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Desi Historical Fiction Creative Nonfiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.


Violence has a way of breaking you. Even if it’s the other guy whose bones are crushed.

The food is all right. Mostly vegetarian. Suits me fine. It’s the sun and the wind; one splitting your skin open and the other rubbing the salt in. I am beginning to get used to that as well. It’s not for nothing I walked miles in the Mexican desert following a General. Or ran across the streets of London as the air raid alarms blared in 1917. After all, my muscles hold the miles they walked to cover stories along the length and breadth of Michigan as a young journalist. So, I am all right.

Sent by United Press, after flying for thousands of miles, I landed here. To meet the frail, half-naked man with a staff. Who seems to have a spirit that can move an ocean of people. Before I could witness him in action, he had been arrested. But I am told, that the old man walked 240 miles in 24 days with his followers; to scoop the mudded salt at Dandi, and said “with this, I am shaking the foundations of the Empire.”

That was on 04/6/1930. Today is 05/21/1930.

On walking here through scorching heat and meeting with this short, homely woman who is leading the raid, I am inclined to believe she meant what she said- death or victory.

I stand among the onlookers who have witnessed days of peaceful volunteers trying to raid Dharasana Salt Works. With about 400 policemen guarding its barbed wire barricade day and night, it has turned into a fortress.

I gather that the volunteers in their rough white clothes and caps have been patient. It has been six days since they first tried to approach the premises and were asked to go back. They sat around, at one time, for 28 hours on a stretch. Many of them were arrested every day.

The poetess-leader who has taken over the mantle from her arrested fellow leaders looks like she is ready to stare the devil in the eye. I’m sure she has a compassionate side to her but she doesn’t have the luxury to show it. Not when her compatriots are dying for lack of salt. In her homespun khadi clothes, she looks every bit like a woman on a mission. Someone who could cry out to her followers in an impassioned voice, “You must not use any violence under any circumstance. You will be beaten, but you must not resist. You must not even raise a hand to ward off blows. Although Gandhi’s body is in prison, his soul goes out with you!”

A company of infantry from Bombay has taken its position, overlooking about 2,600 volunteers. The volunteers clad in thin-white robes move forward in zigzag columns. A few of them have ropes and pliers in their hands. There is a buzz in the crowd around me. I feel the tentacles of pent-up anguish, unspent fury, and dissolving patience lash around me.

I hear the policemen shouting warnings that go unheeded. The thin white line keeps growing in length and moves towards the barricade. The magistrate’s orders fall on deaf ears too. The glinting steel of the clubs in the hands of men in khakis begins to reflect the morning sun. A few rifles reveal their presence in the company. But the thin white line keeps moving.

There are a few cheers from the volunteers who have managed to reach the posts holding up the barbed wire. As they try to lasso the posts, the policemen run to them again, demanding them to disperse. Only to be refused.

With my years of experience on the job keeping my ear down to the rumble of the battleground or my eyes snapped open to the snip of the guillotine, I can tell when the air is about to go putrid. It’s the same every time. It smells of fear mixed with hatred.

The police charge ahead, swinging their clubs. Standing at a distance of 100 yards I can hear the dull sounds of crack-crack-crack as the clubs hit the skulls and bones. There is no resistance from the volunteers, not even a hand raised to protect their skulls. They just fall on their tracks like nine pins, without crying, their robes soaking wet with blood. Others silently take their places as the crowd gasps and cheers.

It is not for a journalist to swim with the tide of emotions an event triggers. It is for him to stand on the stoic rock of reason and observe its ebb and flow. Yet, the meekness and readiness with which these volunteers keep submitting themselves to the brute force without a sound make me sick to my stomach. I look away.

The injured natives are carried away by their comrades on stretchers. But there are not enough stretchers to carry the growing number of fallen ones. The blankets are brought in as stretchers. I count about 42 injured lying on the ground. There is a great deal of agitation in the crowd of onlookers.

Then, the police start to drag the volunteers to the edge of the ditch, where I stand, and hurl them into the ditch, splashing mud on everyone nearby.

This goes on for some time. Then an official with three policemen approaches the poetess-leader and arrests her. The momentum of the ghastly spectacle slackens as the noon sun heats the ground beneath us.

Later in the day, I visit the temporary camp set up by about 20 doctors and nurses to treat the injured men. I count about 200 injured men in the shack and more arrive as I prepare to leave. Many of them are college students or clerks from all parts of Gujarat. Knowing that I am a correspondent, they speak to me freely.

I reach Bombay after struggling to get an auto transport as I am wearing foreign clothes. And deposit my 2000-word report at the telegraph office. Only to be sent an anonymous reply pencilled on a scrap of paper saying it has not been telegraphed- a hidden code for not passing the censorship. But I am not the one to relent in my pursuit of holding a mirror to the world. If the ghosts from its reflection come out to haunt me, let them.

As I said, violence has a way of breaking you. And if it doesn’t shatter you, it leaves its jagged edges around you. Even if you are the guy who just reports it.

September 16, 2022 10:01

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20 comments

Suma Jayachandar
10:13 Sep 16, 2022

Webb Miller's report on Dharasana Salt Raid in 1930 attracted the world's attention to the Indian independence movement and helped it gather momentum. Victor Hugo's quote lends itself beautifully in this context: "No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come."

