The ten-year-old Tau sat in front of a glowing charcoal hearth under the cold moonlit night sky in a small and obscure village in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas in the ancient land of Nepal. His father pulled out a glowing piece of steel from the burning embers and hammered it on an old anvil. Seven decades had passed since then, and Tau still remembered the warmth of the freshly forged knife that his father had just quenched in the chilling waters of the nearby river and placed in his hands.
“This is yours for life, a trusted companion you will always treasure. Use it well and wield it wisely. It will help you build, provide food and safety, and enable you to stand up against the worst of adversaries. Always use it to do good to yourself and others. Never use it on anyone who means no harm. The Kukri is the soul of a Gorkha. How you use it, will determine who you are and what you will be,” said his father.
The little boy of ten was now an old man of eighty. He had not accomplished much in life but had never failed to live by the code of honour taught by his father. He knew that the dreadful night ahead would be the ultimate test of his metal. Tau tightly clenched the weathered water buffalo horn handle of his aged Kukri. He knew that if he drew it out of the scabbard that night, he had to be ready to shed blood.
The Gorkha Kingdom took its name from the eleventh-century medieval Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath, who is believed, to have retreated from human company to a little hill near Deo Patan, where he meditated in an unmovable state for twelve years. After ascending to the throne in 1743 AD, Maharaja Prithvi Narayan Shah dedicated his life to the unification of Nepal. Within a short span of the next thirty-two years, he carved out the Kingdom of Nepal as its first monarch from this very Gorkha Kingdom hill principality, of which he was the last king.
Tau closed his eyes and listened to the noises coming from outside. He and a few other kids hid in the small storeroom under the stairs. Most of the other children huddled together in fear in the centre of the main dining hall. There was no escape for them from those who had crept into their home that day. They combed the house to flush out anyone who might have hidden and escaped.
The Gorkhas came from a rich tradition of military history. During the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-1816, the British realised the fierce potential of the Gorkha in the military. In 1815, under the initiative of Major-general Sir David Ochterlony, 5,000 natives, who were not just Gorkhalis, but Kumaonis, Garhwalis, and other Himalayan hill tribe men, joined the British East India Company Army. These groups eventually came to be, collectively known as the Gorkha, the backbone of the British Indian military.
Since then, Gorkha units of Nepalis have been recruited for the Nepali Army, Indian Army, British Army, Gurkha Contingent Singapore, Gurkha Reserve Unit Brunei, UN peacekeeping forces and in war zones around the world. Under the British Indian Army, they actively served in Burma, Afghanistan, Northeast India and the North-West Frontier of India, Malta (the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78), Cyprus, Malaya, China (the Boxer Rebellion of 1900) and Tibet (Younghusband’s Expedition of 1905).
“Will we die tonight, Tau,” sobbed a little girl as she hugged the old man around his thighs? “Fear is good, tiny one, it keeps us alert in the face of danger. Stay hidden and don’t make any noise. No one will harm any of you until I am alive,” said the wrinkled Nepali, patting the child on her shoulder to comfort her and the four other children cramped in the little room that dreadful night.
During World War 1, more than two hundred thousand Gorkhas served in the British Army, suffering twenty thousand casualties, and receiving over two thousand gallantry awards. They also fought on the battlefields of France, Turkey, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. During the unsuccessful Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, the Gorkhas were among the first to arrive and the last to leave. They fought in the Afghan War of 1919, participated in numerous campaigns on the North-West Frontier, mainly in Waziristan, against the Pathan tribesman, and partook in the Second World War, etching their names as one of the fiercest warrior clans in the annuls of human history.
Tau’s grandfather, father, uncles, and brothers fought in these wars. Unfortunately, he could never make it to the army. He was very nearsighted and almost blind without his thick ebony-rimmed spectacles. Though his poor vision did not allow him to join the army, it heightened his other senses of touch, sound, and smell.
The Sacred Heart Home was located on a tranquil and remote hillock close to the town of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal. In the year 1980, around thirty orphans called this little piece of heavenly paradise their earthly abode. A seventy-year-old Anglo-Indian widow, Mrs Dufferin owned and ran the orphanage along with a skeletal staff of five local men and women. The home was in a gasping stage. There were hardly any funds and no stable source of income to run the place. Little donations from ageing patrons somehow sustained the establishment.
The orphans of the home were Tau’s family. For the last sixty years, he had dedicated his life to guarding the gates of this humble establishment. After failing the Gorkha recruitment a few times, he had sought a livelihood as a security guard at the place. Though the pay was not that great, and there was hardly any glory compared to serving in the military, Tau took much pride in protecting the abandoned little residents of the orphanage.
