THE GOOD TEACHER

I was in my ninth standard. The distribution of computer weekly test paper was in progress. Few of the students surrounded Mr. Rituraj Pradhan, our computer sir. He was fairly new to the school and had made a pretty good impression on us students. Even though I struggled in computers and Java was way beyond my limited scope of Computer understanding, I put in lot of effort. The students negotiated with him for some increase in marks, and few of them even got into an argument for his corrections. It was the usual scene which all of us would have experienced during our school days. Everyone discussed about their scores. The toppers complained about getting 21/25 or 22/25. The lesser lights were happy with a 10/25 and some did not care about their single digit scores.

I had scored a very decent 19/25 in my paper. I went up to our sir for enquiring about the correct answer for a question. As I went near he turned towards my face and shouted on top of his voice commanding me to get back to my place. I shivered a bit shocked by his rage. Everyone who had been trying to get the scores added up took a step back and graciously returned to their seats. I was back at my place trying my best to calm myself. The period got over soon. The 10 minute short break followed. I went out of the class to get a breath of fresh air outside. A friend shared his Tiffin with me. It was roti and chana, and it was tasty. We got back to our classes and eagerly waited for the lunch-break. I enjoyed the football in the afternoon. It refreshed me from the morning showdown. I felt much better after that.

The afternoon session had a computer practical period. The post-football fatigue made it very difficult for me to stay awake in the first period after the lunch. I looked at my watch wishing for the class to get over soon. The next class was the computer practical and I wanted to sit inside the air-conditioned computer lab which would help in relaxing my overworked calf muscles. I was looking at the monitor trying to understand the piece of code when Rituraj sir tapped on my shoulder. I greeted him formally. The next few lines he uttered were completely unexpected. He genuinely apologized for shouting at me in the morning class and there was no pretence in his words. He sounded very sincere and I was overjoyed by this action of his. A deep sense of respect grew for him, even though he was not the best ever teacher but his best efforts never seemed fake.

Apologizing is the sign of a strong character and Rituraj sir was one. I have never forgotten that act of his, a teacher saying sorry to a student for shouting at him. Teachers with nature like his can really move the students in the forward direction and certainly make them better human beings. The last time I heard of him was when I paid a visit to my school during the summer vacation after my 2nd semester of college. He was suffering from a kidney ailment and there was a notice which requested the staff and students to contribute for his treatment. I have no clue to where he is now. I wish and pray that he is healthy and still making a positive impact on the people around him.

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A VIRTUAL BLESSING IN DISGUISE

Isha returned back home after a tiring day at work. Day long client meetings have kept her busy all day. After a long time, she logged into Facebook. There was a message “Hi Isha, I have come across your website today, glad to have crossed by your site. Pretty impressed by your ideology” – Kartik

Isha sent a reply thanking him. Kartik and Isha soon became friends, they kept in touch over instant messaging app. They used to message each other whenever they get time during their work hours, and once they are back from work, Kartik used to ensure that he dedicates some time for Isha almost everyday. 

Isha who is a girl who doesn’t share much about herself to anyone, opened her book of life to him. She had no hesitation because she could trust him. Kartik also respects her for what she is. He has put maximum efforts to understand Isha, her interests, her likes, hobbies, part time activities. 

Isha started to feel happier with every day that passed by, her once dull and boring life has now become interesting. She used to eagerly wait for Kartik’s messages. Kartik never gave Isha a single chance to be disappointed, starting with a good morning wish everyday, he took care of her feelings, her worries in her personal life, stress at work. Isha couldn’t believe how life has changed with arrival of Kartik into her life. She now has a person to talk, she knows the value of having one such acquaintance. 

Kartik became parent of a dog. Isha had the chance to name the dog, she spent hours searching for a nice name. She named the dog Buddy. Kartik used to share many pictures of Buddy with Isha, she used to feel delighted. Her happiness could not be expressed in words. Kartik came in as an angel for her, she respected Kartik all the more… Kartik filled her otherwise lonely life with joyful moments.

