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Memories of war

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I cried because there was a war I was not equipped to fight against, because I knew in this conflict I had lost a part of me.

“Do not go outside alone, there is a war going on”, my mother warned me when I was five years old. It was in 2001.  “Our people are fighting against each other, it is not safe”, she exclaimed sadly, referring to the civil war which started in 1996. Then five year old, living in a protected space surrounded by the confined walls of my house, I knew not what violence meant. Yet the outside world scared me. The news on the radio was frightening.

My limited knowledge compelled me to imagine the outside world to be filled with monsters, the ones that usually appeared in The Powerpuff Girls (my favourite cartoon).

My mother often told me that the world should learn from children; emulate their cheerfulness and their ingenuity. “There would be no war if everyone was like you my little girl”, she frequently said. For her, like for most of us, children were a ray of sunshine in the country’s darkest days. They gave hope of a better future. It was their naïve smile and jovial laughter that made life worth living. But as a child, I had a different story to tell.

“Is this ever going to end?” My mother exclaimed looking at the television screen in despair. Her words echoed in my head as I asked the same question to myself. But there was no response, there was no answer. Only murky introspections reverberated inside my head which were so bewildering that I did not know how to share my feelings with others. In fact, I could not fathom my own sentiments. I knew not whether I was angry with him or scared of him.

Was he doing the right thing? I could not tell. Yet every time he came to my house when my parents were not around, my heart thumped, like the feet of the marching troops towards the battlefield. Most of the time I was inundated with thoughts, thoughts that were like the melee of people stuck in a war stricken country.

As years passed by I realized that my mother had been terribly wrong. She failed to warn me about the war that is not fought against others but within you. She failed to caution me about the violence that took place not outside the doors but inside the four walls. I knew not why my father’s friend would do something to me that was so painful. He was my father’s closest acquaintance, a person who seemed to be the most caring and affectionate person.

Yet, whenever he got a chance to abuse me, he would. The pain was so excruciating that it had the power to crush me, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

My emotions were conflicting, my thoughts were baffling and what he was doing to me was inconceivable. When alone, tears oozed out of my eyes like the blood from an injured soldier. I cried because there was a war within me which I was not equipped to deal with. I cried because I knew in this conflict I had lost a part of me and my mother couldn’t protect me. Whenever I saw the ‘popular’ image of mother Nepal lamenting in the newspapers, I imagined a child beside her who was equally forlorn and equally helpless.

If I did not see him for a week, a joyous smile would flash across my face, imagining him lost in the same jungle where the rebels lived. Yet every time the door bell rang, it would accelerate my heartbeat, widen my eyelids and stop my breath. The door bell would sound exactly like the bells that were used for declaring a war.  I knew not what I was fighting for, or whom was I fighting against. But every time the five year old me looked at herself in the mirror, I felt as if I was looking at the map of country planning for my next combat.

Sitting alone, mystified with impenetrable thoughts, I would sometimes be angry, at times aggressive and other times wondered if this is how the world functions. I would sometimes scream from within like a fierce solider running with a sword on the battlefield to slash the enemy. Otherwise, I would just stare at the wall with my eyes wide open, no better than a helpless dead body right after a war.

And every day I was confounded by feelings that were unknown to me, feelings that I wasn’t able to express or comprehend. Various thoughts flashed like bullets and numerous emotions exploded like bombs inside of me. I bled from inside, I cried, I fought and I was waging a war within me and against me. Yes. A child was waging a war.

By Swasti Gautam

The writer is a student of Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi.