The Bichom River roared as it came down from the Himalayas. Melting snow had made the normally tranquil river gush and foam. The Sherpa woman gritted her teeth to keep away the pangs of birth. The baby came into the world, even as her mother slipped into unconsciousness. Her father put her next to his exhausted wife. The little bundle immediately opened her eyes and cried a bit. As the river roared loudly and the cool breeze wafted over the family, the baby’s lips found the mother’s engorged nipples and quickly sourced its sustenance.
The little family rested that day and night, and then moved south. Dendi, the father had faced ostracism ever since he’d brought Uru home to his hamlet. Uru was a girl born out of wedlock to a Nepali mother and an English father. The Sherpa community had banned Dendi from all communal activities. He had come to know that there was employment in the Kusumbari Tea Estate near Tezpur. Facing misery and destitution, he had taken a big risk and had left the village in Nepal. He was taking his young family to Kusumbari, in hope of a better future.
Uru and Dendi had both found jobs in Kusumbai. Dendi was taken on as a loader, while Uru was a sorter in the factory. Little Rukmini grew up in the estate. Uru insisted on English education for Rukmini. As soon as she was old enough to march, she was sent to the missionary school five kilometres away.
Rukmini would happily walk, skip and run to school, carrying her few books in a makeshift cloth bag that Uru had stitched for her. Never did the little girl complain about the distance. The tea stall owner, the cobbler and the local vegetable sellers were her friends, and would wave to the cheerful little pixie as she bounded over hill and road to school and back.
The daily trips to school introduced her to nature: The orchid growing in a narrow crevice; the lapwing calling to its mate; the waft of mountain flowers… She was in love with the land and nature.
Her natural inquisitive spirit drove her to explore the countryside on her own. She knew the area like the back of her hand. If it rained, she knew just the right alcove to shelter in (she loved the rain but also knew her books couldn’t get wet). One of her favourite spots was a hilly outcrop that let her have a view above the treetops – she could see the snaking road for miles around her.
She was very good in studies too. By the time she had finished her schooling, there was no book in the little missionary library that she hadn’t read. Her natural interest in studies combined with her native intellect and curiosity meant that she was always top of class.
The other effect of the long road to school and back was to give her tremendous strength and stamina. Perhaps this had something to do with traits passed on from her parents. Carrying her books, hopping and skipping along, Rukmini’s legs grew strong and muscled. Traversing the long road with its steep or gentle slopes was second nature to her now. She could run miles without tiring. Even her teachers remarked on her boundless energy and enthusiasm.
Like the people of her father’s tribe, she was tireless and could also carry a lot of weight.
At home, Rukmini would help Uru with cooking and cleaning. The proud mother saw the little child blossom into a happy young woman. A few years after coming to Kusumbari, Dendi had accosted a gang of dacoits who wanted to loot the plantation office. His alertness had meant that the gang was captured. Not before, however, he had been shot and wounded. Dendi had died a few days later. On his deathbed, he had a vision of the Goddess merging with Rukmini’s form. He had called to Uru and told her of his vision. He felt sorry that he had tried to stop Uru from sending Rukmini to the missionary school, but also that he was happy it turned out to be the right decision.
Rukmini took care of Uru in those difficult days. It is said that Rukmini became the mother to Uru then. The plantation workers also pitched in like an extended family. The support system that they created helped the two women pass the difficult times.
Kusumbari in those days was also reputed as a place where the management took a humane stand with the workers. The Estate manager E. Lamont had set up hospitals, schools and gardens. It was a harmonious place to be.
Eustace Lamont had moved to India as a teenager. After finishing his studies, he apprenticed in the famous Makaibari Tea Estate, after which he gradually took over the management reins of Kusumbari from his Uncle. His wife Shirley had died young, leaving a sick little child in his care. Grief stricken, he had managed to raise the child with help from Governesses imported from the Continent. Little Jackson was a bright student and an adorably sweet child, but suffered from frequent illnesses and had a slight frame.
