The six feet high cemented statue of Hoshiyar Singh in emerald green uniform set within a glass box on a high column is something that all and sundry of Hoshiyarpur takes pride in. For them going past the statue without a pranam was beyond the tradition of the village.
“He’s our hero. He chopped off fifty Cinese soldiers single-handedly,” was the ready-words of even the village urchin for any outsider staring at the statue. It was for his unmatched gallantry that the village was named after him almost half a century ago.Not only for the village but also for the family of Hoshiyar Singh it was a matter of great honour.
But old Hukam Singh ,the son of this brave soldier was still haunted by something ; something nightmarish.
That day old Hukam Singh, a retired soldier, was sunning on a cot under a margosa tree.The entire household including his two sons Vishamber and Kuldeep ,their wives and children were busy taking all the old furniture and other trinkets and bric-a-bracs from the room beside the cow-shed.Diwali was ahead and the entire house was to be white-washed.The rusty iron lock hanging on the peg-studded door were the testimony of the room being closed for more than two decades.Hukam Singh averted for more than two decades to open the room. “I’ve had some haunting memories of the room,” he always said whenever any one insisted him to open the room beside the cow-shed.Though Hukam Singh served thirty five years in the Jat Regiment of the Indian Army and bejewelled his uniform with medals and badges, he always got a cold feet on hearing of opening the room.
The room was unlocked eventually and every mortal things were taken out creating too much discomfort for Hukam Singh.
A saal-wood khaat , some torn,old books and an old ,rusty trunk were all the room consisted of.Vishamber and Kuldeep took them out and placed them on the yard.
“Papa Ji, ” asked Vishamber, ” what’s there to be afraid of?”
“Nothing is in the room!,” said Kuldeep.”Just a few trifles – a khaat, an old tin-trunk and a few old books.And you say they haunt you always.”
“All these belonged to my Babu ji and your Baba.” Then he pointed to the the wooden bed and the old ,tin-trunk and heaved a painful sigh,”Whenever I see these things the grim memories of my father Subedar Hoshiyar Singh make me wail.But…he was a great and a brave soldier for what he was bestowed with the gallantry award.
Hukam Singh rose to his feet and strolled upto to where the old, tin- box was. He stared at the object for a little while unmoved before opening it.The others were staring at him in suspense, as if he was going to lift the hood of the Pandora’s box.The children of the house huddled there leaving their childish pranks for a while.
Every one present there could see Hukam Singh taking out a dark-green military uniform partially frayed, a dark-green cap, a scroll of thick, yellow paper and a note book.
“Why did you keep all these trifles hidden there in a room for so many years?” Kuldeep asked looking at the old man’s crow’s feet.
“Our whole Hoshiyarpur heard of many glories of our Baba but never did you take the things out of this box, ” said Bishamver somewhat disturbed at the old man’s obstinacy.
“Your Baba was a great man to kill fifty Chinese soldiers before being martyred and nothing of such a man can be of little value,” put in the old man picking up a passport sized black and white photo. Presently all the folks assembled there dunked their eyes into the photo from where a young jawan in his thirties in military uniform was displaying a curved, mountainous moustache,his precious madals and proudy,brave smile.
“It’s the uniform he had worn on that turbulent night ,” said Hukam Singh in a deep gurgling voice running his old,trembling fingers over the coarse, cotton fabric.
“I know,” Bishamver was heard saying this time,”it was 17th November ,1962.You told us many times.”
“Yes,” said the old man and continued,” and he was awarded the Sena Nayak for his valour.”
“But, Babu Ji what’re you scared of ?…here’s nothing to be scared of,” Kuldeep pointed out looking down at the old,soiled note book lying in a corner of the trunk..He sat on his haunches to have a close look at the object.
The old man took out the note book with his wrinkled, trembling fingers. He flipped away some pages for they all turned yellow with the passage of time.And his moving fingers halted.
“This one…,” said he in a subdued voice,” I’m scared of this.And saying so he went on reading out the lines :
17th Nov ’62
Our 13 Kumaon Regiment will fight till the end. There is brief cease-fire from the Chinese side since the sundown and we all are having our refreshments now, though we’ll not be shocked if a hail of bullets are given to us as an additional part of it.My colleague Dongpa Dorji, a Nepali ,who had been in China for some months, says that the P.L.A can never be trusted.Infact,it’s a fight for prestige for Zhou Enlai.The P.L.A has occupied more than 5000 square meters in this high rocky terrain.Their heavy artilleries can attack any time.I’ve lost many of my brave friends.We’re heading towards heavy casualties. Time is less.So I’m jotting down whatever I think I can leave in this precious time,as it may be the last night for us.So far no reinforcement has come and it will not reach here in any way before tomorrow. We’re just two hundred in our Regiment facing the huge one thousand Chinese offensive in this freezing cold at an altitude of 16000 feet.We’ll fight and crush those bastards to death.Our Regiment will never let them set their feet on our sacred Bharat Maata.
Jo bole so nihal…
Subedar Hoshiyar Singh
13 Kumaon Regiment
Born in Durgapur, West Bengal in India in 1979 on 1st August DEBASISH BANERJEE earned his Master’s degree in English from Burdwan University(West Bengal) in 2003. He’s a teacher of English language and literature in Arcadian Public School, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. Some of his English short stories “A Guardian Signature” , “Golok Bagchi’s Silver Coins” appeared in the (CLRI) Contemporary Literary Review India. Some online Bengali journals Samantaral Sahitya Patrika, Ujaan Sahitya, Barnik Sahitya also brought out some of his stories into light. YAWP Journal (U.S.A) brought out his short story “Modern Filmy Saloon” in 2020. Debasish Banerjee has been short listed for INDIA PRIME 100 AUTHORS AWARD 2021.