smoothen the crease from the sheet
then crush it
What if you woke up one day and discovered that you had a lot to say. But no desire to say it. Not out of a whim. Or rage. Or fancy. Or a sense of resignation. Bordering on exhaustion. Or the frailty of the cynic. Who couldn’t care less. No, you were boiling over. Bursting. To talk. To share. Thoughts that you had taken to bed. The night before. Waiting for the morning. Then woken up with them. Still as fresh. In fact more so. After centuries of carefully assimilating all that philosophy. And history. And humanity. Brimming over. With ideas. Too stimulating to contain. Burning. With excitement. With ideas. Staring you in the eye. So near that you can hear them breathing. Solutions so simple. You just had to shout them from the rooftops. So that people would hear. Yet the words would not form. And you stopped. Dead. In your tracks. Turned your back on language. Walked away. Thinking thoughts. That the alphabet had yet to decipher.
Like everything else, ‘goodness’ is an acquired taste. You have to learn the skill. Study its variations. Practice. Hour after hour. For days at a stretch. For a lifetime.
Angry times, these. Times that tend to push you to the edge of rage. A little provocation. A nudge in the wrong direction. Enough to plunge you into an unforgivable moment of anger. The abyss that offers no return. We are taught to believe that being desperately angry is not the solution. Yet how many times a day do we totter on the brink? Like angels struggling before the fall. Wings tied. Feet and legs bound together. Afraid of the unknown. Not the slow descent of the plunger before the detonation. Nor the giant drilling machine that pierces the crust of the earth and burrows to the centre. Layer upon layer of viciousness. There is no rock- bottom sometimes. No sense of having arrived. The fall over the rim is into limbo.
What does it take to be a good human in these times?
Taking the silver surface of the still winter lake he hung it in the sky. Like a mirror. In place of the sky he had buried in the earth. In a hurriedly dug grave. Covering it with earth. Strangling the clouds in mid-conversation. He looked up to see the sky reflected in the lake above the mountains. This seemed to make him angry. So he took the mirror he had created from the uppermost layer of the still winter lake and buried it in the sky in a hurriedly dug grave. And covered it with clouds. Taking the stars by surprise. He looked down at his handiwork and found the sky he had buried. Under the earth. In the hurriedly dug grave. Staring back at him. This seemed to make him angry. So he took the sky he had created from the surface of the mirror that lay at the bottom of the still winter lake and hung it in the sky that lay buried in the clouds above the tall mountains. Then he proceeded to dig a grave for the stars. And this time he covered the grave he had dug with the large rock he had pushed up the hill.
After all, he wanted there to be no witnesses.
The openness of language as we used to know it is under a cloud. The very clouds that we grew up turning into sentences are themselves under suspicion. Imagine yourself as a child of five or fifty, lying in the middle of a field on a lazy winter afternoon and forming the word ‘b-a-b-a-g-o-o’ with the brilliant blue and white clouds? Trusting words to mean what they say between the lines is no longer an option. Sure. We hear them. Often, we even ‘see’ them as they swish down the ramp. Stony eyed and anorexic. In their transparent gowns. Unblinking in the harshness of the flashing strobes. Lifeless. Seemingly in tune with the loud music. Atonal. Self-serving? Perhaps. In a dull salute to conformity. Then there are those that are in the grip of fear. Wrap your tongue around one such scared word and you see it thrashing and struggling to loosen your hold. The desire to spit out words is unadvisable. Surreptitious tip-toeing after a cautious glance to the left. The right. Then scurrying across the road would be the way to do it. The vulnerability of freshly formed thought emanating as language. Radiant. Showering its brilliance. But now a thing of the past. Long buried.
The first thing he did was to put the languages under arrest. All of them. That’s not all. He even put the dialects in jail. To reduce the agitated babble to silence. He isolated them. Solitary confinement. Then he stripped them naked. Men. Women. Children. No one was spared. Reduced to bare flesh and bones. Meanwhile his men in black gathered all the name tags that the prisoners had worn and went about the task of mixing one with the other. Causing immense confusion. In a bizarre revelry of a ritual reminiscent of a lottery.
