Red is the Blood of the People

Points to ground. Here is where I was buried.
Points to head. Here is where I was shot.
Points to heart. Here is where it bled red.
Palms out. Here is a piece of history.

A palm oil plantation. There is smoke and haze.

I am a phantom of the stories in the tropical jungles
Razed down by profit-hungry bulldozers building a
Dominion of palm oil empire
Deforesting an ecology of historical memory
The noise and the sheer abundance
Of tropical life. All murdered in one fell swoop.

I am one and multiple
I am voices of the oppressed. I am voices of the betrayed. I am voices of traitors who did what they needed to survive. I am voices of those who lived to tell the story. I am voices of the women raped and murdered. I am voices of children raped and murdered. I am voices of rifles and buried bullets. I am voices of those burnt to death in resisting resettlement. I am voices of those caught in the crossfire. I am voices of a mother’s love. I am voices of a father’s duty. I am the voice of defeat and victory.

Queen Elizabeth. White children doing their thing. Kate and William’s wedding.

It is easy to forget a past without monuments and documentation
A resistance movement quelled by the white men.
Whose land on which the sun never set
But where millions of bodies bent and collapsed
Toiled, undulated, crashed, fought, fornicated, bled

Me and my people on the inside
We witnessed how Japan, in three weeks,
Destroyed the myth of the white man’s invincibility
Our Muslim brothers believed in the dream: Asia for Asians
So they opened the doors to the shogun
Come in. We’ve been waiting. Liberate us.

Rape of Nanking
National boundaries cleave official narratives but is useless against the tangled web of suffering bodies, and a collective trauma, scattered across the earth.

So the slaughter begins. The war in China spilled red onto my kin
All bound by blood. Purge through cleansing. Genocide.
The kind your history doesn’t care about. The kind without an equivalent of the Anne Frank House. But there were many little girls, I tell you. My sister, she was only fourteen.
They made me watch, one man, two men, three men, four men, five men…
That was how I learnt my first Japanese words, mimicking the lips of the alien face in front of me
He threatened to chop my parents’ heads off if I did not indulge his perverse fantasy.

The mutilation of bodies was a sport for whom you now admire for their raw fish and minimalism. Japan was the face of our inferno.

I could rejoice when the bombs dropped. In the fluffy cloud, rising to infinity, I saw the contorted body of my sister.

The white man took his time to return
They saw their money-making machines in disarray
The tin mines are all broken bones, and the rubber plantations a mess of life forms
In a changing global tide, they experimented with freedom here, in Malaya

Oh, it was a glorious time, there were

Improvised podium and public speeches. Rallying cries!
We stalled the nation multiple times. Fists raised! Right before the leaders—

Publications and debates. Movements against
Government proposals for oppressive—

Rubber plantations and tin mines,
Once graveyards of our toiling ancestors, now a boiling pot of desire for—

Complete nationwide shutdown of life. Where is the white man to
Get his whiskey? Pride in our shared experiences begins to grow into—

Questions of citizenship, who is the Malayan? For once we could see us, unfiltered.

Simmering pot overboils. Hand reaches out to lower the flame, but pot keeps overboiling. Sirens.

Gunshot. Screams.

Power was terrified. Power did what power did best.
Power divided. Power picked and chose who could keep it living.
Power left people with little choice but to support it.
Power cleaved us by evoking the differences in our skin colour.
Like Power did in India, South Africa, Myanmar, and everywhere else.

We saw no choice but to wage war again.
Power is killing and jailing and deporting.

You see the triumph of the whites was not in their violence
It was in the the way they honey-coated it
With anaesthesia and the meticulousness of a surgeon
It felt almost painless, they way they picked us apart and bent our backs and inserted rifles into our grasp and into our minds
Change the way things fire, turn families into foes, turn foes into bodies
Turn bodies into numbers, kill counts.

Typewriter doing its due diligence. Normal hum of the office.

And yet the colonial buildings stand, in their blameless glory
UNESCO sites. Whitewashing the cleansing of the jungle
Their triumph is this Anglicized world, where they get to label who’s who, and what’s what
Pause. I am telling my story in an alien tongue.

They wrote our history in their language.
A civil war termed “Emergency”, defined as such to deprive us of international justice
“Communist terrorists”, “bandits”. Slander in neatly printed newspapers and reports
And later on, history textbooks and academic journals
Power evolves and morphs.
Power’s misdoings recede insidiously with time

We went underground. Hundreds and thousands of us.
Weapons stored after the Japanese surrender were dug out.
Ghosts in the jungle once again: the undergrowth our feet, the creatures our companions
The hive mind with a dream of freedom
Or motivated by choicelessness
Children and their parents, grenades and rice
We learnt how best to quickly dig a grave
And to fall in love.

In the bosom of vines and undergrowth and trees, we died of malaria and were reborn with new blood.
We hacked traitors into pieces and sent out agents. We attacked silently and mourned loudly.
With heat on our backs, we suppressed coughs as we weaved the jungle
And gave life to its monstrosity
We gave birth and died here.

I was with child when I was shot.

LOUD GUNSHOT. Wailing of child, fading away, and then silence.

Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren now travel to white men’s lands as pilgrims for a better life
Like we did, to Malaya, where we toiled, undulated, crashed, fought, bled
They laugh and learn alongside those who killed us
Their youth feed on our stories, they are beneficiaries of many lifetimes sacrificed
Tears on boats, blood in rubber plantations, bones in jungles that once were.

We were trekking for two days before the ambush. Gunshots and screams.
And in the symphony of the cicadas and the gunshots and the glare of the sun and the screams of my husband. I fell. Before I even lost consciousness, I was beheaded.
For identification purposes, sir. That they would tell their superiors.
My husband hastily dug my grave and moved on.

Points to ground. Here is where I was buried.
Points to head. Here is where I was shot.
Points to heart. Here is where it is red.
Palms out. Here is a piece of history.

Artwork by Sukit Choosri, “One Life”

This piece was adapted into a play that won Best Script and Best Direction at the 2019 Short + Sweet Festival in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

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