By Tonima S.
“What do they say?
They talk about their lives.
To have lived is not enough for them.
They have to talk about it.” – Samual Beckett, Waiting For Godot
Perhaps Vladimir knew that Godot would never come, perhaps the subtext was to come closer to each other, to listen and amplify before we lose our voices, before the drones hijack our ears, before the curtain falls. As the spring winds fall on my face while I am laying by my breast on the mat at my terrace, I am struggling to find the fragments of words and passages that have been suspended in my body and my heart since long. As I struggle for articulation to make sense, for love to bring us closer to one’s self and others, I feel these winds more than I have ever felt them before. I am a sucker for winds, spring, love, and words.
This evening as I lay down on my terrace in Delhi and scroll through my cell phone, I read Ysabelle Cheung, a writer struggling through similar bouts of fragmented memories and experiences, in a faraway land of Hong Kong. That country has been fighting for similar causes against their state machineries, through radicalisation and speaking truth to the power, on roads, in the mouth of water cannons, over state oppression. Their fascist tools just don’t beat and kill, but add fragments to their grief and loss. Delhi has been waging a war against the fascist state while it bears with the loss and torment for a significant amount of time now. While the spread of the novel COVID-19 skyrockets every day, the city remains charred, in ashes, in death, and in torment. And in these white and blank spaces, there is still less space for grief, as the homes have been burnt, meals snatched, the water in their eyes has dried of lamenting and mourning the loss when someone barely listens. The Muslim communities have equally preserved the riches of the same city since ages.
I read Cheung and Mallarme to surpass the process of trauma no more acutely, and with that, the normalisation of oppression which is engulfing me, and many more. I think of the charred remains of the city and reassure myself to stand strong, before the near apocalypse engulfs us all. This country and its Muslim communities are fighting the draconian law that is the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC/NPR for months now. It has come to a significant point where the fascist regime has sensed the fear of being called out. At that point, it opted for rioting which became an anti-Muslim pogrom in parts of Delhi, rather at the margins of Delhi, literally and metaphorically.
As Cheung writes about her battle with words in the times of loss and chaos miles away in Hong Kong, a collective respite draws me closer to her, while battling with a similar sense of loss and chaos. I am trying to gather those pieces, through the same fragmented writing, of feelings and bearing witness to the loss and chaos while visiting those charred communities of Mustafabad and Shiv Vihar, until the slowdown came in our lives a few days ago due to the spread of novel coronavirus in the city.
I wake up to dreams of those streets, the houses burnt and the dried eyes lamenting the loss most of the days now. After barely a couple of hours of sleep on days I am fortunate, I fail to figure how to find a respite in this, as the loss and lament is collective now. Cheung, through her fragmented writing, comes as a breather to me, as if someone from miles away has extended her arms, as if it is a call to submit to my fears, and just be. In between all this, the novel coronavirus has brought a strange sense of social solidarity with its prevailing symptoms, moreover symbols, so as to figure and explore one’s self and thus others by slowing down, coming home to feeling all those feelings that is uniting the whole world in a strange spirit of solidarity. As Lydia Davis mentions in her essay “Fragmentary and Unfinished”, the inarticulateness of these forms of writing, the fragmented forms as being the most credible expression of grief.
The images of bullets and fires, and dead bodies tied with stones craned out of drains and canals haunt me. I turn back to the council room of our University which echoes fleeting moments of finding solidarity and joys while packing and unpacking relief supplies for the families of afflicted and affected. As the anxiety sweeps over my body, of not being able to not worry and think about the near future of the city, I turn back to the pauses, the lapses in the conversations I had all this while, with all the dear ones who came closer, not to help but just to be, next to each other in the times of aching pain. I go back to the words of my professors and seniors, who give nothing but a relieving sight by holding on to words and moments while they hustle to feed the need of the time, by providing professional and personal aid in the times of suffering. Perhaps, they are easing for me to process the bridge between the physical and psychological infection in the times of a near apocalypse. When the hopelessness arrives, I try to turn back to bearing witness to the tears that have been shed relentlessly by all my dear ones on their daily commute to work, to the pillow and roofs that have witnessed the sleepless nights. These objects of material memory have made us feel the feelings which keep our tongue roofed, our eyes watery and dried, and at the same time have made us feel home to the same feelings. Amidst all this, when the world is at near collapse, I gather my fragmented self and words to hope, of a greater hope, and bear witness to the same fragmented words that save me from the death of hope, and collective empathy and social solidarity which has been perceived lately, from the privileged to the marginals, saving us from the actual death.
