Friday, 22 November 2019

The Buddy


Introduction

The Indian Army Medical Corps is two hundred and fifty-four years old and has had women within its folds both as doctors and nurses since the time women have been allowed to become doctors and nurses. However, these women were mostly posted to peace areas till as recent as the late eighties and mid-nineties. My story ‘The Buddy’ is set in the Kashmir of the mid-nineties, when a woman as the resident doctor of an Infantry Regiment deployed on active service against Kashmiri militants was an unheard-of occurrence.

THE BUDDY

CHAPTER I

‘Little-Girl’

The olive-green field telephone on his side desk trilled. Sijith picked it up and pressed the speak-lever.
A tinny voice spoke at the other end, “Ram Ram Saab. Naya Doctor saab aa gayen hai.”

“Ok. Office mein bhej do.”

“Ok. Ram Ram Saab.”

So, the new doctor had arrived. That was good. Functioning without a doctor in these insurgent infested locales made his soldiers a little edgy. The doctor was their insurance policy, their armour against death and disablement.  With him at their back, they marched into battle without qualms. Without him, pesky little doubts reared their ugly heads. Even for him, their all-powerful commanding officer and boss, life was much easier with a doctor around.

“May I come in, Sir?” The doctor was at his door.

“Yes please.”

She walked in. Thin, tiny, fresh faced. The combat cap rim threw a shadow over her eyes.

A little girl. Sijith couldn’t stop a smile from breaking on his face.

“Please sit.” The girl sat down.

Closer now, he got a better look at her face. Clear skin, credulous eyes and a slight button nose. 'Hell! A little girl!

On its own, his voice softened itself.

“Priti, isn’t it?” He asked, glancing at the thin file with her details on his table. “How long have you been here, in Kashmir?”

“One year Sir.” Chalo, that was reassuring. At least she was not a novice.

“Have you worked as a Regiment doctor before?”

“No Sir.” There were undertones of unease in her voice.

Sijith lowered his voice another decibel, to put her at ease.

“I was told that you are from Bihar.”

“Yes Sir. Patna.”

“Parents there?”

“Yes.”. A light smile played across her face. For the first time she volunteered information. “Papa is the SBI manager there. Mummy is a housewife. Sir.”

“Great.” Sijith smiled back.

“You have never been to a unit like this before?”

“No Sir.” The unease was back.

He wanted to say -don't worry. We're nice people. But he didn't. It wouldn't be correct.

He just said “You should check out our clinic, Priti. Ramandeep has been doing a great job. I think you'll find it quite satisfactory.”

Ramandeep was the regiment’s permanent doctor.

“And if there is any shortcoming in your accommodation, you may let us know.”

He extended his hand to shake hers. “Ok, Priti! All the best.” 

It was a signal for dismissal, that the meeting was over. The girl was caught unawares and fumbled. But she regained composure quickly and took his hand. Her tiny palm disappeared into Sijith's gorilla like one. But the firmness in her tiny grip did not escape Sijith.

“I will do that, sir. Thank you.” She stood up saluted and left.

As he sifted through the morning’s mail, Sijith found himself thinking about the girl. 

‘She's not a girl, for God's sake.’ he rebuked himself. ‘She's a doctor, a full-fledged one.’

‘Have to stop referring to her as 'girl'.’ He promised himself. But it was difficult. That creature, of five feet and nothing, whose cheeks still bore remnants of the baby fat carefully nurtured by a doting mummy, on whom the combat fatigues fluttered like bedsheets on a pole and the military boots flapped like that of Chaplin's Tramp, it was difficult not to think of her as a little girl.

‘Even Archoo is taller than her.’ He shook his head. Archoo was his thirteen-year-old daughter. They lived in Bangalore, at his mother's flat where Archana attended Bishop Cotton and Padma, his wife taught Mathematics.

Ramandeep, his regular doctor had last Friday rushed into the office with a look of desperation in his eyes. ‘Sir, Dad's in hospital. His car hit a truck the night before!’ The old man had sustained a head injury and of course Ramandeep needed to be there. But a full-time replacement was required here at Zanzigam. The regiment was deep up to its neck in anti-terrorist operations and a doctor was a must.

Sijith had rung for Krish Sir.

“Hi! Hiiiii! Tiger…How arrrrrre you? Krish Sir’s voice boomed over the phone. Sijith winced as the sound waved collided with his ear drum. He moved the receiver few inches away from his ear.

“I’m fine Sir. Need some help.”

Bolo, bolo Sijith.”

“I need a doctor. Ramandeep has gone on leave. His father met with an accident.”

“Oh. So sorry.”

Doctor Krishnamoorty’s voice had gone quiet with concern.

“You’ll be wanting a replacement, then?”

“That's right.”

“No problem. I’ll send Priti.”

“Priti?!!!!” Sijith couldn’t keep that flicker of protest out of his tone.

“Yes! Priti.”

Was that a smile that he heard in that voice, Sijith wondered. Old Doc Krish was the boss of their frontier hospital at Chandpur. He had been a doctor in the army for nearly thirty years; and fifteen of those he had spent as a practising gynaecologist. A doctor of women, he knew of their resilience, their forbearance, their courage and their capacity to tolerate pain. And therefore, he harboured none of Sijith’s reservations about women in the military. In fact, he was a vigorous proponent of the cause of inclusion of women in the Forces. He had five young women doctors in his own little hospital and was always egging them, pushing them on towards greater achievements…

“Is that a problem, Sijith?” The smile was gone and steel now glinted at the edge of his voice. It put Sijith on a backfoot.

“No, no, not at all, Sir.”

“She’ll be there with you by evening today.”

“Thank you, Krish Sir.”

“And….”

“Sir?”

“She’s my best. Just thought you’d feel more reassured knowing that.” Doctor Krishnamoorthy’s voice was that of a proud father.

“Ok Sir.”

“Cheers, partner. Bye.”

‘That five-foot-nothing little girl… Krish Sir’s best……….!’ Sijith wondered.
He couldn’t help speculating about what it was that was raging in the mind behind the that little-girl face…was she wondering about how she would get through the next fortnight out here in the wilderness, with only men (of all shapes and sizes and temperaments, and none from her own profession), to keep her company? Was she a trifle scared, maybe a little wary?

He rang MaGro, his adjutant. Lieutenant Mayank Agarwal, shortened to MaGro by an army in love with abbreviations both in its official correspondence and its day to day life.

