the war

I remember the day the war was won. I tossed the ball to Sidda and asked for the latest on it. “Oh, we won,” he said, in the way one would’ve said that India had won a test match. But we were thrilled for many days after that, reading about the successes of the Gnat and of heroism such as that of a captain in our navy who had sat and lit a cigar on the deck of his bombed and evacuated ship and had sunk with it. On our public grounds they asked the only war hero from our town to make a speech, and he said he could fire away at the enemy but he didn’t have the courage for the stage and the microphone. An overwhelming awe for Indira Gandhi gripped us. She came to our town a few months later, and we went to see her, and I remember walking over the bridge above the railway lines outside the fort walls with Sidda and the son of appaji’s peon. “This bridge belongs to Indira Gandhi! This road, those trains, bogies, all these trees, everything!” the son of the peon had exulted. “Even this!” he had cried, picking a fistful of very-dry very-fine grey mud from the edge of the road where the jaali thorns grew. The mud fell steadily from between his bony fingers and fine dust from it blew into our faces. More dust hit our nostrils when he clapped his hands clean.