‘Ei, Vasuki, stop pestering your Appa. He is rushed, as it is. Then, he won’t drink the Kanji if he starts playing with you.’, Vasuki was chided when she threw herself into her Appa’s arm. After all, he had not returned home for three nights in a row.
Vasuki continued to linger in his arms when she saw blotches of purple bruises in his dark arms and legs.
Amma saw them too while handing over the battered aluminum cup to Appa.
‘Were you beaten up?’, she asked stoically.
‘Why do you think they took us to the lockup? To serve us biriyani?’, Vasuki noticed Appa’s failed attempt to make Amma smile, while she expertly kept her tears from overflowing.
‘All is not vain, you know. We are fighting for Vasuki’s future. All our children’s’ future. The kids need not cower to caste or money as we are forced to do. Our sweat and blood won’t be pilfered anymore.’ Appa said as he gulped down his Kanji and got up to leave.
Vasuki attached herself to his calf and refused to let go.
‘Tickle me, tickle me. Play tickling crabby with me.’ she clung onto him.
There was no time though. Vasuki’s sun-weathered cheeks felt a brush before Appa went on to join his comrades, who were heading to the hospital.
A few months ago, they had raised their red flag against the feudal landlords, fighting for a share of the agricultural produce, which had swelled up during recent times, thanks to Green Revolution.
Simmering discontent lead to scuffles and turned bloody when one of the landlords’ agent was killed.
Many were arrested and ‘dealt with’ by the local police. When one of the comrades started spitting blood, the police threw the bunch out lest death-in-custody would sully their names as keepers of justice.
‘Vasuki, Come inside, you stupid kid. That’s enough of play done in the dark. There may be snakes lurking around.’
Vasuki scampered as fast as she could into the straw-roofed hut. She did not want to be the cause of Amma’s worries especially when Appa did not turn up for the night again. She was a clever girl.
The kerosene gas-lit courtyard wore a deserted look after the kids left.
It was 10 pm when the commotion started. People from their settlement poured into the courtyard. Most of their men folks were in the lock-up or hospital. The crowd of women and children were screaming.
‘We are surrounded. They had some for us in police trucks.’
A few gunshots were heard, which woke up Vasuki. She was still confused when her 8 by 8 feet hut began filling up with her people.
In an instant, the sky above them raged in Orange. It spread and sore its tentacles. Then, the fire started raining into Vasuki’s hut. It licked and caressed the dark skins. The fire, unsatiated, started devouring the flesh. It started singing Vasuki’s hair, burning her skin, choking the five-year-old, as she cried for air.
Suddenly, a pair of green-bangled arm grabbed her and threw her out of the hut.
Vasuki landed just outside the reach of the fire. The child picked herself up and ran outwards and into a strong muscular arm.
The arm caught her without a fuss, lifted her up and fed her back to the hungry fire.
On December 25th, 1968, in a village called Kilvenmani, Tamilnadu, a crowd of 44 labourers were set ablaze allegedly by the feudal landlords in retaliation for losing one of their agents. The victims included 25 children,16 women and aged men. A few, including 2 children, who were thrown out of the burning hut, were caught and fed to the flames, which was kept stoked on purpose.
*Kanji – Rice Gruel