Safaruddin marched smartly through the air force compound into the hanger where his fighter plane waited, crouched and ready, like a falcon poised for the strike. Today was the day. His first strike- inside enemy territory. There was a thrill in his bones. On the way he passed the flag fluttering in the wind. The three colours waved to him. He felt it in his soul. A feeling of pride.
He was everything his country represented. He was brown, tall and trim. He thought of the way he had come this far. Parents, poor and Muslim. His family was lodged among a sea of members of another community for generations. They just let them be. That was the hallmark of this great country for millennia. For that, it had suffered. But its soul was intact. The spirit was benign.
For their part, his father was very careful not to offend their neighbours by doing anything that would offend them. Keeping the community standards was easy. Even when many of the fellow members of his community moved with their families to exclusive areas, Safaruddin and his father had no trouble in resisting the impulse.
“I can count three generations of mine who were here.” Said his father. “This part of the earth is ours.”
He was an example of what is different about this country from that of the Enemy- thought Safaruddin. He had a preliminary flight right along the international border, just yesterday. Zooming in between the clouds, he could see down for miles on each side. This side looked greener and somehow, calmer. That side- grey-brown, arid, ominous.
He saw occasional farmers milling like solitary ants. Benign men and women this side, honest and trusting . his own countrymen who were under his protection. The other side dots crawled, somehow different, like alien repulsive ants- hostile, intolerant.
‘Ringg…..’ His phone sounded. God , he had to switch it off! He took it out and saw his sister’s number.
“Hello, I have to switch it off……” He started.
“Bhaiya…” He heard anguished crying breaking the sentence. “ They killed Baba. Chota bhaiya is in hospital….For…..” He heard some broken sentences, punctuated by weeping.
“What? But we never….” He stammered. Then the line went dead.
Duty was duty. A soldier had no option, no excuses. With practiced ease he was in the air accelerating with a malignant pace. The ear protectors muffled the roar of the engines.
Within seconds he had levelled off. The flat earth stretched to the horizon on both sides, brown and barren. Suddenly he saw that he could no longer distinguish both sides of the land. They looked identical. He saw the milling ants. He saw that they were just people everywhere. With no adjectives.