It has been more than an year they were chatting, she doesn’t know how Kartik even looks. This hasn’t bothered Isha but she preferred associating Kartik to a face, an identity. She wanted to meet him. Kartik was reluctant to meet her so soon. He even expressed the same to her, Isha was definitely surprised by this.

They continued to talk the same way as earlier, Isha never brought up the topic of meeting him thereafter. After a few months, one day Kartik asked Isha if they could meet. Isha agreed as she was eager to meet him. They made a plan for weekend to meet at a cafe. As in movies, Isha told him what color dress she would wear, Kartik replied “ROFL” . She innocently asked him, “How will I recognise you?“, “Now that I know what you would wear, I will search for you at the cafe …” was his reply. 

Isha reached the cafe well before time, seated at a table, curiously looking at every person entering the cafe. She noticed that her cousin Nandan came to the same cafe. She greeted him, Nandan took the seat opposite her. They talked for sometime, Isha is now concerned that it’s time for Kartik to come, she should tell Nandan that she has to meet a friend. Nandan was continuously talking, Isha couldn’t break the conversation in-between. Nandan asked Isha, “Are you ok? You look tensed”. Isha told him she came to meet a friend…

Nandan has put his hand forward as if he wanted a handshake, when they were shaking hands, he said in an introductory fashion “Kartik…”. Isha was surprised to listen to the name, then she realised his name is Kartik Nandan. “Was it you who chatted with me everyday ?”, he nodded in acceptance. She was confused, couldn’t find words to talk … 

I am sorry Isha. It was me. You may be thinking why I did all this ? Let me explain“, after a pause he continued, “It is one thing to be there for you when in need and all together different thing to make you feel that you are cared. I am sure there would have been many people who would have told you to reach out to them if you needed help, it is courtesy to offer help when one is in need, they care, they really do. But, I know it is very unlikely for you to reach out to them…

If I would have told you that you can talk to me whenever you feel like talking, would you have opened up the way you did with ‘Kartik’? May be not. After Rajiv (Isha’s husband) passed away, you became very lonely. I can understand how it feels when you lose someone who was everything till yesterday and today you don’t have anyone to look up to. There are family and friends but the emptiness cannot be filled so easily. On the back of your mind, you may also feel that they are sympathising even if they haven’t intended to be so, not your fault just the time is so…

Isha felt very emotional, she couldn’t help but cry. After a few minutes, she composed herself, “You are right Nandan. Every word you uttered is true, but not everyone understands the feelings of another. Who would care for a lonely person? Actually loneliness goes totally unnoticed at times. People would force me to be happy. I have work, hobbies, many other things that keep me occupied all day long, but at the end of the day and early morning I feel very lonely. It used to frustrate me so much to not have anyone who I can talk to, but could not express this concern to anyone. 

How would I ask anyone that I want someone to talk to. Nothing important, but a casual conversation also has become rarest of rare. Communication, which is basic need of human being is so tough to have, I have never known this. It is very tough to manage everyday. I find myself ‘odd man out’ when my colleagues converse at lunch table. Once one of my colleague asked me why is that I don’t have any complaints / concerns  about anyone, when all others share so much about their families. There is nothing to share, so I am just a passive listener… It hurts so much…

I am very happy to know that you understand those feelings which are unexpressed, can read the innate need of another with ease. God bless you Nandan. Thank you !!”

“Isha, saying this you cannot escape from me, I would continue to be Kartik for you, I would continue to talk the same way as earlier. Now, we can even talk not only chat.. I will look forward to meet you soon…” said Kartik. Isha felt very relieved and happy to know how blessed she is. 

They continued for many years happily sharing their feelings, fighting like kids, being each other’s support. 

A SPECIAL DINNER

Suparna was so happy today. She could not entrust her cook today, she had to make the dinner herself and make it really good. Someone special was coming for dinner today, that’s what Akshay had said casually over breakfast. There was still so much work to be done, only Kadhai Paneer was partially ready, the whole menu was there in front of her.