An incoherent alphabet unable to find its way home.
the words tainted sullied from use abuse excess battered like yesterday’s bruise unable to heal this wounded sky
To turn. The worm. From below. From beneath eye level. Like boring a hole into the floor. From the ceiling below. And catching It unawares. Building the structures you need. Before dismantling them. Like burning bridges. Seal the escape routes. Get rid of the steps you had hurriedly strung between two upright lengths of wood metal rope for your ladders. The ones you needed to get to that ceiling. The one you would soon drill into the floor above. Rehearse the revolution. Practice it. You are at risk. Subterfuge. Sleight of hand. Strategy that conceals. Like successful camouflage. The left hand. From the right.
Subversion. Has to begin at the bottom.
Like an ink stain
the night. Seems like another
life? The life last night.
All our other lives. Fragile.
Fused. In this.
How then do we know. Which is.
Why would you want
to know. Just be. Become
the life that offers itself.
I gathered the pebbles. From amongst the stones. Weighed each one carefully.
I did this undercover. Of darkness. Using caution. And stealth. Watched only by a child who sat at her window. The light behind her head playing hide and seek.
When I had collected a sizeable number I began to drop them one by one into a large well which had once contained drinking water but was now almost dry.
I kept droppinh the pebbles.
All night long.
All through the morning that came.
And the rest of the day.
The child who’d kept me company had managed to gather an army of companions.
They sat silently. Patiently watching the waters rise.
I think they knew that if I continued with my task, the waters would, one day, overflow.
I feel watched. Not in a pleasant manner at all. On the contrary. Threatening. I am afraid that a technology I do not understand is watching me in my private moments at the same time as it is entertaining me. I am under surveillance even as I am seduced by It. The all-pervasive It of our lives. The It as State. As a state of mind. As a powerful presence that will have its way. It as Corporation. It as newspaper. As television. As theatre and cinema. It as Media with a capital M. It as power that knows no boundaries. An It without conscience. Yes. It is like listening to music by a master composer who is both hypnotic and evil. A music that disturbs. Like a sharp instrument is descaling my flesh. Yet the voice is magnetic. It attracts. It refuses to let go off my attention. Although I do not understand the substance of the words. Nor can I savour the taste of Its poetry. What I have is an aftertaste. That which is left behind. That which settles on the tongue of my mind. The science fiction of our worst dreams is in fact fading to black.
Imagine a narrow road. With flickering lamps from a different age. Atop tall posts. Shadows against the sky. Just before their daily demise at the hands of the morning light. Night into day. A cross fade. Like in black-and-white films. Stretching uphill into a horizon gradually coming to life. Its silver beginning to make its presence known. The dew-washed cobblestones rubbing their eyes. Waking up. Becoming aware of the dawn light caressing them. Aslant. The road paved in silver. A feast of glitter. A scene that started like a silhouette and then discovered its identity as the dawn made way for the first rays of the sun. And the sounds of the morning. For which I find I am responsible. Though I know not how. Or why. I can’t for the life of me choose the soundtrack. The effects. I know that for continuity’s sake I need the horse-drawn milk-cart. What with cobblestones and flickering lamps. But I keep hitting the wrong buttons. Loud honking trucks and cars in a hurry. The cycles and the morning joggers with their dogs running beside them. Clearly, a confused set of cues. In the midst of this growing irritation I am stopped dead in my tracks by a falling body. Just like that. With not a single tall building in sight. This being a small town at the edge of the world where the strictest of architectural laws prevail. One plus one. That’s it. A ground floor and a first floor. Tiled roofs. Wood and earth. So where did this thing this body fall from? Nothing to be done. Nobody else seems to have noticed anything amiss. I stop in my tracks. Go over to the body. White. Covered in a suit made up of a fabric I do not recognize. Familiar but not known. Bend over it. Gently straighten a twisted wing. Lift the torso to free the left one. The legs are splayed. The feet bare. Showing signs of burns. I cradle the body so that the face and head are leaning against my chest as I sit on the road. The narrow one that disappears into the horizon. The one with the cobblestones. No longer silver. The sun having seen to that. I notice the face. The shut eyes. The nose. The mouth. The ears. Something tells me I have seen this person with the wings before. Not in a dream. Nor in a painting. Elsewhere. But I cannot remember where. I see no visible signs of injury. The breathing is gentle. So I know he is alive. I touch the forehead. Then gently try and open each eye with my fingers. The first one has a vivid dream playing under the eyelids. Compelling. Grand. Evocative. I shut it hurriedly. Feeling a sense of guilt. Of intrusion. I slowly open the other eye. And then recoil as though from an electric shock. Burning my fingers and thrown backwards by the force of a shattered dream. This eye was raging. In fury. Destroying everything that had been evocative. And beautiful. In the other eye. Turning dream into nightmare.
