In death, you become Khasi: a wildman, a man of the grass, a person who dug down deep and strove to scratch out life one day at a time, a royal. That’s what a Khasi was, wasn’t it?
You knew those ways, that’s why they called you one.
When you fell flat onto that cold French earth-
Not the France of Cannes and Paris but bleak brutal battle-
The Khas in you struggled inside, wanting to live on;
When your eyes shut -your body heavy with lead, your lungs failing -you took a fistful of foreign earth.
The British called you Khasi because they didn’t know what else to call you (or perhaps didn’t care).
They all look the same, I guess, they said. Hand them medals, sort up a small parade, send them some money: celebrate the death of their sons at Iewduh; call it bravery, call it valour.
I wonder what Lal Bahadur was really like. In a uniform, he must have looked like everyone else in the corp. He must have ‘attentioned’ or ‘stood at ease’ like everybody else.
He must have made some Khasi friends:
Facing death together, sharing stories about a home they shared in the hills of Assam, bracing together under a foreign hand, marching under a foreign scepter:
All problems must have seemed foreign back then.
Lal Bahadur, what sort of place was this when you were alive? What were the people like? What funny stories did the tavern spill out into the home? What forces drove people apart then and chained them?
Been a hundred years now, I wonder if he knows:
That there are no wild nor free men anymore; no people of the grass, no Khas.