Death comes to Happy Valley

Mountain range

The soft January sun was slowly slipping behind the distant glacier-covered mountain range.  The range surrounded the Sukh Marg (Happy Valley in English) in Northern India.  On the other side, the region with same namesake belonged to neighboring Pakistan.  For millennia, this sub-continent was inhabited by a peaceful civilization.  Then the colonial power appeared on the horizon and ruled the place for two centuries.  At the end, they would disappear in a midnight, leaving the land divided on a map, without any thought of future consequences.  The larger parcel retained the name India, a secular country with the majority practicing Hinduism.  The rest became Pakistan, a religious country, the majority practicing Islam.  Overnight, Sukh Marg also got divided on that map.  However, each country had wanted the entire valley for its strategic location.  Thus it became a flash point between neighbors.  And nothing changed in the past seventy years.

On that January afternoon, Mr. Gulam Ali, a teenager of Islamic faith was returning home, on foot, from his high school, three kilometers away.  A brilliant student, Gulam dreamed of attending a prestigious university in New Delhi, the nation’s capital.  Among the chirping of returning magpies to their nests, he heard an approaching siren.  He moved to the side.  But, a police-van screeched to a halt next to him.  Six heavily-armed police officers jumped out, surrounded him, and started shouting “Where’s Asraf Khan hiding?”   Getting no immediate answer, they began beating him mercilessly.  While collapsing to the ground, he understood that the policemen were looking for the leader of a banned religious political party that espoused the joining of this part of Sukh Marg with the other side.  Indeed, Gulam had no idea of Mr. Khan’s whereabouts.  One of the officers grabbed him by hair, raised him up, and forced him to lick clean the dirt-covered boots of all the officers.  Then, they dumped him again and sped away.  Later his friends would find him, bloodied and wounded.

Three years later, on a recent January evening, the sun was about to set, spreading the sky with a pink glow.  In a narrow alley, just off the main road in his hometown, Gulam was patiently waiting in an explosive-filled dark van.  That humiliation three years ago changed his life course.  He had quit school, joined the underground separatist movement, got indoctrinated, and recently received training in carrying out a suicide-bombing operation.  When the word came to his leaders that there would be an exchange of security forces in Sukh Marg, he was dispatched with a mission.

Now, he heard that same siren-sound from three years ago, while a military convoy began driving past the alley.  Gulam started his van, sped up and rammed the fourth truck of the caravan carrying sixty military personnel.  A fire ball accompanied with a booming sound erupted, while bodies started flying in all directions.

As his eyes began to close, Gulam Ali noticed F-16 jet fighters of both countries began to fill up the sky amidst the drum-role of incoming mayhem of a war.


By Sankar Chatterjee


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