Jackson was a lover of nature. As a youngster, he showed remarkable talent with pencil, canvas and palette. He loved to paint the verdant greens: the valleys and the gardens; the lovely meadows with the sprinkling of Himalayan flora.
His father took considerable care in protecting him from the vagaries of nature. There was always someone with Jackson, carrying his art material, an umbrella and a basket of food. He was never let out of sight.
Until the summer day when Jackson disappeared.
Troubled by the flux, the attendant had moved from the spot to relieve himself. Finding the man gone, Jackson ran to the water’s edge. He had seen village kids play in the water. Discarding his clothes, he had gone into the cool water. The current, too strong for his weak body, had swept him along.
The distraught attendant, unable to see the young master, had panicked and run back to the Manager’s mansion. A search party was whipped up which discovered Jackson’s discarded clothes by the side of the river. Word spread of the disappearance of the little boy. The tea factory was shut as workers spread out to look for the “little master”. Teams on horseback searched long, but as the sun set, they had to abandon search.
Since it was the weekend, Rukmini had not been to school. The girl was now eight years old, and had already taken over the task of washing clothes from her mother. Having strung up the linen in the backyard, she left for the forest, intending to collect herbs for her mother’s cough. She liked the forest. It was not unfamiliar to her; she had been here many times. She walked deep into the forest, intending to reach the stream where she knew she’d find the medicine.
She tucked in the herbs that she’d found into the large pocket of her dress. As she got up from the stream bed, she saw something tangled in the driftwood. A white arm. Rukmini immediately ran to the spot. She saw an arm caught in the branches. Numerous little cuts populated the skin. She reached down and caught the cold, clammy thing and pulled it up. To her surprise, the little boy attached to the arm coughed and shivered.
Rukmini planted her feet firmly and pulled out the little boy. Putting him gently on the gravel, she checked him for any other damage. The boy in response made a weedy sound as a few tears came out of his nearly shut eyes. She slid her arms below the naked body and picked it up. She moved him to firmer ground where she crushed a few of the herbs and made the boy smell it. To her delight, the boy revived. To her equal dismay, he put his arms tightly around her and began to cry.
The surprised Rukmini disengaged the spindly arms of the boy. She kindly wiped his face and gave him a biscuit that he hungrily devoured. Jackson told him that he had been pulled in by the water current and had hurt his knee badly. He had been swept away and couldn’t remember much until he had seen his saviour. He sat there, his arms wrapped around his spindly knees, shivering in the slight cold. Rukmini decided that she couldn’t leave Jackson there all on his own. Exposure to chilly winds would surely kill the already emaciated boy. So she decided to bring him back to Kusumbari.
She first decided to treat the minor scratches on the boys’ skin, cleaning them even as he protested. The wounds were not serious, though she was concerned about the knee which had swollen up. She then tore a piece of cloth to bind the knee, and then ripped off a large part of her skirt to fashion a loincloth for the boy. She giggled as she tied the cloth like a “chaddi” <underwear> on the boy.
Rukmini made the boy stand. He was perhaps six inches taller, but less heavy. Used to carrying loads up and down hills, Rukmini turned and smoothly took the boy piggy back.
They, rather she walked, humming the tribal tune sung by plantation workers when they harvest the green leaves. A lilting tune that made the boy comfortable; soon Jackson was trying to repeat what Rukmini sang. It would henceforth be the song that Jackson would sing whenever he was lonely or troubled.
Rukmini marched through the forest. Once when the slope got too steep, she shifted Jackson, holding him against her hip with one strong hand as the other grabbed cracks and crannies to steady herself. Once playfully she flipped him over to her shoulder. That made the lapwings scurry from the branches as Jackson burst out with laughter. The sun traversed the brilliant blue skies even as Rukmini walked towards Kusumbari. She never felt that she was carrying a burden. Jackson too started feeling better. The jaunty pair was now friends. They talked and sang and laughed their way. No. She never put Jackson down.
