Monday, February 25, 2008

Pen pals


Private Christopher, a retired ageing war veteran, was going thru' the roughest patch of his life. A widower, he stayed alone at the Wodehouse cottage along the Ranch road in the hill country of Wimberley, Texas. This was his ancestral home that he had inherited. Even at that age, he toiled all day at the small farm he owned. He tilled, sowed & reaped a bi-annual harvest that sufficed his meagre needs. In a way, this was his excuse for staying away from his cottage. Therein, time seemed to stand still & solitude brought back old memories that troubled him. Some ghosts from the past haunt for a lifetime!

Chris was a changed man after he had returned from war. He was in his late-twenties then and had seen enough brutality already. A bubbly youth that he was when he had joined the army, he had now been transformed into a quiet serious thinking man. Something seemed to have died within him. He stayed aloof, spoke little & kept to his work. He had left the army after his return from the war & had started looking after this farm that he still owned.

His parents noticed the change and realized that the war had claimed their child's cheer. They decided to get him married to the neighbours' daughter thinking that a companion would bring delight into his life. He did seem jovial for the first year of his married life but soon suffered another blow. His wife passed away while delivering his son, James. He never remarried. He cared for his son and saw him grow into a young bloke. But bad company seemed to overshadow James' lifestyle. They say that motherless children are more prone to temptation and crime. James used to go missing from home for days on end and then one day he never returned for good. All attempts to trace him proved futile & Chris gulped a lump in his throat as he thought that he had lost his first born to the big bad world of crime.

Years passed by and Chris seemed to have aged before his time. The number of wrinkles on his face equalled the number of strands of silver white hair over his head. But off late he seemed to have developed a new hobby. He would write a lot. Letters & letters of content to his pen-pal, Harry. The study in his cottage was full of letters to and from Harry. No one knew who Harry was or where and when Chris had met him, but Harry seemed to care for Chris. Who else would write so often to Chris?

Chris poured out his heart to Harry. He wrote about the brutalities of the war, of war-crimes, hunger, death and disease that had gripped his batallion when they had strayed far into the enemy territory. Of how the taste of rust and gun-powder had lingered on his tongue when an enemy soldier had thrust a pistol in his mouth before he was brought down by a fellow comrade just in the nick of time. He had heard his heart beat unruly then. He also wrote of how they slept under the stars and wished upon them. He proudly mentioned his medals that he had won for courage under fire and fondly remembered how his day was made when James had flashed his first toothless grin at him from his cradle.

He also hesitatingly mentioned his deep love for Sylvia, a lady he had fallen for while fighting deep within the enemy territory. Something that he had not mentioned to anyone before. How he wished he had confessed his feelings to her! He wondered how life would have shaped up if Sylvia was by. Back then, he had feared rejection as after all, Sylvia was the enemy's daughter. At times he did feel that Sylvia too shared feelings for him but wondered if it merely were his wishful thinking. He was fighting two wars then. A war of the guns and a tougher one within. He had pumped many a bullets thru' the hearts of the enemy soldiers but this Sylvian bullet seemed to have pierced deep in his own. She had the same effect on him that the Cheshire cat had on Alice. She had left an 'indelible impression'.

"What light is light,
If Sylvia be not seen?
What joy is joy,
If Sylvia be not by? ..."
he muttered to his fellow-troops who pulled his leg in friendly banter. These lines from some Shakespearen novel coincidentally fitted his situation and he found them quite intriguing.

War brought along with it all the insecurity & uncertainty and that was another reason he never expressed his feelings to Sylvia, something he regretted all his life. Later he was thrown to various other postings and witnessed his closest of buddies die right next to him. He wondered if the bullets had missed their target by a foot.

Harry patiently read everything that Chris wrote to him. He soon rose to the ranks of his confidante, something that no one else had the privilege of. He was the jovial optimistic kind and tried to cheer Chris up. He wrote to Chris asking him to open up his mind to the land of possibilities.

"Life ain't about possibilities, it's about facts. Face them.", wrote back Chris. The warrior in him hadn't died yet.

"Oh think of what would have happened if u weren't in the army, or if there was no war or if u were a girl, or a bird or if u won a lottery. Life is about possibilities" wrote Harry. Harry's aim was to keep the conversation going, to challenge Chris into thinking differently or to pull his attention elsewhere. He feared that Chris was slipping into depression and might end up harming himself.

"U can't escape reality by fantasizing", was Chris' short & shrewd response.

"Think of what would happen if one day out of the blue, u turn around and see Sylvia", wrote Harry. He felt that this might stir up Chris' imagination.

He was right. On reading this, Chris was quiet. He seemed lost deep in thought as he puffed his pipe. He often smiled to himself. "You really feel this could happen? I would trade all my doubts and cynicism if this would!" wrote Chris.

Harry had touched upon the fondest wish that Chris had nursed. Chris was all stirred up by dreams & possibilities as he folded his letter and slipped it into the envelope whereupon he wrote -

"To -
Harry,
Wodehouse cottage,
110, Ranch road,
Wimberley, Texas"


Acknowledgements -
Painting Illustration - 'Man writing in his study' - Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)

2 comments:

Me said...

I liked this entry.
Doing what we really want the most in life is toughest. Its easy to fight other's wars, but fighting your own wars need courage

Sagar Bhanagay said...

Yes! And more-so the effect that all this struggle has over mere mortals... In this case the guy ends up sad & lonely writing to himself.