Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Arms of Comfort ------ A short story

(this is my second short story

http://www.washingtonbanglaradio.com/content/62799211-arms-comfort-nirendra-dev-english-short-story-wbri-online-magazine
(it was used by Washington Bangla Radio)

“The north east of India should no longer be a playground for Indian
army and the self-styled freedom fighters or whatever name they are
known today,” chuckled Capt. Devkant Basu as he hung up the telephone.
The land-line telephone calls have minimized to rarity these days so
much that the receiver carried some dust on it. Dusting off the black
telephone set and the table, he thought it was over 20 years now since
he had left Nagaland. “Jantrikata amader grash korchche (The machines
and the machine age are eating up all our time),” he remembered his
father often saying in chaste Bangla as he was reflecting upon the use
of mobile handsets during last 10 years in his life. The land-line
phone is hardly in use these days.

Captain Dev, as he was known during regiment days had served with The
Hill Rifles, the famous anti-insurgency crack force --- also known as
the friend of the hill people. He had given up the military boots
after a combing operation around Akuluto region – an insurgents
infected pocket in rural Nagaland. The excess committed by his jawans
with the latent support of superiors in the force had left him
disturbed. He knew, he could not continue in the same force yet again.

Despite being the protectors and friends of the frontiers for over 100
years, he was aghast when his unit had to carry out a series of
indiscriminate raids, torturing and intimidating innocent tribals –
including embarrassing women and children. His immediate superiors
supervising the operation and the government both in the state and in
Delhi had given message trying to reinforce that they wanted to allow
Akuluto to bleed to teach the supporters of militancy a lesson!

Capt. Dev had since his voluntary retirement taken up several
movements for the welfare of the forces personnel and the civilians in
states like Manipur, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir. But his social
work is actually easier said than done.

These days, at least Capt. Dev knew, it has become fashionable to
speak about human rights and demand revocation of controversial
legislations like the Armed Forces Special Power Act.
Under AFPSA, many think, states like Nagaland and Manipur, reflect a
violent society and the armed forces only cannibalizing their role.
There are hundreds of human right activists and as many NGOs these
days who make a living by attacking the armed forces and the so called
draconian laws that give them unbridled power.

Capt. Dev had always tried to be reasonable while taking up issues and
always focused on both sides. Consequently, he is thus disliked by
both the camps often -- activists as well as the armed forces.
However, he always thought a microscopic section would admire his
sincerity and objectivity.

He was getting ready for a visit to Nagaland and neighbouring Manipur
in the far off northeast India. The mission will be to enlist on the
spot reports so that the civil society leaders in Delhi can argue and
take up well the demand for revocation of the Armed Forces Special
Power Act. A noted Gandhian from Maharashtra has already announced a
front in the national capital in support of the demand. By August 15,
the Gandhian has also threatened to sit in a week-long dharna, the
sit-in-protest.

The flight was via a brief stopover in Kolkata. As the small Indian
Airlines aircraft was about to land in Dimapur airstrip, in close
proximity to the Hill Rifles Training Centre complex; his memories
flashed about olden days.
He recalled some anecdotes – some friends – some good and a few not so
good ones.

One thing he did not like those days was the double standard of the
local police. Many a times; Hill Rifles jawans of the intelligence
unit would gather volumes of information after working long hours
through days, questioning 100 old local suspects and accomplices in
and around villages but police would hardly reciprocate on those by
arresting members of the banned insurgent group.

The flight to Dimapur was occasionally bumpy due to inclement weather.
The sari-clad visibly aging airhostess served him some snacks and
coffee.

Suddenly he remembered about his friend Ramola Christine, a police
officer with a difference. Unlike many in her department, Christine
was sincere and objective. Despite being a local tribal, she did not
mix her professional duty with her being a Naga. So was Capt. Dev, a
thorough professional.

This mental wavelength had brought them together. They often worked
jointly on a few missions and produced successful results.

They also exchanged books along with notes about movement about some
top underground leaders.