folded on itself
unfold the world
in its own folds
into a cloak
within its folds
She was five. When. She first stumbled. Stubbed her toe. Would be even more precise. Accurate. The stumbling. A blessing. The tripping a revelation. Only the toe hurt. For weeks after. To be precise. She was in pain from this accident. Of fate. This I think is an accurate description of what befell the child. The point being that if she hadn’t. Fallen. After tripping. Stumbling, actually would be more accurate. Correct. Yes. She may not have discovered the rainbow. To be more accurate. Precise, even. She may eventually have stumbled upon it. But not so early. In life. Had the stumbling not taken place. The revelation would not have happened. As it turned out she stepped on a landmine. In a field full of rainbows. Shortly after the war. The one that had drifted into ceasing. Out of sheer exhaustion. Or to be precise. And accurate. The war had stumbled into a roadblock. The warring nations had run out of their young. The young had all tiptoed into the field. The one with the landmines. And been reincarnated. As rainbows. For it is said that children that die young. Are reborn. Almost immediately. As rainbows. I confess this may not be accurate. Or precise. But this is what I have heard.
The leaves gathered their whispers. First into a murmur. Then into a song.
It had begun. With my looking over the rim. Into the jar. What needs to be explained is the sound. The one my fingers cajoled out of the rim. Its lips open to persuasion by a lightly moving forefinger. And a thumb. A step or two behind. The finger. Following the curve. Of the rim. Where it had all begun. The tall and blue jar. Round and round. Not unlike the slurred hum of a drunken tuning fork. The dark lay in the depths of the jar. The blue. And tall jar. Waiting. Some would say patiently. Damp. Cold to the touch. The dark. In the jar. Allowing me to look. Into its eyes. Beginning to rise. The dark. Even as we were getting acquainted. I will confess I may have imagined this. But it rose. Ever so slowly. As I looked. Into its eyes. Imperceptible at first. Like an uncontrolled sigh. If I had not known better. A sobbing. An angry keening that filled the jar. And began an upward climb. Like fog. When it rises. Unbidden.
I reached into the jar. Scooped up a handful of fog. And swallowed it whole. Shutting my mouth tight. I allowed it to struggle. And kick. And threaten. To explode. Nothing doing. Having clamped my mouth shut. I wasn’t about to give in to this bluster.
Taken by surprise. The dark. In the jar. Slowly slunk off into a corner.
Making way for the sun to rise.
tools of a trade she knew nothing about except from televisionspent hours watching surgeons operate savelives gave her the idea that whynot give it ashot acting with brisk energy she strode into the kitchen flungopen the second drawer and selected with relativeease a precise knife sharpness glittering on its matte polishedface its teeth grinning like a canine gone rabideager its muscles taut to strike slice bite whatever the appropriate phrase is for suchlike activities
she had plans of her own of which the first was to steady her handquiver that ran down her right arm like a river in spate and by the time it crossed the elbows it swelled into forty-foot waves that would soon crash against the fragility of the wrists and drown this knifeintent she clutched on to so yes steady defydefy
narrow forehead creasefocus eyes on the thin dawn trying to escape from captivity while the night sleeps in arrogance take knife slice with swiftdeftness rectangle of the sky the size of a decent horizon letting the sun climbmake its tentative way out opening wide its eyes beginning to stare gratefully at the woman with the knife its smile about to spread warmth and light as she with rapid strokes stabbed it in the eyes plunging the world back into a blind ness
that was complete
The shadow lay bleeding across the page
It would take courage to stitch her up
Stop the ink from spreading
Fill your pen with her blood
And begin to tell her story
Do it now
Before it dries
Before the shadow
Before you lose
Before the rust sets in
Before the needle loses its sharpness
The night slipped in through the open window.
from her grasp and
across the land.
Pausing. Not once.
To catch its breath.
