Chapter 1: Sami joins the Army
“War is a severe doctor; but it sometimes heals grievances.”
Edward Counsel, Maxims.
It is night-time in an open war field somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea, in the mid of December of 1941. Soldiers were told that it is the Battle Area of Operation Crusader. The heavy noise of rounds of BL 60 Pounder Gun, Short Magazine Lee-Enfield and M1 carbine can be heard frequently as the British soldiers face off with the Japanese, both sides firing at will. With Bristol Bulldogs racing above, and red flares illuminating the skies, the atmosphere is filled with foul smell of gun powder and blood.
Sami is present on this battlefield, fighting alongside his company unit at the British Army. Sami’s platoon is at a secured dugout and awaiting orders. They have been waiting for the past two hours, waiting for the moment when the heavy artillery has been exposed. The company commander is busy scavenging the area with his binoculars.
“What a day today, eh Sami?” Kashif, Sami’s comrade and a friend in the army say.
Kashif: “Who would have thought we had a dinner invitation from the devil this morning. And the main course would be us.”
Sami: “You’re joking! I have yet to meet a person with as big appetite as yours! You could eat up the whole devils army and we included! That too without a burp”
Both Kashif and Sami burst into laughter.
Sami: “Look, the commander is signaling Ahmed, he’s got the phone. I think the time has come.”
“Charlie 5 to Delta Over!” shouts the soldier in charge of communications, operating a MAN Timisioara telephone. He was tasked with the responsibility of updating the company commander and receiving orders.
“Subject Second wave insight! Awaiting orders, Over!” Having the enemies in sight, the company commander had asked the communications officer to request order for launching the attack on enemy. The original mission of this company was to counter attack the enemy foot soldiers after the enemy’s aerial offensive.
Sami lying down on his back takes a deep breath as he prepares himself mentally. It seems as if he had contended himself of the possible and most likely fate. He knows that in situations like these, there are no survivors. Their company is going to take the bulls by its horns literally; they are to intercept and engage a charging army said to be at least double their size. In moments like these, one has a reflection of his life’s precious moments in the span of a second or two. Sami remembers the time not so long ago when he was at his home. It was just a week or hardly ten days ago that he was looking for a job to start making an earning and a new life. He remembers the faces of his mother, his brother Wasi and his fiancé, Nayyara as he reflects on the latest events of life. Nobody was happy for Sami when he joined the Army expect him or so he thought he was happy. In fact it was the compulsion that drove him towards this decision, the compulsion of taking responsibility of supporting his windowed mother, his brother who is a student and compulsion of marrying Nayyara who’s father had been waiting for marry off his daughter to Sami for two years at the least. He had known that he had to marry her since as long as he could remember. Funny how the actions you take in order to full fill what is expected from you, always results in regret and condemnation; Sami wonders, sitting laid back in his bunker. What else was he supposed to do? he asks himself. He received the most condemnation from Nayyara father who also his uncle, Abid Sahib. His mother, Raziya Begum was supportive of his decision but he knew better when he looked her in her eyes as he broke the news. Nayyara of course was also not happy with Sami but for different reasons then her Father. Sami drifts down the memory lane as he gets lost in his thoughts.
“Abid! Are you listening? Aye Abid! Come down here, your nephew has found a job by the grace of Almighty ALLAH! Come down, Sami has brought sweets for everybody!” Raziya Begum is ecstatic as he announces Sami’s new job in the house, standing at the staircase and calling upon her brother in law, Abid. Sami is sitting in the lounge nearby the staircase with box of local sweets and confectionaries on the table.
Abid and his wife Shamima come down the stairs.
Abid: “Adaab Bhabhi. What happened? Bhabhi, you look extremely happy, Masha ALLAH!”
Raziya Begum: “Aray didn’t you hear me? My Sami has found work by the grace of ALLAH. He has got a government job now. Insha ALLAH he will be earning his independent money from now on!”
Abid: “Really? MashaALLAH MashaALLAH! ALLAH has listened to our prayers!”