As the sun reached to the horizon, a few villagers saw the two laughing children walk down the road towards the mansion. So happy the two looked, the villagers never even realised that it was the Manager’s son who was riding on the back of little Rukmini.
The stony faced Lamont saw them first as they reached the gate. He ran to them and picked up Jackson from Rukmini’s back. The children disengaged reluctantly. Rukmini’s face fell as she waved a slow bye to her new friend.
Jackson started to cry as soon as he was brought into the house. The doctor was called and the governess rushed with towels and warm water. Jackson was put to bed after cleaning him up and attending to his knee. The next day, Lamont realised that little Rukmini was responsible for saving little Jackson. He announced a reward for the girl and she was cited by her school for bravery and presence of mind.
Rukmini on her part was happy to have found a new friend. For she could relate to him in a way that no others could. Of course she had a lot of friends, but there was no one in the village who knew about Shakespeare or even Aesop. She had finally met someone who she knew could actually talk to her about her school and her dreams and could sing and made her feel nice.
Rukmini and Jackson would meet every weekend. Lamont found Rukmini to be intelligent and protective of Jackson, and would let them go out and play together. Rukmini showed Jackson the land in which they lived. She took him on long walks, urging him to walk faster, pulling him up a tree, carrying him in her arms or back when he tired. She showed Jackson the secret places where orchids grew. She made him watch the courtship dance of the birds. All this enriched Jackson too, for his paintings grew rich with the depiction of flora and fauna, which he had till now only captured in distant landscapes.
Rukmini liked to sit and watch Jackson paint away, occasionally darting away to bring him a small wild flower or little berries. As their friendship blossomed deep, they shared their joys and sorrows, views and thoughts, expressions and touches.
On Jackson’s thirteenth birthday (she was eleven then), she decided to give him a present. She gifted him a cave! When small, Rukmini had discovered the cave in an isolated location. It had a narrow opening that broadened into a space where two people could lie together. The cave opening looked onto the lowlands below. The setting sun shone its warm rays into the cave. This alcove was where Rukmini and Jackson had their most tender moments together. But more about that later.
They sat in the cave, huddled against each other. Rukmini and Jackson were very comfortable with each other. As it was warm, they had shed most clothing. Being in skin with each other was nothing new to them. Jackson liked to rub his slender body against Rukmini. He would like to feel her compact, hard body against his. He didn’t know why, but running his fingers on her hard shoulders, feeling the solid muscled feel of her upper arm, moving down to the hard curve of her forearm as it reached her strong wrist…. Gently rubbing his leg against her smooth, pillar-thick thighs, cupping the amazingly round calf muscles that propelled this powerful girl… all this gave him a feeling of security and contentment.
Rukmini would in turn run her finger down his scrawny arm or leg and clamp the soft bicep or calf muscle and squeeze it in her hands until he mock-screamed for release. She was strong, very strong… the compact hill girl.
One day, while playing with each other, Rukmini pulled off Jackson’s underwear. Suddenly he became defensive, putting his arms around his knees as he asked Rukmini to give the cloth back.
Rukmini asked him why he was feeling so shy. And she removed her own undergarments. Slowly, Jackson reached out to feel her on the chest. Apart from her cheeks, Rukmini’s chest was perhaps her softest spot. Girl breasts were forming now, small yet shapely. Jackson felt a strange urge, and started to rub her more. Rukmini laughed as she let Jackson explore. Her tender nipples responded and grew in size. But she was puzzled as she saw something that she had never seen before. Jackson had sprouted a thick long finger between his legs.
Rukmini squealed and reached out to grip it between her thumb and forefinger. The sudden grip on his nascent organ gave Jackson a shock that he had never felt before. His eyes went wide as he leant back on the cave floor. His back went straight as electric sensations ran up and down his spine. Rukmini leant forward and inspected the new organ: “What’s this, Jacks? Is this your pee-pee? Why, it’s grown big!” She ran the tip of her finger, feeling the ‘pee-pee’ harden like a rock. “Why, it’s as hard as a bamboo stem!” She poked at the base of the organ, making it quiver. “Jacks, is my finger doing this to you?” she asked. Jackson didn’t reply, his mouth was open, tongue running around his lips.
