenir. He also had a few rounds of the HEAT** for it, well past their official expiry date. He had risen through the ranks, become a Junior Commissioned Officer – a Naib Subedar at first and finally, a Subedar Major.

* Platoon's PIAT

* High Explosive Anti-Tank warhead. More details here
** 

The defenders held through till the reinforcements arrived. When the battle was over and a quick count taken, the 2-IC noticed that the armour of three tanks had been penetrated from the rear side. He was sure that none of his men had got to the rear of the tanks. At the most, they had got to their flanks. And then, his driver pointed out that the size of the hole in the armour was inconsistent with the ammunition used by the mortars of the RCL.

When he reported this to his CO, the superior officer was puzzled. The CO was also informed by the RCL crew that Janjua had helped them to move their jeep and that it seemed more than once that they had destroyed two targets by firing just one round.

The CO said, "Soon after the tanks attacked, I saw Janjua being mortally hit and fall into a crater. I jumped in and checked his pulse. He was dead and there was nothing I could do for him. His body must still be in there How could he have assisted you, when he was beyond all help himself? It must have been someone else."

Janjua's body was found in one of the nearby craters, as described by the CO. Adding to the puzzle was the fact that neither the PIAT nor his three souvenir shells were found among his personal effects when they were being packed to be despatched to his family. However, when the area was being cleared later, the weapon was found a few hundred yards away from crater that his body was found in. How it had moved to that location was a matter of conjecture and discussion at the mess.

Though he was listed in the casualties of the battle, Janjua's post-mortem activities remain unacknowledged till date, except in the whispered lore of his unit. It was clear that both expired bombs and expired soldiers sometimes worked after their official expiry dates. It was probably how he would have wanted it to be. He wasn't after medals and citations. He was the quintessential unknown and un-thanked soldier who did his best for his unit, army and country. Nothing else mattered to him.

Subedar Major Janjua had never read the poem; but it was clear from his actions that he had endorsed these words from Thomas Babbington Macaulay's poem Horatius:

"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods."


He had only taken them several steps beyond death. He had followed the thought in letter and in spirit.


***


Copyright notice: The contents of this blog may not be used in any form without the express written consent of the blog owner, who may be contacted at kishoremrao@hotmail.com.

A Cat and Mouse Tale

Shardul was worried. He had a home territory of nearly a hundred square kilometers, which was rather large considering the density of tige...