Wednesday 11 September 2019

The Silver Lamp

 The Silver lamp is a beautiful short story by Anil Kumar Naik. It was published in a popular English magazine printed from Delhi several years ago, in1986. The story is in the background of India Pakistan war. It’s about war and Indian soldiers during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. And particularly one soldier, making a supreme sacrifice for his motherland. The story is heart-touching and relevant even today. It is reproduced here with the author’s consent.

Near the open ground, a little away from the other houses, stood a double-storeyed house, now practically in ruins. It had been destroyed in the very first days of the battle but the mad, old woman refused to vacate it. She lived all alone in the ruins, a silent witness to the intense fighting outside…….by Anil Kumar Naik

I don’t anything about him except that, according to the newspapers, his name was Abdul, and that he was killed in action in the early morning on 5 September 1965, on the Punjab front on the bank of the river Sutlej.

The incident I am relating here goes back to the Indo-Pak war of 1965. The Indian army was pushing back the Pakistanis from our territory, which they had occupied abruptly, during another aggression on India. Most of the occupied land was regained by the Indian forces, and only a bridge across the Sutlej and a chunk of land, in front of it, on the bank was still in Pakistani hands.

As planned, in the early morning, six Indian soldiers set out to steal upon the Pakistanis, holding on to the chunk of land and the bridge. They had to pass through a small open ground. Damaged tanks and burnt armored jeeps and vehicles were scattered all over the place.

And the entire vegetation was razed to the ground, leaving behind only trunks of the trees. One can easily imagine what a deadly battle it must have been.

They succeeded in covering most of the ground, but in the middle, the men were suddenly caught by shelling and machine gun fire from the opposite bank. For about twenty five minutes, they were under heavy enemy fire. The men took cover in whatever they could find to protect themselves.

When finally the firing eased a little, a young man, a Sikh and a Gurkha soldier who were slightly wounded, crawled off, hugging two other seriously wounded soldiers, and the sixth, he who had been less fortunate, remained motionless in the middle.

The Pakistanis were panicky and probably worried by the Indian army’s attempt to get across the bridge. Expecting reinforcements, the whole day after they on and off shelled the open ground and the bushes around to stop any further attempt by the Indian soldiers to move forward towards the bridge.

The commander who had been ordered to cross over to the bridge the next day by noon, said, “There was no need to get Abdul’s body out; he could be buried after they had captured the bridge, so vital for India.” And with the strength and spirit of his valiant men, he was sure of recapturing the bridge and the far bank.

The Pakistanis, still worried and intending to keep the Indian soldiers at bay, continued to shell all day, after sunset and right through the night. They were expecting retaliation from the Indian forces.

Near the open ground, a little away from the rest of the houses, there should a house with two floors but now practically in ruins.

And looking at it, one could not tell what the house originally looked like. It was destroyed in the very first days of the battle, and it was impossible to imagine that anybody still dwelt there.

However, an old Sikh woman, whom many thought insane, was still living under the ruins, which could now be only entered through a hole. The door was blocked with debris and stones.

She formerly lived on the second floor in a room, left to her by her late husband, a wealthy farmer. When the second floor was destroyed, she moved into a room on the first floor and when the first floor was bombed, she moved into the ground floor, refusing to move out.

Though there was intense fighting outside, she moved about her room and was a silent witness to all the happenings outside.

5 September 1965, was the third day she had been living there. That morning she clearly saw how the six Indian soldiers made their way into the open ground, from which her house was separated only by a broken fence.

She also saw the Pakistanis open fire and the shells exploding all around. She even pushed her head out of the hole, and was about to call the six soldiers to crawl into her house, where they would be surely, more safer when the shell a shell exploded close the ruins. And stunned by the explosion, she fell back, hit her head badly against the stone wall and lay unconscious.

Finally when she regained consciousness and looked out, she saw that only one of the six men was still on the ground. He was motionless and lying on his side, as if sleeping comfortably at home. She called out to him several times, but there was no response and soon she realized he was dead.

The Pakistanis, still worried of retaliation from the Indian side, continued their fire at regular intervals and shells continued to burst around, scooping earth, rising black smoke and wiping out the little left vegetation.

The dead soldier was lying all alone with damaged tanks, armored cars and burnt trees scattered around him.

From her house, the old woman gaped at the dead man. She was overcome with emotion and longed to share her feelings, but she was all alone. Her husband was killed long back by the Pakistanis. Even her dog, cow, hens and cats, that had ever since been her constant company, were killed during the last explosion.

Tears rolled down her eyes and she sat for a while, immersed in thought. Then she searched the only bundle lying in a corner. She took out something, hid it under her dress, and slowly made her way out of the house. She slowly moved towards the open space.

When a part of the fence blocked her movement further onward, instead of jumping over it, she made her way around it and finally came to the open ground.

The Pakistanis continued to shell and bomb the area, but miraculously not a single shell fell near her.

She unperturbed, slowly covered the entire ground and finally reached the spot where the dead Indian soldier lay motionless. With great difficulty she turned him over on his back and saw his face. He was young, handsome and pale.

