The general and the comrade
Naman was resting his eyes, his back against the wall, a rifle in his hands. He was muttering something in his sleep. The general bent his head down so he could hear him clearer.
“Never surrender. Never surrender.”
The General held his mouth right next to Naman’s ears and whispered, “You are a fucking idiot.”
In 2025, the Naxal menace set forth from the jungles armed with Chinese supplied guns, rocket launchers, and military tanks, and began their assault on Indian towns and cities. The attack had been a long time in the coming. The cities, already distressed by year after year of pestilence, natural disasters, and economic slowdown, quickly fell to the Naxal armies. This enemy was not new to the general but these soldiers were different from the radicalised blade-swingers he had fought in the jungles before. They were well-disciplined, immune to bribes, and extremely efficient at messaging their ideology. It was almost as if somewhere in the forests the Naxals had found hope.
The General slapped Naman awake.
“I am sorry, general,” Naman said, quickly standing up.
“I want you to go to the roof.”
“Yes, General. I will go to the roof,” Naman took a few steps and then turned around, “But what for, general?”
“Lower what, General?” Naman asked.
“Lower the flag.”
All the soldiers turned to look at him.
“But why General?” Naman asked, his eyes widening.
“Because they have won, you fool. If we don’t pull down the flag, they will shoot this place full of bullets, and then they will rip that flag to shreds.”
Naman stood at the door, not knowing if all of this was a joke.
“We won’t surrender, General. We will fight till all our blood has flown out of our veins. We won’t stop until we have killed each and every one of those communists.”
“I want you not to stop until you have reached the roof, and folded the flag and put it inside your breast-pocket,” the General said, his voice calm.
The General watched Naman disappear behind the stairs, and then he sunk into his chair and rubbed his eyes. The soldiers stood beside the windows, leaning on the walls, the scopes of their guns trained on the streets.
“This is what you wanted, right? You wanted to live. Well, now all of you get to live,” he shouted at no one in particular. The soldiers bore the abuse silently, perspiring, their eyes on the streets, their faces and uniforms covered in ash.
“You,” he shouted to another soldier, “Find Amar, whichever table he is hiding under, and ask him to contact Comrade Arun. Tell him his dream has come true. We are suing for peace.”
Men who had never felt the weight of a revolver in their hands would read the newspapers and call the general a coward. The public always wanted someone to hate, and for the next few years, the General would occupy that position. Not an inch was to be given away to the enemies was the order he had received from Delhi. Not an inch. Idiots.
This was a significant defeat. He had won so many victories. But it did not change the fact that this was a great defeat. During the war in the forests, he had let Comrade Arun’s spies believe that that the Indian troops were outnumbered. The Naxals had made the mistake of surrounding the General’s battalion. Comrade Arun had lost a lot of good men that day.
In a few hours, comrade Arun would drive past the General’s tanks. He would come alone. The General was absolutely sure about that. Comrade Arun understood the importance of what was going to happen this evening. A general of the Indian Armed Forces, the fourth largest military force in the world, was going to be read the terms of surrender. That too, by a man who hadn’t gone to any military school, and did not wear the uniform of a nation-state. Comrade Arun will be remembered hereafter as the man who went alone into the dragon’s den and snatched victory from its jaws. He knew he could trust the General’s word, and that no harm would come to him. So he would come alone, probably even unarmed. It was strange how perfectly both the general and the comrade understood each other. They had never met or seen each other. But the whole city and its outskirts had been laid to waste, as each guessed the faults of the other. Every day, each sent his men into battle and tried to wrest parts of the city from the other. After four months of relentless fighting, it had become difficult for them to surprise each other.
The last surprise had come during the battle at Jamunanagar. Naman had scouted the town for threats, and he had failed to notice the machine-guns that the communists had mounted on the mosque's minarets. As soon as half the Indian Army troops crossed the river, Comrade Arun had shouted the order to shoot. The General’s men were all mowed down, and the Naxalites had regained control of the shore in a few minutes. They positioned their guns on the sandbars and shot down the Indian soldiers swimming back towards safety. The men who were going to call him a coward, had never tripped on rocks and fallen into the water as an AK47 took aim at their heads. They never had to trudge their way back to the camps with their dead friends slunk on their shoulders. The general and Comrade Arun were like good friends now who communicated over the distance of a city using gunshots, fragmentation bombs, and dead bodies. The General had come to respect his enemy. Comrade Arun’s courage and fierceness, which sometimes bordered on foolishness, reminded him of his own exploits as a young soldier.
He was a lean man, clean-shaven, with a large scar running across his face. He wore civilian clothes, and a dark red cigarette hung on his lips as he shook the General’s hand. He glanced quickly at the room and the soldiers and settled down comfortably into the chair opposite the General.
“It’s an honor to finally meet you,” Comrade Arun said.
“You can keep the city,” the General said in a sharp voice, “Your army can come and take over once my men have left. We will exchange prisoners at the gate.”
Arun’s eyes fell on Naman, who was grinding his teeth.
“Why is everyone so grumpy?” Arun asked, “Did someone die or something?”
The General smiled and asked, “What are your terms, then?”
“Same. What you said. I will keep the city and everything in it. The guns, the tanks, the bullets, the jeeps, the clothes.”
“Yes. The uniforms.”
The General laughed, “Do you want my men to go home naked? You want to see their brown penises as they march past the gate, Comrade Arun?”
“That’s a generous offer, but I will have to decline. Your soldiers can simply pay a fee to our movement to keep their uniforms.”
The General paused for a second and then asked him, “Is this symbolic for you? Are you trying to send a message or something?”
“No. I am not an idiot,” Arun said, smiling, “I actually need the cash.”
