An Air Warrior and prolific writer with over 200 published short stories and 14 books on fiction
As the dust settles in the deserted mountains, where the hot sun beats on the earth, a young man is toiling away. He now sits on his haunches, wiping the sweat from his brow. He is the resident of the small village nestled in the arid mountains. His life is a hard grind, any choice? None, because he must feed his parents and sister. At the end of the day, the contractor is going to pay him Rs.10. As he keeps sitting, he feels uncomfortable sitting for a longer period, because the supervisor is eyeing him, and he doesn’t want to lose a rupee or two. He thinks of his mother back home, She must be weaving and knitting, to try and sell a sweater or two, to add finances to the home kitty.
As he picks up the stones, he once more wipes his sweat from his brow and then he notices a shadow. He looks up and the shadow materializes into a man dressed in a white shalwar- kameez. He sports a cropped black beard and he says,” Abdul Khalid ?”
The young man stops work but does not give a reply; he’s bewildered, why should this man contact him? And how does he know his name? The man strokes his beard and says, “you are working very hard.”
He keeps quiet.
The man now came closer to him and taps him on the shoulder and says, “my boy I know all about you, and for all this hard work you are going to get Rs.10 and you have people to feed at home, however, I will give you Rs.500 but you will have to become a soldier of God”
“What does that mean?”
“It simply means that you will do what I tell you and your family will receive a monthly allowance, but I will require implicit obedience and you will have to leave home, are you game for it?”
Abdul awakes from his stupor with a sudden convolution. The sunlight is lighting up the entire mountainside, rocks seem to be heated. The shadow of the man now covers Abdul as he towers over him like a Jinn. Was he glowering at him for not replying? He sits up and rubs his head. It is pounding and his mouth is dry.
Abdul hesitates; he wonders what he should say. His father is an invalid, his mother slogging away, and his sister just doing odd house chores. not much to eat and this man offered him Rs.500. He didn’t have any other work and then what does a man in such a condition do? A man who has a carrot dangled before him? He invariably will not say no as the conditions are so created that such a thing must happen and in this case, it does happen. Jabber nods his head and says, “yes “
The man gives him Rs.500 and says, “go home to your parents and come and meet me again tomorrow at the same place”
Jabber pockets the Rs.500 and with firm steps goes to the local shop and purchases items of food, so dearly needed at home. With the package he reaches home, and his mother sees him coming and she is delighted but when she sees the package she asks, “where have you got all this?”
“I have been given a job, other details the man will tell me tomorrow.”
He sees his mother is apprehensive,” are you sure my son, sometimes Satan comes in disguise, and he can entice you .”
“Do not worry mother, the man looks honest to me, and let me meet him tomorrow.”
The next day he meets the man again and this time the man looks a lot more authoritative and instinctively Jabber compromises himself by taking another Rs.500 and the man says,” come with me in the jeep.”
“Where are we going?”
“We are going to a camp where there are many other men; you will not come back.”
“But what about my parents?”
“They will receive money and be told that you have gone for a job and you will send them money every week.”
Jabber is bewildered, he wants to go away but he has sold his soul to the devil and there’s nothing he can do now. He wants to say farewell to his mother but then the dust is swirling around the jeep, as it moves through the countryside, and he realizes he is on his way to his destination. The jeep pulls outside a compound with a house surrounded by barbed wire and a soldier is standing guard outside. The man who was traveling with him gets down from the jeep and shouts to the soldiers,” open I have another man who needs to be trained”
Jabbar goes inside and is given a meal of meat and bread; something he had not eaten for a long time. He’s out in the open and there are six other boys with him they are all lined up, and a trainer comes. He carries a gun and shows it to all and asks, “do you know what it is?”
“It is an AK 47; it’s a deadly weapon and it is a weapon which makes all men equal. No one is strong, no one is weak, it is the AK 47 that talks and you boys have to learn to use it”
“Why do I need to use it?” Jabber asked.