“The world has already been broken, and it is exactly because the world is broken that the city is not just my city, not yours, but is everybody’s image mirrored on the shards.”
Today the exile and social isolation of COVID-19 are acquiring their own shades, their own characteristics. As Camus writes in Plague, “…there have been as many plagues as wars in histories, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” This catastrophe is collective, this ache, along with the fear, becomes the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lies ahead. Perhaps this exile is a signifier of a bigger trouble that was postponed, to slow down and come close to the self and others, to find the blank spaces with ease, to grieve and rejuvenate. The slowdown comes with its own costs, with the crippling down of economic and political progress in the world. It has allowed for more blank spaces in the city, which once experienced the witness of an almost erasure, not very long ago. We must find the thread that connects our within and thus with one another in those blank spaces of grief. Suddenly it feels that the earth is protesting against the fascist and the capitalist ways of life to slow down, to not rush and step back, literally and metaphorically. And it is in these times of bearing witness to the social isolation and slowdown that it becomes clearer that others are experiencing a similar loss of past self and the emergence of a new one. The part of humanity, which is privileged enough, including me while I write in this white space, in fits and starts, as fragments – discontinuous, incomplete, rootless, as Cheung mentions – are turning to art and creativity, nazms and poetry, active movement of documenting and recording, no matter how painful, unfinished or fleeting it becomes, out of a desire to resist forgetting. Seeing fragmented expressions on the virtual spaces flooding with narratives, prose, poetry, art, resilient moves and imagery of lives created in immediacy of a moment drives me to this bewildering hope, of a change in the world order, the reforms that reciprocates the actual welfare of the ones at the margins that survives us, through the thick and thin, the unheard.
In this not so easy a process to self-quarantine, for those of us who are still at a privilege, perhaps the greater need and experiential plight is listening, listening to the lost self and to the others. The sign and symbol which might become a tool to save the world is perhaps this slow and steady process of adapting to listening. The sign that a human is thinking before rushing, fixing and labeling. There is a blank space where one could be heard, listened, and the pauses and crippling fear leading to silence is acknowledged and given enough space to let be, to grieve, to come back to be present to others. Perhaps, we are not categorizing the reasons behind the breakdown, and instead coming close to the sentient understanding and tolerance of it within humans and their therapeutic adaptations. While we explore our reactions to the ongoing anxiety that the social lockdown has created, let’s also give those blank spaces to bodies and hearts, which lack privilege to lament the sense of forthcoming loss, of hunger and homelessness. Let the heart listen to them, the dear ones and the strangers who are at the margins, still at a loss, far from privileges, still managing to contain their normalized, chronic anxieties while dealing with this newer one, which is equally apocalyptic to them if not more.
Tonight as I try to sleep with all my ease, I recollect my memories of the dear ones who have fled to their homes, to join in the social solidarity by self-curfewing that this near apocalypse has brought. Their homes are under curfew since time immemorial, literally and symbolically. For the hope is to return to a better normal, to break the systems that have shut us to ourselves, and thus to others. To the safe space where we would still listen, to the shattering hearts and despondent selves. For listening would save. As Hon Chai Lu writes in one of her essays, “The world has already been broken, and it is exactly because the world is broken that the city is not just my city, not yours, but is everybody’s image mirrored on the shards.” From these shards, we may try to complete the images, however unfinished, however ephemeral – of our home.
Tonima S. is pursuing Masters in Clinical Psychology at Ambedkar University, New Delhi. She identifies herself as a verse poorly written, trying her part and plight on unstructured, unfinished, fragmented forms of language. Documenting margins, unheard, untouched and unseen forms of lives and objects of material memory interests her. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.