Akshay, her son was now thirty-two and still unmarried. Relatives were already asking and so were the neighbors but more than that she and her husband Amit were getting really old. She desperately wanted to play with her grandchildren till she is too old to do that. But Akshay had always been denying any offers that came for him.

A year back they had to suffer so much of embarrassment when they had a meeting scheduled with Mrs. Sharma’s neice. Akshay refused to show up for the meeting, he switched off his phone. Suparna had no idea what to tell the guests even after multiple rounds of tea. It was utterly embarrassing. Akshay did not come back home till past mid-night, much after the guests had left.

“I do not want to get married. Why can’t both of you just leave me alone?” That’s all he had said before banging the door in anger.

Next day morning, Akshay came to his mom with a remorseful face, “Sorry Ma, I shouldn’t have shouted on you. But seriously, if you force me into this marriage thing, it will not work for me at all.”

“But beta, your age..”

“Mom, what age? I have to feel comfortable to get married. It is the most important relationship of anybody’s life. I cannot just spend my life with anybody. I want my wife to be special and I want to choose her myself. I believe in God, Ma. When time comes, I will meet her and you will be the first person to know about it. That is my promise; now please promise me that you will stop looking for a partner for me.”

Suparna trusted her son. With tears in her eyes, she hugged her son and promised him never initiate this talk about marriage till he himself is interested. Since then Suparna and Amit never persuaded him to get married. But that did not mean that they stopped getting worried about it. In her everyday prayers, she would just ask for one thing – a daughter-in-law. Amit had totally withdrawn himself from all family matters after that day. Apart from his prayers, walk, pranayama, regular tea and three meals of a day, there was nothing else in his life. Though Suparna knew that Amit was also very worried about his son, but he hardly ever shared his emotions with her.

She was now sweating with the heat in the kitchen. Everything had to be perfect today. She took out her latest dinner set and laid it on the table and again went running to the kitchen to have a look at suji ka halwa. Finally, he has decided to get married. He has everything – good height, education with great grades, a stable job and thanks Lord for all that. The only part missing in her life would also get filled in now.  Today was finally the end of all their worries. But she really had to hurry up. Akshay had said that they would be home after 7 from work. Only 2 hours were left and so much to be done.

“Oh, what should I wear? I should have applied henna today only if Akshay had told her earlier. My grays would show, but how does it matter. I am going to be a Mother-in -law, I should look like one.” Thought Suparna. She couldn’t help wondering what the girl would be like. Well, it was only a matter of couple of hours.

It was 7 pm, they would be at the door anytime now. Suparna made sure that everything was perfectly ready and Amit was dressed up too. She quickly wore her latest pink colored saree with golder border matched with her gold jhumkis and pink bangles. She wondered if she was over-doing her dress-up, after all she is supposed to look a mother-in-law now. Well, it was a special evening and she wanted to dress up nicely and so she did.

7:40 pm and the door-bell rang; Suparna rushed to the door and noticed for the first time that it was raining heavily. As soon as she opened the door, she saw Akshay with a doll like pretty girl dressed in a blue jeans and red flary top. She was wearing black boots and some trinkets on the wrist. Suparna was a bit surprised, she wasn’t expecting this but she greeted both of them inside. She saw Akshay signal her and she bent down to touch her and Amit’s feet. Her black colored hair with highlights of brown was accentuating her pretty face cut. Her long earrings seem to get mixed up in her hair. Suparna couldn’t help but notice the innocence in her eyes. Inspite of a butterfly tattoo on her arm, she looked very pure.

“Ma, this is my friend Tina. Tina, meet my Mom and Dad” Akshay broke the silence and Tina folded her hands to greet both the elders.

“Come beta, please come and have a seat. I didn’t realize it is cold outside, shall I make some tea or coffee now or would you like it later?” offered Suparna

“Aunty, it is fine. Please sit, we can have tea later.” Said Tina

Suparna liked her voice too. It is a very melodious, child-like voice. She sat down next to Tina and realized that the girl was wearing a floral mist fragrance.