“The new doc’s here. Lady. Room, meals, buddy……….dekh lena.” He instructed, inserting the ‘lady’ bit in the middle of his sentences, in an effort to simulate nonchalance, which he did not in the least feel.

That his attempt at nonchalance was a failure was indicated by the telling pause before MaGro crisp ‘yes sir’. The news of a woman doctor in the unit was very much a novel surprise for MaGro.

Sijith shook his head. He knew this applied not just to MaGro but to his entire unit. He couldn’t keep away a tiny, tiny tongue of misgiving from prickling his innards.

Quarter of an hour later, MaGro’s six and half feet pole-like frame ducked the door lintel and slid in.

“Sir!”

“Yes, MaGro......”

“Room for Doc settled, Sir. But……..”

“But what?” Sijith indicated the chair before him.

MaGro sat down, hands on the armrests. Sijith noted that the eyes behind the thin glasses were confused.

“It’s the buddy.” MaGro blurted out. His voice was bothered.

Sijith raised his eyebrows in query.

“Bhati refuses to be Doc’s buddy, Sir. I’ve spoken to him myself, but he’s adamant.”


“Bhati is Ramandeep’s buddy, isn’t he?” The misgiving was now gnawing like a pesky mouse.

“What’s the issue?” Sijith asked, but the question was rhetorical, put just to buy him some time to think.

Sijith knew Bhati well. He was the fellow who had taken a splinter in his eye from a grenade lobbed on their truck during a cordon and search operation about a year back. Though he had recovered, he was left with a permanent impairment of vision in his left eye. But he had refused to be posted out to his home State, instead pleading with Sijith to keep him with the Paltan. Sijith had acquiesced and that was how Bhati had come to be Doc Ramandeep’s buddy.

Bhati….Rifleman Ved Kumar Singh Bhati of Asoo ka Dhaani Tehsil Jaisalmer, a Rajasthan backwater where women hid themselves behind the purdah and existed only to serve men. Being assigned as buddy to a woman was hurting to his manhood.

‘To humour this man’s beliefs would be ludicrous!’ Sijith’s mind was made.

He raised his voice, tone harsh.

“Tell the bugger his plea is unacceptable. Convey to him that he will continue to be the Doctor saab’s buddy, irrespective of whether doctor saab is a man or a woman. Tell him: yeh CO Saab ka aadesh hai.”

MaGro saw the clench in his CO's jaw and needed no further directions. He had been with Sijith for nearly a year now and knew very well when a decision had been made by his Commanding Officer for good. He left, to pass on the same to Bhati.

Sijith had no doubts that his orders would be obeyed, for Bhati was a good soldier. He knew too that his decision had been morally correct. Of course, he had never doubted as to what stand he would take. But the mouse was gnawing with a greater gusto now; and though he would have loved to say that the little incident was just that 'a little incident', of no consequence, he found that he couldn’t really convince himself of the same completely.

Dekhte hain.' he tried to reassure the mouse. ''We'll wait and watch.’


CHAPTER II

Bhati

The little room was low-roofed with just enough space for the wobbly bed and the single bare armchair. The soldier who had shown her to the room had left and Priti was now all alone. She pulled the threadbare curtain to one side and peered out of the only window in the room. A still cold darkness met her gaze. It made her feel kind of lost and friendless, so she pulled the curtains right back and retreated into the relative warmth of the yellow-bulb lit room.

‘I think I’d better unpack.’ she told herself. The activity would take her mind off the emptiness all around and off that pin-drop silence. Silences like this always got to her; so she was thankful for the grating sound her small iron trunk made as she dragged it to the centre of the room. It was light, being nearly empty: her two sets of uniform, one pair of slacks, three T shirts and the single salwar kameez (Coca-Cola coloured whose dupatta she had forgotten to bring) lost within the its far depths. She extricated the lot and dumped them on the bed. Wondering where she would hang her uniform, Priti discovered a musty smelling wooden cupboard hiding inside an alcove at one corner and opened its door. It creaked impolitely and refusing to stay open, creaked back to ‘close position’. Exasperated, Priti  staved one  foot against it to keep it open and then began arranging her meagre possessions onto its shelves.

Then she heard it. A tread of boots. She continued her work, but her ears remained peeled for more sound.

She heard it again: a shuffle, more prominent.

Someone was there at her door.

Priti waited for a knock but when none came, she opened it.

A man was standing just outside, a soldier in uniform but she couldn’t make out more as the porch lights were switched off. She fumbled on the wall beside her and switched it on. The weak yellow bulb illuminated a tall well-built soldier in battle fatigues. She looked at him askance.

Ram, Ram Saab.” The voice was thick, rough.

Ram, Ram.” She acknowledged, wondering who he was.

Kya baat hai?”

“Buddy!” rasped the man, almost under his breath. And stepped back immediately, down the steps onto the concrete path below.

“Oh! OK.”

Reassured, she told him, “You may come in the morning tomorrow. There’s nothing to be done now.”

Without a word the man turned, descended the steps and disappeared rapidly into the darkness beyond.

Priti was taken aback by the terseness of the soldier’s behaviour, but she had other things to occupy her mind and soon the encounter was relegated to far rear of her memory.

It was cold here, colder than her hospital at Chandpur and quieter too. In fact, it was so quiet that even the faint whoosh of her breath sounded loud to her own ears. This unnerving silence and the apparent absence of human presence all around seemed to accentuate the cold. Having arranged her meagre possessions, Priti promptly burrowed into the muddy-brown blanket, shivering; burying her ice-cold hands under the pillow. She fell asleep almost immediately, but her sleep was fitful, interrupted time and again by the heavy tread of soldiers on patrol and the protesting screech of the night birds they disturbed.

Morning was colder, and shards of icy air pricked her eyelids open. Priti struggled out of bed wondering with some trepidation what her first day in this new place would be like. As she went about her morning ablutions, she had a sudden insistent urge for a hot cup of tea. She felt insanely hungry too and remembered that she had missed dinner the night before. The cold and the hunger and the unease accentuated her craving; so she opened the door and peered out, wondering how far the Officers’ Mess dining hall would be.

The outside was a misty wonderland, an intriguing Kasmiri Narnia; so, despite the bone chilling cold Priti stepped out. It had snowed lightly in the night and the almond tree just outside had snow atop its branches. The woolly snow made her nostalgic,  reminding her of the cotton they would stick over a paper Christmas tree to simulate snow while in junior school. Priti stood under the tree, arms wrapped around herself, gazing at the white branches, completely  enthralled……………….

Ram Ram Saab!”

