Year 1944. A small village in Tamilnadu.

The morning Sun was blazing down that paddy field. The rice plants were laden with rice grains. Looked as if this harvest would be good this year too! Guru along with his younger brother Saami was preparing to harvest. They had made a place in their house to store the grains. May be they can sell even some! His mother Shanti really needed a new saree! Poor ma! She had been patching the remaining 2 sarees a lot! Guru looked around. Everything was very calm. Guru thought of his mother Shanti fondly. She was a very strong willed and courageous woman. Life was not easy for her after her husband died due to cholera! At that time Guru was just 13 years and younger son Saami was 6. It was a custom or may be a code of conduct that a woman was not supposed to step out of her house for a year after her husband’s death. But that seemed impossible. Because no one was prepared to hell. Without help how could she feed and clothe 2 young children? No one could be blamed for not helping. The entire nation was under a kind of pressure and depression due to the world war and freedom struggle. People were busy trying to provide food for their family at least one time a day and keeping the roof over their head for the oncoming monsoon.

Shanti broke the tradition and started working in her field along with her son Guru. People talked and blamed her for not mourning. They said she was not giving respect to her deceased husband and it’s a sin. She even was called to the Panchayat for breaking the code of conduct. But Guru talked and protected her from the wrath of the villagers. He asked if they were prepared to provide food and shelter for his mother and Saami? No one came forward. So Shanti was pardoned. But they were banned to enter the village. Some how they managed to live and keep their cattle. But Guru knew this ban was not going to last long.

Slowly the time was changing. Many educated people from various part of India, came to the village and talked about freedom struggle. They also preached about treating women as equal. The necessity for them to read and write. Initially the villagers opposed these ideas. But they realized it was inevitable for future. Change and revolution were in the air. A few people frequented the village and helped people to learn, read and write. Guru was very close to one such person. His name was Nathan. He was a brahmin by birth but said there was no such thing as caste or creed. He ate at Shanthi’s house and appreciated her culinary skills. This was a great revolution at that time and villagers were flabbergasted. The priest in the temple village said something evil was going to happen to Shanti’s family. Fortunately, nothing happened. In fact, that year’s harvest was the best. They bought a new set of dress for themselves. Slowly other people also accepted a brahmin coming to their house and eating.

Saami had made the place spick and span. Its time they started harvest. They had to hurry because Guru was expecting Nathan any minute. Nathan had said that he would let him know about INA, army run by Nethaji. Nathan said Nethaji along with his supporters were fighting a battle against the enemy! But who their enemy was? That part Guru was not clear yet! He was fascinated by the idea of fighting. He saw someone approaching. It was not Nathan. Instead a group of men were coming fast towards their field. They were all drunk and had either a staff or a big knife in their hands. Guru sensed danger ahead. He sent his brother Saami to a hiding place and warned not to come of the hiding till Guru called him. Saami nodded and kept his word.

The person with a big mustache started cutting the paddy without any word or even a glance at Guru. Guru ran and tried to stop him. Others held him back.

“Why are you harvesting in our field? We have worked so hard! Go away you cheaters!” said Guru in a furious voice.

“Oye! We have taken possession of the land. Your mother got a loan of 2000 rupees. She had not paid back even an anna. Keep quiet! This is ours now!” said the man.

Guru knew his mother had not taken any loan. He pleaded and pleaded the men, but they were heartless. They mocked and brushed aside his pleas. Guru realized that without this harvest his family will be ruined. Nothing to eat and nothing to work on. If he let them take the land, then maybe they would even take the house. His family would be driven out of their own house. Suddenly he was all worked up. With a war cry he started hitting the man. Others shouted and came to the man’s help. But no one could stop Guru, they were unable to stand up to him. He was like a God of war. Seeing that there was no hope, the men retreated cursing and threatening. Guru was breathing heavily. He had saved his land! Saami came running to his brother and hugged. Both cried, but those were tears of joy! That day they were very happy! They narrated this incident to Nathan; he was thinking hard.

