Gertrude Lamare’s poetic refusal to be a #patriot
I pledged that India was my country
For the first time at the age of six-
“I love my country,
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it–Uff, when is lunch break?”
Richness was the stuff of Hindi films I never understood,
Heritage was the Taj Mahal I hadn’t seen.
“India is my country,” echoed through the wooden corridors of the colonial building
Desperately clinging on to some fragments of Victorian tradition-
“Girls, behave. Girls, stand in line.”
I remember the white walls and black pillars
Stripped of passion and humanity;
We were all stuffed into the navy blue uniform
Stained with honour and dignity-
“Girls, pull up your socks and wipe that colour off your lips.”
“I shall respect my parents, teachers and all elders…”–
The terror of those godlike creatures made me drench my underpants in urine.
A voice drugs the lazy afternoon,
“But you girls are Khasi; we Khasi women dress with respect.
Our jainsem doesn’t reveal flesh like the saree. It doesn’t allow for sin.”
“What is flesh? What is sin?” I whispered to a friend.
Another one commands, “Tell your friends about Jesus. These dkhar girls believe in fake gods.”
I nodded to an image of a blonde Christ who represented “truth.”
Twenty-two years later I look for the six year old girl-
In the shifting contours of the Indian landscape,
In the sharp corners and dark shadows of the law,
On the streets of thriving bitter cities,
In the sad songs on hill-tops and dying rivers,
In the mad definitions of “Khasi,”
In the confused veins of tribal culture,
In the many folds of the dying gospel,
On the shaken pulpits of Churches-
I look for her, and taste saw dust.
To my country and my people, I don’t pledge my devotion,
To your country and your people, I am but a woman,
To you my dear Khasis and Indians, I owe no patriotism,
To all of you, I am forever unwritten,
Forever an apparition, an absence.