She playfully poked at it a few more times, seeing it lurch. Jackson was now moaning lowly, “hnnnnnnn”. She delicately drew the foreskin down a little, seeing the reddish-purple head pop out like an Amaranthus flower.
She could make out that Jackson was enjoying the sensation. Drawing the skin down further in her palms, she looked at it closely, when a whitish fluid came out in a small stream from the tip.
Jackson gripped Rukmini’s hand in his own… “Ohhhh Rukmini…. Ohhhh… It feels…sooo…goooodd…” Rukmini, puzzled yet pleased, gently moved her hand up and down. Jackson moaned. She felt him tense even more, until a furious spurt from the tip hit her in the eye.
She squealed and let go, wiping her eye with the back of her hand. She ran to the back of the cave to get some water to put in her eyes. Coming back, she saw that Jackson had thrashed about a bit, but now lay still.
“Are you OK, Jacks? Do you feel all right?!? Should I carry you back?” Jackson opened his eyes dreamily and said… “Oohhhh…. Rukmini, just hold me…tight…”
Jackson had held onto Rukmini for long, as if he didn’t want her to be apart from him even for a second. Rukmini, surprised and pleased, had tenderly massaged his back, waiting for him to recover from his swoon. As it started to get dark, Rukmini pleaded with him to leave; until finally she had to pull him out physically.
Jackson and Rukmini held hands as they slowly walked back to the estate. Rukmini asked him a lot of questions: “What had just happened? Why did you behave like that? Was it fun for you? Why did it grow big? What was that white liquid?”
She didn’t get those answers, so that evening she decided to ask Uru about it.
Uru was shocked to learn of what had happened. Nevertheless, she knew her daughter was innocent in behaviour, so she decided to patiently explain about the birds and bees.
After she had done with explaining, they switched off the lantern and went to sleep. Not that sleep came to little Rukmini’s mind. All that night she dreamt about what had happened. She ran her fingers on her chest, feeling those little nubs harden. Her hand then went down to that place between her legs, where her mother had said was the entrance to her womb. She felt the chickpea like knob within the lips, which gave her an intense sensation of fire running through her body. She was awake in the night, and very aroused.
In the morning, Uru made her promise that she would not be doing any more exploration with Jackson. She took that promise reluctantly, arguing that things that feel good are never wrong. But the norms in society are rarely in tune with what the body wants.
Rukmini faithfully kept to her promise, not touching Jackson there, even though he begged her to touch him. He once even took off his trousers and fell at her feet, clutching her mighty calves, asking her for succour. That was perhaps the only time Rukmini had roundly admonished Jackson. She had told him that it was not proper to do what they had done the other day in the cave. She went on to explain to him the consequences of doing so, which a wide-eyed Jackson finally, but reluctantly understood.
Rukmini was, however, a girl of nature. She could neither forget that evening with Jackson in the cave, nor the fiery sensation that ran up her spine when she touched the knob in the folds of her labia.
The Missionary School in Sonitpur organises field trips to various scenic locations. In current times, the trips go all the way to the Duars in the west and Meghalaya in the South. In the times when Rukmini was a student, these trips were restricted to nearby valleys and picnic spots, to which the students were marched.
Rukmini enjoyed these field trips. Her innate knowledge of flora and fauna was well known. She and her close friend Shyamoli would spend a lot of time collecting exotic specimens of flowers that they folded and kept in their scrapbooks.
On one such field trip, the class crossed paths with students from a well-known, prestigious school. The latter was an all boys’ group that was two years senior to Rukmini’s class. At first, the boys teased and shouted at them. Later, as the respective supervisors moved away, they became physically aggressive. They started to push the surprised younger lot. The biggest boy of the class suddenly caught Shyamoli by the hair and caused her to sprawl in the mud.
