It was summer and half of the Paata village was already empty of its male inhabitants. The war was on and almost every men was called upfront by the Gorkha Regiment. Vishambar the postman was one of the few men left in the village along with some of the retired folks. In the hills, mostly the men either get enrolled into Army or they move to the big cities to earn some livelihood. It was high time as Pakistan had infiltrated into Indian villages in Kashmir. Vishambar on his radio had recently heard that there might be a nuclear war between the two nations. Being a high school graduate, he did not know much about the gravity of the situation, but the way the news reader told the news, he could sense that it was something really big. But nothing of any sort mattered to him- people killing each other, men assaulting women, kids indulged in tobacco intakes or nations bombing each other. He was aloof from all this nuisance, or one can say he never bothered to care about such things. That’s one of the many reasons why he never got married. He was an orphan, brought up by his uncle. His uncle was the one who persuaded him to go to school and become something useful. He told him about the opportunities that lay ahead in future and what a boon it would be to be a literate. Even now he could never thank him enough for his advice. Even with his meagre job, he was content with it. He preferred to be a mail man sitting mostly in a government provided hut rather than either getting killed on the border or working in the stepped fields.
Vishambar in his youth worked in a hotel in the capital. He had seen the city life enough to get sickened of it. He never liked it there. Though his lifestyle was really influenced with whatever time he had spent in the city. When he got the job of a postman, he brought his radio along with him which he really enjoyed listening to. He even took a lot of pain in bringing his cycle with him to the village with the help of a local matador; though he later realized that it was of no use there in the hills. Now he just used the cycle when someone parceled something really big from the city, which had as bleak possibility of happening as snowing in June. He had a maid who did all the small chores for him which included preparing meal two times a day. His salary was well enough for him to have such luxuries. Reshma, his maid, was a local villager whose husband had died as a martyr on the border. To meet some ends and earn something to run her family, she worked errands in Vishambar’s little hut. In his 24 years of posting here in Paata, Reshma was there helping him for a decade now. For him she was like a little sister and that’s exactly how he treated her. He often lend her some money for courtesy. And she in return gave him pulses, onions and other things which she grew in her fields, which Vishambar usually send to his Uncle’s house.
Usually he just sat and did nothing because anyone hardly posted anything. Almost all the village people were illiterate and seldom would anyone go and ask Vishambar to write a letter to any relative. Mostly the newly wedded brides used to come to Vishambar to write a response to a letter from their husbands who were mostly posted at the border. And most of the times Vishambar only was the one reading them. The effect of matrimony takes its time to diminish itself from someone’s mind. The desire to hear a word or two from their husbands was what they all craved for. Whenever they passed through Vishambar’s hut, they always inquired if there was any mail.
But with war on head, the frequency of mails increased. After a long long time Vishambar had finally realized how nerve-wrenching his work was. He received two or three dozens of mails on a weekly basis now which were forwarded to him through headquarters in the capital. And distributing those mails was not the only thing he had to; he had to read them as well. And if felt necessary, he often had to sit in people’s porch to write the response and later post them. It became really difficult for him to do so much so sudden. He would’ve happily done all this if he were in his twenties or thirties. But it really was a tiring job for a person of his age, as he had to move up and down from house to house to give the mail and then read them as well. The best part though about all this was that he often received sweets and food items for bringing those mails. The villagers loved him and his work. After all he was like a messenger of God for them and Vishambar too liked this thought very much. Though bringing a sad news of someone’s death made him real sad as well. He couldn’t bear to see the newly wedded girls crying and their mothers often fainting and falling down. Seeing that Vishambar used to think that how unusual his job was. For some he was a little oasis in a desert whereas for some he was a sign of death. They all showed no sign of happiness or sadness on their faces until Vishambar start reading their letters. For them it was the day of judgement.
After finishing almost every household and sharing their mails with them, Vishambar used end his part of the job by visiting the last house which was situated at the end of the valley. There lived an old woman named Bachaspati Devi. She was in her eighties and anyone seeing her could tell that she was on the verge of leaving this planet for good. She had only one person alive as her kin, her grandson named Vijay. Her son and the daughter in law, both died a long long time ago in an accident. She was the one who brought up Vijay and made him what he was today. She was strictly against her grandson’s decision to enlist in the army as he was the only one left in the family, but who could change the mind of a hill-born adamant young kid who has decided to serve his country. Vijay often wrote letters to his grandmother and as usual Vishambar read them to her. She would grab Vishambar’s hand tightly as soon as he start to read. She used to be so happy to hear that letter that quite often she would ask Vishambar to read it twice or thrice. Vishambar never denied the old lady’s requests. He could understand the pain and feeling’s of that woman’s dreaded soul captured inside those little shackles of bones. Every week on Sundays when mails reached to Vishambar, this old lady would sit in her porch since afternoon and wait till the dusk when he finally reached her house. He often used to dine that particular day in old lady’s house. He would ask Reshma not to cook on Sunday nights.
