|Image Credit: Crevasse by Barrie Sutcliffe via Flickr|
he train stopped at Jolarpettai station. Sundaram collected his bag and walked towards the exit. Porters scurried around looking for customers. It stopped raining a few minutes ago. The platform was drenched.
Sundaram got out of the station and looked for the cab driver who was supposed to pick him up. He found the driver holding a placard with his name.
The driver hurried to the parking lot.
Sundaram was tired from the train journey and his old age was catching up with him. He sat down on the bench and waited for the car.
In a few minutes, he was in the car heading out to nearby Tirupattur.
* * *
“Please come… He had taken ill about two weeks ago and it had gotten worse. The doctor says he just has a few days at best. He was very adamant that we let you know and he wants to meet you. Thanks for coming all the way!”
Murthy’s son held Sundaram’s hand in gratitude and led him into the house. It was a traditional house with a courtyard and heavy wooden pillars with rooms lining the side. There were relatives huddled in groups discussing in hushed tones.
Sundaram finally saw Murthy who was lying on a bed. His face was wrinkled and he had an oxygen mask on.
“Dad, look who has come…”
Murthy opened his eyes. Sundaram sat down by his side and held his hand. Murthy gestured the others to leave the room.
“Siachen…” said Murthy.
“Yes. Don’t worry about it.”
“I want you to do something for me…”
“Sure. What is it?”
Murthy pulled out a letter.
“I want you to hand this over to Kumar’s family…”
Sundaram was startled.
“But… we decided that we will keep it secret!”
“I know. This is my last wish. Please take this letter and do this for me.”
Murthy started wheezing and the letter fell from his hands on to the floor. His chest stopped heaving and his eyes lay transfixed on the ceiling. Sundaram picked up the letter and walked out of the room slowly.
The relatives hurried into the room. A short while later the sound of women wailing filled the place.
* * *
Sundaram was on the train back to Chennai. He was confused.
‘We had decided that we will take the secret to our graves. Now, Murthy is asking me to reveal it to Kumar’s family. All others who were involved in that incident at Siachen are now dead, except me. Oh God… help me!’
The compartment was dark. He pulled out the letter from his shirt pocket. He hesitated for a moment and then switched on the reading light. He proceeded to read the letter. He was surprised that it was written almost twenty two years ago.
To the family of my friend Kumar March 11, 1989
My name is Murthy and I am Kumar’s friend. I know your family is still grieving from the untimely death of Kumar. He was part of our team of four mountaineers who went on an expedition to the Siachen area in the Karakoram Range in 1984. That was a fateful trip in which we lost Kumar.
This is the third letter that I am writing. I wrote two letters over the past five years and tore them up because I did not have the courage to post it.
The two others who were part of that trip were Raman and Sundaram. Raman died last week in a car accident. That incident made me write this letter.
I knew Kumar from his days in the army. We shared our passion for trekking and mountaineering. When the Siachen area expeditions were authorized in 1984, our group was one of the early ones that ventured there. We ascended successfully and reached the summit. It was during the descent that we were struck by an avalanche.
In the avalanche’s aftermath, Raman and Kumar were separated from us. We spent trekking two days to our rallying point in the snow and waited there. We lost a major portion of our food and water rations with only one of us managing to hold onto our backpack. Raman and Kumar arrived a day later.
We continued downhill in chilly temperatures walking and resting intermittently. Two days later, our food ran out. The accident happened on day 12 of the expedition. We fell into a crevasse while negotiating a treacherous segment. The fall killed Kumar instantly.
It was another eight weeks before a rescue team identified us and picked us up.
That brings us to the reason for this letter. We survived those eight weeks, only because of Kumar. Yes, we fed on his remains. I know that sounds grotesque. We did what we had to do to survive. Raman, Sundaram and I buried Kumar in that crevasse. No one knows about this other than the three of us until now.
We wouldn’t be alive to tell this story if it wasn’t for Kumar. The guilt of hiding this true story from all of you has been hounding me over the years. I am sorry and I beg for your forgiveness.
Sundaram crumpled the letter and threw it out of the window.