Monday, October 12, 2009

That day a hero was born.

Paul couldn’t really say for how long he was flying the thick white clouds spread like a carpet beneath and it stretched as far as his eyes could see. And the unchanging view kind of blurred his ability to comprehend the speed of his B-29. He left the plane to its course he knew there was some time till he reached his specified target. He checked over his shoulders to see if Charles was there at his side. Yes Charles was flying the other B-29 sent along with his; there like a trusted friend. “Charles Sweeny, Trusted friend indeed”, he thought. He knew that Charles was there just to ensure that he did his job right. The young major was a rookie compared to him. How dare they send this boy to keep an eye him, Commander of the 509th composite group, Colonel Paul Tibbets. But then again perhaps they were right. He had been having all these thoughts about the rights and wrongs of his actions for some time now. And more, ever since Secretary Stimson himself had called him up to congratulate him on his selection for the great privilege.

He had no doubts about it. There are no just and wrong parties in a war. A war is much too complex to have such black and white distinctions. He himself had seen the way his colleagues used to treat the Philipino women in Clark Air base where he was stationed last year. When Secretary of State Paulson camped in Guam he himself had arranged in extreme secrecy for three women for the Secretary’s entertainment. And two days later he had come to know that the girls were quietly disposed off. Apparently the Allied propaganda machines didn’t want a blotch on the records of the much decorated four-star General. The media men were there everywhere. There were times in the battle fields when he felt that the battles were fought more for the photo-opps than for anything else. And these photos would be splashed across the front page of papers all over America by the end of the week. And that would create a spurt in the sale of war bonds. The realities that you face every second, in the center of the battle were ones that questioned your faith. Faith in God, Faith in his country and above all faith in himself. But still despite everything he believed in the American cause as he did in the integrity of President Truman. He believed that God is with this great nation and that in the end when judgment day comes the just shall be separated out from the evil. But today what he somehow seemed to lack was faith in himself.

The true implications of Secretary Stimson’s call a few days back hadn’t dawned on him when he thanked him and put the phone down. It was indeed a privilege. In a way this ensures that he won’t go down in history’s account book as a mere number. He wouldn’t have to struggle for the rest of his life as a war veteran as he had seen his father do. His dad had served with the British Army in India during the First World War after which he had migrated to the United States and settled down with his mother. But then was he ready to become a hero. It was an undertaking to be an actor for the rest of his life. His thoughts, beliefs and actions would henceforth be dictated by a propaganda machinery which read the American hearts and minds and knew exactly what had to be fed to them. But he had said thank you like a fool. God Damn you Stimson.

But this was no time to be thinking about that. The faith really needed some reinforcement. He was no longer sure what was right and wrong and he looked above for a sign. It was just calm blue above. He again said to himself, “There are no just and wrong parties in war”. This time somehow the conviction seemed a bit deteriorated. He again tried to convince himself this is for a greater good. In a way you are freeing them from the clutches of a stifling autocracy and an even more suffocating life. But what if all that is just what the government wants you to believe. Aren’t they too living breathing people with as much emotions in their heart as he? But even otherwise as his dad often used to say, “Every moment in this world is a cruel torture, a punishment for sins committed in this life and before”. The conflicts of beliefs implanted by his Lutheran mother and karmic-yogic father were a constant theme in his thoughts. If with one press of a button you could end the suffering in the world would you not do it, he argued.

He checked the watch. It was nearly five hours since they took off from Tinian. The plane held a steady course north east, 8000 feet above sea level, at a speed of around four hundred knots. That meant just a little less than an hour to go. The pocket watch that he kept in a chain around his neck had a picture of Angelle on its flap. He wished he could have discussed this with her. But that would be breach of protocol. He was much too professional to do things like that. But then again he knew what she would have said. The same thing that his mind was telling him now, “Answer the call of duty”. But Angelle, what about all the children. Hundreds perhaps thousands like our Catherine and Jennifer.

His thought was broken by the voice over the speaker phone. It was his assistant 2nd Lt. Morris Jeppson. “Unit Armed Colonel. All systems go”. Jeppson was a cold soldier. In all their years together he had never seen him show a slight sign of emotion. And he had risen swiftly through the ranks. Emotionless – perhaps that was how the American Government wanted its soldiers to be. Hmm. His thoughts returned again to Angelle, Cathy and Jenny. They needed him to return to them after the war was over. It soon would be. But would he be the same person when he gets back. Is a hero what Jenny and Cathy needs in a dad? And Angelle? At least she would be proud of him. But something in his head told him she wouldn’t be.

“Colonel, Anything wrong Colonel. We are right above ground zero. Tinian has given the go ahead to deploy in thirty seconds. Press the button Colonel”, that was Jeppson.

Paul stood up, his face in cold determination. But before he could say anything, Jeppson said “Press the damn button Colonel”. His heavy hand pushed Paul down to his seat and with his other hand reached over and pressed the Release button. A brief beep confirmed the initiation of the release process. Jeppson smiled and said, “Great job Colonel, you did it”.

For moments Paul didn’t know what to do. He could hear exalted voices from the back of the place. He lifted the mike and talked to his commander at the base in Tinian. “Enola Gay to base. ‘Little Boy’ has been deployed. I repeat, ‘Little Boy’ has been deployed”

Fifty six seconds later when Little Boy kissed the ground at Hiroshima, a hero was born and about seventy thousand died.

