The first thing he felt when he regained consciousness was the pain – his head throbbed so much he felt like someone was trying to drill a hole into his skull and his whole body ached. As his eyes adjusted to the faint glimmer of a small bulb that was in the room, he noticed the gashes and wounds on his body. Four deep cuts on his left feet, pants ripped on his right leg exposing the bone, two fingers missing on his left hand and numerous other bruises.
‘Water. Please, water’. He didn’t hear anything. ‘Can I have some water?’, he tried a little louder after a few minutes. Nothing. He tried getting up, but his body didn’t have the strength. He didn’t know how he got here, the last thing he remembered was his troop commander shouting ‘Neil, get out of there, they just threw a grenade’.
He suddenly heard a few voices upstairs. Feet pattering, door opening, somebody was walking down with an AK-47. Neil suddenly became very afraid for his life. The man looked angry, he was dressed in combat gear and his gun was pointed at Neil. ‘Water, please’, Neil requested.
‘You motherfucker. You think I will give you anything? You deserve to die in pain for what you did. Thank Allah that our chief doesn’t want us to kill you, else we would have chopped you up and fed it to our dogs.’
Neil saw the man go back up and tried to rack his memory to remember the sequence of events. His troop commander Partha was leading the attack – they were deep in the jungles of Gohan Lari in Baramulla. Their intelligence had told them there was a whole troop of terrorists in the innermost parts of the jungle. The terrorists had used the cover of the forest canopy to set up an entire village in itself where women, men and young boys trained to make bombs, fire weapons and fight.
Having attacked Indian soldiers time and again, this intelligence was the most detailed ever and the army decided to conduct a surgical strike to wipe the terrorists out as soon as possible. Two troops – Alpha and Beta were formed; Partha and Sam as their commanders with ten soldiers to follow them. Planning was done with utmost precision for five days and the operation began in the dead of the night.
Alpha team was supposed to attack from the north and Beta from the south. But something went really wrong. When Neil and Alpha team with Partha at the front reached the point of strike, Partha’s radio began buzzing with explosions, gunfire and screams of their friends. Their team couldn’t contact the Beta team at all after five minutes – no-one responded.
Neil had lost it. His father had died a brutal death in the line of fire just a few years back. The main reason Neil had joined the army was to take revenge – to kill all the terrorists he could get his hands on.
There were some bits missing from Neil’s memory after that. The only thing he remembered was Partha telling Neil to get out of the path of the grenade.Why was he here alone and not any of the other members of his troop? He just hoped that some of them were alive. He started to black out again.
When Neil woke up, there was another man sitting there watching him. He was middle aged with grey hair and had a deep gash mark on his face that made him look sinister. He must be their leader, Neil thought.
‘Do you realize what you have done’? He said to Neil.
‘I don’t know what you are talking about’, Neil said. ‘Even if I did kill a few of your soldiers, you deserved it. You fight in the name of religion, killing scores of innocent people, you deserve every death you get’.
‘You asshole. You don’t remember do you? Do you know you killed all the women and children of the village? Just shot them down in cold blood’.
Neil couldn’t believe it. ‘You are lying.’
‘You are no different from the terrorists that threaten and blackmail us to fight for them. We are just pawns in this whole game of politics. The real terrorists are out there giving lectures and brainwashing young boys in the name of Jihad.’, the man said. Neil was finding it tough to understand what the man was saying.
He rose and removed his vest. There were at least a hundred lash marks on his body – fresh and old.
‘Do you know what these are? These are lashes I get every time Indian soldiers are let out alive. They take our women and our young girls and rape them to make sure we fight for their cause. They kill when they feel like we are not listening to them. We have no choice, but to fight’, he had tears in his eyes. ‘Now you tell me what the difference is between you and them?’
It dawned on Neil what the man was saying was the truth. In his hate and seething anger, he had done something inhuman. He couldn’t meet the man’s gaze, he felt ashamed and guilty. He hadn’t realized that scores of ordinary citizens were being pulled into war because of the power the real terrorists had over them. An ultimate game of chess. And he had just become another pawn in that game – a murderer of innocent of people.
All he could do now was wait for his death, in whichever way these people wanted.