Story by Col Sushil Tanwar, serving in Indian Army
” Break up song break up song..Dil ki feeling strong…”
The hugely popular Bollywood number was blaring with full volume in the speeding Mahindra XUV on the Delhi Jaipur highway.
But louder than the peppy song and certainly less melodious, was the cacophony of the voices of the four young passengers travelling in that car.
Aakash was driving , and he was by now exasperated with the playful antics of his closest buddies.
“Come on yaar , we can’t even listen to the music. Or should I just park the car by roadside?”
“Shut up and keep driving Man. And let us enjoy the way we want” Haneef and Ayesha responded in unison from the comfort of the rear seat.
” Ya Ya..you get the car on one side so that we can get down and dance too. And the next song in the play list will be ” rowdy baby” . I just love the way sai pallavi grooves on the beats. Isn’t it baby.”
It was Shilpa on the co driver’s seat who never ever let go of any chance to tease Aakash.
“Do as you want” Aakash realized the futility of his request and got back to concentrating on his driving.
The deserted highway looked majestic on that moonlit night.It was 14th of August and the Independence day holiday on the next day was perhaps responsible for the reduced traffic. The serenity of road running along the countryside was occasionally disrupted by the checkpoints established by Police who had to be on a tight vigil.
The gang of four friends though was quite happy in the loneliness of the highway. Unplanned halts, random clicks and the playful conversations making fun of each other were turning this journey into a memorable trip.
” Oye watch out” It was Shilpa who abruptly shouted but before Aakash could react, the damage was done .
It was an accident. Not a major one though. A young deer had sprinted across the road and collided with the XUV.
The deer was too small to cause any damage to their vehicle but the impact was severe enough to kill that deer.
Aakash was shell shocked. He stepped out slowly and saw the lifeless body lying in front. After staring in disbelief for a few seconds , he recomposed himself.
He then walked back slowly as his friends sat motionless ,picked up a bottle and sprayed some water on the bumper.
Having cleaned the blood stains, he got back to his seat and sat silently. After what seemed an eternity, Aakash turned on the ignition and their journey resumed.
In sharp contrast to their boisterous banter minutes ago, all of them were now overwhelmed by the silent mourning of what had just happened.
Aakash in particular was visibly disturbed.. despite his best efforts, the tragic sight of deer crashing against his XUV, kept appearing in his mind.
” Shit Man. how could I? Oh that poor soul..” he lamented.
“It’s ok Aakash. These things do happen. Don’t think too much. Chill now. ” It was Shilpa ,herself immersed in guilt, who now tried to put up a brave front.
It was then left to Ayesha to rekindle their spirits.
” Come on both of you. Stop being morose. This is a damn highway. Accidents take place. And thankfully there isn’t any damage”.
“What ? That’s what you really think Ayesha ? That innocent deer just died. Rather it was killed. By me. Isnt that enough damage? “
It was surely going to be difficult to get Aakash out of his remorseful thoughts..
“Oye Aakash. What has happened to you? Don’t be so faint hearted. we understand that It was all very sad but now stop panicking like a headless chicken.”
Before Haneef could further intensify his outburst, Shilpa signalled him to keep quiet. She knew Aakash was very sensitive and feeling distraught. Realizing the gravity of his emotions, all they needed to do was to stay silent .
They halted for a few minutes to let Shilpa take over the wheels and drive them home.
That night was horrible for Aakash. Upset at how the journey had unfolded,he could barely speak and kept getting nightmares .
Though he was an early riser, the morning of 15th August dawned a little late for Aakash. . He had slept very late and his mobile phone was still ringing feverishly when Haneef and Ayesha stormed into his room.
Both of them were notoriously late risers and their early arrival today meant that something unusual had happened.
Haneef enthusiastically jumped on Aakash plunging him deeper into the bed.
“Wake up my Sher (tiger) . You are so bloody amazing”.
Dreary eyed Aakash couldn’t resist smiling at Haneef’s melodramatic act.
There was no stopping Haneef though as he continued.
” Acha Shilpa , Won’t we all be so proud when we will walk around and introduce him”
Meet Major Aakash Sood, Shaurya Chakra.
He has single handedly killed three terrorists”
“Congratulations my friend .”
Before Aakash could grasp the enormity of what Haneef had just revealed ,Ayesha too jumped on him.
” Oh ho darling. Yesterday the death of that deer almost made you faint. and today you are awarded Shaurya Chakra for bravery. Baba, You turned out to bs quite courageous ,killing three terrorists. All by yourself. Wow”
Aakash couldn’t stop smiling now.
“Yaar that is different. It was about doing our duty , And camaraderie of brave troops.. In the service to the nation. All of these provide one with unimaginable strength “
And then , with a tiny tear appearing in his eyes, he heaved a long sad sigh. ” But that small deer. Wish I could have saved his life”
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