Nikhil was sitting up, his blanket over his head. He knew what it meant. It was no good news. Vikram was lost in his thoughts. Aman and Sohail sat in pensive moods, sharing food. Dhananjay stared out of the door, at the moonlit foliage. Finally Vikram broke the silence. “We have to leave”, he said shortly. He calmly walked over and packed odds and ends into his rucksack. Aman looked at Sohail; he didn’t know what to say.
Dhananjay was still looking at the leaves that danced in the soft wind that blew through the forest. At 43, he was the eldest of the group. He had faced more than any of the others. He had fought valiant battles, taken part in crucial army operations. But more important than anything else, he had seen death. He knew what it felt like to have the arm of a soldier next you, ripped off. He knew what it felt like to have your best friend shot through the head. He had faced all of it. It was what had fostered his nerves of steel. He also knew one thing, that neither Aman, nor Sohail could face death. They were young blood; youthful and enthusiastic. Vikram’s decision would be particularly hard on them.
No one would have foreseen such a circumstance when they set out. A group of 5 Indian soldiers, on-board a supply plane. They had been assigned the task of carrying supplies to the Indian army base in west Myanmar, and bring back wounded soldiers. Troops had been sent there to help flush out terrorist camps in the region. The forests on the border were full of them. The move to wipe out the terrorists had met with some resistance, mainly from tribal villages in the forest. Not only had the terrorists brought them under their confidence, but also dozens of innocent tribes had got killed in encounters. The result, the tribes had turned hostile to the indo Burmese army. In fact, for an Indian to step out into these areas, was playing into the hands of death.
Into such a sensitive region, the plane had crashed. Luckily the plane didn’t blow up, and all of them survived with minor injuries. Unable to establish contact with any civilization, they had been left to fend for themselves. Hitting upon a hut, they had decided to make it their temporary base. And there they had stayed for 3 days.
Dhananjay cast a glance at the direction where Sohail had cited the fires to be. They could be tribes clearing out tracts of land, or worse, Maoists. Either one was dangerous. Vikram was right; they had to move out of this place. The longer they stayed, the more they risked their lives. And Dhananjay knew the value of a life. With a deepened brow, he stepped back into the hut.