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Velan--a

short,short story
Vasan Sri
Velan was a small boy of 12 years in the dusty village
of Sivakasi. He was sent out of his village school by
the headmaster for the pranks he did on other
boys...Unable to read further, his mother sent him to
the Army---the British army needed lot of young
soldiers, as the World War II was hotting up in Europe
and the British Crown ordered troops from India.
Velans' mother, Muniamma promptly got Velan to marry
a girl from the neighboring village--the 12 year old,
Meenakshi or Meena for short,her cousin's daughter.
Velan was happy with the few months he spent with his
young wife before he went to Army barracks in Vellore
for his boot-camp training---that was in April,1941.
Velan returned to Sivakasi and was with his mother
and young wife on a leave of one month.He showed his
mother his bright Khaki uniform ,his canvas-pith hat
and

heavy boots---he had never worn shoes before. Muniamma


was not only happy for Velan but proud of him that he
had a Sarkar [government] job which gave her Rs 50 per
month.
Velan rejoined his army camp in Dec of 1941. Soon he
was sent as a British soldier to fight Mussolini's
hordes to Italy, to an obscure village called Messina.
He sent a brief post card once a month to his wife who
could barely read a few words....that was enough to
convey his love for her and also the hardships he faced
in distant Europe....Soon he would be sent to north
Africa, near Tripoli to fight the Germany's formidable
'desert fox, Erwin Rommel.
Meena promptly read the post cards to her mother in
law who shed copious tears of joy and sorrow--the proud
mother's heart welled up hearing the brave exploits of
her son and also the pain of his serving in a hot
desert. Meena on her part sent a post card too---which
would take 6 weeks to reach Velan. In one such card,

she joyfully revealed that she was carrying his baby


and she had frequent vomiting and headaches because of
the growing child....Velan was overjoyed when he heard
the news in his hot tin-roofed barrack near
Tripoli...He longed to be back in Sivakasi when the
child arrived....It was still six months away.
Meanwhile he sent a money order to her mother for
rupees two hundred ---the biggest sum he had at that
time.
Muniamma received the amount from the post office
and already planned to make a golden anklet for her
grand child--boy or girl as it may be. Being a devout
village woman ,she also arranged for a food offering to
the local Goddess--Gangamma--in the hill temple. She
prayed earnestly that the baby should be a boy.
The World War II happenings were tough in the North
African theater. Rommel was marching ahead with his
German tanks and the British were ill-armed to face the
German onslaught. Velan's 16th battalion was directly

facing the enemy fire and shots went straight across


the British troops. The British colonel Col Smith would
make a count of casualties at the end of the day and
treated them in a local tent-like dispensary...Velan
was one of the wounded on the 8th day of battle.
Muniamma was eagerly expecting the return of her
son during the November-December holidays he said he
would come home. Sometime in September that year, she
received a long envelope from the Army Commander in
Madras.
[now Chennai.] The letter was written in English. Meena
could not read that letter. Muniamma took the letter to
the villge Postmaster, Vedagiri Iyer who read it with
choking throat and a falling teardrop. Velan had
succumbed to the injuries and his body would be sent to
the village in
two weeks' time. Iyer conveyed the news in
gentle terms and would console Muniamma. Muniamma did
not want

to upset Meena about this news--she was expecting the


baby in
a week or two.
A week passed and Muniamma was bottling her sorrow
.She sent
Meena to the house of a midwife in the village.
Meena delivered a healthy baby boy who was named
'Murugan".It was
after one more week Muniamma conveyed the news of the
death of
her son Velan to Meena....Meena was heart broken and
could not
eat for two days. Baby Murugan was under the care of
her
neighbor Pethachi.
On the third day, a parcel arrived---the mortal
remains of
Velan wrapped in a bag and covered with a small carpet
with

the British flag, all kept inside a steel trunk.


Murugan was
asked to touch the body of Velan ,according to local
custom and
then the parcel was confined to flames, with chanting
of
Saiva canons by the local priest. Muniamma planted a
mango tree
in the court yard--to mark the arrival of her grandson.
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