Priti almost jumped out of skin in surprise. 'That weird soldier from last night: the buddy!'

Ram Ram! Chai milegi?” She ventured.

The dark face hunched between a darker balaclava remained silent. She asked again, a little unsure.

Chai?”

The man whirled around without an answer and disappeared into the mist. Priti was once again taken aback by his curtness. The magic of the snow broken by the interruption, she retraced her steps towards her room.

“Morning Ma’am!” A cheery voice hailed from somewhere to her right. She turned to find a parka clad figure waving from the porch of a tiny hut just beside hers.

“Good morning.” She answered, glad of some human interaction. It was the Lieutenant from the office, the adjutant. 'Lieutenant Agarwal.' She remembered reading his name tab last evening.

A soldier was pouring the lieutenant his morning tea.

“Come have a cup, Ma’am.” The officer invited.

Given the colour of her recent interaction with that grumpy buddy, Priti was unsure whether her fate held a cup of tea this morning, so she gladly walked over.

“MaGro, Ma’am.” The young man shook her hand. His buddy had laid out little white cups on an old aluminium tray and was pouring steaming tea into them. Done the pouring, the balaclava clad soldier offered her the tea on the same tray. He followed the tea with a saucer of Britannia biscuits and Priti whose empty tummy was rumbling so loudly that she suspected MaGro must have heard it too, picked up three at one go.

The next ten minutes Priti chatted with MaGro while MaGro’s buddy sat on the porch steps and polished a pair of black army boots with deep concentration, his hand moving across the boot’s surface butterfly-light, like a violinist wielding a bow.

When she returned to her room, the sun had grown up and the cotton -snow atop her tree was shining like fairy lights. She was surprised to find the Buddy fellow standing on her porch and was even a little relieved to see the tea flask in his hands. However, her relief was a premature; for the moment he spotted her, the man thumped the flask down on the low wooden centre table and retreated to the far edge of the porch. Priti noted how he did not offer to pour the tea for her. But with two cups of warm ginger tea and a couple of Britannia biscuits nesting inside her tummy, Priti was too satiated to react.

Inside the room, she pulled out her uniform from the cupboard and was dismayed to find it all crumpled up from being jostled around in the almost empty trunk during the drive here from Chandpur.

She peeped outside. Thankfully, the buddy was still standing on the edge of the porch. She was about to call out to him, when she remembered he had not given his name:

Apkaa naam kya hai?” She enquired.

“Rifleman Ved Kumar Singh Bhati.” The man looked right through her at the wall beyond.

“Bhati, could you get my uniform ironed at the Dhobi’s? Now?”

He said nothing but nodded. Priti bundled her uniform and held it out to him. The man stood un-moving.

“Hanger!”

Hanger? Priti was confused. Then she realised. Yes of course. She retrieved the hanger from inside. But the man still did not move.

‘Now what?’ Priti was flummoxed.

Bhati was still staring through her. Priti understood now. Hell!

She draped the uniform over the hanger herself and then held out the hanger to him. The man took the hanger from her, clutching it gingerly between left thumb and forefinger, taking studied care to keep the fabric well away from his body as if it were a live wire, and again as before, retreated without a word.

Priti was bemused. What’s with this guy? she wondered to herself. It was true she had been a little wary of coming here to this regiment made up of only soldiers, but till now her encounters with them represented by the boss Colonel Sijith Jose and Lieutenant MaGro had been pleasant and easy. But this Buddy fellow’s behaviour perplexed her.

‘Wonder what’s eating him?’ she asked herself, aloud this time.

A scratch at the door a while later told her Bhati had returned. Still speculating about his odd behaviour, she opened the door. The fellow was standing at his favourite place on her porch, at one corner right at the edge, half turned away from her. Empty handed.

‘Where’s my uniform?’ she wondered.

“Uniform?” She asked him, worry in her voice.

He looked at a point behind her head. She followed his gaze and found her uniform hanging on a nail on the door panel. It was ironed to perfection.

She muttered a ‘thank you’. She knew that one didn’t really thank buddies but old convent school mores that flowed in her blood did not fade away easy. The buddy did not reply, staring at that  same vague point in space just above her head, eyes blank.

Priti dressed fast and then decided to drop in for breakfast. Of course she didn’t know the way to the dining hall and of course, the only person available whom she could ask was Bhati.

“Bhati, Mess?” she enquired. And of course, that maddening man pointed nebulously to somewhere beyond the cluster of almond trees, refusing to utter a single word. Exasperated, Priti stomped down the cobbled path, muttering under her breath, “If I follow his directions, I’ll surely wander off into Paki territory…!!!” Fortunately, she soon encountered MaGro who was also heading towards the dining hall and was thus saved the ignominy of being taken POW by the neighbouring country.

Breakfast done, MaGro showed her to her clinic and Priti’s first day as a Regiment Doctor began. It was to be a good day, though she didn’t know it yet. But later that night, sitting on her bed wrapped within her prickly brown blanket, she smiled to herself as she acknowledged that it had been truly, a good day.

The clinic was tiny but immaculately kept, stocked with all the essential paraphernalia of her trade. It was clean and comfortable and kind of cheerful too, with sparkling curtains of blue and white checks in the windows and a bright red fleece table cloth on her little desk. The staff comprising of two compounders were smiling and skilled, a priceless combination. Her patients, all of them big burly Jat men, were surprisingly genteel, probably in deference to her gender; and Priti found them not different from the regular soldier patients who came to her hospital at Chandpur. As for the officers, they were mostly a decent lot and a few she acknowledged, even downright nice. The big boss, Colonel Sijith Jose who looked deceptively younger than his age with only the grey at his temples and the deep wrinkles around his eyes giving away his age, was a silent imposing man. But he was pleasant, talking little but sense and she quite liked his prosaic attitude. Of course, the younger ones were thrilled to bits at having a feminine presence in their midst and did hang around her in the beginning, always on the lookout for opportunities to strike up a conversation. But over the next few days the novelty fast wore off, aided in no mean measure by the complete lack of feminine wiles in Priti. Now they accepted her more or less as part of their team; and comparing them to her male doctor colleagues at Chandpur Priti came to the conclusion that soldiers or doctors, young men were the same all over-irrepressible dolts; yet kind and helpful when the need arose.

‘The only one who is an issue is Bhati!’ she sighed to herself one evening as she sipped her bedtime milk with haldi, a childhood habit.

‘He is maddening.’

