Bhai Sehna by Durlabh Singh

Bhai Sehna recalls his days healing the wounded in a war against the invaders of his once idyllic homeland, by Durlabh Singh.

It was a hot, sweaty and suffocating afternoon. Not a bird in sky, only the sound of some dogs barking at the sun, perhaps showing their anger at the injustice in creating such an unpleasant weather for them to bear.

Water was evaporating fast from every pore of Sehna's body; he tried to replenish it by filling his stomach up to the bottom his throat, but still felt thirsty until it was rippling inside his tummy. He lined his courtyard with big earthen pots and then filled these with fresh water, and after that the scientific principle came into force. Water seeped through all those pores, wanting to escape into space, borrowing the heat from the pot in order to evaporate itself and thus cooling the pot down. As the pot became cool so did the water inside the pot.

And what do you expect in the month of Jeth, hotter among the hottest months of the year. Sehna dragged his cot to the verandah where it was less oppressive. The heat induced in him a sleepy state and he started musing about things and his life.

He remembered his childhood. His parents were of farming stock and owned a small plot of land, which provided them with wheat, vegetables and other things. When they sold any surplus, they managed to save some money for other things to buy. It was not a luxury living but at least they were not starving. He loved his land and the green fields, the different seasons and the different rotation of crops. He particularly loved the coming of spring when the whole earth turned to yellow as the sown mustard flowered. The intense blue skies and tarnished gold of crops induced in him a sort of poetical reverie.

He remembered fondly the festival of Basant Panchmi. He liked the preparation before its advent and then the long wait for the day of festival. His parents dyed the family's clothes in yellow. His father prepared a yellow langa and a turban for himself while his mother donned a yellow salawar kamiz with a dopatta to match it. Not to be left behind, Sehna had a small turban dyed in yellow too. His father taught him how to tie it himself.

The open-air day brought in a new mood; frolicking through the passages among the fields, it became a new world for discovery, for him to explore. So many varieties of trees to observe, touch and hug; so many birds to watch, cooing, fluttering with their multi-coloured plumage. It seemed an image of heaven.

He was so proud of his yellow turban, his manly walk imitating his father. Holding onto his parent's hands, he felt sound and secure. He watched the water pouring out of the small tin pots of the water wheels as it prepared to irrigate the fields. He liked the fresh morning air, the smell of wet grass and the gentle touch of brown earth beneath his feet.

How distant all that seemed to be!

But now all that is gone.

Things changed. A dark cloud came and covered the land; things began to fall apart. His land was invaded by foreign forces and that pleasant land became a battlefield with cruel, callous and inhuman activities. The natives fought but had to pay a heavy price for their freedom. His father lost his life in a malaise, and soon his beloved mother died too, heart broken with the loss of her husband. He was taken in by a distant relative for upbringing.

Sehna's life changed completely. He felt alone, without any warmth or love. His inner coldness soon poured over the land and all became shrouded. He did not take any more pleasure in the fields around him and he felt like an alien in a strange land. He grew up to be man but his inner and outer being became desolate and vacant.

He drifted from job to job, working for others – a laborer, a tiller or a coolie.

The news was running around that a great guru had come to the town and was organizing a campaign against the invaders. He was recruiting people for the army, organizing networks for the common folks to learn how to defend themselves and thus to organize the resistance.

The guru, for the sake of his people and country, had left his secluded spot of scholarship and learning and had taken up the sword as a hedge against looting, killing, rapes and other such disasters. With his unique brand of personality he infused great courage and love of justice among his people so that they became full of valour. His intention was to make a hundred of his followers take on at least a thousand of the enemies and thus beat them at their own game.

It was better to die fighting for one's dignity, country, family and home than to yield to the cowardly whims of marauders.

On one afternoon, Sehna went to the durbar of the guru and sat timidly in a corner to await his arrival. When he saw the guru, he was greatly impressed with his personality, which was soothing but overpowering.

The guru carried out various urgent tasks like recruiting people for his army, appointing military instructors, generals and other organizers. Further, he gave the outline of his plan for the civilians to organize themselves behind the scenes and thus to help each other in a co-operative strategy.

Lastly he asked for volunteers willing to do the difficult task of caring for the dying and the wounded in the battlefield. Timidly, Sehna stood and presented himself for such a task and was glad that the Guru accepted him. He was provided with all the first aid boxes and sundries.

The great battle had begun. You could hear the roar and den of it miles away. It was frightening and intimidating to imagine that men could kill each other in such a horrible way.

