The roads were abandoned this morning. An unnatural quiet prevailed in the narrow threadlike lanes that led off the main road along the river. The small houses that lined them were still: no sound of people talking, no errant television chatter or laughter. The only human presence was the clusters of policemen in khaki and the occasional police vehicle that coasted past them.
So many times in these past few years this small town had been gripped by such protests. Ever since the students of the AASU had decided to fight the government on the issue of Bangladeshis being allowed to not just stay but also vote, the state had been thrown into chaos.
Normal life had been overtaken by the unpredictable: the rhythms of offices, schools, colleges, households, births, deaths and weddings—all had been ruptured by the overwhelming call of the cause. Four years now and the Agitation—it was aptly named, the movement the students had launched in 1979—showed no signs of abating. The people of Assam had not lost hope or courage or energy yet. They spilled out on to the streets in their thousands when summoned by the student leaders—the Boys, as they were affectionately called—to picket and demonstrate and protest, and stayed indoors with windows closed and lights out when ordered to by the same leaders.
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Rukmini had marched on the roads too. On sweltering summer mornings, she had walked alongside her fellow medical students, in angry phalanxes, from the hill the college stood on, to Dispur, to the seat of the state government. In the blazing sun—thin cotton blouse stuck to her wet back, silk mekhela clinging to her damp...