By Medhashri Mahanty
Everything is fine here, actually. My room has four pairs of windows and when I open the one in front of me, I see the clothesline on my neighbour’s terrace, two shirts hanging out in the sun to dry. I can’t see the clothesline, I see the poles that hold the line on both sides. Against the silver blue sky, the metallic line has no separate existence, sometimes when I move closer to the window I see the line shimmer.
When I came back from the city, I wrote to you telling you to go home as soon as possible, asking for your forgiveness that I escaped the city before you did, keeping you stranded in your cocoon of arty delights. Not that you cared, or even sneered, but I played my part.
I came home and breathed in the air that had gone amiss from my lungs for a long time. In a small town like this, even difficulties begin to appear as charms. Yesterday, there was a feisty storm that played with the streetlamp for a long time. The full moon was hidden by clouds, and the dust storm entered through the windows, bringing dried petals, twigs, sand. Wind. We never met more than five times, and only once the night was windy. We sat together on the balcony and as soon as you rushed to open your lips, the wind took away your words. I played with you like that. So only my words remained.
Lock-down has been amusing here, I get to eat new dishes every day, my neighbours are concentrating on their plants more and the drains aren’t as filled with trash as they used to be. The dogs wail in the serene night. It appears balmy. The police have become very relevant, and as I am writing I am thinking, even this, this kind of writing, has been asked of me. The police are controlling everything. Every afternoon and every evening, I hear the patrolling officers on their bikes, playing the Chief Minister’s message. They beat us at almost every opportunity they get. I am not blaming them, they don’t know what else to do. Most of us watch this from our homes and cherish this because we feel that it is the only way to stop the disease from spreading. When they can’t beat us, they ask us everything, our destination and our point of departure, our names and our reasons for the appointments we have promised to keep. You cannot go to the vegetable markets for more than once a week, you shouldn’t be out after seven in the evening, you cannot even think of just taking a little walk. Not that they can catch us, but we love to obey. We have placed our trust in the police, because the body must after all be legitimized. You cannot have a personal reason at this point. How can I even think of meeting you?
Our town is home to a lot of Muslim farmers, rickshaw pullers and bakers. Often they also come from the neighbouring villages in the morning, sell their goods, and return home in the evenings. The rickshaw-pullers sleep in their rickshaws. They sleep in a line, and if you ever come home with me, and if we ever take a walk around midnight, near the Daak Bungalow road, you will see the stars above the sleeping rickshaws. You can’t stare directly at them for a long time. The impressionistic nature of the scene makes the outlines of the rickshaws merge into the glow of the stars. I should not be writing in the simple present. After the Tablighi incident, everything changed in a spurt.
The police now search for Muslim people irrespective of cause. They organize search parties in the little villages, they look for discriminatory signs, people who have returned to their homes, people who have a beard, a lungi, kohl-rimmed eyes, or speak a different dialect. We say they spit on everything that is not theirs, they wear marble beads on their wrists and chant incantations. Their incense sticks smell different, they are not educated. They have started the ‘corona-jihad’. There is a beautiful Muslim neigbourhood that has one of the oldest spectacle shops in the town. The shop has been a favourite since the time of our grandfathers. There is a mosque beside the shop, so you can wear your prescription glasses and see God clearly. There are tea shops and flower markets where people gather and everything is closed there like in the other parts of the town. But fear floats like stillness in the neighbourhood. The fear of Muslims and rage towards them is increasing every day and the police now asks for ID proof to see if one really is a Hindu. Purity has entered our hearts in the shape of this invisible virus, and we are constantly breathing out blame, saying the Muslims have no sense of sanitization, that they are doing this on purpose, that those who are afraid to go into quarantine are terrorists. You know how the nation works these days, to go into quarantine for a Muslim means to have every inch of her body inspected by the state. The virus that has been mutating chronically has now taken a visible shape—it is the other that is the virus.
In the morning, my father takes pride in bringing fresh cucumbers, jute leaves and water amaranth. We eat them with garlic and dried chillies and sleep in the afternoon. In the evening, the television starts the same thing – there is hatred, disease, death and killing. In the evenings, we start hating ceremoniously. At night, we count the dead over dinner.
I cannot complain, the afternoons are warm and the sky fades into an ashen blue. That is when I sit and think of writing to you. Somedays I write, some days I skip it. The only way to write to you now is by not writing to you because you are digesting anything that is going directly to you. You are lonely and you are irritated with all our conglomerate memories. How else can you fight this without consuming whatever I send your way? You will throw up when we meet.
It is easy for me, you know it. I do not have to keep the discourse of this love alive, my existence is enough for that. I have been playing and undoing this role for many births now and, therefore, even when I think only in extremes, for love thinks only in extremes, I won’t say, if we meet. I wait for you, and you come too. Presently I am invoking your absence for my protection from my town, from your city, from my parents, from the TV, from everything. Just come and take me away, I think. I am looking out of my window again. They have taken away the clothes while I was writing this. I am the sky, and as I look closely, I see the shimmering metallic line. The clothesline is you.
Medhashri is an M.Phil research fellow in the Department of English at Jadavpur University.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.