Could you imagine someone's head being chopped off by the sword of another, and not feeling sick at the sight of a torso gushing out fountains of blood? It would be hard to force oneself not to scream and shudder in total horror.

The invaders had come to trample over this pleasant land, intent upon a killing spree, with no pity in their heart and no soul within their bodies. He shuddered again at the very thought. How could they do it? He could not even kill a fly. It was not given to us to deprive a human being of his life. Once you had taken away that last possession of a human being, what is there left to be proud of?

But that was that. Someone had to confront those marauding invading hordes and only the guru had the guts to stand up against those killers. His small army was fighting like tigers against the overwhelming numbers of those outlaws. They showed an exemplary valour to defend their homeland.

What a tragedy it was for the guru to take up arms! A guru with tenderness in his heart and pity for the sufferings of others. Sehna admired the guru greatly for his courage and fortitude. He infused such a spirit in his army that it fought like heroes forgetting even the fear of their own death.

Sehna was in the battlefield, caring for the wounded and the dying. He had his medicine box and jars of water with him.

In that aftermath, the battlefield was littered with the fallen, strewn bags of the bodies, either the corpses or the wounded. It was his first time and an overwhelming sight clutched his being. His eyes began to get misted and his hands had a tremor caused by seeing all the grief. He pulled himself up remembering the guru's command to care for the wounded. He began to set himself to work. He attended to the ghostly forms smeared with blood and dirt. Tenderly he cleaned their wounds, applied the precious ointments, bandaged and propped them up giving them sips of water. Hours passed and he forgot himself completely. Gone was his fear of seeing the dying and he found a small satisfaction in carrying out his duty to full. When he reached the end of his lines, he wanted to take a respite from the exhausting work but he heard moans and cries from the enemy's lines. They had no one to care for them and they were calling upon Bhai Sehna for help. What could he do? Become a traitor to his own side by helping his enemies?

He tried to cover his ears so as not to hear those ghastly cries but could not help hearing them. He knew he was provided with the costly and precious ointment which was not to be wasted on enemies, but the sight of those wretched creatures awakened his conscience and pity. He went forth to the enemy's lines and started attending to the dying and wounded enemies. The pity and tenderness of his heart drove him to go against his own reason.

His reputation suffered. Some people were saying behind his back that he was helping his enemies while others termed him a traitor, which was extremely painful to him.

One day someone came to see him from the committee managing the guru's affair. Sehna was called upon to present himself in the durbar to answer various allegations brought against him and against his conduct on the battlefield.

For days he could not sleep properly and was worried as to what would happen to him at the hearing. On the appointed day he went early and sat in a corner, timidly avoiding people's eyes.

It was a busy day and the guru eventually came and sat in his usual seat on the dais. He consulted various people about the coming battle plans, listened to the pleas of the poor and the dispossessed. Other people brought him gifts, money for the battle expenditure, and provisions for the langar, the common kitchen.

At last Sehna's name was called and he got up to face the guru with trembling heart; he presented himself in a dignified manner, made a courteous bow and felt a bit at ease as he observed guru's reassuring demeanor. A senior member of the committee read the people's charges against him. He pleaded not guilty to all those charges.

Guru asked him – 'Bhai Sehna, what did I employ you for?'

'To care for the wounded and dying on the battle field.'

'Did you truthfully perform your duty?'

'Yes sir, I did. I did care for the wounded and the dying.'

'Did you include the enemies in your course of duty?'

'No I did not at first, but then things changed. As you commanded me to help the wounded and dying, I did. I could not see any difference between one human being and the other, all were wounded and dying on the field. So I provided the aid to all.'

Everybody in the congregation was eager to listen to the guru's command of punishment for a traitor who had collaborated with the enemy.

'Bhai Sehna! Shabash, you have truly carried out my instructions. I am proud of you.'

That was a thunder bolt out of blue to the congregation and they held their breath.

A hush fell on the congregation with few whispers of dissent and anger.

Sehna felt his heart fluttering within his expanded chest. With pride he stood upright and felt ten feet tall. He took his handkerchief to wipe away the rush of tears pouring down his face. He forgot himself and felt even greater pride for his leader who could see directly into the human heart and its motivation. Guru was a dignified figure who distributed proper justice. Sehna's whole being melted. He wished he could do more for his beloved leader. If asked he could even offer his life. More tears of love flowed from his dim eyes.


  1. very good story handling an age old theme.
    sounds as though the writer has first hand experience.
    well done

    michael mccarthy

  2. War is never a pretty picture, but there are so many stories in the background such as this. I agree with Michael, sounds as if the writer may have had some personal experience.

  3. Very vivid imagery. Great job.