“But Angelle, I wasn’t the one who dropped the Boy”.

PS: I guess an Atom is just too big a thing for human beings to be playing with.

PPS: All situations imaginary and doesn’t have any bearing to the actual events that unfolded over Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. O.K, a little bit.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Prayers and Hope.

Karan had been sitting at the window in his dark room for over an hour, his eyes steadfast on the window across the street. The moon had come out over half an hour ago but she was nowhere to be seen. He had been watching every terrace that he could see from his Rajouri Garden apartment in East Delhi where women were doing their karwachaut Puja when the moon came out. But strangely her house was dark.

For eight years now that he had known her not once had she failed to keep the ritual. And for seven of those years he had also kept the fast with her, without her knowing. They’d been friends then good friends and then great friends. But always ‘just friends’. For eight long years.

When he first met her she was sitting on stairs of the fire exit in the office. He used to slip down the seldom used stairs to have a smoke rather than go all the way down to the smoking area. For some reason they sat there in the stairs that day and talked for ten continuous hours. They were both new in office and it was their first jobs. He remembered that the ten hours were spent mostly listening to her. She talked mostly about her college and that meant Rahul. A name that he then didn’t know he would hear a lot from her for the rest of his life. She was deeply in love with Rahul for four years in college but never had the courage to tell him directly. She just assumed that he would somehow realize it himself. But years passed in the wink of an eye without any confessions being made. And now he was halfway across the globe doing his masters. It was at one of those weak moments that overwhelmed her once in a while and she’d hide away at the seldom used fire escape that Karan chanced upon her. Her eyes red and with mascara drooping down her cheeks, she was a sight he’d never forget in his life. She looked like an angel just banished out of heaven.

They grew close within a short period. He didn’t have other friends in office and neither did she. They ended up being together all the time. He even moved into a house in her locality. They were together right from his morning wake up call to her goodnight call.

Soon enough he realized that he was falling for her although she was still just as obsessed about Rahul as the day they had met. Slowly it dawned on him that she would never think of him the way he thought of her but still he remained always by her side. Hope is often what sinks a man faster down into quicksand.

Seven years ago on a similar karwachaut day he was surprised to learn that she was keeping the vruth (religious fast) for Rahul. That meant not having anything to eat till the moon appeared in the evening sky. And Rahul wasn’t even her boyfriend in technical terms let alone her husband. He didn’t even know that there was a girl a thousand mile away staying hungry for the whole day apparently for his well being. That kind of made him realize two things. That her love for Rahul was deeper than he imagined and secondly that whatever he did she will never be his. That night when she called him up to say goodnight he asked her to confess her love to Rahul. She was dead against it as she believed that every girl deserved to be proposed to. But he knew that it was just another way to say that she was too proud to do that.

For several days afterwards their conversations would somehow turn to this topic and would end in the same way with her refusing to do anything like that. But slowly and slowly he managed to chip away at her wall of ego and pride. When Rahul came to India the next time after almost two years she met him and confessed her love.

Things moved really fast and the next karwachaut he watched from his window as with the rising moon she took the first morsel of her from Rahul’s hands. This time she was his wife.

Unknown to her, from the first time he had realized that he was in love with her, he had been keeping the karwachaut fast with every year. He wasn’t a religious person at all. But this somehow was different. He didn’t know nor did he care for the prayers but every year he would have his first meal after ensuring that she had had hers.

It was now almost two hours since the moon had come out and he knew that she wouldn’t have had anything. There was no light in her house across the street but he knew she was inside. The faint glow of an oil lamp in what he knew was the Puja room confirmed what he already knew.

At about 11 in the night he saw Rahul ring the bell of his house. He saw the light come in the Puja room and for a brief instance he saw her run towards the stairs and then the lights in the stairs came on and then the drawing room in the ground floor. And the door opened and there stood what to him was an angel come down to earth. But then her face clouded over all of a sudden. And he realized why when he looked at Rahul. He was almost too drunk to stand up by himself. He was propped up against the door frame and he staggered into the house. A little while later the light in the top floor room directly opposite his window came on. He could see from between the drapes that an argument was going on and she was almost in tears. Then all of a sudden Rahul raised his hands and hit her hard sending her sprawling across the floor.

The blood started to boil in him. He wanted to run across the street and pull her up. But he knew he couldn’t do anything. She was another man’s wife now. He thought if he was right in convincing her all those years ago to go confess to Rahul about her love. He thought if he would also have treated her had he been married to her. Perhaps. But something within him told him that it would never be so. She was just too precious for him and will always remain so.

He sat there inside the dark room thinking about all their times together; as friends. Him a little bit more than her. Then the door to her terrace opened up and she came out alone. She had a plate with a lamp on it and a mug of water. She did her prayers looking at the moon and then took tore a morsel of chapatti from the plate and brought it towards her mouth. But she stopped midway. Her eyes were a torrent. She looked across the street to the window where he was. Something told him that she knew that he was there although there was no light in the room and she couldn’t possibly see him. He just kept looking at her and prayed, perhaps the first time in his life, pleading to god to heed her karwachaut prayers and to keep her happy always.

PS: Today is karwachaut. And for all those who believe may your prayers be answered.