That Bhati was maddening was true. Every morning at six sharp he would arrive at her porch. But he would never knock, waiting instead for her to open the door. He would place the tea flask on the old wooden teapoy on her porch, steadfastly refusing to pour out the tea. He never offered to ferry her uniform to and from the dhobighat and did it (without enthusiasm) only if she asked him to. And as for her uniform boots, he never gave them even a first glance. Priti of course being young and a covert socialist, did not mind too much and happily did her own chores herself. What exasperated her was not Bhati’s reluctance to perform his appointed duties; but his resolute refusal to talk to her, to engage with her and to look at her while uttering his monosyllablic grunts. She absolutely resented the way he stood at one edge of the porch, back turned as if her persona itself was abhorrent, as if she reeked of something vile, as if she suffered from some virulent, infectious disease! 

She contemplated confiding in MaGro; but because by nature she was not a tattler, she could never bring herself to snitch. And, as she told herself, being a doctor and an officer, it was expected that she would be capable enough to manage both her patients and the men under her, on her own. Of course, she could have demanded better behaviour and performance of duties from Bhati by confronting him. But she had a feeling that there was more to Bhati’s behaviour than plain insubordination and that it was strongly linked to respect. Though young, Priti knew that respect can never be demanded, that true respect is always earned. Nevertheless, when she compared his weird behaviour with the courteous but friendly conduct of the other soldiers, she couldn’t help feeling pretty miffed. But more than that, she felt a pressing curiosity to get to the bottom of what it was that was troubling this tall, dour soldier.

‘I am going to talk it out with him tomorrow!’ she promised herself. She had thought of this earlier but had been procrastinating. But no, she couldn’t put it off any longer.

‘Tomorrow. Definitely!’ She promised aloud as she drifted off to sleep.

CHAPTER III

Tete-a-Tete

The sun was warm and the sky such a deeply luminous blue that it hurt her eyes. The snows had taken leave for the day and lay slumbering atop the mountains like sunbathing polar bears. Pink-white almond blossoms preened against the sun, a few bumble-bees coaxed out of hibernation buzzed around them and languor filled Priti. It was Sunday and though life out here was not much different on a Sunday from any other day of the week, Priti was enjoying the holiday sitting under the almond tree, back warming in the morning sun. But an itch nagged the pit of her stomach. It was the 'buddy' itch. However much she hated to let her mind dwell on these tiring issues on such a lovely day, she had no choice-she had made a promise to herself and now she could see the ‘problem’ lumbering up the slope to her barracks.

‘Ram Ram Saab’. Bhati’s stance reeked of being under deep duress.

‘Why does he insist on calling me ‘Saab’? Do I look masculine? What’s the difficulty in uttering ‘Madam’?’ Priti questioned herself peevishly. It irked her no end to be called ‘Saab’, though she couldn’t place her finger on exactly why this silly thing should irk her so or why he persisted in doing it.

She beckoned the fellow.

“Bhati….” she began with a studied firmness in her voice, but the blankness of his expression stalled her.

‘Nope, confrontation will only worsen the problem.’

“Chai!” She gave in, tone softer.

Bhati returned with the flask. And a teapoy and a cup. He placed the flask beside her and like always, retreated into the shadowed porch. Priti poured herself some tea; and as she sipped the brew, she formulated her strategy.

‘It has to be a psychological war, to be undertaken with stealth and advanced with craftiness potent enough to make even Chanakya proud.’

“Bhati,” she ventured, “aap kahan se belong karte ho?” And winced at the weird grammar and weirder syntax of her sentence. But that was how her beloved Indian Army conversed and there was nothing she could do about it.

The stealth in her approach was successful, for Bhati caught unprepared by her seemingly mundane question, blurted out reflexively, “Jhunjhunu!”

“Rajasthan?” Priti attempted to further the conversation.

But Bhati had regained his composure and tackled this one with his typical grunt. “Saab!”

“So, do you have children?”

Though his entire body and stance screamed reluctance at having to continue this conversation, but because the barrage was direct, Bhati couldn’t evade the attack.

“Yes.” he answered. “Girl. One.”

“Oh, lovely.” In spite of herself, Priti warmed up. “What is her name, Bhati?”

“Sita.”

“Sweet.” Priti gushed. “Your next child can be named Gita then……” Priti laughed, alluding to Sita Aur Gita, the lost-in-Kumbh-Mela story of twin sisters, a popular Hindi blockbuster of the seventies.

But the humour was lost on Bhati. For the first time, he looked at her straight, eyes ferociously stubborn. “Girwa denge!”

Priti did not understand. “Girwa doge? What?”

Bhati was still staring at her. His voice was matter-of-fact. “I already have one daughter. Now, the wife is carrying another. But I’ll not let it happen again. She will get an abortion.”

The gall began rising in Priti. Bhati’s pregnant wife must have undergone an ultrasonography. Though laws against determination of the gender of an unborn child abounded, laws did not penetrate these dark and murky innards of the country. The ultrasonography must have revealed a female foetus and the father must have taken a decision to abort it. 

Girwa dena
. Female foeticide, an evil in the same league as sati or female genital mutilation, an evil that had skewed the male: female ratio in the heartlands of Rajasthan and Haryana so bad that men from these places now did not have enough women to take as wife.

“But why Bhati?” She tried to reason with him. “Girls are doing so well these days. They are teachers, pilots, politicians, doctors… Look at me………..” she started.

And stopped.

Now she knew.

She had been right about the crux of the matter being about respect. Bhati had no respect for women. 

At all. 

To him, they were second class citizens: born to be subservient to men, bound to obey them as one obeys a master. To him a woman was worth less than half a man; and that was why he had no respect for them, that was why the girl growing in his wife’s womb had to be dealt with a quick abortion, that was why being assigned buddy to a woman was repugnant to him. 

She also understood why he consistently kept referring to her as Saab: it was his way of negating her gender and her worth; he did it because he was compelled by his deeply etched belief that a woman was not competent enough to be either his doctor-saab, or his paltan officer or anything of any consequence in his life.

The wall in Bhati’s eyes had risen back, replacing the previous stubborn ferocity. The one split moment which he had let her into his mind was over. It had been done wilfully, a ruse to convey to her what he actually thought of her and her worth. That over, he was back to being the soldier: obedient, unquestioning, silent.