“Aunty, I am really sorry to have come in this dress up. Akshay invited me only today morning, by then I was already at work. Because of rain and traffic, it was impossible for me to go and change. Please don’t mind it, Aunty. I definitely would have taken care of it, if I could.” Said Tina and she really looked worried and sorry.

Suparna and Amit couldn’t help but smile at her innocence. The more she talked, the more Suparna liked her. Akshay was smiling too, that radiant smile of his that Suparna was dying to see since a long time.

“It is fine, beta. There is no problem at all. You look lovely.”

“Mom, she was planning to go home at 6 and dress up in a saree and come here. She wouldn’t have reached before 9. It took me some time to convince her to just come over. She was too worried about what kind of perception will it give. I told her that my Ma and Paa are not from 18th century” said Akshay.

Suparna was surprised to see him talk so much. He usually is very quiet at home and would mind his own business most of the times. Today, he looked different – dynamic and energetic. She could see how desperately he wanted us to like and approve of Tina.

Evening went on and they came to know more and more about Tina. She likes to go to gym regularly and that is where Akshay met her 6 months ago. She likes to dance and play Tennis. She lives with her sister here in Bangalore and works for an MNC as a Manager. She is 4 years younger than Akshay, but she definitely looked like 20. She is outgoing and likes to make friends, which she has a lot.

Suparna realized that Tina talked so much but she never once mentioned her family except for her sister. Over the dinner table, Amit asked, “Beta, what about your parents? Where do they stay?”

Tina’s smile suddenly disappeared and Akshay put up a tensed expression too, which scared Suparna.  She wondered if everything would be ok with the family.

“Uncle Aunty, I know this is my first meeting with both of you and I know that questions about my family will be asked. Though, I want to tell you every bit of truth I really don’t want you to judge me or my background without knowing me completely.”

Suddenly, the environment of house turned from happy to tense. Suparna and Amit looked at each other and then at Akshay. He had reassuring look in his eyes.

“I was born in Mumbai in one of the famous red-alert areas of the city. My mother was a prostitute and she had a very close affair with my father. My father was so much in love with her that he wanted to marry her, but did not have guts to stand up against his family and take a stand to marry a prostitute.”

Suparna’s feet just froze to the ground as she heard the story. She couldn’t move a muscle and did not know what she felt. A thousand thoughts ran in her mind “What will the people say? Is this girl really decent? What will I say during the marriage about this girl’s background?”

“Before my father got married to another woman, I was born. He decided to adopt me but he had to convince his would-be wife first. This was a difficult situation for him because the woman he got married did not accept the situation nicely. My mother, on the other hand, did not want me to grow up in that environment, so she asked my father to take me away with him at any cost. He did so, but his wife did not agree to keep me in the same home as her own daughter. I studied in a boarding school and my father did as much as he could to give me a quality education. I used to visit them and my half-sister during my vacations and otherwise. I got really close to my sister Ananya, though my step-mother did not like it. We have been best of friends since ever and that is the reason why my step-mother has softened towards me now. I have visited my mother in Mumbai only a few times before she died couple of years back.” Said Tina with strong determination in her eyes, which were full of tears!

Suparna couldn’t control her tears as well and she noticed Amit’s look get really soft listening to all this. Akshay was continuously looking at Tina holding her hand to give her all the moral support that he could.

“You might feel that I was born to a less person, a person who doesn’t deserve to be respected. All I can say about my mother is she kept me away from her because she did not want me to even slightly get affected by her life. She loved me, she wrote letters to me, she craved to see me, to touch me and to hug me, but she sacrificed her motherhood only for the sake of me. And today I have a Master’s degree and I work for the World’s best Company as a Manager. I know where ever she is, she would be proud of me and that is all that matters to me.”

“My father did all that he could for me, but he could not stand up to his family for me or my mother, yet he provided for all my financial needs if not love. The only love that I have received in my life is from my sister Ananya and then from your son. He means the world to me, he accepted me knowing all about me and he told me to tell you all the truth the first time I meet you.”

