Ankur woke up. The golden beams of the rising sun leaked through the thatched roof of the hut.. It was time to wake her little brother, fill water, cook and then run to the camp to make bullets. Kishan Bhau’s anger was not a good way to start the day.
Ankur prepared a meal of red ants, first boiling them in water and then allowing them to simmer. Jodu had brought in two pots of water. After years of living by themselves, the children worked like a well-oiled machine. Ankur was left with a little brother to take care of after their mother’s death. They never knew their father.
Ankur was born amidst gunshots and mine blasts in a dilapidated hut in a small village in Chattisgarh. Her mother’s screams of labour were silenced by the explosions outside, her blood shadowed over by a dim kerosene lamp. Before she was wiped clean of the blood, even before she could drink her mother’s milk, she was bundled in a basket and thrown over her mother’s shoulders to flee to safety.
After her mother’s death, the war camp adopted Ankur and her brother. The Comrades believed they would make good soldiers. By the time she was 12, Ankur had faced ten wars, filling bullets and bombs with explosive material. It earned her food for herself and Jodu. She never thought it a burden, it was liberating.
When the meal of red ants was ready, she served a portion to her brother and packed the rest for Kishan Bhau. As Ankur and Jodu were leaving their home, they saw a woman, dressed in a white cotton sari, with a thin blue border walk towards them. Her black hair was tied back in a low knot; her eyes were covered with large round glasses. She had a hook-like nose, the sharpness of which was softened by a big round bindi at the centre of her forehead.
Ankur was instantly cautious. She knew about these women. These women took children like them away, to educate them, to turn them against their own people. Ankur would have none of it.
“Humko nahi padna!” she said even before the woman spoke. “Humko ladna hai, we want to fight.”Ankur saw the shock in the woman’s eyes.
The woman spoke after a moment’s silence. “A good education will give you a good life in the city, in a big building,” she said. “You could own a car.” The woman told them their lives would be wasted in the war.
Ankur was firm. Her jaws tightened with anger. Ankur didn’t want money, she wanted to fight.
She felt a sudden tug at her skirt. It was Jodu.
“Di,” he said. “Humein car milega, we’ll get a car. Mujhko padna hai, this is not our war.”
Ankur looked down at her brother’s large eyes. No. She wouldn’t let him go. He was all she had. But she couldn’t refuse him either. She turned to the woman. “Kahaan jaana hai, where do we go?
School was a burden. Her body was fitted into a uniform, her wild hair was oiled and plaited and her back was hunched with books. In class, when her teacher asked her what she wanted to become, Ankur stood up and said, “Miss my name is Ankur, it means seedling. But one day, I will grow into an immense tree, a soldier. My war will always be against this country!”
The class fell silent. Ankur sat back in her seat and let her mind drift. She was never made for the four walls of the classroom, she thought. She was made for the jungle, for the liberty it offered, for the war.
A sudden loud noise, an explosion stirred Ankur out of her trance. And then screams. The commotion came from the room down the hall. The children were screaming, crying and running. The teacher pushed them out of the classroom. There were girls and boys flowing into the hallways, some were bleeding, others limping. Ankur dodged broken glass and window grills.
The next thing Ankur knew, they were in the school’s courtyard. Where was Jodu? Other children from his class were already in the courtyard. Her eyes looked desperately for Jodu. Ankur was shaken more than she could imagine. She needed to find Jodu.
There were limbs strewn all around the school courtyard. She stumbled upon a severed head, a torn pair of shorts, fingers, toes… As she avoided the particles that were once human, she tripped over the body of a small boy, crushed under some rubble.
The brown hair, the grey eyes… this was Jodu! Ankur couldn’t move. Why would Kishan Bhau do this to them? They were his children too. She stood there lifelessly staring down at Jodu’s limp body. As she reached out to Jodu, another blast threw her towards a wall.
The walls were losing shape and melting down. As Ankur tried getting up, she noticed a large red wave of blood gushing towards her. It knocked her down and swallowed her.
When Ankur woke up, she saw a man with soft eyes, sitting on a cane chair reading a book. The evening sun brightened his kind, old face. It was the headmaster.
Ankur sat up. “Jodu?” The man pointed to a bed beside her. Jodu was alive and awake.
Ankur sprung out of her bed and onto Jodu’s. She felt her hot cheeks being moistened by tears. She had never cried before.
“This is not our war,” she said as she hugged Jodu tightly… this is not our war!”
(All characters are fictional, but representative of the realities of the lives of such kids)