Priti knew she should take time with the man and try to change his obsolete attitude. But she was too overwhelmed with disgusted fury to do anything. In all her young life, she had never really come face-to-face with raw patriarchy like this. Her own father was forever indulgent of his only daughter, never stopping her from doing anything she wanted to do. Case in point was her wanting to join the army after completing her Medicine. Her dearest Papa was the one who had facilitated the process, getting the form, ferrying her to and from various cities for the examination and interview and when finally, she was commissioned into the Army as a Captain thumping his chest proudly before colleagues, friends and family. No one in her family or in her school or even in medical college had ever indicated to her that she was in any way a lesser being just because she was a woman. Bhati’s blatant misogyny therefore, made her dreadfully furious.

What if she simply stomped up to that man and holding him by his collars, shook him up:

‘How dare you take a life yet unborn, of a defenceless, innocent, vulnerable creature whose only crime was that she was a ‘she’?

How dare you address me as Saab?


Are you blind? Can you not see what I am?


I am Captain Priti Sinha.


 Doctor Priti Sinha.

Your doctor!


Look at me when you talk to me: you pig-headed, misogynistic moron!’

But of course, she did nothing of that sort. She just sat there in impotent silence, till the heat of the sun forced her to plod back to her room and bang the door shut.

CHAPTER IV

The Attack

Priti was on a huge cruise ship on a deep blue sea. The ship was gliding smoothly over the water, meandering dexterously between the ice floes. She was on the deck, leaning over the railings and watching with amusement the penguins slip and slide on the ice chunks. The penguins were having a whale of a time and Priti found herself wishing she could join them, that she was as agile as they were in the water, shooting through the sea like sharp little torpedoes...... Suddenly there was a commotion as the penguins ran helter-skelter, screeching and shouting. The ship began to shudder uncontrollably. The smooth sea was no longer smooth as waves began to form on its surface, progressively increasing in size. The ice flows where now being hurled up and down by a sea gone completely crazy.

'What is it?" Priti thought frantically as she gripped the handrails in desperation, trying unsuccessfully to maintain her balance on the that heaving ship.

'An earthquake?'

'A Tsunami?'

Ice chunks had now begun colliding with the ship's side: thump, clank, thud, bang.........

Priti's eyes flew open. The heaving sea of her dream with its flying ice chunks had fled. Everything was still now, still and dark; and her bed lay steady in one place. But the thuds had not faded with her dream. They were very much there, very soft and very insistent. Priti listened, still groggy and disoriented.

'What was it?'

'Was it real?'

Then she heard it. A whispered voice beyond her door. "Doc, Doc! Ma'am! Doc!"

'MaGro'!

Priti jump out of bed. She ran to the door and flung it open. The dark silhouette of MaGro blocked the half- light of the night. But it was the shadow of his rifle barrel thrusting out over his left shoulder that printed itself on Priti's memory. She switched on the porch light in reflex, but MaGro pounced on her hand and promptly switched off.

"Bund karo Ma'am. Attack chal raha hai!"

He then entered her room and shut the door; urgently but soundlessly.

"Come with me." He told her. "To the Clinic. Two boys have been hit!"

Priti looked at MaGro blankly, not quite able to process the information. Her room light was switched off and she couldn't really see his face, but she could hear his breath as it came in short quick rasps.

"What attack?" she whispered back

MaGro didn't answer. He moved to her only window and shifted the curtain to one side. Nothing was visible in the darkness.

He turned back to her. "They are shooting at random. Three grenades were also lobbed."

Priti was still not able to grasp the full import of his words. But some part of what MaGro had said did penetrate the fog around her brain. "Who's been hit?" She asked almost reflexively.

MaGro's voice now had an impatient edge. "Two boys have been hit by shrapnel. We've managed to get them to the Clinic. You have to come. The phone lines have...."

He didn't finish for Priti was already pulling her uniform from its hanger and rummaging under the bed for her shoes. 

She had understood. Two wounded soldiers lay in her Clinic. How and why didn't matter. She had to be there. As fast as possible. As she hauled out her uniform, a thought hit her brain:
'Do I need to put it on? It'll unnecessarily delay me.'
She was in her pajamas. They were old and threadbare which didn't matter. But they did have a few strategically placed gaping holes where the mice from her room had feasted. Yes, she needed to change, she concluded to herself. But because MaGro stood in her room and of course in the current situation she couldn't risk asking him to wait outside, she hauled everything into her tiny bathroom to change. It was awkward dressing in the darkness of that narrow space and she kept fumbling with the buttons and the shoelaces. Finally she gave up on the shoelaces and tucking their ends into her boots, rushed out.

"Chalo!" she whispered to MaGro.

They stepped out into the night. A Jonga was parked just outside her
room. But MaGro skirted the vehicle.

"It'll make too much noise, Ma'am." He whispered.

So they walked. Rather it was MaGro who walked while Priti ran, to keep pace with the tall young man's rapid strides. MaGro took a number of detours from the usual path: quick, rapid and furtive; dodging, stopping and sprinting in an effort to pick a safe path to their destination. It took them a good 10 minutes to reach the Clinic. And all throughout, they could hear the staccato but steady thuks of small-arm fire. Priti realised that the situation was not at all ok.
Their camp was under attack by militants!

The Clinic was in complete darkness. The main entrance was locked and probably, barricaded as the rickety front door did not budge even an inch when Preeti pushed against it. Thankfully Priti knew her way about the premises and they entered the Clinic through her restroom. She sprinted into her Treatment Room. As she entered, she stumbled on what probably were telephone cables running across the floor. The commotion caused someone to switch on a faint white light.

"Prem Singh, kahan hai patients?"

Prem Singh her Medical Assistant cum Pharmacist was standing hunched up beside the patient bed.

"Madam, do casualty hai. Ek normal soft tissue injury hai." The urgency in his voice was tinged with relief at seeing her. He pointed to the soldier lying on the bed next to him.

"This one is a chest injury, Madam."

Priti stepped up to the bed as Prem Singh moved away making place for her.
"BP is ok, Madam but his pulse is 110!"

" Light!" Priti directed.

Prem Singh focused the pale light of an emergency lamp on the patient. It was a soldier, just a young boy. He was half sitting, reclining against the bed's head-board. His breath was hurried, frantic. For a few seconds Priti watched him breathe.

"Respiration is 38." Prem Singh informed her.

He had placed an oxygen mask across the soldier's face that had fogged over with tiny drops of moisture. The soldier's shirt was already open and Prem Singh now focused light on the wound. It was small, on the front of the chest on the right side with a little oozing of blood. For a moment Priti was confused.

"Aur kahan goli lagi?" she asked.

Prem Singh answered, for the patient was too busy trying to breathe.

"Aur kahin nahin."

For a moment, Priti stood still, rooted to the spot. But her mind was not still. It was thinking furiously, pictures and sounds running across like a film reel on fast forward.

