day of the year, a year that I was as keen to get rid of as chewing gum from under a shoe. It wasn’t as if the weather at Kikar Lodge in Ropar district in eastern Punjab, where I had landed up with my closest friends for the End of Days, was a Kerala beachfront where we could soak in the sun and drink Mojitos till white rum replaced our red blood corpuscles. It was bitterly cold. But three things kept me animated: the company of people who were as bonkers as Anna Hazare on a cocaine-snorting spree; nuclear submarine-loads of alcohol; and a desire to kill.
Pleasant company is always heart - and body-warming, while the intake of copious amounts of alcohol make even plastic furniture, including our prime minister, come alive. But before you call the chief minister’s distress line to complain why a potential homicidal maniac is allowed to write self-indulgent gibberish in a national newspaper (self-indulgent gibberish written by peace-loving maniacs is, of course, to be relished like warm cauliflower wine), let me explain what I mean by my temporary conversion into a killing machine, last week.
Like nations such as Tahiti and Canada, I don’t pick or get into physical fights. The last time I beat up or got beaten up by anybody was when I thrashed my cousin, who’s six years younger than I am, as part of my I’m-bigger-than-you-and-I-feel-like-bashing-you-up routine in the mid-80s. I feel cut up about it even now and I told his sister this Christmas if she could please relay the message to him that I am deeply sorry for what I did and sought his forgiveness. Since my Asoka-in-Kalinga moment, I have not only abjured physical violence (journalism allows me to inflict other forms of violence) but I have turned into, what experts call, a super-wuss.
But some amount of remnant aggression, like that drip lying at the bottom of a whisky bottle when the stash is over, is there, seeping out from time to time when I am confronted with any kind of competitive situation. Such as rounds of badminton on a vacation.
After feigning a quick, initial round of ‘fun’, where I floundered around a makeshift court like an aardvark on roofies, friends disappeared and all I saw were enemies that needed to be vanquished, driven into the ground and humiliated by smash shots, loaded lobs and violent volleys. It was disturbing (even to me later) to find myself shouting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” after scoring a point with a baddie racquet that I swear resembled an AK-47 from time to time. But if badminton brought out the inner Vlad the Impaler in me, what removed the protective sheath of the ‘sports is war by other means’ metaphor, thereby leading to my temporary radicalisation, was another ‘holiday fun activity’: paintball.
As anyone who has played it knows, paintball is serious business. Armed with gas-propelled guns that spew out small gelatin balls that pass through water soluble dye, the aim is to shoot the members on the other side in this war. Well, simulated war. But wearing camouflaged overalls, a Darth Vader mask and a pretend-kevlar body armour (actually a foam sandwich board whose colour identifies which side you are on), I found it very, very easy to forget the ‘simulated’ bit.
We were taken to the woods behind the lodge — which to me looked exactly like Katyn, the forest in Russia where Polish officers were mass executed by the Soviet secret police in April-May 1940 — where we took up our positions. A friend on our team devised a fantastic strategy: “We won’t shoot anyone of us.” And then, we were at war. Aiming from behind brambles at bodies hiding behind the thin tree trunks, I was in the zone.
Very clearly in my head, I was conducting hit-and-run attacks on an American patrol in Sangin district in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. I even dashed out into the open to unleash an ululating battle cry. Considering that the final death count was four on each side — four (not me!) bearing a deadly paint splotch — I wish I had rushed out, shooting my way through and getting paintballed in return in true fidayeen style instead of crawling like an insurgent for too long, bruising my nether regions in the process.
Move over PlayStation. This is the real (simulated) thing. And it so doesn’t surprise me that in 2006, Ali Asad Chandia was sentenced for 15 years for providing material support, which included shipping 50,000 paintball pellets, to the Lashkar-e-Taiba from America to Pakistan.
I was so alive at Kikar, brimming with a desire to vanquish and kill. I am so dead now under the covers in Delhi where the sun and I have both turned into, as one of my friends so accurately describes, ‘panzoids’. Happy New Year? Whatever.