She was crying like a child now. Her pure innocent eyes were filled with tears but strength in them still showed.

“Aunty, it is up to you to accept me or not, but as far as I have heard of this family, I know that this family can give me all the love I have missed in my life. And that is all that means to me.”

Suparna couldn’t take it anymore, she just got up from her chair and hugged this little girl. She had never seen such a strong, brave and truthful girl. No matter what her family background is, she knew that this girl will make the perfect daughter-in-law to them and a perfect wife to her son. And before she knew Akshay and Amit were also wiping their eyes and she knew that this was an instant family connection.

THE PREJUDICE THAT DIDN’T SUSTAIN

“Dad, I want to go for a sleepover at my friend’s place,” Riya was pleading her father. “Let me discuss it with your mom and we’ll let you know” Riya’s dad said, while surfing the news channels on TV.

Just then Siya, Riya’s elder sister came into the room and said, “Dad, Sherry is throwing a party tomorrow as she won the dance competition. So, I will be going and staying back there. Her father will drop me back home the next morning.”

Her dad replied, “Yes, your mom told me about it. Have fun sweety.”

Riya was flabbergasted. And, this was not the first time. Her parents were always biased towards her sister. She had just entered her teens and Siya was 2 years elder to her.  Ever since she remembered, her parents always favoured Siya more. It was not that her parents didn’t love her, it was just that that her parents were extra sweet towards Siya.

Riya was hurt. Siya could sense her little sister’s eyes. She was a loving and caring elder sister, just like any other, and Riya also knew this. But, everytime the biased treatment left poor Riya in agony.

“It’s just that they are more concerned for you Riya”. Siya said consoling her sister.

“No”, said Riya, “It’s because they love you more.”

“You are in a different frame of mind my dear sis, that’s why you are saying like this”, Siya said.

“How come your demands are met everytime?” Riya demanded. Her voice was loud enough for her parents to hear.

“Because I am more mature than you. I am elder to you”, Siya replied.

“Darn! Just 2 years. Big deal!”

“C’mon! You know they love us equally.”

“No, they don’t! They love you more. Ever since childhood, I have been seeing. Who knows whether they gave me birth or adopted me.”

“Riya!” Siya shouted.

Their parents barged in their room. Both the sisters were in tears.

“Mom! Dad! I am sorry!” Riya apologized instantly.

“It’s all right. We think now is the right time to tell you girls the truth.”

The sisters were clueless of what their father was talking about.

“My little dolls,” their father sighed, “Your mom and I never thought that we will be telling you this. But, now, I think you must know. Your mom was unable to conceive even after eight years of marriage. There wasn’t any medical issue, and we were heck tired of the everyday visits to every other gynaecologist. Then, we went for adoption. There was a little baby in the cradle, whose parents died in a car accident and we immediately adopted you Siya. You were so lucky for us that your mom got pregnant and we got you Riya and thus, our family got completed. We always were over conscious about Siya, not to make her feel neglected at any point. But, we never ever differentiated between you two. Sorry for everything that you went through. We just love you.”

“I am so sorry Dad and Mom. All these years I was so wrong. I love you.” Riya said.

“You are the best parents in the world. I am blessed to have you as my mom and dad!” Siya said, sobbing terribly.

The whole family hugged and wiped each other’s tears. It was the end of the prejudice.

A LETTER FROM A BROKEN FATHER

Radhika, a 25-years-old marketing professional recently shifted to Delhi as a part of her career decision. She convinced her parents about  her safety and took the big plunge. She was happy about her new project, new house, excited about life in new city.

Delhi – city famous for its mouth watering street food, high street fashion and zest for life also has a shoddy picture when it comes to the safety of women and that made Radhika a bit apprehensive.

But that it didn’t stop her from beginning her journey.  She used to take a bus daily to her workplace and back. On one such fine day she noticed a man (must be in his fifties or early sixties) in the bus staring at her constantly. She turned her glare the other way and ignored him. But not for long. She saw him again, again and again consecutively and every time she noticed him staring at her. It was getting on her nerves. “It’s so irritating, am I a piece of meat to be served as his eye candy? His age and acts have no correlation whatsoever!”, she despised him so much. As if it was not enough she found him following her. After repeatedly ignoring his acts she confronted him when she could take it no longer. “My silence is only strengthening him and I won’t let it happen”, she said to herself.

