Mussoorie, Uttar Pradesh, India, l947
When I am nine, the British quit India. Headmaster says, "The Great Mutiny started it." We repeat, The Great Mutiny of 1857 in our booming voices. Even Akbar was Great, even Catherine, Great! We titter over History. His back turns: we see his pink spotty neck. Sorry, the British leaving? we beg. "This is hardly a joke or a quiz -- sit up and stay alert," he spits. "It is about the trains and ships you love and city names. As for me, I'm old, I'll end in a library, I began in trade." But you must stay, we tell him. He lived here as we have lived but longer. He says he was alive in Calcutta in 1890. He didn't have a rich father. A third son, he came with the Tea Company: we saw a statement in his office. The company built the railroads to take the tea "home to England" so that Darjeeling and Assam could be sipped by everyone, us and them. They sold our southern neighbor Ceylon, silk, pepper, diamonds, cotton. We make a trade of course. In England there is only wool and salt and snobs and foggy weather, Shakespeare.
This poem originally appeared in the Paris Review. © 2000 by Reetika Vazirani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.