"Stethoscope!" she barked at Prem Singh.


The man uncurled the instrument from  across his shoulders and gave it to her. Priti placed the flat chest piece against the wounded boy's chest.

Though he was taking in great gulps of air, his chest was deathly silent.

Bloody hell!" Priti mouthed to herself. "This was bad. Bad bad, bad!"

The shrapnel that had pierced the soldier's chest must have lodged somewhere inside. Since the boy's blood pressure was normal, Priti was not concerned about this piece of metal for she was sure it had not caused any major damage to the man's heart and blood vessels.What worried her instead was the damage it had wreaked on his lungs: shattering their substance and also the sheath covering them. Now with each breath, the air accumulating within his chest cavity was slowly but surely stifling his lungs.
It was a medical emergency. And if Priti didn't act fast,  the man would die: suffocated as if smothered by a pillow.

Priti was now thinking, her ears blocked by the stethoscope. The man's heart pulsated against her ear drums like the throbbing of dhols during Dussehra. Her palms were slippery with the sweat accumulating in them. She knew without doubt that her patient would die if she could not do what was required: a procedure called Needle Thoracocentesis. Though it sounded grand, it was in reality a very simple procedure. But then, 'simple' was a relative term. For an experienced surgeon, physician or an anaesthetist, it was a walk in the park. For a doctor just emerged from med school and located at a remote dispensary in the middle of nowhere and in complete darkness, the word 'simple' was sinister and full of veiled sarcasm. Of course she had seen a few needle thoracocentesis being performed but she herself had done only two: one, on an emaciated old man dying of tuberculosis and the other on a case similar to this one. But that had been right at the beginning of her internship nearly three years back.

Could she perform one successfully now, she wondered, her own heart thudding in sync with her patient's. Not that she had a choice, for without her intervention the man would die soon. Already his lips looked bluish, in spite of the oxygen mask on his face.

Priti straightened herself and turned to Prem Singh. 

"We'll have to put in the needle.." she told him.

Prem Singh's face was shadowed but his voice was encouraging.

"Ok, Madam." He was in his late thirties and with more than 15 years of experience, he knew competence when he saw it. He had more faith in her abilities than Priti had in herself.

It took him 5 minutes to get the tray ready and position the patient for the procedure. The boy was now gasping; his pain, disquiet and fear spreading through the room like stealthily crawling snakes.

Priti put on her gloves and moved closer to the patient. He was hunched over, exhausted with the effort of breathing. Prem Singh held his shoulders from behind, murmuring reassurances. Priti swabbed the area slowly, methodically, almost automatically: Savlon, iodine and finally spirit.
Then she placed her fingers on the boy's chest, trying to locate the landmark where she would finally insert her needle. She found the slight elevation of the breastbone and traced it downwards to the indentation between the ribs. But it was too dark and she couldn't see the skin.

"Light!" She bellowed, a little uncharacteristically. Someone from the darkness of the room inched forward and shone a large bright cone of yellow torch-light on the patient.

"Focus it here!" She ordered, pointing to where her finger was stationed. Her voice was loud and a little edgy. The cone of light dutifully settled itself around her guard finger on the man's chest.

Priti picked up her weapon, a large BT needle and made an indentation on the point with its cover.

And then she froze!

Hesitation gripped her hands, her heart thumped like stampeding cattle and brain was addled with doubts.

'Can I do it?'

On their own, her thoughts drifted back to her internship days. She could hear old man Mohanty, her Professor of Anesthesiology intone in his soothing voice: 'Good, good, keep going ladki. Charaivati, charaivati; chalte jao, chalte jao.'

She saw him in her mind's eye, vibrant as if he was standing beside her: hands on his ample paunch and the eternal lump of Pan Parag forming a large bulge over his triple chin. He was smiling his trademark smile: gentle, encouraging- 'Arrey, why are you scared Ladki ? You can do it. You've done it before. Come on, come on....'
the 'come' uttered 'kom',  his accent very, very Odia.

And slowly all sound faded from around Priti: the combined breath of the people present, the odd shuffles of feet, the occasional bursts of gunfire and even the resigned gasps from the patient now struggling for air....
everything. All that remained was the silence and the yellow circle of torch light on the patient's chest. Priti was now Arjuna- aiming at the fish's eye reflected in the bowl of water at his feet, her whole being a mass of concentration.

She held the needle in both hands, aiming it over the mark and then inserted it. The silence grew thicker around her as the needle moved unhurriedly, penetrating first the skin, then the thin tissues below the skin and the muscle of the ribs. In the end, in one smooth lithe glide it entered through the covering of the lungs.  There was a sudden low whoosh, like a soft gust of wind.  Priti's heart gave a jump of relief. That whoosh was the culprit air escaping!


She instinctively looked at the boy's face. For the first few seconds, there was no change in his state. Then like magic, he stopped gasping. Just like that. His breath slowed down to almost normal and the fear faded from his eyes to be replaced by surprise. He looked up at his doctor, disbelief and gratitude writ large in his young eyes.

Priti touched him on his shoulder and asked him: 
"Theek hai?"

The boy nodded: "Madam, theek hai."

The tension left Priti's body turning her limp. She exhaled and stepped back. She could relax now, atleast for the time being. Of course there was much more to be done; but those things could wait for awhile. For a moment now, she could afford to sit back and get both her breath and her jumbled thoughts back into line.

Meanwhile, Prem Singh sprung into action. He adjusted the oxygen flow, inserted needles into the boy's veins, covered the wound with the correct dressing and gave him the required injections.

Someone procured a kerosene lamp from somewhere and lit it. As the ochre light filled the room, Priti became aware of the other people around her. She spotted Subedar Kuldeep Singh, the paltan senior JCO deep in conversation with MaGro. She saw two other soldiers she wasn't familiar with assisting Prem Singh with his task. And then she saw Bhati - standing in one corner with the huge torch in his hand. She caught his eye but found no expression in them.

Slowly her Clinic filled up with people: Colonel Sijith, the other officers of the paltan and people she didn't know....She felt disembodied, as if she was watching herself from the rafters on the Clinic roof. She  followed herself filling out the patient notes, loading them on to the stretchers, giving a brief to Sijith and listening to the buzz around her. She learnt that the encounter was finally over, that it had been a massive operation lasting nearly 9 hours, that it was a resounding success with  three  kills and eight captures and that the paltan had had no losses of their own save the two patients Priti had treated, both of whom had been safely moved by helicopter to the Frontier Hospital at Chandpur.

