The Soldier in the Bagh

It was a morn like any other
On the parade ground
We rushed to fall into line
Till one man looked like another

A band of brothers we were
Sworn to do or die
Shoulder to shoulder we stood
Together come hell or high

But what were we to know
Of the hell that stood before
How could we have changed a thing
Even if we’d known afore

Our shoes shined to a spit
We stood with our head held high
We stood proud and tall
Waiting for orders from up nigh

They came and told us to march
Guns slung proudly by our side
We followed the cannons ahead
Our chins pointing to the sky

We crossed our camp and left our homes
That day as duty called
Through roads we knew would narrow soon
To lanes where our kin grew old

As we marched through the tiny lanes
The sounds of life we heard
The wafting of festival food
Children playing in a brood

Eyes straight, legs high, we carried forth
Through the last lane into the Bagh
Formation being our only task
Our orders our only gawd

We stood in line in the sweltering sun
Watching families out to play
A hot blooded youth holding forth
In a corner as they do, to display

(Did he have a soapbox today
In a corner of the park
A regular spot to have his say
As they do on the (sabbath) holiday)

We watched all this through blinkered eyes
As the sun climbed in the skies
As families fed and played and walked
Or gathered in groups and talked

The order when it came was sharp
Canons in the peopled zone!
But what was this! no canons could pass
The lane looked after its own.

But we were brought and I was there
Standing in ordered line
And when I was told to do as bid
I shot, and shot as if blind

I was told to hold my gun and kneel
And take aim, not just to scare
To tell the people gathered there
Never again could they dare

Never again could they dare to come
Out of their homes at will
For there is a power that rules above
And that power has power to kill

I stood there in service to it
The power had me in thrall
For was I not a soldier true,
To shoot until the fall?

We saw our bullets piercing through
Our targets fell as shot
The others ran for shelter amok
But shelter there was not

The bagh was a fortress then
They and I were trapped
The victim and the soldier both
Could not escape the fall

I saw the mothers pushing girls
Down into the deep water well
Then jumping in to follow them
Away from this world turned to hell

I saw them trying to climb
The tall walls along the edge
But the steep walls offered no escape
From the sights of a soldier’s gun

They leapt on top of each other
Each trying to save another
But what use was that to anyone
They’d die one way or another

They ran hither and thither
Till the bullet storm had passed
Each giving up all they could
Unto this untoward brotherhood

I stood there and shot my stock
Till my heart was emptied out
Then stood there amongst the shells
One alone amongst my own.

The silence that followed then
Was not one that could be heard
For the keening of the dead and dying
Rose beyond the predatory bird

We marched out again in step
Us soldiers do as we are told
The burden of bullets shed we left
Carrying another in our hold

We marched through hushed lanes
Where laws decreed they stay
Not one could go to aid the dead
Or the dying where they lay

We assembled in the parade ground
Shoes polished in perfect shine
But the blot I carried in my heart
Will forever remain mine.

What will I tell my children hence
Of the disaster that we wrought
On that day we were Dyer’s men
In that crossfire we were caught

I hide from all my shame and grief
For being one of those who shot
Bullets upon my fellow men
For being upon the spot.

But a soldier is as a soldier does
And we learnt to soldier on
From that day to my dying day
Silent purgatory have I borne.

Do not try to find me, I pray
Do not ever for me grieve
Let me fade away as dried up dust
Let my oblivion be my reprieve.

(c) Meeta Sengupta

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