“Who are you?” he asked viciously

“An Indian” I said.

The cold butt of his rifle landed on my forehead. A streak of warm blood began to make its way onto my pink cheek. Amma always said that my cheeks are the most beautiful she has ever seen.

“Every mother considers her child beautiful.” I always dismissed her folly.

I wailed in pain holding my forehead. His khaki uniform was slowly dimming out. My eyes were burning. A thousand scorpions of fire rose somewhere in me.

Amma appeared and pulled my cheeks.

“Rise my child for you are the protest.” She whispered gently in my ear.

“I am the protest?” I asked baffled.

“Yes, you and she and she and she!” Amma pointed her long finger around me. The haze had faces. Faces with hijab, with bindi, with nothing- just a face.

“Tell bitch who are you?” He asked again. More ferociously than before. His face turning and twisting like poison ivy.

“An Indian” I reiterated, wobbly on my feet. This time the butt landed on my cheek. The gush of warm blood was reassuring in a way- it proved I was alive.

Amma smiled.

“Your pink cheek is looking even more beautiful today.” She carefully touched my cheek and the gaping wound stopped bleeding at once. She had magic in her hands, I thought.

The black tarry road was slowly feeling cozy. There were many around me. Some in pulp, some intact. Some bleeding, some bloodless. But each with its own love, with its own story.

“Say again who are you?” He now stood menacingly over my head, holding his rifle in both hands like a stick.

I looked up and amma was standing behind him. Smiling. She gestured me to stand up and speak.

“I.n…di..a..n” I gathered all strength to say and turned my face burying it in between my bruised arms. The butt would rain anytime. I waited in anticipation. My body taut in a weird way from head to toe.

This time the butt didn’t land on me. Amma’s warm hand caressed my head.

“You are the protest my child. You are!” She tousled my hair as she finished.

Half an hour back in the library I had been reading America by Blake:
The fiery joy, that Urizen perverted to ten commands,
What night he led the starry hosts thro’ the wide wilderness,
That stony law I stamp to dust; and scatter religion abroad
To the four winds as a torn book, & none shall gather the leaves.

Prof. Shah Alam Khan is Professor of Orthopaedics AIIMS. He is the author of Announcing the Monster. His views are personal.