Balbeer Chauhan held the saber across both his hands and glared into its shining metal. Just holding it seemed to rejuvenate him; he felt all of his eightly-four years melt away. He did not remember when his father had handed him the sword; he had only been four years old then. But the nightmarish dreams of that day had haunted him all his life.
The Major General replaced the weapon in itís mayan and hung it on the wall, below an old picture of his wife Kamela. She was struggling for her life in the hospital at this very moment. This night the dream that had always haunted him; came to him clearly than it ever had before.
........ Balbeer Chauhan saw himself....as a child only four years old, tugging along, holding on to his fatherís kurta . They were at the Bagh. He saw himself as he was now; hovering in the air above the crowd. He saw himself as a child standing beside his father in the Bagh....it was not really a bagh...Just an enclosure with four ancient looking walls...there was only one small entrance. The place was crowded with people; children, women, and men from all walks of life. Gathered in one common cause. To raise their voice against the British Raj. The child saw the troops block the entrance. Saw the people scrambling; but they did not waver in the face of oppression. "Bharat mata ke jai!!" His father screamed. The people resounded this cry. The ancient looking walls reverberated with the force of it. The troops entered.
A silence fell on the crowd. People were trapped; there was only one exit. It was blocked. "Bharat mata ke jai!" the cry went up from somewhere in the crowd. The walls seemed to shake once more as everyone repeated the words. The British General stepped forward; his uniform glistened in the sunlight. The people did not stop clamoring the words that were to become the cry of millions across the subcontinent.
The troops marched in unison and formed a line; facing the crowd. His father pushed young Balbeer behind him; shielding him from the troops.
"READY!" The general ordered. The crowed showed no sign of silencing.
"AIM!" The soldiers raised their guns in one swift move. "Bharat mata ke Jai!" The thunderous cries continued. "FIRE!" General Dyer ordered.
Bullets rained, puffy white smoke rose from the troopsí guns as they spat death on the trapped crowed. Screams echoed. Bodies of men, women, and children fell around the child. Including his fathers; the blood around the bullet holes made hideous patterns of crimson red on his fatherís white kurta. The crimson red of spots on the white kurta matched the red color of the mayan still slung around his fallen fathers shoulders.....
He awoke from the dream in a cold sweat!. For the first time in his life he knew what that place in the dreams had been. Jallianwallah Bagh. On that fateful day in 1919. This dream had haunted him ever since. Balbeer Chauhan sat in the dark. Late into the night. All actions of his past swam to life around his memories. It had been this dream, he knew now, that had called to him to join the Quit India movement at the age of twenty-seven .......a lifetime ago......
.....It was 1942 ...seated outside a tent somewhere in a Delhi cantonment of the British Imperial Army, a young brash officer named Balbeer Chauhan was cleaning his saber; the only symbol that remained of his family. The setting sun glinted off the shiny silver sword in a brilliant orange glow that matched the fire in the young officerís eyes! Balbeer Chauhan knew that independence would become reality soon; the entire subcontinent was ablaze with the movement against the British Raj. He had joined the army to learn to fight. So he could fight against the very regime that commanded this army he was in. And then he was drawn into that fight at that very moment. Suddenly a young Indian women came running around the corner of the tent. She was out of breath, her hair untidy, one earring missing, her sari half fluttering in the air behind her; tears streaking her pretty face. She came to an abrupt stop at the sight of Balbeer. "What is wrong," he ran to her side. She was so out of breath that she could not form words. She just pointed around the corner.
Then the question answered itself. A British officer, whom Balbeer Chauhan immediately recognized; came running around the corner. His uniform half unbuttoned and in disarray. He smelled of whisky. Balbeer Chauhans commanding officer Sir John skidded to a stop at the sight of him. It did not take long for Balbeer to surmise what the officer had tried to do. The women pointed to the offier "he tried to..," were the only words she could muster.
"Donít you have somewhere else to be soldier!" Sir John yelled. "You will leave this woman alone," Balbeer Chauhan said calmly.
The drunk officer, outraged at being talked back to; withdrew his sword. Balbeer Chauhan leaned down quickly and picked up the his saber which he had dropped on the ground when he ran to the girlís side. Balbeer pushed the women beside him with his left arm; bringing up his saber with the right. He held the saber parallel to the ground, across his chest; in a defensive posture. It reflected the dim light of the torches on the hill far behind Sir John; darkness was falling on the village beyond.
Sir John lunged forward with his sword, going for Balbeerís neck.. Balbeer made no such move. He lowered the saber, reached up with his left hand and grabbed the oncoming sword! Blood trickled down Sir Johnís sword as he tried to twist it out of Balbeerís iron grip with both hands. When he did not succeed in this, he reached for the revolver hanging on his waist. Before he could bring it up, Chauhanís saber was thrust through his midsection. A half deadly scream escaped Sir Johnís lips. Chauhan pulled the saber back with one jerk. Sir John fell back,dropping his sword. Blood poured out from his wound. Scuffle of boots on the dirt could be heard; other troops were running towards them, they had heard the scream. Balbeer quickly grabbed the mayan, slid the saber in it, took the girlsí hand, and they ran towards the village in the distance.
Kamela had been at Balbeer Chauhansí side ever since. Balbeer had ended his career in the service of the British that day. He had joined the army of independent India few years later. He had lived to see India awake to freedom in 1947, with Kamela at his side. Their son, whom Kamela had proudly named Bharat, was born in August of that very year. Balbeer Chauhan had only wielded the saber twice more in his life; once in 1947 to protect his neighbor Jandgir Khan, who had wanted to go to the newly carved Pakistan. Second and last time Balbeer had used the saber was in the war of 1962. Though he had always kept it with him, until the day he retired from the army in 1969 at the rank of Major General....... There was a knock on the door. Balbeer Chauhan got up from the chair slowly, with the help of his cane, and went to the door. It was Manoj, his grandson. "Dad says come quickly we must go to the hospital now!"
He sat beside Kamelaís hospital bed, holding her hand; she was taking her last breaths.
"Donít cry," she told him in a faint voice "its been a good life. From the moment you first rescued me....I have not regreted moment of life with you.....my page in history has come to an end..--" she did not complete the sentence. She was gone. And Balbeer Chauhan knew that there were fewer days ahead than behind for himself also.
A week later, as the nation was preparing for its 50th year of independence; Major General Balbeer Chauhan was drawing his last breaths on his deathbed. "Take this," he gave the saber to his 24 year old grandson with shaking hands. "Keep it with care...but never draw it ....unless you must....this is what I wrote my page in history with.....you must write yours in your own way....." Balbeer Chauhan closed his eys with those words, surrounded by his family.
Manoj replaced the saber on the wall with the many family pictures his grandfather had hung there. As he was hanging the sword, he focused on a dusty old frame heíd never noticed before.....He wiped the dust away with his hand....in the frame, written on a plane white canvas were the often forgoten words of a long forgotten shayar....
"Hum laye hain toofan se Kashti Neekal Ker Is desh ko rakhna mere Buchchon sumbhal ker !"