Sentiment, perhaps a feeling not worth getting accustomed to. A feeling too easily grasped, too hard to let go. An empty room echoes its sentiment in the light of loneliness; a chamber victim to emotion and blankness.
When night comes a calm and quietness envelops the artist and her shades. The world outside sleeps and the blank paper is in gratitude of that. Her shadow falls across the table, her hair around her face. Her fine ink pen, a gift from China, is poised in her well cared hand, unused, abandoned; inkless. The milky red wall is pierced by a Chinese dagger; an unusual dagger, unready to stab the blank page.
She no longer wishes to see herself as an artist, but an opener of the past deeply embedded in the darkness, calm and quiet of the dark. Why such a dreamer, a dreamer of past relics? Why so furtive, so shamefacedly? She places the pen gently back in its well moulded box, and neatly adds it to the army of things on her desk, lining the perimeter of her imagination. The still blank paper is put away in a folder until the deadline looms closer.
Her looses hair is pushed carelessly back, behind her ear. Her head heavily lain on her once broken wrist. The pain is evident but the aristery of the past lies more heavily.Just her, a partially lit room with a door closed tightly against the noise created by her celebrating friends; enemies of silence. And the sentiment seeping into her heart….
The day where I discovered so much of my life, my reason, my existence. Sitting in a classroom full of half interested students. For the last few moments my sleep deprived eyes wondered off the insanity of structured, passionless sentences. The shadows shifting on the far wall tempted my half shut eyes into its core of randomness. A beam of sunlight refracted through the window throws a rainbow onto the dreamy blue of my desk and the abandoned essay.
I laid my head heavily on my once broken wrist. The pain was evident but the artist of the past lay more heavily. Not just me; in a bright room with the door closed against the silence of empty, echoing corridors. The chatter and laughter within the room played in my mind, swirling in a mess of thoughts.
From the recess of my mind ideas started taking form, a spring bubbling to the surface of a torrent of water. The torrent took this direction…..
She was talking to a woman, whom she had never met. It was evening, the busiest and most chaotic of times in the bazaar. She talked and the woman talked and it didn’t matter that the whole world was rushing around them. She didn’t notice the sun hung in the sky, a deep pink hole. Neither did she notice the horns, blaring so loudly the inner ear vibrated in pain; the illegal intensity of sound.
The woman was sari clad, a woman of tradition. Her oiled hennaed hair was put in a loose plait, extending lower than her knees, a feature everybody knew her by. Her origin was unknown but the mystery that surrounded her existence intrigued people. She was known as ‘Namoona’; she ‘patterned’ people, people who knew very little about themselves as she did of herself.
I stood there so taken by how she greeted me.
“Little dreamer, I have to tell you of your beginning.”
I didn’t have words for her, just a highly tensioned frown.She took my hand and gently traced the creases in my palm with her thumb. On impulse, I had to stop myself from retrieving my hand and walking on briskly. She looked in my eyes and began…….
“16 years ago in the town of Avtaar there was much trouble of which land was the main concern. Many people held on too dearly to their beliefs, all the beliefs except the causer of sanity. Peace. I shall give you peace of mind, little dreamer, and tell you who you are. You were born into a family of artists, practising an art generation after generation for 425 years. Everybody in Avtaar knew your family.
Your family’s talent was the translation of dreams and the writing of the meanings in the dreams translated. Many manuscripts have been have been kept of your forefathers work, which, of all things, you must never read. There was a rumour amongst the people of Avtaar that if you read theses manuscripts you will lose your talents and be cursed.
That is what you father did. This was just before you were born. The land wars were going on, the ancient city of Avtaar was going to be divided according to differing beliefs. Your father, in shame, at knowing more about the town’s people as Avtaar did itself left the walls of Avtaar. He left with very little possession, and was neither seen nor heard again.”
Namoona stopped patterning her weave. The ‘Little Dreamer’ didn’t flinch; she kept gazing on, a smile neither in her eyes nor on her lips. The ‘Little Dreamer’ looked understanding and unsurprised. How could a dark mysterious history cause no reaction? Namoona let go of the Little Dreamer’s hand and watched it slowly return, loosely, to her side; a structured dream of randomness. The woman raised her head and her tinted glass eyes focused on some faraway place over the girl’s shoulder.
“When you were born, a girl, your family knew the curse upon your father had come through you. You were a girl; some Sufi prophesied said a boy was meant to be born. You mother knew what this all meant; she along with the family knew that with you the future of the family would depend, whether foretelling dreams were meant to be believed in or not. Avtaar didn’t welcome you, they had too much guilt. They knew you had to suffer at the consequence of your father’s betrayal.
