Soldier Blues

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“Indian family sacrifices its son  in Bush’s war”, screamed the headline of the lead story on page one of a popular English daily last week. It was quite a tear-jerker too, outlining the chain of events and circumstances which saw 21-year-old Indian national Uday Singh landing an assignment with the US Army as army specialist – whatever that means – and subsequently being deployed to police America’s latest acquisition for Coca-Colonisation, Iraq, where he was shot dead last Monday during petrol duty. 

It’s another thing the news report, to its  credit, did not omit mention of the inspiration behind the young man’s rather unlikely career – it had nothing to do with patriotism or anything, as you’d be forgiven for imagining. It was simply to find his way to citizenship of the planet’s most powerful nation, much-coveted for the materialistic conforts that go with. Wrong reasons for a wrong decision, you could say. 

In contrast, the news report detailing the death on November 29 of Major Uday Veer Singh, SM, in terrorist-related violence in Jammu & Kashmir – the troubled State which, at the way things are going right now, may well end up as a nuclear wasteland in the not-too-distant future – found less than passing reference in the media the following day. So it barely registered people much too used to waking up to such news just about every other day to be moved tears. 

Major Singh was, of course, cremated in Delhi cantonment with full military honours on December 1, in keeping with his status as a martyred war hero. The tricolour-draped casket bearing his body was ceremoniously honoured with marigold wreaths by the Chief of Army Staff, followed by a dozen other defence personnel decorated in medals and swords shimmering in the mellow November afternoon sun. The army band in attendance struck a soulful tune with bugles and, in its wake, came the final, formal salute by a contingent of soldiers. They fired three shots each from automatic rifles skywards. 

And then, it was time. The national flag was taken off, neatly wrapped and presented to the deceased army officer’s grandfather, and the body partially uncovered to afford one final glimpse to family and friends before being consigned to flames. This is when many of them, stoic so far, broke down, despite efforts by the uniformed officers attending the cremation to console them. You are supposed to rejoice rather than grieve for a soldier who attains martyrdom in the process of fighting fop the nation. 

The pyre was1it, the logs crack1ed, and the flames leapt into the air. The sight left some of the onlookers transfixed, rooted as they remained to the place. Sometime later, the gathering began to thin down. Mobile phones rang, and the hush enveloping the grounds gave way to the rustling of clothes as the mourners walked past the young soldier’s family, shaking the hands of the father and grandfather and hugging the mother and sister. And then they were gone in their big airconditioned cars. Leaving behind the family members and their close friends, who kept gazing at the dying flames, perhaps asking themselves if patriotism wasn’t just a chimera, a mirage, in a country whose own form of Coca-Colonisation has left the average Indian caught in vortex of materialism.

For, it may not be long before the Uday Singhs of the world outnumber the Uday Veer Singhs. It really is time for all Indians to look within themselves as a people and as a country, so as, to reclaim their values and ethics, before these are lost forever.

By Rahul Gul  / The Pioneer, December 11, 2003