"Abba, how come  Nanaji does Puja   while Ammi and you  perform  Namaaz?"  eight year old Muskaan asked  her  father  Imtiaz Hussain.  They  were sitting in the balcony of their  flat  on  a Sunday morning munching groundnuts - the year was 2023.
 
"Before  I  answer your question let me tell  you  a  little story."
 
"Wow!  That's great, but make it a long one,"  Muskaan  said snuggling up to her father.
 
"Muskaan, you must have read in your General Knowledge  book that India and Pakistan fought a war in the year 1999.  Pakistani intruders  had  invaded Kargil and the Indian forces  had  beaten them  back. For the Indians the Kargil conflict was the  toughest  war they had fought since independence. The war brought to  light many  tales of heroism, valour, courage and compassion. One  such story  is  that  of a Major  who was called Major  Tiger  by  his colleagues  because he was very brave and fearless. This tale  is about  him and his love for a little girl....It is a story of   a father and a patriot.

***

It  was  three  in the morning and it  was  pitch  dark  all around.  Major Tiger was leading his men up the slopes  of  Point 4130. This was one of the key peaks overlooking the  Srinagar-Leh highway.  His  task  was to capture it at any  cost.It  took  the soldiers  more than eight hours to inch their way up.  Every  few minutes  a  hail of bullets would greet them  as  the  intruders, firmly  entrenched on top, kept firing. When they neared the  top from the east side they were ambushed by a band of enemy soldiers from  the west. When Caught between the firing from the  top  and the  enemy  attack  from he left,  Major Tiger's  men  fought  on bravely. They managed to beat back the attackers who had ambushed them but at a cost of twenty men. Major Tiger  now had only three men  with him and the intruders on top were at least  twenty.  He  decided to take a risk. He called the artillery on his radio  and asked  them to shell the top, asking for the shells to land  five metres  from  where he and his men lay. In  normal  circumstances this  would have been considered suicidal, but the situation  was by no means normal.
 
Under  the cover of the artillery fire Major Tiger  and  his men  stormed the enemy bunkers. Taken by surprise the enemy  fell like  nine pins. After a pitched battle when he looked around  an hour later, he found he was alone. All his men had died fighting. There  seemed  to  be no signs of intruders  too.  Major  Tiger's battalion   had  won  the peak but at a very heavy  cost. 
 
As he stumbled between corpses looking for any sign of  life he noticed  a movement from the corner of his eye. In a flash  he turned  back and was just in time to ward of a frontal attack  by an  enemy  soldier. The attacker's bayonet  just  missed  slicing through   Major Tiger's left shoulder. As his adversary tried  to recover  his balance  Major Tiger swung his rifle and caught  him on the head. The soldier staggered back. The two opponents   then lunged  at  each  other. His adversary's  bayonet  pierced  Tiger Major's arm, while his own bayonet  entered  the enemy's stomach. Major Tiger withdrew his rifle and stepped back.  He didn't  want to kill the soldier. He wanted to take him alive so that later he would be able to  get some information from him.
 
"Surrender or I'll finish you," he shouted.
 
"I'd  rather die with dignity than surrender," his  opponent  snapped  back  and with blood oozing out of his  stomach  made  a desperate  lunge  at   Major Tiger.  In an  instant  Major  Tiger lifted  his rifle and shot him through the heart. As the  soldier fell  in a heap on the rocky ground  Major Tiger   couldn't  help but admire the courage of his brave adversary.

***

Later  when he returned to the base camp and the  bodies  of the  soldiers had been brought back Tiger Major went through  the papers  retrieved from the bodies of the enemy. The  soldier  who had  challenged  Tiger Major and fought so  bravely  was  Captain Ejaaz  Khan.  In his pocket was a letter written  in  a  childish scrawl  and a photograph of a seven year old girl. She was  slim, fair  and was clad in a navy blue salvar kameez. She  had  bright  blue  eyes,  a small perky nose and  two tiny  pig  tails.  Tiger Major stared at the photograph mesmerised. He just couldn't  take his eyes of it. The little girl looked exactly like his own  Neha -  his daughter who had died at the age of six, her head  in  his lap.  How  could he forget that black Wednesday more  than  eight years  ago when a speeding car had claimed the lives of  the  two people  he  loved  the most in the world - Neha  and  her  mother Deepti.....
 