Within days of their acquaintance, Capt. Dev knew that Christine had a
good network of local informers and that often proved vitally helpful
for Capt Dev and his unit.

But he has not heard from her for ages. For first few years, since he
quit Nagaland and the force, they spoke over phone, exchanged
Christmas cards and even once in a blue moon dropped letters. But
slowly all faded.

The Naga insurgency and the missions for military men like Capt Dev to
crack the spinal cord of militancy, the local population’s support,
was like a fertile land --- unexplored in more ways than one!
It was also a murky pond where everyone tried to be fishermen –
fishing out of the troubled waters, as the time-tested saying goes.

Besides being a sincere and also a hard worker who could give up
weekend breaks for “good assignments”, Christine was also a stubborn
sort of lady.

Stubbornness ran deep in her vein, Capt. Dev had told her many times
as Christine would often report to him about fights with her bosses –
men bosses – in a typical patriarchal society of the Nagas.
But Christine was much of an independent mindset who refused to be
slapped into obeisance just because her bosses or the political
masters of the day desired so.

Even years after he left Nagaland, Capt Dev knew Ramola Christine was
not married. She had written her about adopting a small boy, Dadiram,
a Nepali lad – whom she had first hired as a helping hand for her
domestic chores.



The thought about Dadiram made Capt Dev slightly optimistic. At least
he can help him know more about Christine. But he also did not know
much about Dadiram other than his first name and that he was serving
as a police informer. Long years after his secondary-level Class X11 –
education, Dadiram had employed himself as a police informer,
Christine had written to him long back.

Thus, immediately after landing at Dimapur, as he was joined by a
former police officer, Limatoshi – the first thing Capt Dev wanted to
know was about Dadiram. Some how he thought, to hit upon any
discussion all of a sudden about a local woman would not go too well.

Limatoshi was the local representative of Capt Dev’s NGO in Nagaland.
He had planned for a week-long tour of interiors of Nagaland where in
army operations had been carried out recently even as there have been
fierce armed group clashes.

But the talk about Dadiram had left Limatoshi surprised. Personally,
he did not know much about Capt Dev. They had interacted twice during
seminars and conferences in Delhi. Limatoshi had offered to carry the
NGO’s flag in Nagaland and was easily accommodated as regional
coordinator.

Limatoshi had heard about Dadiram as a police informer but did not
have any information off hand. He requested Capt Dev for sometime and
promised to get back to the hotel room with some information by
evening.

In his hotel room, Capt Dev dragged out his survey papers from the
suitcase, gave them a quick glance and ran through the list of
questionnaire quickly.
He also glanced through local news papers and did some stray surfing
over his laptop on the internet.

By evening Limatoshi came along into his room with a lanky young man.

He is Dadiram, you were looking for, said Limatoshi thinking he has
able to please Capt Dev.

The young man was still giving a curious look at Capt Dev. “I am just
an informer Sir …… I don’t know these guys much,” he seemed to cry
fearing the stranger but a well-built officer like man could be an
intelligence sleuth and could apprehend him.

“Calm down” – ordered Capt Dev and then he turned towards Limatoshi
and thanked him profusely for doing a quick job.

To his utter surprise, Capt Dev glanced towards Dadiram yet again and
strangely felt the spark of connections with Christine. Nothing is
permanent except transition, he read somewhere and that’s the life.
Minutes before he was sad, clueless on how to find his lost friend
Christine, but the sight of Dadiram gave him hopes.

He was unmindful and even clueless to an extent about what was going
on in the minds of Dadiram and even Limatoshi.


To squeeze out some moments of privacy with Dadiram, Capt Dev than
handed over his survey related papers to Limatoshi and also a dairy.
“Please study these papers carefully; we have to start some interviews
by tomorrow morning itself. I want you to be well versed with our
project,” he told Limatoshi.

Within minutes, Capt Dev was alone in the room with Dadiram even as
the latter was extremely baffled and looked clueless.