The man steps forward and gives a slap,” nobody asks questions here”
The man looks at Jabber with a searing look and says,” no questions are answered here; you do what you’re told; I have already sent another Rs.500 to your mother and told her you will not be coming back as you are going to go on some work.”
The next few days passed uneventfully and it is not long before Jabber is conversant with the use of the weapon along with the other six. The trainer now stands before them and says,” soldiers of Allah you have won your spurs, we have been sending money to your mothers and fathers and now you have to pay the debt”
He continues, “if you have any qualms and you want to go and leave, it’s a free world you can go but please, you will have to pay the money back.”
Jabber and the other young men are brought at night to a hall with a huge map. The captain points to the map and says, “on the other side is the enemy country, your job is to cross the line of control and enter the village, where we have many supporters. They will look after you.”
“But why must we do all this?”
The instructor is getting irritated now and says, “don’t you realize that you are the chosen one to do this job, there are many soldiers on the other side so you will have to bypass the guards.”
In the fleeting moment, Jabber realizes that now he had reached the point of no return. There is nothing he could do as he has been trapped and he prays that he could cross the LOC and then come back. He is worried about his father and mother, sister, and wonders what they are thinking.
The slaughter of the lambs
It is a dark night when Jabber and six other men, all young lads like him begin to move through the jungle to the line of control. As they leave, the man turns to the captain and says,” I’m sending six men inside on the other side of the border. I suspect three or four will be killed straight away as the enemy is vigilant but even if two out of the six get inside it will serve our purpose.”
Jabber and the other boys walk slowly through the jungle. It is now getting cold and dark. As the batch moves forward in the dead of night, a loud voice rings out," stop you’re crossing the line of control; come out with your hands up."
He is wondering what to do
The boy beside him says, “they are Kafir soldiers, and its best we fire at them so that we can escape. One of the boys now picks up the AK- 47 and fires; that was a mistake that should not have been committed. There is retaliatory fire, and the silence of the mountains is shattered with the echoes of the sound of bullets? Jabber hits the earth even as he sees four of his comrades shot to death.
As he lies on the ground he wonders that perhaps he is the only survivor? He buries his face in the grass but feels the cold steel of the barrel of a gun against his cheek. He looks up and finds a soldier with a rifle standing over him and there are many more with him.
Someone who is a senior says, “they are infiltrators from the other side. As per our information, six of them had tried to sneak in and 4 are shot dead and one is injured but run away, and one is captured but we’ll get that pigeon also.”
“Get up,” the soldier says.
He is trussed and taken to the army camp and then he stands before the captain, who says, “give me your details”
Jabber gives him all the details. His heart is beating fast he wants to leave all this and just go back to his home. He feels doing labor was better than this ordeal. The captain says, " we are going to ask the post on the other side by wireless to take you back, do you want to go back?”
‘Yes, your honor I want to go back”
“OK we will keep you in custody for a day because we have sent a wireless message to the post opposite to carry out an exchange with you”
He was put in a small cell and given a cup of tea and he was wondering what has happened to him. He is scared. Only if that moment could come back, he would have never taken the 500 rupees note. The door opens and the captain comes in. He looks at Jabber and says, “I have got a message from the other side, and they say they have not sent anybody here; they have disowned you and the message says that you are a non-state actor acting on your own.”
“How can they say that?”
After a long pause, the captain says,” there are many like you, most of them die but then one or two escape and they do create some problem here but with you, in our custody, I do not know what to do. I’ll have to ask headquarters because now your mentors have disowned you, they say you are a non-state actor and that you do not even belong to the area you are mentioning.”
“What are you going to do with me?”
“We will send you to the HQ’s and you will be tried, and the judge will have to decide what is your punishment. All I can say is that you are lucky that you have survived, many have died.”
Back home the same jeep pulls up before the house of Jabbar and the man knocks and as his mother opens the door, he hands her a wad of notes and says, “none of us will come here again.”
“What about my son?”
“You may not see him again, he is very busy”
The mother is in a state of shock, and she wants to ask many questions but the man is already in the jeep and has driven off and soon is a speck on the horizon.