Shamima: “Yes, this is the best news that one could ever wish for! Shukar ALLAH!”
Raziya Begum: “Aye Shamima, don’t get me started, ALLAH has bless us. I had been praying all the time and finally my prayers have been answered.”
Shamima: “Without doubt, without doubt! We all had been praying. Thanks to ALLAH. My mannat1 has been fulfilled.”
Raziya Begum: “Come, and have some sweets. Sami has brought sweets for us. It is first job and MashaALLAH such a reputable job. He has joined the Army.”
Abid Sahib and Shamima Bibi look awkwardly as each other hearing this as Raziya Begum reaches for the sweets for them. Abid Sahib did not like the English and his fore-fathers were known to fight against the British forces in the past. He’s disapproval of Sami’s new job is now evident on his face and Shamima looks on with a worrying face.
Raziya Begum: “What’s wrong Abid? Why have you put on a glum face?” Meanwhile Nayyara also comes down and joins the family. She finds the atmosphere in the room has turned sore for some reason.
Abid: “I am sorry to hear that Sami has joined the white men’s Army. I am not happy to hear this at all.”
Raziya Begum: “Abid? What are you saying?”
Abid: “Bhabi, We all had high hopes for Sami. Did he give even a moment’s thought to the honor of his fore-fathers before joining the British army? Did he not bother to even think about his great grandfather Rasheed Ullah Khan before serving these evil English rulers? The same people who used to bow down in front Rasheed Dada.”
Sami gets up from his place and moves towards his room in aggravated mood.
Abid waves to Sami to stop: “Sami! What will you get out of fighting the white man’s war? If you survive you will be called the English poodle, and if you die, you will die a dog’s death! You can never be a Ghazi or Shaheed (Martyr) fighting the white man’s war!”
Sami annoyingly listens to his uncle, without uttering a word. Nayyara is standing at the bottom of the stair case, listening to her father’s arguments with misery on her face.
Abid: “Look Sami my son, do not get upset, we have all that the Almighty has given us. You should make your family proud and always think about the name of your father and his father’s before making decisions in your life. Your younger brother looks up to you; you should be a role model for him. What is the benefit of doing something which will give you nothing back except of shame in front of your own people?”
Shamima Bibi intervenes to de-escalate the emotions: “Abid sahib, what are you saying? Sami has always made us proud and insha ALLAH will live up to all expectations.”
Raziya Begum is not impressed by Abid’s arguments: “Abid Khaan, Sami has finally got a job after much toil and here you are being ungrateful? He has been accepted as a Soldier in the service of British Royal Army and I will not hear any of this non-sense! They run the government here. You cannot deny or change that fact or can you?”
Sami: “No Amma, Chacha saab is right. This service is really a disgraceful job. I had better offers from our good relatives, the Bajwas. Bajwa sahib asked me to look after his cattle and clean cow dung at the barn. Or how about your cousin’ offer; he was kind enough to offer me a place in his home as a house keeper and offered extra benefits if I could cook as well.”
Abid: “Sami that is no excuse for you to join the Army. Think about your family’s honor!”
Sami: “Chacha saab, where is this honor that we hear so often about? Why can’t I see any honor in this old broken house, broken chairs and doors? You cannot afford to send Nayyara to school and don’t know whether your two sons will be able to continue their education next year. Honor will not fix Furqan’s damaged eye. Tell me Chacha saab, why can’t I see the Honor of our fore fathers? Maybe because there isn’t any left….”
Abid sahib cannot believe the audacity of Sami to utter such words.
Sami: “ …nothing left except us and our miseries. Honor won’t give me a job Chacha sahab. This opportunity is for the betterment of our family. With time, I can fix everything. People will truly respect me now because I am a soldier. They won’t think about offering to clean cow dung out of pity of this… invisible family honor.”
Abid did not expect such words from Sami. He moves up towards his room with a disgusted face and slams the door behind him. Sami also leave the common room and goes outside the house.
As the days go by, Sami had formally joined the Army and reports daily at the Army training center.