20 July 2012

Healing the broken wings of lost birds

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]


sajic said...

Hadn't read this before. Beautiful. Life is indeed a 'collection of heat-resistant memories'.

Anonymous said...

There may be ways but some people are not fortunate enough to find any hope at all. They have to give up because there's nothing else to do. They just die with their broken wings.

Snoweater said...

I haven't seen this before. Stunning is all I can say. Ayca is so right. The ones who preach equality fairness, individuals as well as countries, are generally the most racist. But we know that now. Let's get the word out.

Anonymous said...

Your Turkish friend is in New York, working with a local organisation to combat racism? Yes for some people the education system in his/her own country is not good enough so they go to better places and then try to make those places a much better place rather than coming back to serve their own country. They think of their country when they are to be ‘homeless’.