Rukmini was a little distance away that time. When she saw this, she ran to Shyamoli. She helped up her little friend, who had tears in her eyes. As she tried to get up, she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. The big boy was trying to push her into the mud.
Rukmini turned towards her persecutor, eyes blazing with fury: “If you do not stop troubling us, I will punish you!” Taken aback, the boy let her go. But in a moment, another boy came to support him. They ganged up on Rukmini, intending to push her into the mud where Shyamoli had lain a few moments back.
The second boy laid his hand on her shoulder, intending to squeeze it hard. Obviously he had not anticipated the hard shoulder pads that Rukmini had developed over time. Before he had a chance to retract his arm, Rukmini had gripped him by the wrist and had squeezed it so hard that tears flowed from his eyes. As the older boy rushed in to defend his friend, a hard foot drove into his gut. He was knocked back, landing on his back a few feet away.
The second boy was now on his knees, crying to be released from Rukmini’s steel grip. His free hand shakily reached out to Rukmini’s taut forearm in a bid to pry it away. Rukmini used her free right hand to deliver a stinging slap on the boy’s face. Then she roughly threw him down, into the same spot where Shyamoli had been thrown. As he tried to scramble up, Rukmini’s foot caught him on the butt, sending him sprawling again. Her classmates had now come closer and were cheering her on. The boy tried to get up, but Rukmini forced him into the mud again and again.
The big boy, who had been felled by the kick to the gut, had recovered in the meanwhile. He picked up a bamboo cane and hit it across Rukmini’s back. Shocked, Rukmini turned, only to be hit on her shoulder. But that was to be the last blow, as she rammed her shoulder into his chest, knocking him clean off his feet. The boy landed on his back hard. Rukmini was there in a flash, planting her foot on his chest.
The boy struggled to get up, but just couldn’t budge Rukmini’s foot. Her quadricep made an arch through her skirt. That and the sight of the calf muscle bulging like a cantaloupe were enough for the boy to stop struggling. He now squirmed and cried, asking her for forgiveness. Rukmini kept her foot on the boys chest, until the supervisors of respective classes arrived on the scene to break up the unequal fight.
Rukmini had been thoroughly admonished on the way back. Inspite of her arguments on why she had fought back, her teacher kept telling her: “Shameful, how a girl like you has behaved today!”.
Later, the headmistress heard the story from different sources. After hearing Rukmini’s version, she told her: “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Be not like those who would harm you readily. Be ready to defend yourself and your loved ones if the need be; but never do so in vengeance.” Those words were to stay with Rukmini.
That weekend, when she and Jackson were in the cave, he said: “I was not able to go to the field trip the other day – father asked me to rest as I had the chills. But my friend Rupert was there. He said he was beaten up by a wicked girl who used magic on her!” He was laughing…” Imagine, a witch in Sonitpur – I fancy my Dad would take out his shotgun and go for a hunt if he heard that story!”
Rukmini then told him the story. From her own viewpoint. Jackson was amazed to know the truth. He looked out at the setting sun and turned a wry face to Rukmini: “Do you know Rukmini, how amazing you are! I have never met anyone so good, so nice, so intelligent, so strong… Rupert didn’t recognise you for what you are. You are not a witch, you are a goddess. And I am so fortunate to have come to know you.”
Rukmini looked at the soulful eyes of Jackson, who sighed and continued: “The day I nearly drowned…” He squinted away at the setting sun. “I have tried to think about what I saw when I opened my eyes… a vision…” He looked back at Rukmini with ferocious intensity: “All I remember, all I can figure out…. is waking up to look into a Goddess’ face.” He paused and swallowed. “That face was yours, Rukmini. You gave me that lease of life that I was otherwise not destined to get.”