Some of the things I remember of last night’s dream:
A falling leaf. Yellow. Weighed down by a dewdrop. A crystal ball. Backlit by the twice-exhausted sun sinking deep into the earth. A sandpaper voice singing a lullaby. Words marching past. Regimented in khaki. Jackboots without torsos. Cheerleader in arms. Rifles swinging like batons. Spiders weaving webs of steel with heart-shaped combination locks. Moonlight singeing the spines of books even as they crumble to ash. Sound of wings flapping. Countless cradles being smashed against the trunks of giant tress. Wailing caterpillars throwing a tantrum. Crickets with butterfly wings.
Our present, under siege.
Always the dream. Like stepping into a screen straight off the street. One moment you’re on the real and the concrete. Feet echoing briskly. Body focused on the art of walking. Deep concentration. The backpack briefcase sling bag firmly gripped. Or swinging by your side. Hugging your shoulder blades. The jacket hanging loose. Over cotton trousers. A study in browns and fawns. Then. The frames of a film being screened at half its speed. Out of sheer fatigue. Exhausted by the effort of slowing down? Every move exaggerated. Drunken. Slurring. The act of walking a symphony in blurred motion. Minus the music. As if treading air in the manner of a drowning swimmer. A struggle. Between one dreamt-up step. And another. Against the backdrop of a city moving at twice its speed. Cars busses trams. Whizzing past in split-second blinks. And then. It goes strangely quiet. More still. Than silent. Like the breath was squeezed out of its throat. Then you hear it. A keening. Growing in volume. Its goosesteps marching. Towards you.
You reach for the knife. The one hidden under your jacket. Swiftly. No longer allowing the film to slow you down. Clinical. Painful. You stab each eye.
To stop the dream from spreading.
Plucking the stars from her eyes. She nailed them to the sky. Failing to see the world turn silver. I bled from my feet and hands. Soon the blood enveloped the land. Drowning everything. Even the fish.
Sealed. Tight. The house had been shut for too long. First the planks had been nailed in. Crisscrossing every window. And door. Then. Bound head to toe. In chains. That had been allowed to rust. Nothing was allowed in. Nor out.
Like an unannounced visitor. I dropped by. Into my dream. Careful not to awaken the buried whispers. I lit a candle by their grave. Startling the slumbering shadows into a frenzy of activity. Bats taking wing. Flying blindly into each other. This in turn caused the whispers to awaken. Look me in the eye. And begin to do what they did best. Bear witness.
She had lost her way home and found herself in the part of the forest where darkness reigned and the shadows lay poised ready and waiting for just such a moment to swallow the little ray of sunshine.
Despite popular notions to the contrary giving up is never easy. Failure is never comfortable to face up to. Resignation in the face of odds. The ones stacked against you. Stepping back. Or aside. Or sideways. Or all of the above as a feint. A strategy. With survival in mind. But also a fight. One in which you are only biding your time. Not running from the battlefield out of a sense of despair. Not giving up. That part of it is fine. The world that adores the heroic in you will accept that. As will you. The trouble begins when you let the numbers arrayed against you overwhelm you. Accept the inevitable even before it has identified itself. Arrive at the point of giving up. Tip over. Not easy.
Then again. The opposite is also hard. Perhaps more so.
Persevere. A word that also comes with heavily stacked odds. The word. Suggests that the ‘prospect of success’ in situations that demand perseverance is usually low. The romance that the word conjures up dies out swiftly when you are faced with the obstacle in question, be it emotional or political or life-threatening or a point of principle, far from static, nimble-toed, a Birnham wood on rollerskates . . . You have to decide quickly. The mountain is making its way to you. All guns blazing. Will you persist, heroic and stubborn to the core. Dig in your heels. Continue, carry on, keep going. Squaring your shoulders, hammering away. Persistent. Quietly determined. Stand your ground and blow trumpets of tenacity from hurriedly assembled barricades. Promising to stand fast. Firm. Sending signals of doing the distance, staying the course, stopping at nothing short of soldiering on. Pledging to leave no stone unturned in your desire to persevere, hang on, plug away, stick to your guns.
Or. Will you for the white shirt you wear. Rip it. Wave it in surrender.
