My sister makes a wish
Daddy had decided to put in his papers and take a premature retirement. Premature it surely was, he was only forty-five and had a long way to go, but his heart was set on dedicating his time totally to evangelism. So in 1965, we moved to his town in Punjab. He was going home; we were going to Never Land! Of course, the descriptions differed in each of our minds. I am not sure what Never Land signified for my siblings, for me it was rich in every way; experiences, adventure, fantasy, challenges and fun.
My eldest sis didn’t fancy it much I guess, because as soon as she completed her Senior Cambridge, she came to the “village” from her snooty school in the hills, and dashed off to Delhi to train as a nurse. This left four of us kids ( my younger brother had arrived by then) with grandpa, grandma, mummy and Daddy, the cows, buffaloes, chickens, rabbits and a dog named Tommy; fruit trees, open spaces and rolling fields. It was an absolutely wonderful life for me and my brother initially, because, we had no school to attend and the whole day was spent exploring the surroundings, shooting pigeons and whatever flew or ran or crawled, with our catapults.
I don’t know how my elder sis spent most of her time, but there were rare occasions when she would join us to spend the afternoons in our treetop getaway. We would take up books, some munchies and lemonade, and while away the lazy noon swaying gently in our hammocks that were way up in the treetop. On one such rare day, three of us were sitting around in the vegetable garden behind our house and sharing our dreams, wishes and fantasies. As we tried to outdo ourselves in our imaginations, she blurted out that she would love to see two planes right above us in active combat. My brother and I guffawed. We knew she was right off her track, because she wasn’t into these sort of imaginings. She was very “girlie-girlie” and dreamt of “sissy” things. However, we had to agree that she had indeed outdone us in ‘bizarre.’
We heard the roar of planes and looked up. It wasn’t unusual to see these fighter planes in sorties, as the Air Force base was quite near. There were two Gnats chasing a plane, which we couldn’t identify. It was a bigger plane than the Gnats. My brother and I were intrigued. By then they were almost over us and he yelled.
“It’s an attack, run. That’s a Pakistani plane. Look at the insignia.”
It happened in a twinkling of an eye. Before we could even digest what he was saying, the air was rent with staccato gunshots. We stood transfixed as we watched a raging dogfight in the sky. I can recall the feeling even today. It was all in the extreme...the fear, the excitement, the amazement. Then in front of our eyes, the Pakistani plane took a fatal shot and burst into flames. It careened wildly and began a wobbly descent, away from our ‘home air space,’ and finally crashed in a field not far from where we were. Our yelling had brought out my uncle, who was on one of his breaks between joining ship again. He wouldn’t believe us because by then the plane had gone down, but the trail of black smoke convinced him, and he ran out with all the others who appeared from nowhere in an instant. We followed, my brother and I.
It was a terrible sight, but not as terrible as what was to follow. We were at war with Pakistan.
I peered at my sister later in the night, when we were in the trench and our town was taking flak from an attack on the Air Force base. She smiled wanly. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking, but I had to say it.
“Couldn’t you wish for something better,” I shouted in order to be heard, through the cotton plugs in her ears.
She wouldn’t reply. Her teeth remained clenched on the handkerchief in her mouth. I stuffed mine back into my mouth as Daddy yelled a warning. A bomb exploded two hundred and fifty metres away. This was just the beginning.