“What is your problem? Why can’t you mind your business? Why do you stare at me?  When I ignored your acts you have started following me? You must have thought that I am going to take it lying down and you can get away easily. Come on speak up now”, she roared. The man was taken aback and soon few people gathered and anger poured in demanding a legal course of action to be taken.

Radhika interrupted and said, “let him go considering his age. What if his family comes to know about his lowly acts, they will break down. Let him go with a warning”, and she turned to the old man and said, “I am letting you go now not because I fear you but I am worried about your family more than you. I am thinking what if you have a daughter of my age and she faces such harassment, think about it”, she blasted him and left from there and the gathering dispersed leaving the old man with a drawn face.

She thought it was over.

Next day morning she received a letter from the guard at the gate which read –

Dear Radhika,

Don’t be afraid thinking how I got to know your name. I overheard it when you thought I was following you.  But you only thought I was stalking you. My intention was never so. You asked how my family would feel if they come to know about my deeds.  But I wish I had one. The day I saw you, you reminded me of my family. You reminded me of my daughter! She is my family – whom I lost in an accident two years back. I was not following you as I stay in the same area in the building opposite to your society. But I can’t deny the fact that I stared at you as I was searching for my daughter in you. Wish I spoke to you earlier, but along with my daughter I lost my speech too in that dreadful accident! You don’t have to worry anymore about this old man stalking you as I am shifting to a new place. My best wishes are always with you, daughter!

A broken father.

Radhika was shameful about what she did. “How wrong I was in being judgmental – why I was so apprehensive”, she kept pondering over and over again.

A STAIRCASE THAT LEAD DOWN TO A DEAD END

Akshit shrugged as he was sitting in his balcony, looking at the sky blankly – his eyes getting wet as he remembered Anamika.

It was the vacation time and he was busy with his friends playing cricket, cards, roaming around and celebrating with them. He could not even imagine how quickly those 10-12 days passed away. She was a neighbor and was part of the group. Her family and his family were in good terms. All the neighbourhood friends were together almost the whole day except during the night. She was with all of them too. But when they both were alone, many times, she would suddenly become quiet in the middle of their conversation. He was so naive to be aware of the pain that she was going through. He was in 12th class and not mature enough to understand what she may be going through. He was busy making fun with her and all the friends. She even showed him a letter that a guy had given her sometime back. She read few lines for him also. She was talking about that guy. He did not even remember what she was talking about that guy. What was her problem? He was so inattentive that time. 

Akshit’s vacation time came to an end and he was ready to return to his place of study. He said good bye to her but she was looking terribly pale. She held his hands and said, “So you’re going finally?” Her voice was feeble. Akshit thought this feeling to be just an emotional expression caused by his departure. But he never thought that it would be her last expression of his best friend. 

Akshit came back to his place of study and after 4-5 months of his return, he was busy preparing for his 12th Board exams. That time he received a letter from his mom in which she had mentioned about an accident that she witnessed which had left her traumatized. But she never disclosed anything to him as he was busy preparing for his class 12th Board Exam.

His exam finished. Summer vacation started. His parents visited him for a few days and one day at the breakfast, Akshit’s mom started crying and telling him about the incident she mentioned in the letter few days before his exams. And her statement literally stopped his heart beat for a few seconds when she said: “Anamika is no more, she committed suicide, and nobody knows why she did that.”

It was difficult for Akshit to even accept what he heard. Her smiling face started dancing in front of him. He stood there for sometime looking at his mom sobbing and telling him about her. That day he went to the bathroom and wept quietly but bitterly. All the memories of his last visit flashed back. The only thought that was torturing him was that he could not help her; he could not save her life. He could not stop her from  going down a staircase that lead to the dead end. She was opening up before him, but he could not understand her heartache. He literally started blaming himself for the loss of her life.

