The Illusion

— Debjyoti Bardhan

 

It was Sunday. The wind blew swiftly through his hair, rummaging a few streaks while caressing a few others. He stood there on the edge of the high perch looking at the world he always looked down upon. How serene the surroundings and how tumultuous his heart! The birds sounded hoarse; perhaps the report of a rifle would be more to his liking. He had been a soldier for as long as he could remember; whether or not he had had the uniform to show for it is a matter of detail. Now, he was a General. Now, he was proud.

War is imminent, he thought. It’s a way of Nature. If you don’t kill others, how are you going to live? How can you find your place in this crowded world? No, war is important. War is imminent. War – it is a short word that encompasses so much meaning. War – it is easy to say, it is easy to do. War – it is a chance to see what very few get to see, it is chance to hear what very few get to hear, it is a chance to be adorned with experiences.

War breaks out – it has to – and he is a veteran much sought after. Frontlines come in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms with the only commonality being manslaughter. He had seen many of them. In the midst of the nameless masses and anonymous sacrifices, he is Robert – General Robert to all. The big push is scheduled for tomorrow – finally, the crucial assault is scheduled for tomorrow. Normandy – D-Day – circulates in his mind. The bravery, the glory and the legendary stories that they left behind. A hero he shall be and the lesser the number of survivors, the bigger the piece of the loaf of glory for each!

The day came and the minutes went by, each in slow motion. Death is never fast, not when you don’t want to die. Not when you watch friends die. That day, it was just too slow. General Robert might have had trouble remembering his own position and purpose, moving purely by instincts, but he saw death. He had seen war, and he saw death, once again. Every death, friend or foe, killed him a bit on the inside. Man must have a huge reservoir of such bits; it requires so many deaths to kill him completely.

The day has been successful. The invasion will be a success. The forests are secure and the enemy has been pushed back. Night will be difficult, but the enemy is too weak to retaliate. By the time, they regroup, it’ll be too late – the backup is too strong. Aah, the glory! All it has taken is a mere bullet wound to his left thigh – the nasty thing had brushed the flesh. Over half the regiment is still alive. Nearly half of them haven’t sustained any serious injury! As a General, Robert is proud. He should’ve been.

The bodies of many enemies lay scattered around. And those of a few friends. Friends or enemies, it can’t quite be ascertained. War – such a short word and such a great leveler. War – such a short word and such a master robber of one’s individuality. War – such a short word for the process of converting men to trophies. And these are his trophies. These will be traded for medals.

It was Sunday. The afternoon breeze continued to caress a few streaks of hair on the head of a proud General, while rummaging a few others. He stood on the edge of his high perch looking, at the world. He was decorated with countless medals on his uniform, but he felt naked, weakly shrouded by only a thin film of blood from all those men whose lives he had ended. To a few, he was General Robert, to many others, he was simply the enemy. The game was simple. You don’t hunt down the person. You don’t hunt down a name. You just hunt down.

He felt naked. Perhaps, that’s how you feel just before death.

It was still Sunday. And the wind continued smoothly…

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