The candle’s last act before it sank into its grave of wax was to caution us of the long dark that would shroud the city like a cloud without a beginning or an end or a break for many miles in a sky that disappeared as soon as it appeared in what may have been a millisecond of sunlight for it wasn’t enough it had warned to live the life of the shadow safe and unaffected by the glare of light unaware that the dark would soon starve the white of the wall leaving you no space to walk or run in a manner that would not make you sad that things had to turn out the way they had for there was no question that the candle had told the truth in its dying moments that there would be no place left to hide your head in shame that would follow like the price lurking behind every corner of the mind for we must remember that there is always a price to be paid like the stranger you picked up last night and to whom you made unsatisfactory love because that was the only way you knew to hurt yourself more and more as had become the norm or a habit as you often called it and therefore like all habits it must be paid for because Cassandra had not lied or covered up but merely acted her part and remembered in the nick of time that sometimes it is better not to look the present in the eye as if it were the future you so badly wanted to escape and she had pleaded that it would be folly to run out into the eclipsed noonsun for it may blind you to the all-seeing fate of the blind man whose countenance hides the frenzy of the seer running amok inside the four or is it six walls of his head in a dance that would make faint the dervishes that have taken control of his body and maybe even his soul that very part he had used so effectively while bargaining with the dark prince who was now ready to Shylock his part of the contract regardless of the bloodletting that would follow as it often does after such nights when those that rule sharpen their blades and get ready to slit throats on a night that will only be remembered for its length and its bloodcurdling screams of women and children who should not have met the fate divined for them by those marching the route of the long knives taking part in the pogroms that ravage my poor country while I watch from my place in exile playing with the paralysis that only the impotent know when it is their turn to impregnate the bride on that first night when her womb will shed tears of blood that will only raise a mere giggle from the servants who will whisk the sheet into the morning’s wash and go about their business while you and I will await the tide in a dress rehearsal for our final drowning
A room made dark. For the candle. To burn itself out.
In stealth. And with camouflage.
The ants began their march.
Millions of feet.
Dipped in black.
Crossing the landscape.
A gigantic invasion.
Of the alphabet.
Rewriting the history of the land.
It was a thin moon that drowned that night
He woke up in the middle of the long night. Without stars. Or a moon. His mind made up. He walked to the edge of the world. You know the one I mean. The one nearest to where the threatening sky usually hangs its ball of fire. Each day.
He watched the night tire itself out as he walked. Slowly showing signs of fatigue. Eventually it fell asleep.
At the edge. He waited. The sun rose. And turned to look at him. Burning and harsh. Dictatorial. Disdainful. He stared back. Without blinking. Refusing to shut his eyes which soon began to fill up with tears. His head to throb. Hurt. Spin. The world around turned white. Blinded. With the heat of the sun. And yet he refused to shut his eyes. Or turn away.
Thus they stood. The all-powerful sun dressed in raging saffron. And the man without anything to protect him. Refusing to lower his eyes. Resisting.
It is many years since this happened. The man still stands there. Staring back at the sun. Only now he is not alone. There are others. Many others. Men women children. All staring back at the sun. Refusing to blink. Or back down.
Refusing to return. To the safety of the long night. You know the one I mean. The one without stars. Or a moon.
The first time it shimmered I did notice did take heed did sense the light as it glinted just above and left of my head as I stood staring beneath the haze that attracted what can only be described as my attentive gaze perhaps not as focussed as it should have been just that tiny bit of squinting a fraction like the moment that was fated to die at the hour of its birth a mirage in the heat as sands that combined colluded came together in strategy or in happenstance to rustle up a storm of hope
David and Goliath. A vertical confrontation. Visually that is. One small. Even tiny in comparison to the other. Mountain. Giant. Immense. Frighteningly so.
This is what it is like when facing the enemy. Any enemy. The one in our midst, for instance. The one that watches our every move a fraction of a second before we have begun the act of stepping into it. Imagine the anxiety of the citizen living with the knowledge that every single thought is a projected Xerox of the state’s ability to second guess. Accurately. Precisely. Menacingly. They know what you think. Therefore you are. Your compliance is the reason you are even allowed to breathe. After all, what is to stop them from cutting off the next breath which in any case is something that they become aware of before you take it.
It isn’t that I am afraid. It is more the vertigo that accompanies this feeling in my bones. The fact that there is nothing they do not know.
And yet I must confront the enemy. With the slingshot of my ability to reduce the space between my enemy and me. By somehow bringing it to its knees. So that I force it to look into my eyes. And for once see what I see. Not just think my thoughts. Actually see the fate I wish upon them.
And feel what it is to be watched all the time.
That is one way.
We have to find others.
Naveen Kishore is publisher at Seagull Books.