A life story, it can be argued, is a collection of memories. Memories come sometimes as images. And these have lives of their own. They fire the imagination. I often imagine a tall flame clothed in petals of the softest pink. These petals are coated with a thin film of heat-resistant liquid. I like to call it love. Or integrity. This is the most delicate thing I can imagine apart from the sleeping face of my eight month old daughter.
Last night I received an e-mail from my friend Ayca, a young Turkish woman
whose eloquence was powered by the most tender hopes for a more just ordering of
the world. Her passion and her indignation were often dressed in the most
crystalline of tears. By her side, I have always felt twice as strong. She now
resides in New York, working with a local organisation to combat racism and
other kinds of oppression.
Since September 11th, she has been spending countless hours in streetcorners
in New York City, distributing flyers, urging people not to confuse terrorists
(officially described as such of course) with ordinary people, asking them not
to take out their anger on people who look like, wear the same kind of clothes,
have the same skin colour, or share the same beliefs as these "terrorists". This
valiant young woman has had to endure dark looks, curses and all kinds of racist
slurs. She tells me, "Malinda, I am tired".
"I am getting bitter and it scares me...there is so much rivalry and bad
faith amongst the left. There is so much racism among the people who say they
are organising against racism. I ran out of batteries. I am afraid to run out of
hope. I am afraid of giving up. Cause I think I am. I feel ‘homeless’. I am
going ‘home’ in December. I am afraid to be homeless there, too. I am tired. I
tell myself, like Walter Benjamin, ‘the state of urgency is not the exception,
it is the rule’. And I want ‘a past citable in all its moments’".
Politics, she reminded me once again, is not something that begins with the
dissolution of parliament and ends with the announcing of the winners. I told
myself that it is in the long "before" and the endless "after" that exists the
real workplace of those who must necessarily hope, those who have to fight
bitterness and defeat.
The nurturing poetry of that kind of engagement gets written in a solitary
room in a broken down corner of the city. For solitude, as much as prisons,
torture chambers and gallows, is also a probable "resting place" for such
people. Silence, as much as the eloquent speech and the screaming slogan, is
often the music that provides the unguent that heals and regenerates. Sighs
often gather to wrap us in an emollient breeze. These things help work out
self-pity. They nurture self-realisation.
"On the round black stone overhead
lightning sharpens claws in blind anger.
Ants on tiny feet hurry to the holes,
the storm will be here any minute now.
The fields are full of fear,
and the blades of grass tremble.
From far sound the wings of lost birds"
Subhash Mukhapadhyay was writing about West Bengal. At the same time, he is
writing about a lot of countries, describing many peoples. He writes with hope,
for he continues thus:
"But let the storm come if it must,
it cannot last too long.
We will stay where we are,
our heads pushing the sky,
driving our roots ever deeper".
And it has certainly been a long storm. Five centuries, according to some.
Ayca has lived through these long centuries. She has driven her roots deep. She
tells me, "I don’t want to stop dreaming. I want a dream-catcher". Adrienne Rich
perhaps has just the one for her, and for a lot of us:
"Freedom. It isn’t once to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark,
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections".
Perhaps it is all about making a breathtaking embroidery stitched on a cloth
made up of all those forgotten, citable moments of the past. And about carrying
the fire, protecting it from the storm winds with the only materials we have,
tenderness and integrity.
[First published in The Island, November 8, 2001]