Chapter 7 Maanav’s past

Chapter 7

The infernous ball of fire raged at the distance even as he struggled to wake up from the darkness. He realized he was strapped to the seat with an IV running on his arm… the fire was soon a tiny blot in the sooty green sheet of herbage surrounded by dark snow… or was it the dark sky?

Wait… Nitya? Was she fine? NO… how could she be? He had escaped but she had remained… Would she have been safe if she was with him? His heart pounded…

‘You are useless, son…’ his father’s words boomed in his temple

‘Who will like a trouble maker like you? Even your mom left… she must have known you would turn like this…’ His father spoke the words when inebriated.

But why were those words hurled at him now? His father wasn’t around here…

Nitya… nityaaaa….

Maanav gasped as he sat up, his heart pounding away, threatening to rush out of his chest confines. The nightmares were frequent these days. Probably because he was idle…

He was out of hospital and back at home in Pune. He was resting after over 15 years. Till then he had no time to travel down the memory lane… the nightmares were sporadic but he would be working to the bone and would sleep off as soon as his head hit the pillow or stone or brick or whatever it was, wherever he was.

But this solitude was killing him… He had never had free time so suddenly he was gripped with a strange feeling. Shiv and Padma had insisted that he move with them till he completely recovered. But he had refused. His estate needed to be taken care of and he didn’t want to impose on the fairly new parents.

He looked around his spacious house… it wasn’t a home. Never was. His father had built it before he got married and his grandparents lived there till, they passed. He hadn’t seen them. His mother had left them when he was a baby and he didn’t remember her. He never missed her either. How could he when he didn’t have a benchmark to compare or any pictures of her?

The chiming of the clock got him out of his thoughts. It was 3AM an hour more than the earlier night. He struggled to walk to the dining hall and drink water. He had never been so injured to mandate such rest. He had prided in the fact that despite being nicknamed ‘Bullet’ there wasn’t one made with his name on it. Despite innumerable clandestine operations he wasn’t burdened by survivor’s guilt because he was trained in the manner but nightmares were a different ball game. His body was a testament to years of rigorous training and disciplined lifestyle, though now slightly softened by the lack of recent combat. His crew cut hair had started to grow for the first time in years and he wasn’t comfortable.

He stood under the shower itching to go full blast but the doctor had permitted only this much to prevent his injury from worsening. The bandage could only take so much. His bathroom was the only part of this house he had a hand in designing. He had added it on a whim when he had come back briefly in between missions. His housekeeper had gotten it done tastefully. As he looked up into the full-length mirror, He could see the dark circles beneath his eyes, amidst the cascading shower. The full grown stubble was unruly and he hadn’t bothered to shave. His haggard looks were a testimony to the sleepless nights and haunting memories…. Both from his personal life and his life as an ace sniper for the special ops. Ops that were so clandestine at times he wondered if he were a robot on a programmed mission.

His weary glance lowered down his super toned body… something he had taken care of scientifically and methodically as ingrained in the Sainik Shala. That was one common element between the four of them besides the fact that they came from broken homes. Particularly Shiv had been his anchor… his closest friend. Actually the bond between the 4 was beyond friendship.

Besides the bandaged wound, his body was like a porcelain sheet with numerous spots… his whiteish complexion was engraved by scars… each of them with hidden tales of sordid battles and close calls over the decade.

He inhaled the fresh shampoo fragrance as he lathered up his hair, this was a far cry from the acrid, smoky atmosphere he had just witnessed in his last mission or the innumerable missions before that…

An hour later he sat on the large lone couch in the larger-than-life drawing room with a thud… he could hear his breathing pounding in his ears as bout of pain shot up his chest. He let his head fall back on the headrest and inhaled deeply even as the pain showed no intentions of ebbing. He hated pain killers… and gritted his teeth as he blinked back tears resulting from the searing pain. But he also knew the pain wasn’t just superficial… he felt someone was also clenching his heart.

His mind was a combat zone of its own, refusing to vanish from his memories. Having lived his life on the constant vigilance adrenaline surge the relative peace of this mortar and brick house was jarring to his soul… the silence was deafening.

He didn’t know what to do with solitude… he never had a moment before this period.

As he stared at the ceiling fan trying to count the rotations the blades made as it sped away to glory, he was thrown down the memory lane, to the time before he became a soldier. When his life was meaningless and he went through the chore or living…. right in this house.

While his childhood sped in a blur with the stream of nannies and him being labelled a trouble maker, the scrawny yet strong Nitya was a welcome change. She almost made him want to stay on track and become something in life. He wanted to excel in martial arts and become a martial arts therapist. He knew a child his school who was physically challenged but was relentlessly bullied by the classmates. He had stood up for the kiddo but was labelled a ‘trouble maker’ because he usually was! However, that didn’t deter him from standing for what was right. As a result, the bullying ceased and he got his only friend for life… Chandran Saha. The guy was a computer genius and was currently employed with the Defence Ministry.

Maanav smiled as he thought of the only bespectacled man in a high-end wheel chair standing tall among dignitaries during conferences.

Besides Chandran, another motivating factor for his choice of career at that point was Nitya. She had mentioned about her brother who wasn’t talking and had some syndrome. He was not included in play and was often called names and ridiculed. Maanav wanted to work for the likes of them as well.

But he had forgotten, he didn’t have a right to dream big.

Just before that last camp with Nitya, his absentee father made an appearance when he was packing his backpack. It was strange because even when his father was back from his posting on holidays, he never spent time with Maanav. Many times, he went back to wherever he was serving even without meeting Maanav. So, this time when he approached him, Maanav was surprised.

“So, my boy, all done with the packing?” The deep baritone had a gentle element to it and Maanav just kept looking at this change in his father.

