Published in ‘The Tribune’ on Nov 11 2015
DIWALI is one festival when every soldier longs to be at home. The sight of a jawan with rum bottles in his backpack is enough to raise the spirits of the whole community. Ironically, barring few lucky ones, most have to be content with celebrations in the units only. When deployed in the operational areas, often on Diwali, there are real fireworks.Almost a decade back, on one occasion, I happened to be chasing the clock to make it home for Diwali. Landing at the Chandigarh airport in the afternoon, I headed for the Sector 43 bus stand as the Volvo service had just been introduced. Seeing the long queue, I reluctantly approached the bus conductor, who smilingly assured me that I will be taken on board.He was gracious to allot me the first seat in the head row reserved for VIPs. On settling in, I dug into Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. As the bus was about to start, an elderly gentleman came in and occupied the seat next to mine. He appeared to be in his late seventies and was not in good health. A young person, who had come to see him off, left hurriedly bidding a tearful goodbye. Soon we were cruising on the highway. Almost an hour later, the driver made a brief halt in the wilderness on the request of the passenger seated beside me. He slowly got down, perhaps to ease himself and struggled back to his seat. As we drove past a restaurant, those of us who were to get down at Jalandhar began to gather our belongings. While I was looking out the window, the reflection of the co-passenger who was calling up someone on his mobile caught my attention. Though he was talking in whisper, I could hear him faintly. He was perhaps headed for Amritsar. When the bus halted at the Jalandhar bypass, while alighting, I wished him happy Diwali. Nodding silently, with a penetrating gaze, he acknowledged my greetings.My wife and daughter, who had come to pick me up, found me rather upbeat, given the fact that only a while earlier, I had insisted on a low-key celebration due to some personal reason. As we drove home, I stopped to pick up a basket of goodies and fancy candles. I felt the same excitement as I did in my childhood days. I narrated to my family members the phone conversation of the fellow passenger. Suffering from terminal illness, he had defied predictions of the medical fraternity, through his indomitable spirit. He wanted a memorable celebration; make most of the extended lease. This was my moment of reckoning: flashbacks of critical times when life hung by a slender thread; the flame could have extinguished long back. How did one miss out on the latent blessings? On Diwali, the memories of the brief tryst with the noble soul invariably come alive, marked with deep resonance!