Later as she collapsed exhausted into her bed at nearly 5 in the morning, two images shone bright in her mind's eye: the first, that of the usually taciturn Sijith patting her head in a gesture of gratitude, admiration and affection; and the second, of Bhati pouring for her from a flask, a cup of hot, steaming tea.

CHAPTER V

Aftermath

The change was subtle within her, like the faint shifting of shadows and light when seasons changed. Priti sensed this by the absence of the clenching of her jaw, the stiffening of her back and the fisting of her palms whenever she encountered Bhati. The shutters that till now would clamp down across her mind the moment she faced him, had disappeared. She found herself relaxing in his presence, being her usual chilled out self.

But with Bhati, the change was in no way subtle. Every morning her door bell would ring sharp at 6:00 a.m. ,  not a minute early, not a minute late. Across the half open door, through her sleep crinkled eyes she would find Bhati covered in his great coat and balaclava, standing sharp with a tray in his hands. Rubbing her eyes and pulling the huge grey wrap over her head, Priti would draw the writing chair and sit down while Bhati poured her the morning tea. The wool wrap was actually a man's ferhan which she had bought for herself because it looked as if it was the only thing that could protect her from the insane cold of the Valley. She would draw it closer around herself and sit sipping her tongue burning hot tea and watch in happy amazement at Bhati pouring out an additional cup for her and dressing the saucer with biscuits. This biscuit ritual was a new one begun by Bhati himself. He may have noted her savoring biscuits dipped in tea sometime and had taken the initiative to buy a packet for her on his own. It was such a sweet gesture that Priti did not have the heart to admonish him. When this biscuit packet was nearly over, she bought a whole carton from the unit canteen before Bhati could spend on more biscuits from his own pocket.

Bhati's pampering of the Doctor Saab by did not stop at biscuits and tea. In this regard, Priti was now king. Her uniform was ironed smoother than a general's, her boots shone like burnished mirror, her tea was hotter than lava and sweeter than honey. Bhati even began landing up at her Clinic everyday sharp at 11am with a flask of steaming dal ka pani, a spicy concoction famously known as dal soup in the paltan. He hung around the clinic helping Prem Singh with this and that much to the Medical Assistant's perplexed amusement. And to top it all, Bhati sometimes even managed to look at Priti in the face and speak a few complete sentences; a refreshing change from his erstwhile grunts and monosyllables.

All this indulging put thought into Priti's head: I think I should talk to him about the baby girl! it was something that had been needling Priti, something that refused to abate in spite of all of Bhati's mollycoddling.  So one sunny Sunday morning, when she sat outside surrounded by the sparkling snow, she carefully broached the topic:


"Bhati, how is your wife?"

 "Theek hai Saab." He replied.

"Not going on leave?" She asked hedging a little.

"I will go Saab." Bhati answered. "A little later."

"And how is the baby? I hope her mother is getting all her doctor visits on time?"
Priti said, creating ground for the crucial question.

But Bhati was now picking up her cup and did not answer. He quickened his movements and abruptly rose to leave. Priti realised he was evading her. She stood up too.

"Bhati, do you need to make her go through the abortion?" She demanded, unable to control the inflections in her tone.

Her voice was thick with emotion." Can't you see that girls are in no way lesser than boys, not in today's world? Can't you see how girls are doing as well as boys and maybe even better?"

"Bhati?"

Bhati stopped in his tracks and turned back towards her. His eyes were blank, face walled off, like in the old days.

Priti felt her jaws clenching in exasperation. No, it was of no use: Bhati was NOT going to listen to her.


The sun reflecting off the pristine white snow suddenly dimmed around her. Priti rose and tugging at that oversized ferhan, stomped off in the direction of her hut. But halfway, she stopped, in spite of herself and turned back. Bhati was still standing at the same spot, watching her retreating back. Preeti walked right up to him and looking straight into his blank eyes hurled her words:

"Aisa mat karo, Bhati."

"Mat karo!"

She didn't wait for his reply but turned back towards the room, her steps now restrained, measured and dignified.

Priti never bothered with Bhati again after this. She spoke to him only when required ; otherwise never. As for Bhati, though he did not compromise on his pampering of the Doctor Saab, he relapsed to his previous anhedonic self with its grunts, monosyllables and eye contact evasion.

Days passed and Ramandeep returned to the paltan from leave.  His father was much better and convalescing at home. Priti too departed to her own hospital at Chandpur, but not before a heartwarming farewell from Sijith and the entire paltan. 


"You are a part of our unit, Doc," Sijith told her as he shook her hand heartily. "Do come and see us sometime, till you are in the Valley."

Back at Chandpur, life settled into its old routine. Winter rolled into spring and the almond trees burst into pale pink blooms. Priti took her examinations for post-graduation and to her immense surprise, found that she had qualified with a damned good score. She was allotted the famous hospital in Bombay for her studies and was told that she would have to leave the valley in a month. The days passed in a flurry, what with all the packing and shopping she needed to do. There was really so much to buy: paper machier boxes and candle stands, embroidered chiffon sarees that glistened like liquid silk, a walnut wood settee for her home at Patna, saffron for her Mummy and a warm woollen dressing gown for her Papa...

Then suddenly, one day Dr Krishnamurthy called her to his office. He was smiling. 

"Ramandeep is going on vacation, Priti. Would you like to return to Zanzigam for a short spell?"
"They have specially asked for you." He added.
Proudly.

There was no reason to refuse and so Priti didn't. The paltan welcomed her with warm smiles and much back-slapping. It was a pleasure to be back, to her old room and the Clinic, still manned by the efficient Prem Singh. The only difference was that there was no Bhati. Another young soldier was assigned as her buddy. His name was Naresh Kumar and Priti was relieved to find that he was a simple fella, ever smiling, efficient and eager to please. Subedar Kuldeep told her that Bhati was on leave, having gone home. Priti did not query further and was soon immersed in the routine of the paltan and her Clinic. 

CHAPTER VI

And Then One Day

A shadow fell across the prescription pad she was writing on. Priti looked up. Bhati was standing on the doorway, his huge frame blocking light from the outside, cap low over his forehead.

Ram RamSaab.”

She felt a wave of resentment wash over her at his voice.

‘Oh, he’s back.’ She thought. An image flashed across her mind’s eye: A young woman lying on a labour bed, legs pulled apart, feet held high in stirrups.

Priti shivered involuntarily. A baby is dead. Murdered before she could encash her gift of life.