He  read the letter. It was in Urdu. Having learnt it  as  a third  language  in  school he could  read Urdu,  though  with  a little difficulty.
 
"Dear Abbu,
 
This  is  my  tenth letter to you but you  have  replied  to only  one. I hope you are getting all my letters. Abbu, I  am  so proud  of  you. None of my friends has a father in  the  Pakistan Army.  Come  back soon. I am waiting to hear how you  fought  the Indian soldiers and won the battle for Pakistan.
 
Abbu,  Nikhat Khala was telling that in Delhi you get  beautiful bangles. When you reach Delhi can you buy for me  six  red, four green and two blue bangles.
 
Abbu,   I  feel  very lonely without you.  Everyday  I  keep asking Baba when you'll come home. Please take care of  yourself. Abbu if any thing happens to you I ....
 
I love you so much Abbu.
 
Your little shahzadi,>

"Ayesha."

Major Tiger tried his best to fight back the tears  welling up  in his eyes but he couldn't. The crumpled paper in  his  hand was wet as he read it again and again....
 
For the first time in his life he felt a regret for having killed an enemy soldier.

***

A  month later the hostilities ended and the  dialogues  between India and Pakistan resumed.
 
Gradually   Kargil  disappeared from the newspapers  and  to most people remained only a memory. Normalcy was restored in  the relationship  between  India and Pakistan.  Cricketing  ties  and cultural exchange programmes  resumed between the two countries.
 
But  for  Major Tiger Kargil was still burning in his heart.  And it  would continue smouldering till he had achieved his  mission. Over  the last one year or so  he had made desperate  efforts  to trace  the whereabouts of Ayesha. He had contacted  the  Pakistan High  Commissioner in India as well as the Indian  Ambassador  to Pakistan. After a lot of follow up  his wish had been  fulfilled. He was to meet Ayesha in Lahore. This was the first definite step in his mission.
 
Ayesha lived with her grandfather. Her mother had died  when she was three.
 
The door was opened by an old man of around seventy.  Behind him clutching  his Kurta was Ayesha. She looked much taller  than she  did in the photograph and prettier. But there was a  certain sadness  in her eyes - a reflection of the tragedy that  had  destroyed her life.
 
"Are you the Indian Major?"
 
"Yes, salaam vaalekum," he replied in chaste Urdu.
 
"Vaalekum  salaam. I am Ayesha's grandfather  Mohammad  Khan and this is Ayesha."
 
Ayesha smile shyly and did an elaborate adaab.
 
Major Tiger handed her a packet. "This is for you."
 
"What is it?"
 
"Open it and see."
 
She  opened the packet. Inside were six red, four green  and two  blue bangles. Ayesha held the bangles in her hands and  kept staring at them as tears flowed down her cheeks....

***

Ayesha and  Major Tiger hit it off real well. It was  almost as  if they had known each other for years.  Major Tiger  planned  to stay in Lahore for a week but he stayed for a month. Every day he would visit Ayesha and the two of them would spend time  talking and laughing together. Mohammed Khan had never seen her laugh so freely since her father's death.
 
On the day he was leaving  Major Tiger made his proposal.
 
"What? That is impossible. How can you even think of such  a thing.  She is a Muslim child how can she live in a Hindu  house? Moreover,  I cannot of dream sending her so far away to  stay  in Delhi.There is no question at all.  When the Pakistan  Government official   told me that you were an Indian Major and you knew  my son  before the Kargil war I thought you just wanted to see  your friend's  daughter.  If I had known you had such  ideas  I  would never  have allowed you to meet Ayesha,"  Mohammed Khan  shouted, his face turning red with anger.
 