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Graham Kinross
21:45 Feb 14, 2023

The self discipline of the nonviolent resistance members as they were beaten is incredible, like the monks of Tibet self immolating, their protest will always be remembered for shining a light on injustice.

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Suma Jayachandar
09:47 Feb 15, 2023

Thanks for stopping by to read and leave a thoughtful comment, Graham. Truly appreciate it!

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Graham Kinross
09:59 Feb 15, 2023

You’re welcome, Suma.

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Ravi Srivastava
14:11 Jan 24, 2023

Suma, I have just read the story, and how I wish I had read it earlier. Being an Indian, I am glad that you gave to your readers, most of whom I presume are not from India, a glimpse of the magnitude of the rulers' brutality on unarmed Indian freedom fighters ,without for a moment losing the literary demands of the writing. Events like the Salt March and Jallianwalla bagh are forever etched in our collective memory. Hats off to your writing!

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Suma Jayachandar
12:28 Jan 25, 2023

Ravi, Thank you so much for taking time to read and leave your thoughts. I'm humbled to receive such high praise. With my primary identity being that of an Indian, I do try to share my truth as honestly as possible.

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Aeris Walker
21:11 Sep 27, 2022

When I saw this prompt, I got very excited about all the ideas and possibilities it stirred up, but just did not have the time to get lost in historical research. A story like this one is something I could have only HOPED to put together. Your narrator is the perfect combination of professionalism and passion. You created a vivid setting and brought an important moment in history alive with descriptive, beautiful writing. These were some of my favorite lines: "There is a buzz in the crowd around me. I feel the tentacles of pent-up angui...

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Suma Jayachandar
06:52 Sep 28, 2022

Coming from you, that's high praise, Aeris. Thank you so much for your generous words!

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Julius Juryit
12:19 Sep 22, 2022

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19:36 Sep 21, 2022

Beautiful and thought-provoking. Your stories are always unique in one way or another, different to anyone else I read on here. As Zack and Michał mentioned, the POV stands out because of his (apparent) emotional distance from the events, which is a wonderful contrast to his physical proximity to the violence. I found this story surreal in the reading at times; maybe because I'm Indian and might have more knowledge of our history than the typical reader (though not much more, to be honest), and I've seen the film "Gandhi", which depicts a ...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:24 Sep 22, 2022

Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment, Shuvayon. I do try to balance the cultural experiences that are unique to my part of the world with the universal nature of human condition. At times, it can be a bit tough ( like the present one). You never know if the reader from a different culture could connect to it in the same way. But it's the only truth I know hence I should write it.:-) Yes, I agree that there's not much of character growth here. Maybe I didn't want to take too much liberty with the portrayal of the real person I had b...

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05:50 Sep 22, 2022

You're welcome. :) I totally understand and I'm glad it's not a complete withdrawal. I'll look out for your stories with an even keener eye!

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15:10 Sep 21, 2022

Suma! This was very nice! Taking the perspective of the journalist and his trying to keep himself from getting too emotionally involved with his work was a really clever idea. I imagine it has to be very difficult for reporters who travel and live in the midst of such events to keep themselves detached. Your opening and closing lines are a beautiful circle. Well done!

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Suma Jayachandar
15:58 Sep 21, 2022

Thanks, Hanna! I Always happy to find your story or comment pop up on my notification 😊 I truly value your feedback.

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L.M. Lydon
23:35 Sep 19, 2022

Your story is so vivid and the reader can all but feel the trained impartiality of the narrator cracking bit by bit. The first paragraph really draws the reader in. In particular, I thought the following paragraph was particularly strong: "It is not for a journalist to swim with the tide of emotions an event triggers. It is for him to stand on the stoic rock of reason and observe its ebb and flow. Yet, the meekness and readiness with which these volunteers keep submitting themselves to the brute force without a sound make me sick to my stoma...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:02 Sep 21, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

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Zack Powell
15:39 Sep 18, 2022

This reminds me a lot of "Moonlight and Madness," where you managed to take a big event from the past and render it honestly and poetically and accessibly for people like me who have limited knowledge of these events. That intersection of fiction meeting nonfiction is lovely. Gotta agree with Michał and say that my favorite thing here was the POV. I love pieces like this where you've got a clear first-person narrator but then the story is written from a distance, almost like it's in third person. Works especially well with characters in the...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:04 Sep 19, 2022

Zack, Thank you so much for your heartfelt and uplifting comment, as always. There is always something we can learn from history, hence my fascination with it. I am glad the things I was hoping to convey came alive for you. Thanks once again!

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Michał Przywara
20:45 Sep 16, 2022

This is a great POV. Considering the opening line, the story did not go where I expected. (I assumed he who inflicts violence on others is also affected by it - and the reflections of the police here might be interesting too, but that's a different story.) But this is the story of the career witness to violence - and it's a very appropriate take on the prompt, as I doubt anyone could see the historical impact of this until after the fact. His is a critical job, "holding a mirror to the world", but no doubt it leaves a mark. How do you cope...

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Suma Jayachandar
04:32 Sep 18, 2022

Thank you so much, Michal. When I revisited this bit of history recently, I was struck by the impact a report by Pulitzer prize winning journalist had on the outcome of an event. Pen is mightier than the sword, indeed. As always, I'm thankful for your insightful comments. I'm mulling over changing tracks after posting a couple of stories, maybe. When I do, I shall sorely miss reading your comments. Thank you again for being so generous.

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