Saturday, August 15, 2015


Story of a Soldier
Short Fiction

THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD – A Soldier’s Story by Vikram Karve

The Soldier sat on the footpath near the gate of the Accounts Office.

...Abe Langde … Hat Wahan Se ...(Hey you one-legged cripple … Move from there)...Yeh Meri Jagah Hai ...(This is my place)...” the food-cart vendor shouted at the soldier.

The soldier winced.

Then  he looked down at his amputated leg.

Yes  he was indeed a cripple  a langda.

When he had joined the army  he had two strong legs.

And now  he had just one leg  and one stump.

The soldier picked up his crutch  pushed his body up  and he slowly hobbled a few steps away.

He was about to sit under a shady canopy near the street corner  when a traffic policeman shouted at him: “...Ae Bhikari … Wahan Mat Baith ...(Hey Beggar … don’t sit there)...”

...Main Bhikari Nahin Hoon … Main Fauji Hoon... (I am not a beggar … I am a soldier)...” protested the soldier.

...Phir Border Pe Ja Kar Lad... (Then go and fight on the border)...” the policeman said with sarcasm.

...Wahi to kar raha tha... (That is what I was doing)...” the soldier mumbled to himself.

As the soldier tottered on the street on his crutches  he talked to himself. 

The soldier was overcome by regret.

He had been a fool to be brave. 

He should have played safe. 

At least  he would not have lost his leg. 

And  he would not have been discharged from the Army as medically unfit.

Now  he was being made to run from pillar to post for his disability pension  just because some civilian clerk in the accounts office had “misplaced” his documents.

The soldier was exasperated.

In the Army  he was expected to do everything promptly and properly  in double-quick time.

But these civilians were just not bothered.

First  the paperwork was delayed due to red tape.

Then  there were some careless typographical errors in his papers  and his documents had to be sent back to Delhi for the necessary corrections.

And now  his papers had been misplaced.

It was sad.

Nobody was bothered about his plight.

The civilian Babus comfortably cocooned in their secure “9 to 5 five-day-week” jobs were slack and indifferent  and they did not give a damn for the soldiers who they were meant to serve.

Civilians expected soldiers to be loyal unto the grave  but civilians did not reciprocate the same loyalty in return towards the soldiers.

“What is the big deal if you lost a leg?” one cruel clerk had remarked mockingly, “You soldiers are paid to fight. And if you die  or if you get wounded  it is a part of your job. You knew the risks before you joined the Army  didn’t you? If you wanted to live a safe life  why did you become a soldier...? You should have become a chaprassi (peon)  like your friend.”

Tears rolled down the soldier’s cheek as he thought of this.

Others were not so cruel and heartless  but their sympathy was tinged with scorn.

Indeed  he should have become a chaprassi like his friend who was now helping him get his disability pension.

Both he and his friend had been selected for the post of peon in a government office.

But he had been a fool – he told everyone that it was below his dignity to work as a chaprassi – and then he went to recruitment rally  and joined the Army as a soldier.

He made fun of his friend who took up the job of a peon  and he boasted with bloated pride about being a soldier.

And now  the tables had turned  and the peon was having the last laugh on the soldier.

The peon was secure in his job  while the soldier was out on the street  crippled for life  and begging for his pension.

And now  his friend wasn’t even called a chaprassi – they had upgraded all “Class 4” to “Class 3” – and his friend was now designated as “assistant”.

His friend would retire at the age of 60 – after a safe, secure, easy, tension-free career  without any transfers or hardships.

If a soldier got disabled  they would throw him out.

But  if a civilian employee like his friend got disabled  they would never throw him out.

And  by chance  if his civilian friend died  his wife or son or daughter would get a job in his place.

Nothing like that for the soldier. 

A soldier had to fend for himself.

The soldier felt disheartened.

He looked at his amputated leg – and he deeply regretted his decision to join the army.

Indeed he had made a mistake.

He would have been much better off as a peon  chaprassi – or in some other civilian job.

The soldier also felt a sense of guilt that he had made fun of his friend.

A few years ago  the soldier had laughed at his friend because he was a mere chaprassi – a peon.

Today  he was at his friend’s mercy.

The soldier had to live on the kindness of the man he had once ridiculed and scoffed at.

It was a terrible feeling.

More than 6 months had passed – and he was still anxiously waiting for his pension and dues.

His friend had given the soldier  and the soldier’s family  shelter and food. 

And now  the peon friend was trying to help the soldier  by running around from office to office – using the “peon network” to trace the misplaced papers.

The soldier felt sorry for his hapless wife.

His ill-fated wife was at the mercy of his friend’s nasty wife – who openly derided her  and made her displeasure quite clear by making scathing comments about the soldier, his wife and their children.

