This fourteen lines poem, The Soldier’s Song, says a lot in a few verses. Written by Anita Nair, the poem brings to me the mental state of a soldier, who talks about his routine job in the military, and makes the readers realize after all what kind of life an ordinary soldier has to live through when he is on the border. Though it looks mundane at first as the life of a soldier is generally considered full of thrills, the poem, in just a few lines, ends up the life of a solider.
The Soldier’s Song Analysis
I walk the khaki hills
Where the very first line in The Soldier’s Song talks about the dressing of a soldier who walks bearing khaki, the words khaki hills indicate the mundaneness and tediousness rampant in hills. The use of the word Khaki for me is the indication of mundaneness in the lives of soldiers, who simply do their daily military chores, and kill the enemy.
I hide in deep furrows of land
This line too has two meanings. Where it tells what a soldier does before killing his enemy, which is well suggested by the words, ‘furrows of land’, the meaning of the word furrow also means to indicate a line or wrinkle on a soldier’s face that he has to wear all through his soldier’s life. The soldier does hide in deep furrows of land, but he is not as thrilled as is expected from the point of view of a civilian. It is his duty that he is bound to do.
I write letters to my family
I tell them all is well.
In these two lines, the soldier is shown missing his family and using the only source of communication that he can use though time has changed today. The solider here tells that as and when he is left with some time he writes letters to his family and tells them all is well. But truly, the life of a soldier is not always well. He lives far-flung from his family, and occasionally gets time to talk to them. The only thing that he can do is through writing letters.
With this letter-writing he is able to talk to his family, but his family is not aware of the hardship that he has to encounter when he is on the front. All is well is what he can only say, but the worries and sufferings he faces is not narrated by him to his family. All is well because his family is living well through his meager salary, all is well because his country is sleeping well because of his 24/7 duty, all is well because he (the soldier) is there to protect his country and its citizens.
I drink my tea
I block out fear for it cripples.
These three lines in The Soldier’s Song show the two selves of a soldier. The first one relates to his routine job, and the second one is the fear in him that stops him to go ahead with his military mission. As usual before leaving for his front, he polishes his shoes, takes a tea to face his enemy, and then thinks if he is going to kill or die. He asks his inner shelves, and fears what would happen if he is killed; his family will become orphaned, his children will have to live without father, and he may also be the sole bread earner for his family, including his aged parents who always keep waiting for his son.
All these thoughts are really heart-aching and may even bring tears in the eyes of every soft-hearted man or woman. But being a soldier, he has to show toughness, he has to show strength, he has to be rough and tough, and forgetting all and leaving all he has to go ahead to fight his enemy, without even knowing in what condition the family enemy soldier will be living. If I go back in my past, this poem reminds me of a film; ‘Border’ whose entire plot seems to have been knitted around these lines.
Further in the lines when the soldier says: ‘I try not to think’, I block out fear for it cripples’. He means to be fearful in view of the aftermath of the war. He knows that once he is crippled by the fear, he will not be able to go to the front, and not even be able to kill the enemy. So, he tries to avoid and overcome the fear, and go ahead with his military mission.
When I spot an intruder
I shoot to kill.
Where in the lines like: ‘I try not to think I block out fear for it cripples,’ he doesn’t let the fear overcome his military mission, in the further three lines, he is shown in front of the intruder. But in these lines also, the soldier is shown not looking into the eyes of the intruder. Because he knows once he has seen into his eyes, he will not be able to kill him. He will find the intruder just like him – an ordinary man with dreams in his eyes and responsibilities on his soldiers. If he looks into his eyes, he will also see the fear in the intruder’s eyes; he will also find a man like him who has come onto the front for the survival of his family and country’s people. He says I have been taught not to look into the eyes of the enemy when confronting him. I have been taught only to shoot to kill him. I just have to look him like an enemy and nothing else. He is just my enemy, and when he comes in front of me I just have to kill him. This is what I have been taught, and this is what I have learned as a military soldier.
One bullet for one enemy soldier.
This is how I fight.
In the last three lines, the story of the daily routine of a soldier comes to an end, and the theme of The Soldier’s Song according to me also comes to an end. This is because the life of a soldier is to find and kill the soldier. He is taught so, and he has learned so all through his military life. He is taught there is one bullet for one enemy, but do not look into the eyes of an enemy soldier while killing him.
In the above lines where he is depicted in two selves, and one is fearful and second is brave, in the later lines, he is not allowed to look into the eyes of the intruder because if he looks into his eyes he will not be able to kill him, and may even step back from his military mission. His only duty is to polish his shoes, take tea, find the intruder, and kill him then and there.
This is what he has been taught and this is what he has learned. He is given one bullet for one enemy soldier. Thus, the routine job a solider is well-defined in through this poem, but there are many more poems wherein this type of theme has been depicted.
About Anita Nair
One of the finest writers in Indian Writing in English, Anita Nair was born at Mundakottakurissi near Shoranur in Kerala State. Since Anita used to frequently visit Kerala, she knew the heart of rural Kerala. Her writings not only critically acclaim but are also sold like hotcakes. Some of the famous works of Anita Nair include “Mistress” (2003), “Adventures of Nonu, the skating squirrel” (2006), “Living Next Door to Alise” (2007), and “Magical Indian Myths” (2008). Her works also include many travelogues.