That night he prayed to God and asked forgiveness for not availing the opportunity given to him that day. He asked Him the strength and the power to observe people closely, to be a good listener, to be attentive to people’s needs and to understand their heartaches. This memory made him sensitive to the slightest pain of any person who interacts with him. It alerts him every time he talks to a young boy or girl about their problems. Despite the guilt and pain, he was grateful to God for teaching him this hard learnt lesson. 

MY SON, WITH LOVE….

He was there, on the raised dais. He looked so handsome, that calm, serene look on his face. A soft smile played on his lips. His favourite perfume was scenting the whole area. The suit was made-to-order, it looked so perfect on him. The black Tuxedo. He had ordered it just last month. Had made special demands to keep the coat a bit short, he hated long coats. His wedding ring glinted on his left hand. She had pinned the red rose in his buttonhole, added the golden pin on the tie, kissing his forehead again and again. She still remembered how proudly she had looked down on him the day he had been chosen to be a Pilot for Air Force. She had saluted him.

His face had radiated with happiness and eyes shone with pride. She could never forget that high five he gave his younger sister, hugging her, punching the air. She was his mother; everybody referred to her as “Alec’s Mum”, she could feel everything he felt in her heart. She brushed the fond memory from her mind and the tear that rolled from her cheek. She gave him a flying kiss from down there. Alec was her firstborn, her perfect son.

People went on the stage one by one, giving him flowers, kissing his forehead. Every mother dreams of this day when her son would get married. His bride stood next to him; they got married this morning in the church. His friend Ravi, who was also his best man stood on the right. Shirley was such a lovely girl. Such love radiated from her as she stood to his left. She was fiddling with her wedding ring, rolling it over and over.

And down in a perfect line were all his friends, from school, from NDA, from Air Force. They were such thick friends. He used to be the life of parties, and his friends counted on Akshay to make the party go on all night long. She scolded him badly when he came back home drunk; he would always apologise the next morning, hugging her and lifting her up till she forgave him.

He was a forgetful one. “Ma, my wallet? Ma, my file? Ma, my shoes?”, He needed her all the time, but not from today. From today he would be no more dependent on her. She heard his best friend make a speech for him; there was pin drop silence. His picture, one taken in the morning after they exchanged rings was sitting on a huge easel. The hall was packed to full. Each one who knew Alec was there. No one missed this chance. His friends would go with him to the very last.

After the speeches were done it was silence. It was time. She walked up on the dais and ran a hand over Alec’s forehead pushing his hair back; they always fell into his eyes, she kissed his cheek softly once before he was gone. Shirley hugged him and kissed his lips, resting her head on his chest. Four of his friends came forward; they were in uniform. They carried the folded flag, they closed his casket and covered it in India’s flag. She felt proud, without shedding a tear, she looked straight up. They lifted his coffin and walked out carrying him. Each one stood, saluted him. She saw her son leave; his last flight was waiting for him, his last journey.

The morning after his wedding, in his reception hall, few terrorists came into the lobby and took all the guests hostage. Police and armed forces surrounded the building, but none could rescue them. The rebels made demands and threatened to kill the hostages if those demands weren’t met with. Alec and his friends couldn’t do much without any weapons, but they fought back valiantly. Alec managed to sneak into the kitchens and got some knives from the kitchen. He and his friends tackled the terrorists brilliantly, wounding them enough to have them under control. Alec was getting the guests out from the back window when he saw one the terrorist take out a hidden gun from his boot and he opened fire on the guests.

Alec got to him, before any of his friends could act and was shot multiple times as he gave cover to the guests. He died on the spot. She saw it with her own eyes. She held him in his lap, soaked in his blood, crying her heart out. This was his funeral. Her son was a hero. He gave his life for his country and saved each one. Each man and woman present felt indebted to her beloved son. She wiped her eyes for the last time and gave her last salute to Lieutenant Alec McGraw.

Salute to the Unknown Soldier…