Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cherry Blossom in the Spring by Rachel Saunders

Rajesh felt the warmth of pride flush through him as he saluted the Indian flag fluttering gamely in the early morning sunshine. Him and the other veterans all looked crisp and smart, each marked in their own way by the ravages of the war they all shared in common. Not many of them left now, a handful of deaths each year thinned their ranks in flesh, but they all remembered the departed in spirit and toast. As the bugle sounded its lonesome notes he could not help but laugh inside at the leftover traditions of the Raj that remained imprinted into his nation's psyche. The last post was one of those hold overs that he was glad of, but even so he could still feel his anger at the British burning deep after all these years.

As the last note floated across the chilly air, with the same sharp tones he had used all those years ago, he barked “Parade, paradeshun!”

Every man present lowered his salute, and snapped to attention.

“Parade dismissed!”

The gathered ensemble smartly turned to their right with parade ground precision, walked three paces, then broke the formation. Another year, another memorial day. Rajesh looked down the terrace towards the cemetery where the former tennis court had been, and for a moment the vividness of the fighting of those savage days in April 1944 came flooding back. In years past a small degree of shame had burned his cheeks at the memory of his actions, but then the swell of pride would fill his chest. Today he felt nothing but pride in his actions, for he knew that the legacy that him and his fellow veterans had secured a vital part in the liberation of his homeland.

“Rajesh, good to see you still have your bark!”

Breaking his reverie, he saw Vikram Kuprasami walking over to him, one of the last survivors of the British attempt at stemming their mutiny. “Vikram you old dog, how are things these days? Are the grandchildren still running round your feet?”

His friend nodded, and the two of them chatted about idle family gossip. Rejesh was pleased for his friend, the two old parachutists having made good family lives for themselves after the war. Rajesh caught sight of a late blossoming cherry tree, and pointed it out, “looks like the Gods are showing us their blessing, and as the Japanese would say it is rather auspicious.”

Vikram let out a hollow laugh, “indeed it is, let us hope that all of us live to see another year.”

Nodding his approval, Rajesh shook his friend's proffered hand, “and may Vishnu watch over your family.”

“Thank you, may Ganesh watch over yours.”

The two of them chatted a while longer, and as the sun rose gradually off the Kohima hills, he let Vikram get back to the rest of the 50th. In many respects Rajesh knew that him and the men standing around talking were viewed as villains in the annals of history, but in his heart he knew that their mutiny was the only possible course of action that they could have done. Mother India had needed men like this to come to her rescue, and the scourge of the British yoke had finally been lifted when the Japanese had broken through at Koshima in thanks largely due to their mutiny.

Walking over to the railings, he stared down the terrace towards the cemetery, his eyes settling on the Japanese tanks sitting sentinel watch over those resting in eternal slumber. Rajesh was not one for sentimentalism, and as his eldest grandchild joined him at the rail, he put his arm around the boy's shoulder. This was why he had chosen to commit the unthinkable act, to provide a free and true future for all the Indian children born after independence. His daughter-in-law Maiko joined them on the his other shoulder, and they shared passing words about the beauty of the scene spread out in front of them.

As they all walked back to the car, he thought about Ghandi's call for peaceful protest, that once lofty notion that somehow the British could be driven from their land by simply sitting down and taking a beating. He did not hold much stock in that, though given that he had been on of the honour guard at the great man's funeral in 1962 he was not prepared to be outspoken about the legacy both Ghandi and Nehru had left in the aftermath of the collapse of the Raj. Rajesh recounted a book he had read by a British historian lamenting the pace of the British withdrawal from India, and how the anarchy of that period could have been avoided if only Churchill had not been so obstinate in his objections to Indian independence. Subconsciously Rajesh shrugged, what did he know? All he knew was that he was an Indian patriot, and all that had happened since those fateful days fighting in the Kohima hills had been worth it both for him and his country. He thanked Vishnu for the long life he had lived since then, and silently prayed that he may yet get to see the cherry blossom come again in those same hills.

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Rachel Saunders is a creative writer based in York, UK, and enjoys writing alternative history set in the 20th Century. Check out her website Random Acts.

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