Footnote to Childhood in Parenthesis
Ants share my grief
crawling out of the crumbling anthill
they nibble sadness off my nails.
“Hukus Bukus Teli Van Tche Kus”
(Who’s He and Who am I, then tell me Who are You?)
Perhaps father had found out that I sit in the closet,
doors shut amid dark quietitude of hanging clothes.
Reading darkness in Braille. Seeking home in shame
of fallen hems and seams. Untying dampened memory
of fall tangled in crumples. Baring the remains of
forgotten dusks and forest fogs in gasping folds.
Learning by heart lingering whiffs of
camphor, pine, labour, summer rain, soap.
Subtle scents of loss. Clinking sound of
Crouched like a soldier in a trench I would rub
my numb feet to life. Search for forgotten coins
in the sombre winter coats. Clench my teeth
to keep them from chattering. Kindle primeval
little sparks from the static in my woollens.
Exorcise myself from ghosts of oblivion.
Perhaps father saw me talking to the window
and my berry-stained palms.
He shuddered a little
watching me listen to whimpers of the wheel barrow
standing alone in rain. Nursing a shrivelled cacti.
Sobbing at the sight of crushed fallen figs
shining like graves at Eidgah in afternoon light.
He patiently witnessed me gazing at the sky
for too long. Halting suddenly after an endless
whirl to see world tremble, for few moments,
in a blurry slow motion.
Maybe he realised too soon the weight of
gardener’s dream. My macabre interpretations.
Perhaps that’s why he told me a story
about ants and their persistence.
Sitting on the back porch facing the wall
he recounted the tired warrior watching intently
an ant carry a big grain of rice on its back.
My gaze fixed on the little hole in his socks
as the ant in his story kept falling and rising.
He didn’t tell me, but the lesson from that story,
I later learnt in the moral science book at school,
was “try try try again”
Living is not synonymous with Existing
like Death is not a synonym of End
Have we lost the will to live?
When siege shattered togetherness and
shards bled our feet, father taught me
the spelling of so-li-lo-quy.
When the pomegranate tree in the garden
forgot how to blossom and love became moth-eaten,
he knotted my hair ribbons into butterflies for the
morning choir at school.
As windows became walls and death epidemic
he moulded clay to teach me world
in his veinous hands. Ephemeral insects
gathered around our feet
to sing with us their farewell song—
the anthem of creation and destruction.
When winds rocked our cradle in lacerated nights
he sang us a lullaby, a song from a 1947 film—
“hum dard ka afsana duniya ko suna denge”
(the song of sorrow, we shall sing to the world),
transforming his eyes to promises
healing gashes to poems
Father taught me to
stack away the remnants of broken things
That’s what dreamers do, he would say.
Family portrait as a muddled memory of mundane—
Smell of steam from the iron
loiters around the room. Father is
smoothening the creases of our
clothes. Mother is standing,
like a sailor, near the whistling cooker.
Brothers search the colourful
world encyclopaedia for traces
of our gray lives. And I rummage through
my pockets full of debris of broken things.
Outside, light walks up to the gallows.
Sky turns to an obscure shade
of gray and black. Suddenly.
Old men dig a child’s grave.
Again a bullet pierces a heart.
Language bleeds. Rains falls as
a stutter on the dead child’s face.
I hear the faded echoes of my
(atishoo atishoo we all fall down)
as I march like ants,
further down life’s road.
comforting myself: try try try again
— For Baba, the chronicler of my dreams
Room without a window
Tucked in white sheets of delirium I pop medicines
receding further from life in my room with no window
fluorescent lights pierce my eyes
I desire incandesce of fragile tungsten filaments
In my half-dream I am certain it is not water
dripping from the clothesline –
like stoic clockwork
throbbing an end
but winter rain falling on potter’s clay
and cobbler’s anvil
On shepherd’s shoulders
and farmer’s face
In my head, I kill them one by one
All keepers of love must die, I tell myself
and recall the quiver in my grandmother’s prayer:
ease my journeys
in this world and hereafter
of this world and hereafter
I think of many windows of home
and shut them all in my eyes
Hundreds of slippers left behind by dead mourners
in the city of seven bridges
Pomegranates in the backyard
their hearts ripped
Museum of dead butterflies
galaxy of wounds
A shroud stacked together with her trousseau,
Rain-speckled paper boats
my tea, cold, on the window sill
Shape of the dark on cold winter evenings
visions of debris interrupted by cacophony of crows
Long-distance ring of an old static telephone
echoing through the hallway
Bridge near the cemetery where I buried a dead wasp
flowing Jhelum, my abandonment, and endless rowing
Afternoon radio which could read hearts—
wal waes gasvai aabas; duniya chu nendari ta khwaabas
(Oh friend, let us go draw water; world is lost in a dreamy slumber)
Cherries dangling from her ears
Winds tearing apart bright kites
Colour broadcast of bombed cities and dead children
grim stillness broken by the clatter of cutlery over a hurried meal
Smell of winter and oranges
memory of a funeral
Hushed laughter amidst
Pronouncement of a single declaration—
the world is ending, everybody’s cry
We grew up embracing the dying world,
yearning for finality. But nobody told us
memory is made of forgetting too.
End will not arrive for it lives
inside us. We must look for it
and begin afresh.
I float free in womb of time – amnesic closure
I am certain for once, rain heals as it fall
~ Uzma Falak is a native of Kashmir. Her narratives and essays have been published in the Caravan, Jadaliyya, Of Occupation and Resistance (Westland/Tranquebar, 2013), Paper Txt Messages from Kashmir and others. Integrating creative practice and research, she is currently pursuing her practice-based PhD in New Delhi. She also blogs for Oxford-based New Internationalist.