The Young Martyr- retelling of a true incident

He lay there in a pool of blood.
His head hollow as if the insides had been scooped out with a spoon. A salty taste permeated his mouth — thick and suffocating. He could hear the slow beating of his own heart reverberating inside his head. Faraway faint voices as the light left his eyes. His body stilled, never to move again.

He had felt no pain, just the surprise. A bullet right at the center of the forehead — bulls eye, a perfect score. His face blank with surprise.The expression still remained as time stopped dead. He lay there in a pool of blood losing the fight he had embraced with so much passion. Like a new first love. Now the cause lay flowing from his being, escaping all over the asphalt like a cat let out of the bag.You wanted to ask ‘What more did you expect from fighting a lost cause?’ You wanted to shake him awake and wipe the stupid expression off his face and ask him to come back, breathe again. So much not done, so much not seen — so, so young.

His mother had been feeding the chickens when the people bearing the terrible news came like shadows of death, harbinger of a message that no mother should ever have to hear. She had been counting the chickens in her head and checking for eggs in the coop. Everyday things.

When the men broke their terrible news- first the bowl with the chicken feed fell. This scattered the timid chickens all over the courtyard clucking and flying about.As their chaos died down, silence fell over the scene. Her reaction was not immediate; her tears would not come. On her lips a half smile still remained from greeting the news bearers. The expression of surprise in her eyes would have matched the expression on her dead sons’ face had she seen it. Her mind would not register what she had just heard so her eyes followed the path of the scattered chickens. She wondered if they had gone into the new flowerbeds.

Her unsuspecting husband was still tending the marigolds as two of the four men with the unfortunate news walked to him. She saw her husband crumple up in a heap upon the flowers — the morning smelled of marigolds everywhere. Seeing her husband collapse snapped her out from her stupor and she ran indoors. The men followed her concerned. She ran towards the shrine in the corner of the house where the three ancestral stones were laid for worship day in and day out. The ancestral stones had drunk enough chicken blood and rice beer year after year after year. Her ancestors had not protected her family from evil and misfortune. They had not done their part. She grunted and moaned and kicked and upturned the stones with blind rage and threw them one after another out into the courtyard. By now the neighbors had started collecting around the house and gasped in terror as she did the unthinkable. Desecrating the ancestral stones. Throwing them out, spitting and cursing at them. A rooster crowed in the hot late morning.

Through all that sudden rage, all she could see was a blur but she could feel a pair of hands holding her down gently but firmly.Tired now, her ragged breath came in short and haggard.Her legs gave way, her body violently shaking with a pain no one should ever feel. It broke her heart, it broke her soul, it broke everything sane inside her mind.Her body gave in to those hands that held her — they sat her down on the mud-floor, legs sprawled, rocking ,slippers missing from her feet. She experienced hell for the very first time.

The death of a family is painful but the loss of a child is a curse that can never be undone. That pain once felt never to be forgotten.Her silent tears made rivulets on her weathered face, dusty from the ash of the ancestral stones and dripped down the front of her velvet maroon blouse.

They told her that they were bringing ‘the body’ in.

‘As if he had no name.’she thought, ‘no identity, as if he never was. As if he never warmed my lap as a child. As if he never brought the firewood home and lit the stove in the mornings so that I could rest a bit more.He was such a good child,’ she cried silently. ‘My very best…and now a body.’

She panicked with the thought that she would never see him again no matter how hard she tried, no matter how much she wished. It was the worst part of surviving a death.Her son was gone to a place from where he would never come back — it filled her with dread and desolation.

They finally brought his body in and neighbors gathered outside in a crowd. Everyone looked sad but it was not their son that had died. Though genuinely mourning the death of the young man who had grown up before their eyes, they were relieved it hadn’t happened to them.They were not the ones who had to bury a son.

He was carried in by his rebel comrades. Among the mourning crowd inside the house, the body was laid. The mother from the previous numb silence broke into cries of unimaginable loss.She sounded like an animal in pain. Her howls pierced the atmosphere as she embraced her dead stiff child.

The chicken still clucked in the courtyard. Time still moved from morning to early afternoon and the sun still scattered the scent of the young marigolds.The women of gathered all around mother now and tried to comfort her with little soft words that meant nothing. When they laid his body down; his nineteen year old face with the shadow of a beard had gone yellow due to loss of blood and looked like wax.The blood that he had sacrificed for the people and the cause had made patterns upon his face. Dried in a standstill like a rebel soldier standing guard. His head was held together with a black handkerchief to hold his shattered skull together along with its contents; pieces of brain matter that no longer functioned, thought or felt emotions nor believed in ideals. The bullet mark on his forehead was hidden under a rupee coin for passage to the afterlife.

The shamans came with their drums in the hot afternoon. They beat the drums to prayer and songs trying to get in touch with the spirit of the young man. Other family members prepared the body for the burial, bathing and wrapping it in a cheap white linen shroud. Neighbors and friends came in to pay their respects and covered his torso with satin scarves. The smoke from the stick incense was sweetly thick and gagging — they smelled of death. Some people took over the kitchen to prepare tea and meals for the ones who would stay for the wake. Some went to the bamboo grove to cut fresh bamboo for the prayer ceremony. He would stay home tonight.

In the twilight they would call out to the spirit of the young man who had been forced to leave this world for the next so abruptly. They would talk to him through the shaman’s body, ask him if he was alright,if he had any unfulfilled wishes.If there was anything that they could do to ease his passage into the next life. The shamans in their white robes,turbans and jingles kept playing their leather drums in haunting beats and chanted prayers for the young dead boy.They called out to him to come and talk to them to tell of his suffering. They sang songs to comfort his soul which might be scared,lost or angry.They told him not to fear,that they would lead him,they would teach him how to carry on after death.

As the heated afternoon faded into the night,the mother could have sworn that she saw him from the window, standing beside the old plum tree, looking so forlorn.

“Mero kancha,” she breathed.

My little one…

This is my version of a real life tragedy in my family. I witnessed the day they brought my rebel uncle’s body home. I was eight.He was just 19 years old and killed by the CRPF ( Central reserve police force) in Darjeeling, India, shot in the head with a •303 rifle. He was just nineteen. My grandmother tried religion to cope, Christianity.She stood in the townsquare and handed out pamphlets, anything to help her bear the pain.Much later hung herself unable to come in terms with the death of her youngest son.

The reason I write so much about my hometown is because we face acute identity crisis where we are Indian citizens but we don’t have laws to even govern a state by ourselves. We are like children under the care of strict parents.Even in this day and age we are unknown even in our own country. People do not know of our existence in India and they tell us to go back to Nepal or China because we are asian. But we are Himalayan and before the British and before borders were between the Himalayan regions, we were living there as the indigenous people of that mountainous region.

When I’m out here in the west and they ask me where I’m from, I have to go through a lot of layers explaining because I’m Indian but look Asian. I realise out in the world, I don’t have an identity — a name I can call myself.So I call myself a Himalayan.

I want everyone to know we exist and even though our people are poor and struggling, I want the world to know of our existence.

Many people like my uncle have lost their lives trying to get a statehood within India that we would like to call “GORKHALAND” which is a very old pipe dream of our people. Many agitations have happened since the early eighties that always end in the government crushing the spirits and lives of our young people.

I belong to the RAI- Kirati indigenous community of the Himalayas.

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Priscilla Prerna Rai

Priscilla Prerna Rai

Writer of sorts Vancouver | Himalayan