It was a daily ritual that began with the first ray of light that falls on the snow caps of Kanchenjunga and streaked into his room. He never needed an alarm clock to wake him, that streak woke him each morning ever since he got posted in Sikkim. For a young man with a lot to do in the cities, Sikkim was a quite place with very little activity. It had been a year since he had been living in Gyalshing. Indian Army has a strong presence in Sikkim and people are used to seeing them all over the place. People are friendly and have a strict way of life. Living on high altitudes is not easy. The first couple of months of his stay drove him crazy. He wished he didn't wake up early so he would have lesser hours to kill but that streak of light was trecherous. One evening he fumbled upon this book about Houdini at a local shop. It was funny how he found it. He had bought something to eat at a local tea stall and a little kid packed his snack in a piece of paper. As he was eating out of that piece of paper, his eyes fell on the oil stained words. By the time he was done eating, he was intrigued. He called that little guy and asked him where he got that paper from. The kid brought out a half torn book. Almost half of the pages were gone. But he wanted it. The little kid at the tea stall was amused to see the fauji (Hindi for 'Soldier') going crazy over a tattered, not-even-a-book. Houdini lead him into the fascinating world of magic.
He learned some basic card tricks and tried them on the village kids. He enjoyed the look on hand cupped faces. In the village where he moved around like a zombie to the locals, the mutually exclusive co-existence was melting into recognizing looks and friendly smiles. He was the jaadugar fauji (magician soldier). One day the little kid from tea stall saw him showing his card tricks to the kids in the village. He saw him with great interest and watched closely. As all the children were thrilled after the show, the boy from the tea stall just walked away all with a quizzical expression. Next morning as he was getting dressed for work, he heard a knock on the door. It was the little boy!
He had a pack of cards in his hands. He kept his kettle down and placed the cards on the table. And one by one he showed all his tricks back to him with the most smug smile you can find on a child's face. All his tricks came down like a pack of cards. The boy gave him some tea and went away.
For a week the jaadugar fauji was not to be seen in the village. The kids were getting edgy. After a week the jaadugar emerged with new tricks. Better than the cards. The kids were delirious but he was waiting for the little boy to see him this time. The boy came again and watched him intently. The following morning, jaadugar kept waiting for the knock on the door, but no one came. He had a funny sense of triumph, as he set out for the day.
However, it didn't last long. The boy came next morning and like last time the tricks were all exposed. This turned into a routine. Every week fauji came up with something new and the boy saw through it. The competition turned into a friendship. The fauji was intrigued that, for a boy his age, he somehow wasn't fascinated by the magic tricks. When all the other kids in the village eyes looked at him reveringly as if he had miraculous powers, for this boy these were all tricks. How did he know the difference?
One evening the fauji was out on a night reconnaissance. This wasn't a dangerous area, but it was a routine recce. The worst one would expect was poachers in the jungle, but no one usually wanted to go near a military vehicle. He did his usual round and was returning to the base when he heard a gun shot. There were definitely poachers around. He stopped in a clearing and asked the driver to turn off the lights. They heard a vehicle coming closer, but couldn't see anything through his night vision device. Suddenly, the oncoming vehicle stopped and he heard another gun shot and in about a few seconds, he felt some cold liquid running from his right ear down his neck. As the pain surged he realized he was shot in the ear. The driver quickly drove him to the base and he was flown out to the closest military hospital after a tincture iodine dressing (which is not nice!). The whole village knew that the jaadugar fauji was shot.
He came back after a week to the base and still didn't start going out in the village yet. One morning after he got back, there was the knock on the door in the morning. He knew who it would be. He opened the door and the little boy walked in. He saw on his face what he had always wanted to see, the astonishment! He thought, so this is what it took. He spoke to the boy for the first time, "are you looking at that hole in my ear? it looks funny isn't it? Don't worry, it doesn't hurt anymore. I am fine." and smiled.
The boy looked at him and said, "they told me someone shot you in the dark. Do you see where you were hit? Just one inch on your left and you wouldn't have been standing here right now! Its a miracle!
Its still a ritual, the way his day begins. But when he looks out at that glistening snow capped peak of Kanchenjunga, he sees the miracle!