Capt Dev looked healthier and obviously better-fed and more happy than
Dadiram though the Captain knew he had nothing much to cheer about in
personal life. Dadiram was apparently in one of his best outfits – a
neatly ironed pair of jeans and a brown open-necked shirt. But his
shoes were dusty and the material a bad substitute for leather.
Informers, as everywhere, must not be paid well, Capt Dev thought for
a while.
From his vast experience, he knew that life for most police and
military informers was often dreadful and how they still discharged
their duties and generally remained law abiding.


“So Dadiram….,” Capt Dev threw up his right hand to shake hands with him.

“Yes sir,” he said rather sheepishly shaking the hands with the shy of
a timid man still not sure of himself.

“Kab sey yeh kar rahe ho (Since when you are providing information to
police)? asked Capt Dev.

“Quite a few years now sir,” he chuckled.

“What about Ramola Christine? Where’s she?” the question came a
shocker for Dadiram. He was virtually sweating, more in surprise than
fear – thought Capt Dev.

He repeated the question again.
The reply had left Capt Dev shell-shocked.

It is for last 6 years, Christine is in jail convicted of indiscipline
while in uniform and also a co-accused in murder of two senior police
officers.

“How could she do it ….,” he screamed.

“You are right sir…. She has been framed,” asserted Dadiram, a more
confident man now as if for long he has been wanting for someone who
too would believe that Ramola Christine was innocent and say it
openly.

Dadiram then said he could arrange a meeting for Capt Dev with
Christine. She would like it; he said adding that Christine has not
met many friends for long.
“I have heard a lot about you from her,” Dadiram said before leaving
the room and promising to arrange the meeting at the earliest.

The next morning Capt Dev woke up to rural fresh air, cocks crowing
and birds chirping. He loved the birds in these hills. These flying
creatures elucidate life’s desire for freedom – eternal freedom.
Suddenly the thought about last night’s meeting with Dadiram made him
happy. He remembered the reason of the meeting and felt the excitement
about his possible meeting with Christine.
Guided by Dadiram, Capt Dev walked towards the designated place in the
prison where he could meet Christine.
It was a small room with few wooden benches and roughly maintained
tables. A tiny counter was cut out signifying that it was probably a
canteen for the lower ranking prison staff. The green paint on the
walls was peeling.




Christine was sitting in one corner with a naked bulb in the cob web
hanging overhead. The atmosphere was dark, enough to give a vibration
of depression.

“Do you recognize me?” Capt Dev asked modestly.

Christine gave a vague smile, trying to brave through the
circumstances she was today.
The contrast was palpable. Capt Dev pictured the past days - her
powerful breasts above a firm abdomen. All that beauty is lost
somewhere. But she still drew Capt Dev’s attention, he presumed.

“I did not know all these …. Not that I could have helped much. But
may be I could have tried,” he said trying to give her a few words of
assurance that all is still not lost.

Christine gave a blank look and slowly extended her hand towards Capt
Dev’s right palm resting casually on the table. She wanted to say
something but a pal of gloom had already descended in the room. Her
eyes were doing all the talking but the lips were shut and dried. No
tears rolled by and rather Capt Dev for a while thought his own eyes
were more moist than her.

But then without his knowing, Capt Dev pulled back his hand. The
gesture did not miss Christine’s eyes. She knew her friend was
hesitant to even touch her. After all, she is a prisoner behind the
bars.

The thick air seemed to have blown over.

A lot has changed everywhere. Human life is run more by practical
considerations than the emotions. Emotions are only lived momentarily.
A few years means a lot of time space. Each year – 365 days and a few
366.

“You must go back to Delhi…,” she said. “You are also grown old and
have a responsible life”.
Capt Dev wanted to say something. Christine waved her shivering hand
preventing him from doing so. “I always longed for some arms of
comfort Captain but you do not live by wishes alone”.

Her natural aggression and stubbornness, something Capt Dev knew well,
surged and she set focused on her goal to go back to her cell. She
gazed out towards the prison main gate as if she was directing the
Captain to conduct a ‘quick march’ outside the prison walls.

(ends)

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