He grabbed her arms and said, “Rukmini, if ever a sick, foolish boy like me has loved anyone with all heart, it is you!” His Adam’s apple was bobbing awkwardly: “I want to be with you, all the time, for eternity. If there is anything I dearly wish, is for me to die in your…mmmff!” Rukmini had put her hand on his mouth. Both had tears brimming. She pulled Jackson to her, hugging him hard as his arms went across her broad back. They pulled back to look at each other. And kissed. Slow, soft kisses that increased in duration and intensity as they explored and relished each other’s lips, then locking their tongues together.
Rukmini felt a flush between her legs. The promises made to Uru were forgotten, as young lust overcame her. She pushed Jackson to the floor, nearly ripping off his clothes and hers. She held him down by his wrists, as she continued to kiss and explore his mouth with her tongue.
Jackson’s “long finger between the legs” had begun to rise again. Instinctively, Rukmini reached for it, caressing it in her palm, running her fingers up and down the shaft, feeling him moisten. She led him into her crevice, guiding him in gently, slowly.
Jackson was awash with the most intense feeling ever. Rukmini’s fingers were making his organ hard. As she descended onto him, her velvety canal closing onto his shaft, a low hiss escaped his mouth. Rukmini began to move up and down, slowly to begin with, drawing him in and out, in and out. Her hips moved in a slow, strong, deliberate fashion, sending shivers up his spine. He put his arms around her, feeling her back muscles contort and twist powerfully.
Rukmini felt the warmth growing in her. She adjusted her thrusts to grind her clitoris against his shaft. Mmmmm. She had never felt better. Be it for adults, the married or the underage, why was sex a sin? Why was it considered a fault if it gave so much unadulterated pleasure to the indulgers?
Rukmini had slid her forearms below Jackson’s shoulders. She controlled the tempo, her force of thrusting increasing gradually. Her lips traced a soft wet line from his ear to his shoulder, increasing the quality of simulation for Jackson.
Jackson was pretty much hanging on to Rukmini. His fingertips traced the contours of her muscles on her back, sides and upper thighs. How solid she was! How tightly bunched her muscles were! He could feel them harden even further, almost like rocks, as the sensations ran through her. He feebly rubbed his legs against the hard calves of Rukmini, marvelling at the power those bulbs commanded.
Jackson was now moaning: “Ooo….Oooh….Ooo….Oooohhh” each utterance punctuated by the thrust of Rukmini’s powerful hips.
Suddenly raising her head, Rukmini let out a low moan. She bit her lower lip between her teeth, and arched her back. Jackson too felt his world twisting into a maze of colours, as he orgasmed. His mouth opened wide, eyes shut, as Rukmini too, uttered a “Haaaaaahhhhh….”, and clenched her walls tight on his organ. After what seemed an eternity in which they melted into each other, they found themselves lying side by side, caressing each other, as their nascent love blossomed into the next stage.
The idyllic world around Kusumbari was undone one misty morning in November 1962.
Word had spread of Chinese aggression on Aksai Chin in North India, but the people of Tezpur expected the eastern border to hold, particularly as the famed Fourth Mountain Division held the area. Early morning on the 18th, PLA, the Chinese Army, cut off the Indian troops’ supply by flanking them from the rear. Over the next three days, the PLA advanced south, cutting down the underequipped soldiers of the Indian army, thousands losing their lives.
Civilians were ordered to leave the area, and thousands left their belongings to march south of Tezpur, crossing the Brahmaputra River in the hope that those alien people would not pursue them further.
Eustace Lamont and Jackson were in England that time. The supervisors in charge of Kusumbari pushed the plantation workers to leave the estate. Many left tearfully, although a few decided to stay put. “This is my home, this is my land. No Chinese can force me away…” said Uru, as she stayed put. Rukmini stayed with her, though she helped her neighbours load their precious belongings in bullock carts; all bidding each other teary farewells.
Early morning on the 20th, the first stream of PLA soldiers washed over the estate. They had a loudspeaker which blared: “Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai” <Indians and Chinese are Brothers>. They broke into the Lamont mansion but could not find much of value as Lamont’s loyal team had already shipped out most of the valuables. Nevertheless, they made the bungalow a base, laughing and cheering in their peculiar language.