"Please Khan Saheb, calm down and try to understand. I  lost my daughter Neha when she was Ayesha's age. I see my Neha in her. It  is  as if she has been reborn as Ayesha. Believe,  me  Ayesha will stay in my house as my daughter  but she can continue to  be a  Muslim. Just think Khan Saheb, you are quite old; You have  no relatives.  What is going to happen to her after your death?  Who will look after her?"
 
"The two of us are happy the way we are. I can take care  of her. I have Allah's blessings he will look after Ayesha. Now  you please go away."
 
'Okay,  I am leaving. But I'll come back in a month's  time. Please  think  it over. You can ask Ayesha what she wants.  I  am sure she will agree to come with me."

***

Exactly  a month later  Major Tiger was once again  knocking on the door of Ayesha's house.
 
It  was opened by Ayesha. She was delighted to see him.  She gave him a big hug.
 
"Baba has gone to the Masjid. He will be back soon,"  Ayesha said after they had sat down in the living room.
 
Major   Tiger's heart  was thumping. He was hoping  against hope that Mohammed Khan would agree.
 
"Has your Baba told you about...about your going with me?"
 
"Yes  he has. I would love to go to India and stay with  you but I can't leave Baba alone. He has no one else in the world."
 
Major Tiger was silent for sometime and then spoke quietly.
 
"Ayesha why don't we take Baba along with us? The stationery shop he has can be sold off and the money invested. He can live a retired life with us. There is a Masjid right next to my house in Delhi. It will be very convenient for him."
 
Ayesha's eyes brightened. "Can....can Baba really come  with me?"
 
"Why not? I would love to take him along provided he has  no problem."
 
When Baba came Ayesha told him about  Major Tiger's  proposal.
 
Mohammed Khan seemed quite surprised.
 
"Please  Baba, please don't say no. I want to go with  Major Chacha  but  I  can't leave you here go. Please  agree  na,"  she pleaded,  climbing  on  to his lap and putting  her  little  arms around him.
 
Mohammed Khan didn't  answer for sometime.
 
Finally,  after  what seemed an eternity to Major  Tiger  he spoke,"Okay if Ayesha wants it I can't say no."

***

Shifting from Lahore to  Delhi was not an easy task. But  in six  month's time Ayesha and Baba were settled in  Major  Tiger's house which had now become their home.
 
Three years later Baba passed away.
 
It was only when Ayesha was eighteen that  Major Tiger  whom she now called Major Abbu told her how her father had died.
 
She  was  shocked.  Her face turned white  and  she  started screaming at him. She called him a murderer and a liar. She threw herself on her bed and cried her heart out, refusing to even  eat anything.
 
Major Tiger sat beside her patiently waiting for the  shock, anger and agony to subside. Then he started slowly explaining  to her."Little  one both Captain Ejaaz  Khan and I were  only  doing our  duty.  We were strangers fighting for our  respective  countries.   It was  just a chance  that he died and I  survived.  It could  have very easily been the other way around. Ayesha,  in  a war,  on both sides there are only patriots and martyrs  -  there are  no  murderers. The real murderers are  the  politicians  who unleash  a war. It is they who should be accused of  murder,  not the  poor soldiers who giving up their lives or take other  innocent lives for the sake of their  motherland."
 
Gradually  Ayesha got over it. She realised what Major  Abbu was telling was the stark truth. She once again started  treating him with the same love, respect and admiration that she used to.
 
When she was twenty one she got married to a computer  engineer working for a software company -"
 
"And his name is Imtiaz Hussain and he is my Abbu,"  Muskaan squealed  clapping her hands."See Abbu, I guessed right. Ammi  is Ayesha and  Major Tiger is my nanaji."
 
"Yes,  my child. Now, do you know why your Ammi and Abbu  go to the Masjid while your Nanaji goes to the Mandir?"
 
"Yes, Abbu I know. But where should I go when I grow up?"
 
"Anywhere you want, little one. All roads lead to God."

 

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