It was the third weekend of the month of June and Vishambar’s pouch was yet again full with letters. Keeping his daily preparations short and having a very light breakfast, he commenced his journey from the first house on his way. On the judgment day, Vishambar hardly ate anything before leaving, he used to get a lot to eat in almost every house. So whole day after distributing and reading all the letters, Vishambar finally reached the old lady’s house. Every time she used to wait for him anxiously. Vishambar sat on the charpoy which was there in the porch and took out the last letter of the day from his pouch- sent by Vijay Singh. It was all usual for him as he tore the corner of the envelope and pulled out a white sheet. But this letter was somewhat unusual… he could sense that it was one of the unwanted ones, the one which made people to lose hope in their lives. As Vishamber unfolded it, he saw that it was typewritten instead of the usual handwritten; and Vishambar understood the rest of the story. It was such a sad moment. The old lady was sitting anxiously in front of him and waiting for him to speak and he thinking in his mind that in what way could he tell this woman this tormenting news, so that she wouldn’t just die listening to it. Vishambar couldn’t think of any way to do that without hurting her. He just couldn’t bear the fact of sharing something like that to this poor soul. She had no one except her grandson, who too was now deceased. He was in a really awkward situation and there was silence in the air for a long time, which was finally broken by the old lady.
She grasped his hand as she usually did and said- “Aren’t you able to understand what he has written?”
To that Vishambar gave the hardest fake smile he had ever given to anyone and said- “No amma, writing is ok, I am just reading it myself first.”
To which she said-“Just read it out loud, I will listen as well.”
By now Vishambar had made up his mind that he couldn’t dare tell her the truth that her only grandson is no more on this world. He wasn’t too weak to speak that but was too weak to see the old lady remorse and give up on her life. So he decided to make up words of his own and speak to her in the way Vijay usually wrote. And he read the whole letter framing words of his own. Lying to a kid is real easy, lying to a man is even easier than that but lying to a woman takes up a lot of convincing. But even their hearts melt in ignorance if it’s either about their lover or their loved ones. So the old lady as anxiously as she used to, heard those precise words coming out of Vishambar’s holy mouth. To his surprise she didn’t ask him to repeat it that day and then like always she started cleaning the corner where Vishambar usually sat to have his dinner. But Vishambar said he wasn’t hungry today and might have some complications with his stomach. He wanted to get out of the site of that pious woman. He wasn’t that much religious of a person but he was scared of the fact of lying to that old woman and was completely filled with anxiety that he was surely going to the hell made for people like him. The old woman tried to make him stay at her hut only and asked him to let her help, but he insisted on going back to his place. With long strides down the valley, and heart pumping in the very unusual way he reached his hut at around ten o’ clock. He straight away washed his face which was pale red by now. He emptied the pitcher of water in one go to calm himself and then he lay down on the mat beside his working table . He wanted to surrender himself to the goddess of sleep as soon as he could and wanted to forget all that had happened in the delusion of dreams.
It was a new day and Vishambar got up bit late from his usual schedule. Usually this day was his real weekend as on Sundays he worked whole day. He still had a faint glimmer of the deed he did last night in his mind. All day he tried to convince himself to believe in what he did was humanly the best thing he could do. If he had told the old lady the truth, her soul would have left her body by now. Moreover he thought that she was going to live just few months more and keeping in mind how long the last war lasted, he thought he made a good decision not to tell her. With this notion in his mind he felt little relieved. He now made himself clear that his intentions weren’t wrong and he did a great deed. Vishambar now prepared a letter of his own for the old lady every week. He often added some stuff which he believed would make her happy. And she really did like it. She rejoiced at the fact that her grandson is fighting gallantly in the war. Vishambar was really happy too of his decision. And this went on for few more weeks till the war ended.This time Pakistani army retreated back within 2 months of a fight. The Kargil was back in our control again.
But this win was more of a nightmare for Vishambar coz he realized that when the men will come back from the border and the old lady will see them coming, she would ask questions about her grandson’s whereabouts. It was time for Vishamber to tell her the harsh truth… even though she would be really heartbroken to hear that. So he wrote a last letter, the way the government usually send those for the martyrs. And he then went straight to the old lady’s house, there were no letters for anyone else that day as almost every man had reached back or were on their way back to home. As he approached the old lady’s house, he saw her coming out; she had a little rosy smile on her face, perhaps she had heard from the local folks that the war was over and the troops were coming back. The smile broke Vishamber’s heart; he was already feeling remorseful from inside for what he was about to do. As he reached her porch, he sat down in the charpoy. The old lady was busy washing some clothes which belonged to some man. She was probably cleaning the old clothes of her grandson. As soon as she saw him, she stood up and washed her hands and greeted him. He could see the excitement in her eyes, the energy which was running inside her.
She asked- “Vishamber ji! How come are you here today and that too at this time? Aren’t you busy distributing mails?”
Vishambar said- “I just received one mail today and it was for you Bachaspati ji.” And then he pulled out a mail from his pouch. As he was just about to read the letter, the old lady stopped him.
She said- “Vishambar ji, you must be tired of doing all this on your own, reading everyone’s letters. Let my grandson do it today. Even I wanna hear him speak after so long.”
And then say said out loud- “Vijay! Can you come out a bit beta?”
A tall handsome man with a fair complexion came out from the other room. Vishambar was shocked to see him. He couldn’t believe that it was the same guy who was mentioned as deceased in one of the letters few weeks back. He came directly towards him and touched his feet as he greeted him. Just then Bachaspati pulled out a Khaki out of the tub and gave a hard stroke at it and then put it on the wire to let it dry. And on that Khaki was a name written in a badge in bold letters- Vijay H. Singh.
The old lady said- “Vijay, take a look at the letter Vishambar ji just brought and read it out loud.”
And just then Vishambar stood up as soon as he could and said goodbye to the two and started walking back to his hut.
Vijay said to his grandmother- “Dadi ji what just happened? Why did he just go away like that without even showing us our letter?”
His grandma replied- “Maybe he brought an old one with him. Well he is getting old as well kid. We old ones often act crazy my dear.”