Monday, April 30, 2007

long ago, when i was young, i knew a woman named uzeh. she was old (to us), but, in truth, not so old as to have tasted her fifth decade. she always wore a black shawl, which she kept wrapped around her shoulders and, in the winter, her head. we often debated what it was that uzeh did, because we only ever saw her at night, under the frail light of a gas lantern that the local council officer insisted be mounted at the entrance to our street. uzeh would tell us stories of the world beyond our village, of dragons and lovers - and sometimes both. we called her a gypsy, but we knew better - gypsies do not have a home. her deep brown skin declared her origins as lying somewhere far south, within the plains, but we had no other way of telling. questions she always answered with a short, sad laugh, saying 'i am from here now, children. does it matter where i have been?' and so we were left with only speculation.

uzeh had a tattoo of three identical symbols in a triangle, just above her right eye. when we asked her about it, she told us that once, many centuries ago, there was a race of people called the khalaak, who spoke an ancient tongue of threes. the khalaak believed that everything in this world was linked in threes, and so it was only natural for their language to consist of sets of ideas, set in threes, all represented by the same symbol, set three times. the orientation of the three-symbol designated which concept it was that was most relevant to the text in question. thus, for example, table, chair and stool were set together, as were angel, demon and human. ofcourse some ideas linked to more than one set, so while you had the three-symbol for god-love-chaos, you also had one for love-desire-fire, desire-life-power, and so on. thus the khalaak believed that all the ideas in the world would form a chain, and that it was in the pattern of this chain that one could find the true meaning of life. many khalaak philosopher-linguists spent centuries trying to decipher the code of their own language, re-arranging symbols, forming new networks and links, but none were ever able to discover the true power hidden deep in the khalaak language. it was thus that the khalaak language came to die, as more and more people from the outside began to mix with the khalaaks, and the khalaak ruler, influenced by jewish, pagan and islamic missionaries, finally decreed that their language was too perfect for man.
we asked uzeh what it was that her symbol meant, but she would only smile. 'it is a dead language', she said, 'let it die.' when she saw the dissatisfaction on our faces, she would unravel her shawl and invite us into the cave of darkness she created thus - we would immediately follow, because we knew that this was uzeh's way of preparing us for a story.
i remember that it was in these moments that i would sometimes wonder how many years it had been since uzeh had been born. it was a question whose answer i would not discover till much later, long after i had seen her deep brown skin for the last time.

The Story of the City in Love
once upon a time there was a city which loved. these words are easy to say, but who can say that they truly know the love of a city, as they know the touch of their lover, or the caress of a soul against their breast? this city was once part of an ancient kingdom, but a series of wars had left it further and further away from the main seat of the kingdom, until it was all but forgotten. the people of the city never left, and only the occasional lost traveler would find his or her way into its streets, by accident.
every time a child was born, there would spring from the ground a hundred yellow flowers, almost instantly, as if the ground itself felt joy at being introduced to a new soul. this did not happen much, these days, as children were slowly being born less and less often. it is said that during the early years of this city, its people grew suspicious of these flowers, and considered them an invitation to the new child from shaitan. later, they began to believe that the city only nourished the new soul because it fed upon it. it was only after many years that the people of the city loved her as she loved them, without apologies or expectations.
whenever a man died in the city, there was a soft, mist-like rain, regardless of the season. when a woman died, a rain of a thousand deep golden flowers would fall across the city, as the sky wept sunlight. it was thus that many years passed, and flowers grew from the ground, were nourished by rain and fell from the cloudless blue sky.
one morning a screaming boy-child was brought into this world, and the people of the city were suddenly apprehensive, for they had never heard a child scream during birth - in this city, the pain of creating life was shared by the mother and father of the new soul, but was not felt by its own body. the people left their houses in search of the field of flowers, but were surprised to find a thin carpet of golden petals underneath their feet. the petals were already turning brown at their edges, and it was at this moment that the people first realized that something was painfully wrong with their city.
the cycle of rain and flowers never returned, after the birth of the child named ku-khra-sha (which was the name of the fire-love-skin three-symbol). the people slowly began to realize that their city was dying, as even the seasonal rains began to become fewer, and further between. the summers became hotter, and the winters harsher than they had ever been before. life in the city became hard, and some people began, once again, to question their city's motives in making them believe in a love that can be felt in the flowers. some blamed ku-khra-sha, and called for him to be killed, but the very night of the meeting to decide his fate there was a fierce gale, and the people were unable to leave their houses. others blamed the ways of their rulers, still others called for a ritualistic cleansing of the spirits of everyone in the city. most people, however, were simply worried - without their city, they did not know how to live.
no answer was in sight, and the nights grew colder. every so often people said that they could feel the old warmth between their toes as they walked the streets, but it was very faint, like the calling of a very, very old voice, from far away. there were good days and bad days, but sometimes a single golden yellow flower would bloom, overnight, and the people would gather around it to pray for their lover.