“Sir! May I know what you are thinking?” asked Guru.

Nathan looked keenly at Guru and asked “How did you fight 5 men? What gave you the strength?”

“Sir! That is our land! My ancestors have worked there, it has been in the family for generation! How could I let someone else enjoy my land?” asked with fury.

Nathan patted his back and said “You are worried about this tiny piece of land Guru? Do you know our mother land India is being occupied by British? They are enjoying our treasures. Do you not want to fight them?”

These words made a permanent impact on Guru’s mind. He wanted to know more about freedom struggle and INA. Nathan described about the INA. How young Indians were enrolling themselves into Netaji’s army! what was their motive? How brave they were!

The moment Guru listened to Nathan; he knew what he had to do. He decided to serve in INA. He knew that was his call. When Guru informed his intentions of joining INA The Indian national Army, led by Netaji, to his mother Shanti, she was overjoyed. She hugged his eldest and cried.

“Son! We come from warrior community! Your ancestors have fought many a battle for King Pandiyan and Cholas. Go dear! Go! Go and make your ancestors proud. I have Saami. Don’t worry about me! Go and free our mother land from the clutches of outsiders.” Said she keeping her hand on his son’s head!

With her wholehearted blessings Guru joined INA. He fought bravely. He was stationed in Germany and then moved to several places. He wrote letters regularly to Nathan which he read to Shanti! Now Guru was the pride of the village! He became one of the best soldiers of INA. He even once shook hands with Netaji.

Suddenly letters stopped coming and there was news that INA are fighting against British and common wealth army. The battle was very cruel and horrifying. Nathan did not reveal that to Shanti but continued to pretend as if every thing was all right. But one evening Shanti received a telegram from a lady called Lakshmi Swaminathan saying his son Guru was killed in the battle. It said a detailed letter would follow in a few days’ time. The moment the news of his eldest son’s death was broken to her, she became a very different person. He shut herself up completely and did not talk to even Saami. Nathan was feeling miserable.

The letter arrived one week later, that made shanti come out of her solitude! She was very eager to know the content. As Nathan read the letter, he could not control his tears. The letter described the bravery of Guru. It described how he fought fearlessly against the enemies. It also described the situation that led to his death!

He was fighting the British army. That day was not the day for INA. Many INA soldiers sacrificed their life in the battlefield. One of Guru’s men got wounded in the leg! When Guru was busy helping that soldier to a nearby hiding place, a coward started shooting at them. But brave Guru threw himself between the enemy and the wounded soldier of INA. He was shot right at the chest and many more places. But he managed to kill the attacker and 2 more who came to the enemy’s help. If Guru had not been helping a soldier, the enemies did not have a chance to defeat him. They have sent a medal too in honor for him.

On hearing this Shanti burst out and cried. She held that medal to her heart and started singing soulful songs in the praise of her son and the ancestors. Her voice was going strong till the midnight. It was full of sorrow and pride. The songs melted the hearts of the villagers. The entire village gathered around her house and paid tribute to Guru. Shanti was happy that her breasts nurtured such a hero, so the song said. The air was filled with pride and mourn. Nathan wanted to cry out loud! But he felt that his heart had turned into lead! There was not even a Hmmm from Shanti! No teras either!

The next morning, Saami was presented to Nathan.

“Take him sir! Take him to the battel field. Like his brother, Saami also wants to fight for the motherland. Let him have his share of protecting our land. I regret having only one son left for this Yagna! If God had given me more sons, I am prepared to give them all to protect our mother land.” Said Shanti in a clam voice.

Nathan’s heart skipped a beat! What was she doing? He was speechless. What a bravery? What a heart? What patriotism? Nathan was not able to decide who the real her was? Guru had sacrificed his life to protect someone! Saami was prepared to sacrifice his life even after he knew what to expect in a battle. Shanti? Saami was her only son left to her! She was prepared to send him to protect the mother land. Was she not afraid of losing this son too?

Nathan was not able to decide who was the real hero? Was it Guru? Was it Saami? Or was it Shanti?

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