His friend’s wife kept on complaining and making snide remarks about how the soldier and his family were sponging on her hospitality like parasites.

The soldier’s wife hated the peon’s wife – but she had to suffer the humiliation in silence  and bear the daily insults – and – it was terrible to be at the mercy of someone who detested you.

Today  the peon friend had asked the soldier to stand outside the gate  and the peon had gone into the accounts office alone.

He had gone in alone  because last time  the soldier had spoilt everything by refusing to a pay a bribe to the accounts officer.

The soldier had even threatened the accounts officer that he would report the matter.

The accounts officer was furious: “Go and report. Nothing will happen. Now I will see to it that your papers are not traced until you die. What do you bloody soldiers think? That you can threaten us? This is not the Army. This is the Accounts Office. Haven’t you heard the saying that: THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD...? Now I will show you.”

Today his peon friend had gone inside to negotiate.

The clerks had told him not to bring the soldier inside the office as the egoistic accounts officer may get furious on seeing the soldier  and everything will be spoilt.

They told the peon that once everything was “settled”  they would try and trace the “misplaced” documents  and he could take them out to obtain the soldier’s signature  and re-submit the papers for clearance of the disability pension.

The soldier waited anxiously in the hot sun for his peon friend to come out. 

Angry thoughts buzzed in his mind.

“Ungrateful, corrupt people – all these civilians,” the soldier muttered to himself, “we sacrifice our life and limb for their sake and they humiliate us – they even ask me to pay a bribe to get my own disability pension...”

“Patriotism, heroism, idealism – no one bothers about these things anymore. I made a mistake by joining the army. Yes  I indeed made a mistake by joining the army. But  I made an even bigger mistake trying to be brave. What was the point of showing courage, initiative, daring? What did I gain by going beyond the call of duty to nab those guys? How does it matter if a few militants sneak in? Who is bothered about these things anyway  especially out here in the city? They don’t even know what is happening out there. Had I looked the other way  no one would have known  and I would not be a one-legged cripple – a langda... And even then  I wish they had shot me in the head and I had died. That would have been better...” he mumbled to himself, feeling very bitter, frustrated and helpless.

The soldier thought of his wife, his children, the bleak future awaiting them.

How long would they have to be dependent on the mercy of his friend and his nasty wife?

The soldier felt sad  very sad  as depressing thoughts of despondency and hopelessness filled his brain.

He wondered whether his disability pension problem would be solved today.

It was taking long – his friend had gone in at 10 AM  and it was almost 12 noon now.

The sweltering summer sun was hot  and the soldier felt parched and weak.

He had drunk just a cup of tea – since they started their journey to the accounts office in the city by bus from their friend’s home in the distant suburbs  early in the morning.

Suddenly the soldier felt faint  so he walked towards the compound wall of the accounts office.

He took support from the wall – and he slid down to sit on his haunches.

At 12:30 his friend emerged from the gates of the accounts office. 

He was happy – the bribe had been paid  the documents had been promptly traced. 

Now all he had to do was get the soldier’s signature on the papers  and he had been assured that the soldier’s disability pension and all his dues would be given within a month.

The peon friend began to look around for the soldier  and he saw the soldier sitting strangely  propped against the wall.

The soldier’s eyes were closed  and it seemed that he had fallen asleep.

Something seemed amiss  so the peon briskly walked towards the soldier.

The peon bent down  and he touched the soldier’s shoulder.

The soldier fell down to his side.

The peon friend panicked. 

He thought the soldier had fainted – so he started shouting for help.

The traffic policeman  the food-cart vendor  and some passers-by – all rushed to help.

The policeman told the vendor to sprinkle some water on the soldier’s face  but nothing happened.

The policeman rang up the police control room for an ambulance.

“I hope he is not dead,” the soldier’s peon friend said with trepidation.

“I don’t know. But it looks like he is totally unconscious. What happened? Who is he? He was muttering that he is a fauji – is he really a soldier?” the policeman asked.

The friend told the policeman the soldier’s story – the full story.

“Sad,” the policeman said, “very sad – it is really terrible – the way they treat our soldiers.”

The ambulance arrived.

A paramedic examined the soldier and he said, “I think he is dead. We will take him to the hospital. There the doctors will examine him and officially pronounce him dead.”

“The enemy’s bullets could not do what these Babus did with their red tape. It is so sad. The enemy could not kill this brave soldier – but the these Babus  killed him...” the policeman commented.

“Yes. The accounts officer was right,” the soldier’s distraught peon friend said, “The Pen is indeed Mightier than the Sword.”

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Copyright © Vikram Karve (All Rights Reserved)
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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