The past six decades of his life as a security guard had given him great joy but had failed to provide him with a chance to prove his true grit. Tonight, it seemed, however, different. Perhaps it was a single chance to stand true to the Gorkha name in his December days.
Though old, Tau was strong and remarkably agile for his age. Perhaps health and longevity were in his genes, or maybe it was simply the pristine environment of the Himalayas that prolonged his healthy existence. Whatever the case, he was not just some old man to be messed with. Though he moved slowly, mainly due to his nearsightedness and the occasional pains in his joints, he was fast and nimble when the situation demanded.
Tau slept on a small foldable iron camp bed in the tiny storeroom under the stairs. That day for some reason, he had a deeper slumber than usual. He would have slept through the night if not suddenly woken up by the five children who dashed into his room. Stricken with fear, they hugged him for refuge.
Screams of children from the main dining hall resonated through the creaky wooden floors and walls of the old house. The kids who hid with Tau, covered their faces with their hands to suppress their frightened sobs. It was clear that some terror had fallen on them. “Don’t go out Tau. Those monsters will kill you,” shakily whispered the little girl who hug him around his thighs.
Pinching his eyelids, shrivelling his ears, and placing the palm of his hands on the wooden walls, the old man concentrated to gather information through his heightened senses of touch, smell, and sound. The noises that came from outside and the vibrations of the movements that travelled through the walls gave the old guard a fair idea of where who was. Sadly, he also picked up the distinct smell of blood.
At the right moment, Tau closed the door of the storeroom behind him to step into the battle for which he had waited his entire life. The old guard vanished into the shadows in the hallway, dimly lit by a single flickering lightbulb.
In the incandescent glow of the dying embers from the fireplace in the main dining hall, the children huddled at the centre of the chamber saw the silhouette of a familiar man. It moved fast from shadow to shadow between the moonlit windows till it was a few inches from one of the monsters who was keeping an eye on the children gathered in the middle of the room.
The monster felt a breath of air at the back of its neck, and then a lightning-fast flash of steel zipped below its jaw from right to left. It dropped the large machete from its leather-clad palms and clasped its neck as thick red blood gushed through the mesh of its fingers covering its slit throat. With a damping thud, its large body fell on the wooden floor, it twitched and turned for a few moments till it moved no more, and slowly a pool of blood formed around its lifeless torso.
The old guard moved fast from shadow to shadow, a flash of steel here and a lash of blade there. Lightning-fast slashes and jabs slit and pierced through the darkness making contact with the monsters, felling them one after the other like sugarcane on the floor. They were perplexed. They did not expect any resistance. They did not even get the time to react. One after the other, nine of them fell till there was only one left.
Tau made his way to the first floor, leaving behind a trail of blood and gore. As he entered through the open door of the games room, he saw one of the children lay there dead on the table tennis board. His belly split open, with his innards in the hand of a monster who towered over his tiny corpse. It was this child’s blood whose scent Tau had caught in the storeroom.
Dropping the child’s organs from his hands and picking up a sharp blade from the bloody table tennis board, the monster lunged toward the short old man at the door. Tau lifted his Kukri at the right moment and caught the attacker’s blade in the notch above his weapon’s handle. The monster applied all its force and pinned the old guard against the wooden wall. The monster pushed on, and the tip of its blade came closer and closer to Tau.
At that moment the attacker’s blade broke. The Himalayan steel forged by Tau’s father triumphed. The monster’s knuckles hit the old guard, with the broken blade still clenched in his hand too short to penetrate the old man’s chest. The Kukri, however, cutting through the weaker blade, lodged deep into the skull of the assailant splitting his head. The monster fell to the floor lifeless.
Tau bent down and turned the beast. The Kukri had not only split open his head but had also smashed the wooden mask covering his face. It was just a man, and so were the nine others. They wore scary masks, fur clothes, and leather gloves, which gave them the appearance of some creature.
Besides the bloody Table Tennis board, Tau discovered several thermocol boxes with ice packs, which the men had brought with them. It was clear that they were human organ smugglers, who saw an easy opportunity to harvest the organs of the thirty children in this secluded little orphanage.
A year later in 1981, Tau was awarded the Ashok Chakra, an award equivalent to the US Army’s peacetime Medal of Honour and the British George Cross, given for most conspicuous bravery or some act of daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice away from the battlefield. From that day the old guard always proudly wore his medal on his chest. Of course, he had his blade tucked in his belt. As his father had promised, the tool, the weapon, his trusted Kukri, determined who he was and what he became. The soul of a Gorkha found the ultimate purpose for its existence.
Copyright © 2022 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at email@example.com or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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