March 17, 2006

The Informer from Khalistan

The clock said it was five minutes past five. Mom was standing over him with a glass of milk, and she said it would make his bones strong. He never broke one in the next thirty years, not that he didn't get a chance to, but because his bones would just never break. It might have been because of all the milk she made him drink or maybe they were always that strong. But all that was besides the point, she had to have him finish the glass before he left. He was tying his laces, and was in a big rush, or else he would have to be the denner. She was as insistent as always and he knew there was no way out, so he gulped it down like scotch on the rocks.

He was lucky that day, like always, like all saggitarians, tiku came in after him and had to be the denner. It was his turn to hide, and that set his mind to motion. It was a big bad world back then too, and it had like a zillion places to hide. But in his years and years of experience of playing hide and seek, all of the places had been consumed. So he set out to search for the zillion plus oneth place, but the theory of curiosity predicted that since the compound had only a zillion, he had to go out.

Back then Punjab was going through bad times. Every day there was a new story about another brave soldier saving some more people from terrorists. And along with it there were more stories of soldiers who couldn't save the people. The spirits of the army were high, and that of the people were even higher. It had been years and years of repression and now people were taking a stand. And the situation was better than it had been in years, but the old ghosts still haunted people everywhere, nobody went out at nights, not even in the evenings, though it was changing, it would still take a good four or five years for things to become more comfortable.

Leaving the compound, hence was against the rules set up by everybody's moms and dads, including his. But hide and seek was far more important to him than the fight for justice of thousands. So he decided that he would go out. It was getting dark, and that just meant that it would be all the more fun, because they had specific instructions that when it gets dark, children weren't even supposed to be playing outside. So to get his kick, he jumped the boundary wall, and landed right on the road.

There was hardly any traffic there. A couple of cyclists were peddling down the road, probably trying to get back before it became completely dark. There was a car, a fiat, travelling in the opposite direction. Other than that there were just two trees standing there silently, waiting for the morning light to arrive. It wasn't all that voilent, he thought, as he had been made to believe, infact it was less voilent than the fights between his sister and him. There was a cold breeze from the south, and he decided to go down for a stroll. It was safe, since none of the kids would come to catch him there.

A little down the road, he saw another house. There were definitely no kids there, for in the one year that they had been staying near the place, he had never seen anybody come out and play from there. But the lights were always on, so somebody did stay there. He thought to check it out but then decided against it, and just continued with his stroll, against the wind, on the deserted road.

Suddenly, he saw two sardars coming his way on a scooter. Even the cyclists were not visible now, and he didn't know if he should have been scared. He hoped that they might not be able to see his since it was already dark. But they did, and came right next to him and stopped. "Hey son", the one on the pillion asked him. "Is this where the officer's quarters are?", pointing to the house with no kids. He was wearing a shawl, and somehow seemed to be clenching on to it. But he had a kind face, and didn't look like no voilent-angry-terrorist. "No.", I replied, "They are the ones in that compound." So they nodded and left. So did I. I just walked back and hopped inside, hoping they did not know dad, or anybody else for that matter who could tell my parents where he had been straying. He walked straight home, for he knew the game must have been over sometime back.

The next morning, as usual, he was late for school again, the bus was due in five minutes. He was sitting in a brown chair, which reminded him of an event he now hoped had never happened, tying his shoes. Mum was standing close by, as expected, with a glass of milk. And he heard her talking to Dad, that Mrs. Chauhan told her that last night, two Sardars were arrested outside the compound with AK-47's. And that this place wasn't all that safe anymore and if they could reach outside the compound with guns, they might even come inside someday. What if they got hold of one of the kids or something. He didn't think twice. Just gulped the milk down, and for some strange reason he was sure the ones he had met last night, whom he had guided towards his own house were decent people, and weren't the ones who got caught.