She caressed his hair, kissed him on the forehead, crossed his arms on his chest and with great difficulty sat down next to him murmuring some prayer.

The Pakistanis continued to shell, bomb and fire with automatic guns and weapons from the other side of the river bank. However, the shells continued to fall far from her. So she sat at his side and just looked at him with tears in her eyes.

Something was jutting out from his shirt pocket. She managed to pull it out. It was a family photograph – his young wife, two kids and aged father and mother. Looking at it, she broke down: “Son, my son, you cannot see them.” And pushed it back into his pocket.

It was very cold and calm, except the time when the shells exploded. After sitting there silently for a while, finally she rose and, moving away from the dead soldier, took a few steps about the open ground. She had found what she was looking for – a large pit made by the shelling from the far side.

She slowly returned to the dead soldier. Taking hold of his hands, she began dragging him towards the pit. It was about fifteen feet away. But as she was frail and old, she had to sit at intervals. At last, she dragged him towards the pit and with all the strength she could muster, put him down into it. Exhausted, she sat down to rest.

The Pakistanis kept on firing and shelling from time to time, but the shells continued to explode at a distance. After a long rest, she knelt, closed her eyes and folding her hands, said a prayer. After kissing him on his face and forehead, she slowly began to cover him with earth.

Very soon nothing was visible from under the earth. Not satisfied, she continued to throw handfuls of earth. After over three hours, she managed to make a little mound over the buried dead young man.

Though the night was falling, the Pakistanis continued firing. Having finished the mound, the old, frail woman opened a small cloth bag and removed an old silver lamp, her treasured possession for all these years.

She brought out a bottle of oil and a matchbox. She stuck the silver lamp on the mound, poured some oil and lighted it. It burned brightly and, at once, lighted the dim surroundings. She sat down alongside, closed her eyes and folding her hands, prayed once again for the departed soul.

It was cold and a strong breeze blew across. But the flame just flickered on. Later, some shells exploded at a distance; the flame again just flickered, refusing to blow out.

But, finally the impact was so close that it toppled over. The old woman stuck it again, poured some oil and lighted it again. She was satisfied.

At about 3 am, she again came and poured some more oil. She saw the flame flickering. She looked around and stopped, feeling about the ground, found a piece of burnt iron sheet. And bending with great difficulty, with her weak hands, picked it up and she stuck it into the ground, so as to shield the lamp against the blowing wind.

After this, she moved back slowly as she had come all the way. Again she crossed the open ground, walked around the part of the fence and returned to her ruined house.

Early morning, the battalion to which the dead soldier, Abdul belonged, crossed the open ground under heavy shelling and fierce fighting followed across on the opposite river bank. Heavy fighting and firing continued on the far bank for some time till the enemy was driven away.

Remembering Abdul, who had been killed the previous morning, the commander ordered his men to find him and bury him in the common grave with all those who died fighting that morning. They searched for the body all over, but in vain.

Abruptly, one of the soldiers stopped at the corner of the open ground and, shouting in amazement called out to the rest of the men. Pointing to at the spot he said, “ look here.”

All looked down. There they saw a small mound in a big shell-hole half filled with earth, a silver lamp burning and a burnt iron sheet stuck to the ground to shield the flame from the wind. The flame still flickered. By now, all the men gathered around the grave. Removing their caps and helmets, they stood silently, watching the lamp burn, and overcome with emotion, said a silent prayer.

At that moment, the frail, old Sikh woman quietly approached and slowly walked past them and with great difficulty she bent down and poured some oil in the lamp. Then again she closed her eyes, folded her hands and murmured a prayer.

She started to rise, but was not able to do so immediately and a Gurkha soldier, closest to her, helped her up. She stood, without uttering a word, she looked at the men, the dead soldier’s comrades all feeling sad and helpless. She bowed low.

Again she closed her eyes, folded her hands and walked back. Their eyes followed her. And seeing her enter the old house,  they moved away in the direction towards the bridge and across the river to catch up with the others of their battalion.

Amidst the ash, shell-holes, burnt metal and wood and mangled iron, burned the old widow’s treasured possession – a silver lamp, placed by a Sikh mother on the grave of a Muslim son.

The flame shone brightly and seemed eternal, like a mother’s heart and a son’s courage and love for his motherland.



Khandoba, Martanda Bhairav or Malhari, is the Maratha manifestation of Shiva mainly in the Deccan plateau, though he is identified with Kartikeya and with Vishnu and also with sun. In Andhra, he is called Mallikarjuna and in Karnataka, he is Mallanna. Jains have identified him with Mallinath. Muslims who have a long history in Deccan region, identify him as Mallu Khan.

He is visualized as riding a white horse brandishing a sword. He wears a Maratha turban, has a magnificent moustache and beard. Accompanying him on his horse is his main wife, Mhalsa. Jejuri is a town close to Pune in Maharastra. It is famous for the main temple devoted to Lord Khandoba.

Picture Post:
St Joseph's Church, Mangalore, Karnataka

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