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A painful tapestry of memories and massacres

Verdant Assam is often painted as a paradise, but the fault lines of a seemingly unending conflict remain as clearly etched as ever. As India notes the 50 year anniversary of the 1962 war with China, we feature two poems by Aruni Kashyap, one of Assam’s most original and compelling voices.

Aruni Kashyap  27th Oct 2012

1962: When the Chinese Came

The Chinese didn't descend first, the flat-nosed,
small eyed, yellow-skinned
hill-people preceded them. On the river bank,
they propped up window-less bamboo-huts,
but no toilets.

The cowherds didn't sing about the
behinds of the women who bathed in the river,
even before the sun sucked dew-drops
from blades of grass. They sang about
the Chinese, who came much later.

The day they arrived, the river bank swarmed
with people like ants on sugar cubes. Empty ships a rarity;
an old man told the young ones that bundles
of currencies in the Tezpur Reserve Bank
were tossed into flames.

Those young men vanished the next day, perhaps in search
of those fires that sometimes acquired green flames while
burning the pictures of Nehru, Gandhi. And yet,
the cowherds didn't sing about them, nor
about the schoolteacher who described the holiday trip
of Nehru or the women who knitted sweaters

before the Chinese eventually came,
before the flames took a green hue that some young men
had gone in search of. They braved
the marauding army
just like those people who tried to leave
on boats, waited at the riverbank
like ants forming a ball
when flooded by water.

The cowherds were concerned
about other things : yellow skins of women
who had come from the hills and lived
in houses without toilets, Assamese women
who would be picked up by the Chinese.
They were worried, the fair-fair ones

would be picked up by the tiny-legged Chinese,
the dark-dark ones would be
left for them to marry. On the day
the Chinese came :

a group of bleeding-scalp men
ran around pulling out their hair, while
another four showed their penises to
giggling girls who were standing on porticoes.
Two adolescent boys tore off the clothes of
a laughing, jute-haired young woman, fondled her breasts,
pressed them hard when she asked for food, while
a dog barked incessantly like adamant noon-crickets
in the emptied madhouse of the city.


Dear India
(A Collage poem)

Dear India, what kind of an idea are you? Do you
bend at all? Do you sway at all, trimming
your bluish shades? Why are you
proud of a 50 year old shame?

Dear India, please do not forget the sweaters women in Assam had knitted,
the ornaments they had donated and do not forget,
that James Bond has killed 150 men and
has slept with 44 women since
the first movie came out in 1962. That is
also an important matter.

Dear India, there were few boats that night,
when people were fleeing Tezpur, feeling
betrayed after they'd heard Nehru's speech.

Dear India, please wake up.
Have some strong Assam tea (Korongoni will do but
I love Golaghat Tea too - you can get it in small
250 gram packets if you don't want to spend a lot)
and stop glorifying 1962 as it is not the only story.

Dear India, have you read A Single Man?
Christopher Isherwood's novel
set in November 1962, about a gay man in LA? Have
you heard of the book? About the Cuban Missile Crisis?
You know, I am a great fan of Lata Mangeshkar. I think she is super cool.

Dear India,
In 1962, An American Airlines Boeing 707 crashed on takeoff
at New York International Airport after a rudder malfunction
caused an uncontrolled roll, resulted in the loss of control of the aircraft
and the loss of all life on board - there are other
stories, please read some at least, India.

Dear India : go f*** yourself with your atom bomb,
with your commonwealth games
with your T-3 airport.

Dear India,
you need an education.

Dear India, why do you make me
feel ashamed so often? As if seizing the virginities
of fourteen-year olds by Indian soldiers in 90s
wasn't enough. Dear India, please pack
your bags, and go to school. It is getting late, your Assam tea
will not remain hot forever. Dear India, you might
just miss the bus - have you done your homework? Madam
will make you kneel down in front of the class if it is incomplete. Please
do not stick your arms and legs out of the windows of the bus and better
finish your tiffin today: including the bananas.

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