He stood in front of her. Again. He didn’t know how to face her, he could never overcome the guilt but he always had a glimmer of hope that, one day she will forgive him.

“I couldn’t see, I was following orders…” he said, pleading for her to understand. “This is what we do, we follow orders. We are not allowed to ask our hearts, or spirits, or souls.” He shook his head knowing it was falling on deaf ears. So he tried harder, “When we enroll in the army, deep inside we wish that we never see a war or a riot.” He cleared his throat so that he could show how confident he was about his logic. “War is easy, you know your enemy, you can see him, you can face him, convinced that they should be captured or killed. We never have any doubts, in fact we are not allowed to have any.”

Ratin could feel his throat choking again. There was no response from the other side, he didn’t even know if his he was doing a good job convincing his wife that it was not his fault.

“Riots are not easy Lata, they are not! They are your people, your country men… so what if they behave like cannibals killing their own. The rules of engagement get complicated, very complicated. You can’t shoot at them, you can’t capture them, until you are told to do so and you can’t injure them unless you have orders.

She stared motionless at him and Ratin was hoping that she would say something. Lata was a reserved lady, she rarely smiled and if she did, consider your joke as hilarious. When Ratin first met her, he couldn’t take his eyes of her. Her radiant dusky face was very difficult to ignore. Her short thick hair made her stand out in the crowd and her knee length short black dress drew the eyes of all the officers, their jealous wives and their curious significant others. That was the first time he saw her and in an instant, like many others at the Monsoon ball party, he fell in love.

“We are nothing by a chain of puppets Lata” he continued, “I am a puppet of my officer, he is a puppet of another officer, who in turn is a puppet of the Minister, Who unfortunately, is a puppet to the position he has earned…”

“I was really happy with my new posting, from chill of Siachen to a place warmer and to a place where I had you near me, Lata.” Ratin shook his head wishing this never happened. “But then, getting a posting to a place near you, that too without pulling any strings…that’s a blessing” A blessing that he wished he never had.

“I wanted to surprise you Lata, it’s not easy to make you laugh or a smile…but when you do, all efforts are worth it.” Ratin had a half smile remembering every time he made her smile and laugh. Her radiance made his life worth living for or dying for.

“Then my worst dreams came true…the carnage of a riot, where people are possessed with ideals they don’t understand and will not question. Imagine being surrounded people with dead souls, carrying knives, hammers, sickles…anything that can kill.” Ratin clenched his fists as he thought about that day. That fateful day which took everything away from him.

Ratin started choking again, eyes moist with the despair he was responsible for. Feeling helpless and hopeless, he stared at her. Still, nothing. A chilling silence surrounded them..

He couldn’t take it anymore, he couldn’t plead anymore and he couldn’t beg.

“ITS CALLED INSANITY…” He howled pointing his fingers to her face. “It is when the inferno of hatred, takes over your mind and spirit.” His eyes widened, he couldn’t believe that she still didn’t understand! His rage knew no bounds now, he took off his military beret cap and stomped it with his boots.

Lata looked at him motionless and still he continued. “They are beasts, they saw our platoon come, and they didn’t have the courage to face us. They knew we wouldn’t shoot, they knew that… and yet they took women and children as shields. They butchered women and stabbed children to warn and mock us”

“And then we became animals too…” he said with all the conviction he could muster. “Yes the inferno of insanity took over our souls…and…I fired at them” and Ratin’s conviction turned to regret in no time. “Yes, my bullet killed women and children and my platoon too was consumed by the blazing insanity and then I saw you…” and Ratin broke down, covered his face with his hands and sobbed till he regained his breath

“My insanity blinded me and I didn’t see you stranded there.  I lost my life and the life which made you smile so easily and made you laugh every time it kicked your womb”

He turned his back on Lata’s portrait defeated, yet again.

Lieutenant Colonel Ratin Mitra straightened his decorated uniform, cleaned and put on his military beret cap proudly, to fight another day, like he has been doing for the past 15 years.

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