When I was 11, I was obsessed with action.
Millions of people fought years ago and died years ago. Millions of people did that for us years ago. Many of them became famous as freedom fighters. Bhagat Singh, Lal Bhadur Shastri, and Rani LakshmiBai were some of them. But there were some who never came to be known by us, some who were dedicated to the people, worked for the people but were not by the people. And I know about such a man, a man whose death still haunts me. Maybe because he died because of me.
It took place years ago, when I was just 18 and the whole of India was fighting for freedom. A time when the Indians killed Britishers on sight and the British too did its share of kidnapping Indian women and children. And I too was a woman, a helpless woman whom they had kidnapped. I was thrown into a ship and that was when it started….
Previously, two of their captives had disappeared and the Brits believed that they were rescued. So this time they had put us in the upper deck where only the whites could enter. I looked around at the three other people in the room. One, a kid of about seven, was lying on the bed and looked unconscious to me, another was a woman looking out of the window and the third occupant-a woman -was sitting on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chest, and sobbing pitifully. I went to her and put my arms around her to comfort her. But when I tried to speak, I couldn’t. It was hard to choke back tears at this point but I held on. At this precise minute, the door opened and a white man entered the room.
I saw the other two women around me shiver (ok, I was scared too) as the man entered the room. He strode directly towards the kid on the bed, his face determined. Was he going to kill us or were we being handed back to our families in exchange of something? I had no idea what was in store for me. I stared as the man heaved the kid on his shoulder and motioned for us to follow. Noticing a gun in his hand, we complied. Once outside he took us through winding passages in the ship. As time passed, the passages started growing deserted.
After a few minutes, the route he took was totally empty. On a sudden impulse I asked the man, “You’re going to kill us?” as soon as the words were out, I wished I had never spoken .The man stopped and turned towards me. His face sturdy but not cruel. “No” he said in a deep voice. “I’m not going to kill you, or even hurt you, as a matter of fact. But promise me that as soon as I let you out, you’d never turn around or speak to anybody about me. Once you’re out I don’t exist, ok?”
We nodded and I was about to speak when a man’s voice boomed from the rear, “You traitor!”
We all turned around to face a burly Brit. The next thing I knew was that I was being pulled from behind. We were all running and shots rang from behind us. The man led us to a door that opened into a dark hollow. He led us through the narrow path and after about fifteen minutes walk he stopped. We saw a thin streak of light behind us and knew they were not far away. The man brought his mouth near my ears and whispered, “Lead the women and kid through and take the first left. I’ll handle the bastards. Just hurry and don’t make a noise.” I could clearly hear his labored breathing and was reluctant to leave him. How I came to trust him, I don’t know but whatsoever, I followed his orders. Moving cautiously in the dark, I suddenly noticed a light ahead. Moving towards it, I noticed that it was the turning, lit by a lantern. It forked into two, and I took the left and suddenly stopped short as I heard the fire of a bullet. Looking behind me I saw the tension on the other women’s faces too. The one who now carried the child looked on the verge of tears. My own breath was held and after what seemed like ages the voices of the men went away. After what seemed like an eternity, I started walking again but not towards the exit but towards him.
Making my way through the dark with the lantern, I finally heard someone breathing heavily and my leg hit something. Bending down I realized it was none other than the man. Placing the lantern down I noticed his bleeding stomach and knew that he was shot. I was so frantic that all I could do was ask why?
And to this monosyllable he answered, “I lost my loved one in their hands and didn’t want your lovers to experience the same. I knew it was wrong, that we’re wrong. It was the least I could do.” And with that he left the world but his memories never left me. Many wouldn’t consider this meeting as being a friendly one but for me that single meeting was enough and I knew that he was my friend, my savior…….