A Letter from an Accomplice (or ‘Maappusakshi’)

Today the anganwadi  worker has delivered my voter’s ID card to me.
This means that now I am part of the world’s biggest democracy,
a union of states, everybody singing songs of “Unity in Diversity”.
At least, that’s what the NCERT has told me. 

I am grateful that now I have an ID card.
Because that is important.
As long as you are a part of something you are not on your own,
and being on your own is a scary thing.

But, I hope you will not, in your magnanimity,
resent me for saying that this card now weighs heavy in my hand.
You may dismiss me as being too dramatic,
but now every time I see a soldier holding a gun to someone’s head,
I feel like it’s my hand.
Every time somebody is carted off to a war
to an unknown land with an inheritance of nothing but centuries of hatred,
I feel like it was me that drove them to it,
with a ceremonial shroud, a textbook and a gun.

Since it took me so long to find out some things,
I am also afraid now of what I do not know.
It might as well be that my name is now written across
all security check points, circulars for curfews are being signed in my name
and somewhere mothers wake up in the middle of the night
from a nightmare of a murderer with my face,
the same face that looks out unfeeling, unsmiling from this card.
I fear that since this is now my ‘Identity Card’,
It tells me more things about me than I care to know.

I would have liked to wash my hands of the whole thing if I could,
flags draped over corpses, gunshots, celebrations of death
with one like equal to 1000 salutes.
But to tell you the truth, I would have liked it much better
if I could offer life instead and a ticket to wherever they call home.
And although you may not like me saying this,
if I could, I would do the same for everybody on the other side.
After all, it is in the interest of balancing things, which seems to be so important now.
Maybe there is something wrong in not wanting to examine
if the blood on my hands is Indian enough.
But, I have to confess, I haven’t felt like doing that for a long time now.

It seems like a lot of the people disappear into thin air everyday,
and the newspapers don’t seem to notice there is anything missing.
A lot of people whose sons and daughters who aren’t as ‘integral’ as lines on a map. I wish this card came with instructions on how to look them in the face
without wishing that I was never born,
or that the earth would swallow my complicit body whole.

Since it seems to matter now, I feel like I should also tell you
that it is true that the first flag my grandpa ever gave me was Palestine’s,
and the first slogan I yelled without knowing what it meant was “Workers of the World Unite”.
But, you would not have believed it if you saw me at attention
on independence day at school.
Saluting with all the fervour required of a class monitor,
you couldn’t find anybody in all the divisions,
who could sing “ab tumhare hawale” with more feeling than me.
A shining example of patriotism,
in “white and white”,
of body and soul!

I always paid attention in History classes,
especially if it was about Independence,
even on days when the weather was good outside.
And I was in top form as a batsman,
My mind did not waver,
I dreamt of hunting General Dyer down dark alleys,
and of my people flying out of wells of darkness
to freedom and peace.
In spite of all this I don’t remember ever learning why
Azadi” means something else when somebody else says it.
So you cannot blame me for thinking
that you did not tell me the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong —
What wouldn’t I give to get back the “whiteness” of our uniforms now.
But the problem now is, you see, whiteness makes me think of snow,
and after all this, I cannot think of snow without thinking of blood.
Blood and snow,
Blood and snow.
And when that happens, I cannot hold my head so high,
and my hand falls to my sides.

I wish I could say that the ticket to democracy I have been given
only lets me be a spectator to a farce.
But, my grandmother taught me there are no innocent bystanders,
and she was a “Bharat Mata” if I ever saw one.

For all my grandma’s dialectical materialism,
I cannot shake the feeling that she still watches over me.
And as she was never one for cynicism or flimsy excuses,
I can only hope that the world’s biggest democracy is big enough
For what I have to say.

PS: maappusakshi means approver, but maappu means sorry and sakshi means witness.


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Jasun Chelat Written by:

Jasun Chelat is a labour rights lawyer in Chennai.

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