The General almost bent over laughing. Outside the window, his soldiers were putting out a fire on one of the small huts.
“You trained your men well,” the General was saying, “They surprised me many times.”
“Your country will say a lot of bad things, General. I can do nothing to change that. But you will always have my respect. What you are doing takes courage. These men will go back to their homes because of what you are doing today.”
“I don’t want to go home. I wanna kill you fuckers,” Naman screamed. The other soldiers restrained him and took him to a corner of the room.
“You should have told me this last night when I was fucking you up the ass,” Arun shouted at Naman.
“He probably said it,” Arun said, turning to the general, “I might have missed it. He was facing the other way.”
There was silence in the room, which was so deep and terrible that anything could have emerged from it. But the General broke into a hysterical laugh, and his men began laughing too.
The well's pulley broke and fell into the water, along with the rope and the soldier drawing the water. The General pointed in the direction of his soldiers. They were pulling the man out of the well, while the fire spread quickly to the next house and then to the next.
“Fucking idiots. They are all idiots.”
“That’s not true,” Arun said, his eyes fixed on the soldiers in the room, “It was actually one your soldiers who gave me this scar.”
The men looked at the large disfiguring mark which began at his forehead, passed over his nose, and ended at the right cheek.
“What happened to him?” one of the men asked him.
“What happens to all good soldiers,” Arun replied.
“You killed him, didn’t you? You killed him, you communist prick,” Naman shouted.
“What? No. I am not a monster. I made him read Das Kapital, and now he is a committed revolutionary. I wish I had brought the book of poems he just published.”
Naman’s eyes darted between the general and Comrade Arun. When no one came to help him understand, he shouted again, “We had pricks like you in my village. We used to tie your people up and beat them until they cried. We threw one of them off his wedding horse. If you were from my village, I would have made you eat rat meat.”
Arun snubbed out his cigarette on the table. He took another out of his pocket and put it on his lips.
“Do not let him think we are cowards, general,” Naman shouted, “This is the most important thing. If he thinks that we are cowards, then they will not fear us. And if they do not fear us, then we will never win.”
The General held out the flame of his own lighter for Arun to light his cigarette.
“So what’s the taste of that?” the General asked.
“It tastes like tobacco. Our women roll these cigarettes with their hands,” Arun said, holding one out to the general, “It’s an active industry behind the lines.”
After lighting the cigarette and exhaling towards the roof, the general said, “I was talking about the rat meat.”
The room again sank into silence. The soldiers outside had somehow managed to put out the fire. The man who had fallen into the well lay on the ground, throwing up water.
“It tastes like rage, general,” Arun finally spoke, turning to look at Naman, “Like the infinite desire to kill. Like the desire to kill infinitely. Rage is powerful and prophetic. But it’s stupid. I have lost a lot of good men and women to it.”
“Don’t stop. This is great stuff. I will ask one of them to take this down.”
“Don’t bother. I got it on Whatsapp. I will just forward it to you.”
The General began laughing again.
“Why do I get the feeling, general,” Arun asked, flicking the ash off the cigarette with his thumb, “that we would have been great friends if we had met some other way?”
“I doubt that. Any other way, I would have bashed your head in with my bare hands,” the General said.
“You might have succeeded at it too. I am not a violent man.”
“So I will give you the money. But it will be for the damage that was done to the temple and the mosque as a part of our operations. Give me your word.”
“For something so small,” Comrade Arun said, smiling, “You have my word, General. We accept cash, preferably Yuan. Easier to buy guns that way.”
The men finally shook hands after a few minutes.
“One more thing, General. I want someone to stay here. Someone to help this place transition easily to our form of government.”
“I will stay back if you want. I will be stripped of my rank in a few hours anyway. My soldiers should be allowed to leave.”
“No. No. That’s not what I meant.”
“I want it to be that guy,” Arun said, pointing to Naman, “I want him to shake my hand and welcome me into this building.”
Naman uttered a cry, and if it had not been for the intervention of the other soldiers, he would have pounced upon Arun.
“Don’t worry. I will return you to your General in one piece,” Arun said. He turned towards the general, extended his hand and added, “You have my word on this.”
“For something so small,” the General said, shaking his hand.
The General’s smile lingered a long time after Comrade Arun had left. The noise of gunshots died out in the distance, and the soldiers left him alone. Finally, the General stood up and shouted, “Ask Amar to connect me to Delhi. They will have to be informed. This piece of shit city has been lost while regrettably, most of our men are uninjured.”
Naman could hear the sound of the approaching army. The general and his army had emptied out of the city early in the morning. He clutched the rifle closer to his chest. The General had pushed the rifle into Naman’s hands before leaving. He had pressed exactly one bullet in the palm of Naman's hand.
“You are making a huge sacrifice for your country,” the General had said, “Your orders are to fight until all the blood has flown out of your veins. You must not stop until each and every one of those communists is dead.”
He could see the communist pricks across the street now. He carefully took aim. But then one of them spotted him and turned his gun towards Naman. He threw the rifle on the floor and leaped down the steps. He ran through the streets, thinking about the last thing the General had said to him, “Do not let them think that you are a coward. This is the most important thing. If they think you are a coward, then they will not fear you. And if they do not fear you, then you will never win.”
He really picked up pace after the second corner, mainly because he heard the communists shouting behind him.
“They want him alive. Everyone aim for his ass.”
Ranju Mamachan: "I got my Masters in Thermal Science from the prestigious National Institute of Technology, Calicut, India. I am an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Department of Manipal Institute of Technology. I sometimes resurrects dead writers in my class to the amusement of my students. I specialise in awkward silences, unwittingly hurting people at the core of their being, and being polite to the point where it starts getting on everyone’s nerves."