I. The Cutting of My Long Hair
It was the first day at school. It was bitter cold. A large bell rang for breakfast. Shoes clattered on bare floors. Many voices murmured.
A paleface woman, with white hair, came up after them. They were placed in a line of girls who were marching into the dinning room. She walked noiselessly in her soft moccasins. She felt like sinking to the floor, for her blanket had been removed from her shoulders.
The Indian girls did not seem to care though they were more immodestly dressed in tight fitting clothes. The boys entered at an opposite door. A small bell was tapped. Each of the pupils drew a chair from under the table.
The writer pulled out hers. She at once slipped into it from one side. She turned her head. She found that she was the only one seated. All the rest at their table remained standing. She began to rise.
A second bell sounded. All were seated at last. She heard a man’s voice at the end of the hall. She looked around to see him. All the others hung their heads over their plates. She found the paleface woman looking at her. The man stopped his mutterings.
Then a third bell was tapped. Everyone picked up his knife and fork and began eating. She began to cry. This eating by formula was a difficult experience.
Late in the morning her friend Judewin told her that she had overheard the paleface woman talk about cutting their long heavy hair. Among their people, short hair was worn by mourners and shingled hair by cowards. Judewin said that they had to submit because the school authorities were strong.
The writer rebelled. She decided to struggle before submitting.
When no one noticed, she disappeared and crept upstairs. She hid herself under the bed in a large room with three white beds in it. She heard loud voices in the hall calling her name. Even Judewin was searching for her. She did not open her mouth to answer.
The sound of steps came nearer and nearer. Women and girls entered the room. They searched her everywhere. Someone threw up the curtains. The room was filled with sudden light. They stopped and looked under the bed. She was dragged out. She resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. She was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair.
She cried aloud and shook her head. Then she felt the cold blade of scissors against her neck. One of her thick braids was removed. Her long hair was being shingled like a coward’s. Since the day she had come here, she had suffered insults.
People had stared at her. She had been tossed about in the air like a wooden puppet. She moaned for her mother, but no one came to comfort her. Now she was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.
II. We Too are Human Beings (Bama)
When Bama was studying in the third class, she had not yet heard people speak openly of untouchability. But she had already seen, felt, experienced and been humiliated by what it was.
She was walking home from school one day. It was possible to walk the distance in ten minutes, but it would usually take her at least thirty minutes. She watched all the fun and games, novelties and oddities in the streets, the shops and the bazaar. Each thing would pull her to a standstill and not allow her to go any further.
Speeches by leaders of political parties, street plays, puppet show, stunt performances or some other entertainment happened from time to time. She watched waiters pouring coffee in other tumbler to cool it, people chopping up onion with eyes turned to other side, or almonds blown down from the tree by the wind. According to the season, there would be various fruit. She saw people selling sweet and tasty snacks, payasam, halva and iced lollies.
One day she saw in her street, a threshing floor set up in the corner. Their people were driving cattle in pairs round and round to crush the grain from straw. The animals were muzzled. She saw the landlord seated on a piece of sacking spread over a stone slab. He was watching the proceedings. She stood there for a while, watching the fun.
Just then, she saw an elder of their street coming from the direction of the bazaar. He looked quite funny in his manner. He held out a packet by its string without touching it. Then he went to the landlord, bowed low and extended the packet towards him. He cupped the hand that held the string with his other hand. The landlord opened the parcel and began to eat the vadais.
She told her elder brother the story with its comic details. Annan was not amused. He told her that the elder was carrying the package for his upper caste landlord. These people believed that people of lower caste should not touch them. If they did, they would be polluted. That was the reason why he had to carry the package by the string. She became sad on listening all this. She felt angry towards the people of upper castes.
She thought that these miserly people, who had collected money somehow, had lost all human feelings. But the lower castes were also human beings. They should not do petty jobs for them. They should work in their fields, take their wages home, and leave it at that.
Annan, her elder brother, was studying at a university. He had come home for the holidays. He would often go to the library in their neighbouring village in order to borrow books. One day, one of the landlord’s men met him. Thinking him to be a stranger, he addressed Annan respectfully. His manner changed on knowing his name and he asked for the street he lived in. The street would indicate their caste.
Annan told her that they were not given any honour, dignity or respect because they were born in a particular community. He advised her to study and make progress. People will come to her of their own accord then. She studied hard and stood first in her class. Many people then became her friends.