It was a time of celebration, of colors and decorations, happiness and gifts and a time too of smoke and fire. It was a day celebrated by over a billion people – the most anticipated day of the year for some and yet it was not so for the people of the Barkhani village. Here too there was light and smoke and fire, not in the form of firecrackers and harmless candles but the flash of the gun and the smoke and fire of the grenades which the enemy hurled.

Things had been quite for some time now after the din of the previous night. It was night time and while people all over the country were busy celebrating and praying to Lord Ganesh, the women of a Burkhani household were busy tending to a wounded soldier. His name was Kulbir Singh and he was in pain. He had been shot in the shoulder and he bit hard on the cloth in his mouth as they poured iodine over his wound. For the moment pain was his only thought and he could not think of anything beyond it. The moment it subsided it a little his thoughts wandered once more to his little girl back home, safe in their small village in Haryana and to the mother of his child and to his younger sister who was not yet married. And he knew that they were safe because of what he did and that he had to keep it that way. He drank the water that was offered to him and slowly sat up straight. He groaned as his shoulder wound hurt beneath the bandages.

“Those bastards are going to come back and we need to be ready. Did you send the message?” he asked the heavily bearded man sitting across from him. The man wore a white taqiyah, which is a small rounded skull-cap, on his head. Muslim men are not required to cover their heads and yet many chose to. The man’s name was Salim and he had just finished his evening prayers.

“I did as you asked,” he replied.

“Has any reply been forthcoming?”

“None so far, it will take to two days to reach the nearest outpost by foot and there seems to be no other way for us to communicate for now. Ever since the heavy snow two days ago there has been no network in our phones and there seems to be no way to get the message across. However I don’t think we can expect any help before the night is out. There is no way they can make their way here by then. No vehicles can reach the village right now because of the snow and it’s perilous even for planes and helicopters. The snowstorm has not yet completely subsided. They sure as hell didn’t expect to find you here. It’s a miracle you are still alive with only a mere scratch to your shoulder. Are they soldiers?”

“There is no way to tell. They weren’t dressed like soldiers. I think they might be militants trying to smuggle themselves into the country. However they are well trained in military combat and are well armed with Kalashnikovs and hand grenades.”

“I wonder how they made their way here. Our village is remote but we are nowhere near the border. This terrain is too perilous. It is the first that I’ve heard of anyone coming this way to cross into the country. It is far more likely that they are escaping from the military on the other side of the border and not being well versed in the geography they chose to come this way.”

“Unlikely, but it’s possible. Send for Jatin will you? We’ll see what can be done.”

A tall man with a crew cut walked into the room. He turned to face Kulbir Singh and saluted him.

“How are you doing Sir?”

“It’s just a flesh wound, I’ll be all right. What’s new?”

“Be careful Sir. There is no such thing as just a flesh wound in these parts. I have been communicating with the nearest outpost. They have said they’ll send men over as soon as possible but the snow is making it very difficult. No vehicles can come through.  However they have already sent a group of men on foot but even they won’t be able to get here before the night is over and I have a strong feeling that they will try to get through again tonight.”

“We’ll be waiting . How many men do they have?”

“We have counted close to ten in total, not counting the three that died the other night, including the man who shot you.”

“Still it’s just the five us now and we need to be on our guard. Unfortunately I can’t partake in a gun battle so that leaves only the four of you.”

“Leave it to us Sirji. As long as I’m breathing they won’t set foot in this country.”

“I would expect nothing less. Jai Hind.”

“Jai Hind.” Jatin saluted him and turned to go but Kulbir stopped him.

“Oh I almost forgot. Happy Diwali Jatin.”

“Happy Diwali Sir. Good thing we brought the fire crackers.” He smiled, patting the gun that hung from his shoulder.

“A very good thing indeed. I’ve heard of green Diwali but I believe that this one might be red. Still better the blood of our enemies now than that of innocents later. Go, and brief me later. I need to rest for now,” he said as he slowly sunk back into the thin mattress.

To be continued…….