|Present day Jallianwala Bagh with actual bullet marks|
Pic Courtesy – Dr. Graham Beards on Wikipedia
One step, two steps, walk, walk, walk, I chanted to myself, coaxing my legs to move. They had suddenly turned into lead, but I couldn’t let them falter. Clutching my books close to my chest, I looked over my shoulder for the nth time. Nothing.
Amritsar was slowly stirring on this cool winter morning. Children nestled close to the familiar warmth of their mothers and spouses cuddled for a few more precious moments before the insanity of the day caught up with them.
The owner of a little tea shop with a rickety asbestos roof was opening up for business. In a few moments, his face will be almost invisible, hidden behind the thick milky steam rising from his hulking cauldron of chai. Oh the smell of tea brewing in the morning!
Maa would have just woken up. That sweet smell from the jasmine bush would have engulfed the house. I could just run home and hide in her embrace, like I used to when those kids bullied me in school.
I could almost hear her admonishing tone “Leela, wake up! An 18-year old girl should be up and about the house, helping with chores at this time! How will you manage after you get married?”
This is the 1920s, Maa, not the ancient 1800s when you grew up! I’d mutter, half-asleep.
My dear father, ever my ally, would laugh, Let her sleep, she’s just a child.
But that child has long gone. I’ve been keeping a secret from them. A secret which will crash their world, but some day, they will be proud of me.
We’re a motley group. Doctors, students, professors….revolutionaries. Some over fifty, some still in their teens, leading their double lives. A group of misfits and I, a misfit amongst them. An 18-year old girl from an affluent family, why would she want to do this? If someone breaks in and enters your house, wouldn’t you put up a fight? We were misfits bound by a dream – an independent India.
I couldn’t just pretend everything was alright. Not after Jallianwala Bagh. Huddled by the radio, we listened to gruesome reports of innocent unarmed men, women and children being shot like cattle. Many women and children jumped into a well so they could die an honorable death. How powerless must they have felt to take such a dire step. I couldn’t eat for days. Something broke inside me.
The revolutionary in me was surfacing like a glistening sheet of oil over water, rapidly rising above the vacuous, spoilt life I had lived so far.
Almost there. Anytime now.
Colonel Huxley was an early riser. After his morning ablutions, he put on his scarlet and blue full dress with his medals jangling on his chest. Laurie and Martha were fast asleep, drool pouring out of their tiny mouths.
Papa, can I have a pony for my birthday? What Laurie wanted for this birthday changed every day.
I wonder what it’ll be today. He kissed the little ones gingerly, careful not to wake them. If he could, he would let them sleep all day. They’re not going to be kids for long. Let them sleep soundly while they can.
Through the white, gossamer thin mosquito net, Mary was a vision. Mary, his rock. Her parents had been so strongly against her marrying a soldier, and what was worse, he was to be posted in India! But stubborn Mary had stood her ground. He loved that rebellious streak in her. He loved all the colorful streaks in her.
Duty called. His Royal Enfield demurred before sputtering to life. In his years in India, he had grown rather fond of smoking a beedi with a glass of milky chai before he got to work. He stopped in front of his usual haunt, an old tea shop with a rickety asbestos roof.
Feet apart, arms straight in front of you, focus and shoot. Bose’s voice rang in my ears. Finally convinced that I wasn’t one to quit, he had put me on this mission. He had also deftly carved out my hardbound ‘War and Peace’ to make a snug fit for the gun.
I wiped my clammy hands on my dupatta. I only had a few minutes. Tea and Beedi in hand, Huxley turned around, looked straight at me and smiled.
No, don’t smile! You’re going to….
Don’t think, Leela, Shoot!
His forehead was right between the crosshairs. A bullet sliced through the thin morning air.
He was the misfit.