early one morning, ten years later, someone broke into ku-khra-sha's house and plunged a dagger through his heart, while he slept. it was the first crime to have occurred in the city for as long as anyone could remember, and it was not without its supporters. the city, they said, was dying, and any city was bigger than a boy. as the first blood red rays of the sun began to filter through the greyblue haze of that morning, however, people were not so sure. a chill wind began to gather the dust in the streets, but the people were unafraid of their city. ku-khra-sha's killer was brought forward, and told to lead the procession which carried the still warm body of the boy on its shoulders. as they reached the main street, a fine mist began to gather around them, causing the dust to stick to the backs of their ankles and in between their toes. they marched onwards, towards the fields, carrying their burden without a word towards the customary burial location for children - a large field which contained only a gnarled and old oak tree, that had been there for as long as the oldest mother could remember, and was all but dead itself. as they began to get closer, they saw their oak burst into a bloom of unfamiliar red flowers. almost as soon as the lowest branches turned crimson, however, the flowers from the upper branches began to fall. the procession was almost to the child's burial spot, now, and as they lowered him into the earth the oak's leaves fell to earth in a dull, steady rain that crackled like far off lightning cutting the night sky.

it is said that after the death of ku-khra-sha, the gates to the city were shut forever, and the souls within lived on, even after their bodies had withered away.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

i have already felt the heat from your long, graceful fingers burn symbols into the canvas of my back, though we are yet miles, and lives, apart. i wonder if i do not already, perhaps, know the smell of your love - of burning, of the earth breathing, of steam and the sharp, salty taste of rain on red skin.

but there are no pretenses between us. you are just another lover, and i am less (for you were, always, more). i will know you, as we dance around each other, within each other, and you will know of one who loves. there is a sort of freedom in this, too, of knowing that you are walking into a room with a stranger, to know them in ways that sometimes even their own do not, and that you will leave that room, as pink fingers chase the night across disappearing stars, as strangers.

one night stands take longer when you're living them, with each movement of air, dust and scent on skin. my fingers will be crackling lightning while i walk through your streets, late at night. i hope you don't mind, my lover lives inside of me.

- fitnaa in the red city -

Monday, April 09, 2007

it was clear that he didn't have much time left, she realized. the skin at his cheeks was stretched, the soft creases in his face harder now, not pulled in a smile, but in hollowness. he smiled, in spite of it, but she knew that he had decided long ago that he would one day die in a state of flux, in a place where there are no meanings. human beings, he had once said, are fascinated with boundary conditions. roofs, beaches, edges, the deepest, darkest places on this earth are where we find ourselves faced with the simplest questions; we are, ofcourse, obsessed with simplification - our lives are one big experiment in definition. i will die, he said, one day, without it.

she should have known, back then, when he had insisted that she bring him here, despite his illness. he was sitting in the rocking chair, as old as he had once (long ago) predicted he would be, on the other end of a life so full of words, staring out over the green and yellow fields, past the barbed wire fence and a hundred imaginary meridians.
my parents, he said, came from just over that hill.
i know, she said, softly.
i wish i could see the house that dadi used to talk about, late at night.
i know, she said, holding his hands. im so sorry...we can't.
he smiled. i'm just being melodramatic, ofcourse. don't worry, it's alright. they've been fighting for all of our lives, i suppose we've no right to expect them to stop for the sake of an old, dying man.
it will be harvesting season, soon, he said, absently, staring at the hundreds of yellow flowers that had appeared, suddenly, overnight.
she was staring at the horizon, trying to tear the early morning fog apart, to see, if only for a moment, the red-brown house with its steep, narrow staircase which dadi spoke of, so late at night. to see, if only for a moment, a piece of history, to give the tiny part of an old soul that she carried within her a way home.

he coughed a little, and she immediately offered to go get his medicine. he held her hand, first violently but then with more grace, slowly wrapping his fingers in hers as she crouched on the floor, next to his chair.
ji, jaan?
we loved well, you and i. no two souls- ah. melodrama, again. i love you, he said, simply. thank you.
he began to cough again, and she squeezed his hands before she rose to go to the front door. she closed the door, quietly, behind her as she went to find some water.

he left a note, ofcourse.
some say that we live our lives in reflection. you are a mother, fighter, sister, daughter, god, lover, Diya. you are incredible, and it is in your eyes that i will (always) be reflected. be well.