As the day progressed, the soldiers explored more of the estate. They checked out the factory, the godowns and other facilities, even slaughtered a cow.
Towards the evening, a group of four soldiers, clearly drunk, came to the housing quarters where Rukmini and her mother lived. They eyed Shyamoli’s mother; grabbing her hair, they tried to drag her away with the intent to violate her. This spurred Rukmini into action.
Rukmini had never been one to take things lying down. She was famous for having carried the Manager’s son several miles on her back when she was young, saving him from certain death. A little older, she had beaten up two older school bullies, a story that became legend in her school.
She was not going to let the Chinese soldiers take her friend’s mother. As the soldiers dragged away the struggling woman, one of them lagged behind to take a leak. Rukmini crept up behind him. The man was short and powerfully built. But he had no chance as she locked her elbow around the man’s throat. Her hard-as-steel forearm muscles bulged and cut off his air supply. Rukmini pulled him into the bushes, wrapping her free arm around his torso. The man struggled for a minute and then went still, his bulging eyeballs rolling up.
Rukmini held on to the dead soldier for a minute more. As she let the body slip, her hands and legs shook with the realisation that she had taken a life. The abducted woman’s muffled scream galvanised her back to action. She ran towards the small clearing where two of the soldiers were trying to tear off the woman’s clothes. Their guns were being guarded by the third soldier, who had taken out a cigarette as he watched his colleagues.
The cigarette was still burning, when Rukmini stood at the spot and announced to the two soldiers to let the woman go. For she had crept out behind the third soldier and dragged him away silently, leaving his cigarette lying on the forest floor.
Rukmini had taken the soldier a few metres away, where she had wrapped her legs around the man’s body and squeezed. Rukmini’s strong legs had quickly broken the man’s ribs and stifled his screams with her palm on his mouth. After ruining his body, she had used her strong arms to twist his head and break the neck.
One soldier, clearly the superior (found to be a corporal later) told the other to tackle Rukmini. The second one, annoyed at being drawn away from a task that he was looking forward to, rushed at Rukmini.
Only to meet with her foot in the gut, as Rukmini lashed out. The man collapsed with a shrill “Aaieee!”sound. The corporal was up in a flash. He had a wicked looking knife in his hand. He approached her warily, circling her, even as his comrade lay writhing in pain. He called out some other names, presumably his other colleagues, whom Rukmini had already despatched.
Shyamoli’s mother had scrambled to the edge of the clearing, trying to cover up her semi naked form. She ran off towards the village.
The corporal screamed at his still winded junior, even as Rukmini picked up a bamboo pole. The man lunged, trying to stab her in the gut. But Rukmini was faster, stepping back and rapping him on the arm with the stick. Again the man lunged. This time his thrust was slower; he slashed the knife, cutting a gash on Rukmini’s left bicep.
The man suddenly attacked her in a flurry of arms and legs. He punched and kicked her, driving her to the edge of the clearing where a small stream flowed. Rukmini had her arms raised, trying to protect her head and upper body from the man’s blows. She kept moving back, until she was at the water’s edge.
Suddenly the soldier stumbled – on a rock, or perhaps because the drink got to him. Rukmini stepped close and wrapped her arms in a bearhug around the man. She lifted him up, holding him in a tight grip. The man grimaced, his arms and chest feeling the tight compression of thick, hard arms. She swung him like a rag doll, even as his feet beat helplessly against her lower legs. She carried him back to the clearing, holding onto him tightly.
The soldier who she had kicked in the gut had by now recovered. He tried to pry her arms from the corporal, who by now was in some pain. Rukmini threw the corporal down and grabbed the soldier by the collar. Her tight fist rammed into his face, splitting his lip. Rukmini followed that with a knee to the gut. The soldier collapsed face down. His eyes were wide and he dry retched in pain. Rukmini did not allow him to get up. Her bare foot slammed onto the back of his neck, breaking the vertebra and killing him.