She looked hard at Bhati. 
‘Murderer!’ She  screamed. Silently, in her mind.

Aloud, she asked, “Join kar liya? Leave khatam?”

Her right upper jaw ground into her right lower jaw. Her accusing eyes were fixed on  Bhati. But she couldn’t quite read his face, as it was in half darkness.

Bhati nodded unperturbed. “Yes Saab. I came back last night.”

The picture of the woman with her nether region bared was still splashed across her mind. Priti asked, “How’s your wife?”

Bhati stepped into the room. “Good, Saab.”

The bitterness was churning faster inside her now, bilious and nauseating.

“Oh ‘good’?” She couldn’t stop her voice from sounding scathing.

But Bhati did not answer. He was fumbling around the pockets of his hooded parka. He finally found what he was looking for. His wallet. Black and battered. He stepped forward eagerly and plonked himself down on the round patient stool before her.

Taken by surprise, Priti leaned back. ‘What the………?’

But Bhati was unconscious to the fact that he had broken protocol, that he had sat down without being asked to. He was rummaging through the chits of paper, old ten-rupee notes and puja flowers in paper packet that overflowed from his wallet. He finally extracted a tiny white envelop from the mess, opened it and pulled out a passport sized photo. In colour.

Saab!” he placed it before Priti’s table.

Priti peered at the photograph. A woman in bright orange bandhni sari, the pallu covering her face up to her chin sat against the violent blue photo-studio backdrop. A little baby lay in her hands, swathed in pink towels.

Meri beti. Saab.”

Priti whirled up her head in surprise.

Beti!” Why was she whispering?

Saab!” Bhati was smiling : a wide smile that furled across his face, revealing shining white teeth.

“Oh!”

Priti was at loss for words. She looked again at the photo carefully, at the child. A tiny baby with shiny brown, oiled skin and a huge kaala tikka on her left temple; sleeping peacefully in her mother’s lap.

Priti turned back at the smiling Bhati. Overwhelmed, she could just manage to utter, “Mubarak ho, Bhati. Mithai?

“Lekar aata hoon, saab. Line mein hai.”

Bhati stood up, collected the photo, placed it carefully into the envelope, then back into his wallet and stepped back.

Kya naam rakha hai?” Priti asked, thinking how pretty and pixie-like Bhati’s baby daughter was.

Gharwaale oose Sweety bulaate hain. Naam rakha hai Priti."

"Kumari Priti Singh Bhati!”

Something caught at Priti’s throat right then. Oh hell, she thought as that thing rose, up through the back of her throat, up behind her tongue and her nose and then spilled over, right into her eyes. Through the film swimming before her vision, she watched as Bhati stepped back, brought his right foot down in a resounding thunk and then, raised his hand right hand in a sharp, swift salute:

“Jai Hind, Madam!”



67 comments:

  1. Jai Hind, Madam....always a pleasure to read on

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  2. I won't lie. I teared up in the end.
    Amazing it was!!

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  3. Sheer nostalgia! Some wonderful memories just flashed past my eyes.
    Wonderful read!

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    Replies
    1. Dear Reetzy, thank you for taking the time out to read

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  4. Superbly written .... loved the tone of the story, very relatable...and what an ending. Keep writing.

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  5. Gripping account. You have the gift. Could not stop till I reached the end. Thanks for the trip.

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  6. Bhatis transformation story had us sitting on edge....what a beautiful story!

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  7. Heart warming read...loved it.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time out to read

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  8. Loved it. Could picture it at every step.

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  9. Beautifully penned.

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  10. It's so beautifully written. It was a real pleasure to read!<3

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely mesmerizing...save the girl child

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    2. Heart touching story. Nicely penned. Jai Hind

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  11. I loved the story even though I could sense what was coming at the end. Brilliantly written.

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    Replies
    1. New story. Do check it out.http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

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  12. Wonderful reading. Lived through the narrative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. New story. Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  13. A gripping read. Wish we are like this. Tears of joy...

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    Replies
    1. Nicely written. Language is superb.Described the life of an army doctor in a vivid manner with all emotions bundled up

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  14. Very nice narration. I am in tears at climax.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time out to read.

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  15. Ver well written! You have brought out the essences of changes. Changes in our attitude to women, in service, in society as well & most importantly, as equals in thr depths of a muscular & wrong kind of patriarchal culture.

    Very nice👏👏👏

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. Hoping one day women will form a part of the other services in the Armed Forces, just like the docs.

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  16. Exceedingly well writ, the enduring saga of the Army doc with an message ingrained as well.
    The finest troops making for the best Army in the world....

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. The army doc is always special.

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    2. New story.Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  17. Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time out to read.

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  18. Heartwarming story. Very well written.

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  19. Read it full while I had started off to just 'go through' it....In fact, couldn't stop reading it in one go.... extremely well narrated....one could clearly and vividly visualise and find oneself present at the scene, every moment....My deepest appreciation....God bless !

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sir for your kind words. Regards.

      Delete
    2. New story. Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  20. Gripping and superb narration! Prose is like a movie show..... couldn't stop reading till the end! Lovely piece of writing....keep it up! Siva

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  21. Superbly written! Deeply touching! You are a gifted writer! All the best for more!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Very kind! But would appreciate a name! That way, could share my upcoming piece!!!!
      😁😁😁!!!!!

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    2. New story. Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  22. What a beautiful read!! Superbly crafted. It was like watching a film. And what a mushy climax! You are truly gifted as a story teller.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you so much Ms Katoch. Very encouraging.

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    2. New story. Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  23. Simply at a loss for words. Superbly written. Sorry about not reading earlier. Really warms the cockles of the heart and really left emotional at the end. Do publish in Kindle and maybe as a collection with more like this.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. Thinking of Kindle. Let's see.💛💛💛💛

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  24. Excellent and really heart rendering story. For an old soldier like me it is full of happy memories and of the Paltan. A fine story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. New story. Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  25. Beautiful ma'm ..
    Never knew ur talent of writing such heart touching piece....

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  26. Tugged at the heart-strings...teared up at the end! God Bless!!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so y. Glad you liked it.🙏

      Delete
    2. New story. Do check it out.
      http://indmanbhatta.blogspot.com/?m=1

      Delete
  27. Fantastic writing mam. It's kinda nostalgic. 🙏

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  28. Loved reading it... So heart warming and heart touching. Amazing story and lovely description of characters.

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  29. Well completed reading it today and so well could see each and every character and their emotions ,you are a gifted storyteller,very gripping and so well weaved.

    ReplyDelete

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