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.