Rukmini had no time to reflect on her third kill of the evening. The corporal hit her on the head with a rock, knocking her down. They were now both rolling on the ground, fists ramming into each other. Finally, Rukmini locked her legs around the man’s chest and gripped his throat in her fingers. “You want to rape our women? You Chinese bastard! I will kill you…. Will kill you…kill you…”
After a while, Rukmini realised that the corporal had stopped moving. She disengaged herself. The man lay at her feet, his chest misshapen – crushed by the python like power of her legs. His head was twisted at an odd angle, the throat crushed by her grip of steel.
The men rushed into the clearing to see Rukmini staring blankly at the forest. They took her back to the village, where she slowly told her story amidst tears. As she finished, she was hugged by Shyamoli’s mother, as they both broke into sobs at the state of things.
The men had returned after burying the four dead soldiers. Rukmini stood beneath the neem tree and addressed them: “We can’t hide for long. The Chinese soldiers will search for their colleagues. They are sure to find the graves.” This was met by pensive silence. After a while, an older man spoke: “But what can we do? We cannot fight. These men are trained soldiers. We do not even have arms…”
Rukmini then bent down to remove four rifles from a gunny sack that lay at her foot. “This is what we have.” The men were now rapt with attention. “And we have our sickles, our knives, our fists. We must remove the Chinese soldiers from the estate. We must drive them out of this land, this country. Our soldiers may have lost the battle, but let us know forget their sacrifice. Let us show them what soil we are made of. Let us show them that the soil of the land can be as hard as rock!” Rukmini signed off her oration with a slap of the thigh. The motley bunch of villagers, no more than a dozen, cheered her.
They spent the night in the jungle, planning. As expected, the Chinese had begun to look for the four lost soldiers. They had come upon the abandoned huts and realised that the estate workers must have been responsible. Thirty soldiers fanned out in different directions, hunting for the estate folk.
It was a dark moonless night. The fog hung low and even the animals were silent. The soldiers returned after two hours of futile search, their numbers reduced by six.
The Captain fumed. He ordered more soldiers to come to the factory in the morning. Orders were given out to spread out in the forest and shoot anyone or anything in sight.
Rukmini had seen the soldiers gather in the factory. Seeing scant guard in the warehouse where the ammunition was kept, she silently slew two soldiers with a knife.
As the Captain gave orders to disperse, an explosion was heard. The soldiers ran to see their ammunition go up in flames. Purple with rage, he screamed for the combing operations to begin.
Small snares built to trap small animals were modified to trap men. Ceremonial bows were taken off their perch and restrung. Arrow heads were sharpened. The guns taken from fallen soldiers were distributed amongst the rebel plantation workers.
Rukmini had asked one of the villagers to hide in the hills and take pot-shots at the Chinese as they returned. In response, the Chinese fired wild volleys, losing much of their ammunition in a futile response.
Rukmini also trapped a group of soldiers who had run out of ammunition. Seeing them check their magazines, she had run into their midst brandishing aDaa <machete>. Like a gale she blew in. The Daa singing its terrible swishing sound that ended in a gut rending thunk and a piercing scream. After she had hacked the sixth and final soldier, she had held up the bloody blade. A villager, now old with rheumy eyes, can still recall that sight: “Kali! Maa Kali! She had come to slay the demons in our land!”
After losing forty of their soldiers to this unexpected resistance at Kusumbari, the Chinese battalion was ordered to retreat. Historians have noted that the Chinese unexpectedly stopped their advance and announced a ceasefire on November 21. It is still a mystery as to why they decided to stop hostilities.
“We have killed them. By the dozens. We did it defending our land, our honour. By Durga! We will do it again if they dare to cross the border. But we will not talk about it. There is no pride in killing. I do not feel elated, for I am not a soldier. I have done my duty, let it be at that.” This is what Rukmini said when things had returned to normalcy and workers returned to prepare for the first flush at Kusumbari.