|Ready for a new world
My nephew was all set to leave home, to go study outside the region. Don’t want to make this sound like an early-marriage matrimonial, but at 6 feet 3, good looking, smart, a well-spoken polyglot who’d grown up in Shillong and been to St Edmund’s, I thought maybe a lowdown on the good of academics and why he needed to study wouldn’t be the best piece of unsolicited advice I could give him.
I decided to be honest. I levelled. “Look son,” I said, “I take it you’ll study, because that is why you’re going wherever you’re going. Just a couple of things. Don’t smoke or you could get the cancer, don’t do drugs because that’s one-way traffic, downhill. If you drink, drink like a gentleman. And when you need to do what you need to do, please be safe, use protection. In life, between standing ovation and the clap, choose standing ovation.”
I’d never seen the generation gap bridged faster. I lived to pay for a beer in the aftermath.
That was just over three years ago, when nephew was leaving home. In a year from now he becomes an engineer and is picking his options. I am scared, and confused.
A lot has happened in these three years since nephew left home to study in a faraway land, not faraway to need a visa, but faraway enough to make my sister cry.
In these three years, more Ulfa boys have come mysteriously overground to take up that new career, Sulfa. Many thousand boys and girls have also passed their matrics in Assam, and many thousands among them have, in recognition of their first divisions, been given laptops by the government. But they’ll never be as rich as the Sulfa. They will, no matter how many letter marks they have scored, never ever be able to beat that royal combination of underground weapons and overground political connivance that creates obscene amounts of wealth.
Should even a few hundred among them question the logic, we will have more Ulfa, and then Sulfa. And what of those who haven’t got the laptops and the star marks and the first divisions, those who haven’t even been to school, but have watched the neighbourhood unemployed become the rich, garlanded hero?
Should they question it, expect more Ulfa, more Sulfa, more KLNLF, more former KLNLF, more BLT, more former BLT, more NDFB, more former NDFB, more DHD (J), more former DHD (J), more DHD (N), more former DHD (N), more AANLA, more former AANLA, more KPLT, more former KPLT, more RVA, more former RVA, more Multa, more former Multa, more KLO, more former KLO, more ACMA, more former ACMA, more BCF, more former BCF, more HPC, more former HPC.
Doesn’t matter what the abbreviations and acronyms stand for, but they definitely stand for a ruthless industry of spoils and money, all in the name of country.
Nephew, meanwhile, has gone from boy to lad to man in these three years and sports a goatee.
In these three years, I have also watched on television, our one-time warriors pose for the camera in Delhi, saying they will now save my people and give us our identity. Like we never had it before. I have watched, in the past three years, and many more years before that, how militants “rehabilitated” by the government start off by driving imported SUVs, how they buy flats, how they take over properties and run coal syndicates. Some rehabilitation!
Then again, nephew has never discussed with me or with anybody in the family any intention of shovelling his way into the underground. He is a patriotic guy and has said he wants to join the armed forces. And I’m thinking AFSPA, I am thinking rapes and murders committed under that law by so-called protectors of the people, I’m thinking of a pretty young thing of the armed forces going and robbing people’s homes in Jorhat, I am thinking of a colonel getting arrested in Manipur as, it is said, he was peddling arms and drugs, I am thinking of an air chief marshal being in the dock, because, it is said, he and his family made money on a chopper deal.
Wasn’t there a line somewhere that went, “If I advance follow me, if I retreat shoot me, if I die, avenge me?” I know there can always be a downside to a trade, but is it sort of essential? Is being a soldier of fortune an upside or a downside? Where does looting fit in?
Wonder when two terms came together in this country, one of the ceremony of the keys at the Tower of London, and the other, a gallant challenge by a soldier on guard, to a stranger — Halt, who goes there? Friend or foe? The first, that goes ‘Halt, who comes there?’ is what is asked of the chief yeoman warder as he goes about locking the gates of the Tower of London. The conversation between the warder and the sentry goes like this: “Halt, who comes there?” “The Keys!” says the chief yeoman warder. “Whose Keys?” “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.” “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys and all’s well.” It’s an old English custom that has lasted 700 years, and is open to the public to view. As for “Halt, who goes there? Friend or foe?” it’s that “do or die” thing, the fearless stand of a soldier for those he protects.
In India, though, the two seem to have produced an illegitimate Halhukamdar!, meaning, “Halt who comes there?!” The convergence, I’m guessing, may have arisen sometime during one of those many situations when invaders laid siege to our country. After all we haven’t so often laid siege to anyone else’s really. In these parts, it suffered further regional rigours and became Halhukumdar in Assamese.
While Aamir Khan may have taken the Aal is well bit for his 3 Idiots, I’m left thinking about the travails of our Gen-Y sentry at his post. What if he, in this year of 2013, having taken aim at the first shadow among the trees should ask, Halhukamdar? Will he be shot at by an intruder? Or will he then have to hear ‘Ulfa’? Or ‘Sulfa’? Or ‘General’? Or ‘Air Marshal’ shouted back at him? What then?
What would a BE be worth in this marketplace?