Our middle school learners were at Gandhi Smriti today to learn language skills in the context of an important freedom movement. Britishers had forced upon Indigo plantation on Indian farmers for their commercial pursuit that led to starvation and uprising of farmers in Bengal (1858) and later in Champaran, Bihar (1917) under Gandhiji’s leadership. Today marked an important step in their appreciation of the movement and many Gandhian ideas. Every child brought a story about a significant individual or an event related to independence. An appreciation of the context was made by reading the following poetry and sketching the emotion expressed.
BY CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNI
The fields flame with it, endless, blue
as cobra poison. It has entered our blood
and pulses up our veins
like night. There is no other color.
The planter’s whip
splits open the flesh of our faces,
a blue liquid light trickles
through the fingers. Blue dyes the lungs
when we breathe. Only the obstinate eyes
refuse to forget where once the rice
parted the earth’s moist skin
and pushed up reed by reed,
green, then rippled gold
like the Arhiyal’s waves. Stitched
into our eyelids, the broken dark,
the torches of the planter’s men, fire
walling like a tidal wave
over our huts, ripe charred grain
that smelled like flesh. And the wind
screaming in the voices of women
dragged to the plantation,
feet, hair, torn breasts.
In the worksheds, we dip our hands,
their violent forever blue,
in the dye, pack it in great embossed chests
for the East India Company.
Our ankles gleam thin blue from the chains.
After that night
many of the women killed themselves.
Drowning was the easiest.
Sometimes the Arhiyal gave us back
the naked, swollen bodies, the faces
eaten by fish. We hold on
to red, the color of their saris,
the marriage mark on their foreheads,
we hold it carefully inside
our blue skulls, like a man
in the cold Paush night
holds in his cupped palms a spark,
its welcome scorch,
feeds it his foggy breath till he can set it down
in the right place,
to blaze up and burst
like the hot heart of a star
over the whole horizon,
a burning so beautiful you want it
to never end.