“Ye… yes, sir” He stood tall to his complete height. He was the tallest among his batchmates as he approached his 14th birthday.

His father sighed as he walked along the length of his room.

“So… my boy, I have a gift for you….”

Maanav resisted the urge to pinch himself. His father never gave him gifts. No one did. If he wanted something, he had to leave a message with his caretaker and it was instantly given, no questions asked.

His father handed over a box. Maanav opened it to find a… watch!

“But dad… I mean… Sir, I have a couple of watches. I don’t…”

“…My boy…” The Colonel held up his hand and interrupted him. “… this isn’t an ordinary watch. The tiny orange button on it is a signal… for whenever you are in danger….” He paused and paced the room as he continued. “… you are aware of my newest position as the head of the NSG… I shall be taking over soon. There are many layers to it all… that’s how bureaucracy works. To cut the whole story short, by extension, you are in the eye of the storm as well… so I prefer to take precautions.”

Maanav stood like a statue trying to fathom what was going on… this was the greatest number of words his father had spoken in the last few months.

Unmindful of his thoughts his father continued. “… Just in case you think you are in danger, just press the orange button and the nearest Army base will receive the SOS. Its programmed so. They will be there to help you or evacuate you in 15 minutes maximum so you must hang in there… but my boy…” He stopped pacing and looked at Maanav who was almost his father’s height. It was then Maanav realised his father had aged tremendously… he wished his father shared something personal with him like other fathers did… or at least scolded him or said the hurtful words about his mother more often or just smiled at him….

“…My boy…” His father cleared his throat. “…this can be used just once and then it self-destroys so use it only in case of an emergency… and have you studied the map of the area?” His father had made it mandatory for him to study the area he was to visit even if it was Chandran’s home or an occasional visit to a distant relative or a rare Army event that his father took him along. Though the occasions were very rare, Maanav thrived on the task of checking out the lay of the place. It gave him a thrill of sorts and the habit was now ingrained into his being. He only nodded.

His father had later walked out of the room and a week later as he was airlifted from the Himalayan woods, he remembered his father’s parting words from that evening.

“Remember, my boy, the enemy is not always visible and evident… trust no one but yourself. Reasons are aplenty why some things fall apart… Omnia causa…”

What was all that about?

 

Maanav struggled to stand up and walk to the dining table to pick a fruit. He didn’t have an appetite but his body needed fuel to function and recover.

He gently sat back on the couch, now that the pain had started to recede. He only hoped he hadn’t pulled any stiches or worse damaged and internal organ… he had his follow up visit at the hospital the next day… actually that same day, given the timing!

As he bit into the luscious fruit a gift from Shiv and Padma, straight from their plantations, he remembered the day he woke up in the hospital after the camp evacuation.

The antiseptic redolence hit his senses making him want to gag… why was he feeling so lethargic? All of a sudden, he remembered what had happened. His eyes struggled to open as panic gripped him. How was Nitya? Was she safe?

He struggled to sit when a rough baritone spoke up. “You should lay still, my boy, you are in shock.”

What was his father doing here? Where on earth was he?

As if hearing his thoughts his father walked towards his bed. He was in formal clothes. On his gesture the orderly helped the bed up and Maanav was now inclined enough to see the pristine hospital room.

“Where…? I mean…” he tried to speak but his mouth felt like he had eaten saw dust.

His father held up his hand. “Wait and hear me out, my boy… as expected you were in danger. But all went well and you are safe now. Good thinking.”

While he was surprised to hear the first ever praise from his father, he used every ounce of his energy and spoke. “Nnnn…nitya?”

His father sighed and spoke. “The girl is safe. If you want her to remain so, stay away from her… in every possible way. No phone calls…nothing at all…”

Though elated at knowing about her safety, his heart broke into a million pieces… he had only one friend besides Chandran and Nitya was very close with whom he could share his personal stories. And now that was abruptly ending as well. He knew his father wouldn’t answer any of his questions.

That was the month of August 2008… his birthday was coming up and this time he had hoped to celebrate it with Nitya… a celebration for once. But it wasn’t to happen.

His father left that evening to wherever he was posted. Maanav was moved to a boarding school in Rajkot and had to severe ties with Chandran as well for the guy’s safety. Maanav didn’t know why but was sure it had something to do with his father’s job. How he wished his father would confide in him.

And then came the attack of November 2008…. The day he could never forget. If he thought his life sucked this took the cherry on the cake. He was back from practice and had to complete some assignment from school. He disliked the place but was determined to complete his studies and become someone eligible enough to reconnect with his friends.

However, that evening he got a devastating news he had never expected would shake him so much. 26/11 happened. His father died in Mumbai in the line of duty fighting the terrorists. He didn’t know what ever transpired… the details were classified. But all he remembered was him spiralling out of control.

Though his father had barely been there in person, he was the only constant in Maanav’s fleeting life. Maanav knew there was someone for him somewhere out there… a backup of sorts. But suddenly, he was all alone… he was now an orphan. He had never known his mother so she never mattered as such but this came as a huge blow. He just couldn’t take it or maybe it was the pent-up emotions for years …

His only solace was drugs… what began as a tiny whiff to calm his nerves snowballed into something huge. Within a year after his father passed, he was a junkie and the goon of his boarding school in Rajkot. He was a part of a graffiti gang too and once was taken into custody as well… however given his age and his father’s illustrious track record he was released. He never mended his ways… it was as if he was revolting against the world. His archery and martial arts classes went for a toss, and he was dropped from the state team as well. He felt no remorse whatsoever.

If this was what the Almighty had planned, so be it.

It was then he hit rock bottom. He joined a gang that was all set to rob a train…and he was all set to become a full-fledged criminal at 14 years!

 

©priyanayakgole

(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

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