When you were no older than six months old the Sufi Imaam said you must be taken out of the family; you had suffered enough and it was wrong for you to go on like this. Your mother knew if this happened you wouldn’t foretell dreams and therefore the family tradition would end. They, your family, dressed you in a gold threaded blanket which clearly stated your status and family, and then placed you in the mosque under the eye of the deep blue mosaiced dome. Never were you to see your family and mother again. You were no longer a part of their family; you no longer could be a part of the first family of Avtaar.”
My eyes flittered. The last few words grasped my mind and turned in a wheel round and round. I didn’t feel struck, I didn’t feel emotion. Neither did I feel relief, I just felt I was tied down by words and misunderstanding. But something tickled my already confronted conscience. There was something familiar in this story, something but it wasn’t mine.I believed another story as a child and I wasn’t open to this one.
The cogs kept turning in my mind, turning over the words, the details, the person’s life. Whose should it has been if it wasn’t mine? I knew my history, maybe not my existence or purpose but I knew Avtaar was not where I came from. Avtaar. It sounded too familiar. I searched Namoona’s face; I looked at her glass ball eyes and saw the wet glow of sympathy. Her lips quivered in an uncontrollable grief. Her temple pulsated consistently; and then the answer to my question was there, in front of me.
“In the mosque you were taken by one of the Muslim families who were refugees. They say as one of them, a baby, orphaned, abandoned in the name of land wars and figting. This couple, the Hakims, was poverty stricken. They had nothing save for what they wore and a few worthless ruppees…and you.
Kabir and Mumtaaz Hakim were poor labourers in the very North of India, in what is now Pakistan. They worked for a wealthy landowner whose virtue allowed them from being killed in fighting between Muslims and Hindustanis.
But the landowner was killed, killed for hiding a Muslim family. The cruelty was like of barbarians, who invaded the recesses of minds in the name of beliefs. I don’t know who was more barbaric but in my mind, body and soul I know every man , whatever the religion, race or belief, given the situation will act in such dark ways. What I don’t understand is how humans sit back and watch it, or even worse take sides and turn on their own family.
Kabir Hakim’s brother became a Hindu, he was safe. Kabir and Mumtaaz were left on their own. They were alone in a country of hatred, in a place where everybody turned against them overnight. The Hakim couple were dragged from their mud hut by their hands and then were forced onto a truck where many others had had the same fate. In the small space of the truck more than 100 people were forced in together, so close many of the victims turned cold, killed by suffocation.”
The old lady’s eyes closed, she felt the pain of suffocation in her lungs, creep up to her brain. She could feel the intense pain of her brain being starved of blood, of oxygen. She breathed the pain out, and sighed her imaginings away. Her eye lids opened revealing a tear drop of relief that it wasn’t her on the truck, her who was discriminated, her who suffered in the name of religion and land, but in the name of curses.
“I know very little of what happened after that, but Kabir and Mumtaaz were refugees in a country they didn’t know but in a country called India. Their India no longer existed; Pakistan had claimed their mud hut, their two mattresses and the copper trunk with utensils, with a Quran, a few pieces of heirloom jewellery and the bronze water pot which was dowry at their wedding.
They moved into a room, I don’t know how long after their arrival, in the Mosque; many like it with Muslim refugees on the wrong side of the border. For now, because they possessed nothing but life and religion, they were fed by the Imaams and the charitable people who chose to turn to the plight of the victims of war. When they found the ‘little dreamer’ they knew God was with them. They knew despite possessing nothing ,they were the most blessed people walking on the surface of India, that was for now atleast.
They had nothing to give the ‘little dreamer’ but their love and their beliefs. Peace was still not dominant, there was still fear of being captured and this thought loomed heavily on the minds of the Muslims. Kabir helped in the Mosque; cleaning, washing and feeding the poor of which he was a part of. Mumtaaz took care of the ‘little dreamer’. They gave you the name Kesarli, Saffron, a Hindustani word so you wouldn’t be taken for a Muslim.
When you were sleeping, Kesarliji, Mumtaaz looked at the blue dome of the Mosque in all its majesty and imagined away all her sadness of leaving everything she knew of. She hoped for a better future for you, she knew she had very little to give you. She needed some fate to separate you from her, for you to find a family of well rounded beliefs and love.
Her hopes and prayers were seen and heard…and answered.”
There was silence now between them. The silence one had created in the mistrust of words and the other in the belief, understanding and an undermining fear that possessed her whole being. The world in the bazaar had slowed around them. Light faded and the surrounding trees and buildings were silouhettes against a deep pink sky .People, on their way in or out of the bazaar, had stopped, and were held motionless in the grip of some mystery, in a history they were discovering.
Kesarli looked at the girl, her eyes moist with the understanding of a cruel world. A world a history whom, for once and for this once only, she was the main character of. Her life now had meaning, had substance, now her being was known. She felt human after years of being subhuman and being an instrument which led other people to their pasts. She understood evrything but one thing. Who was the girl if she wasn’t Kesarli? One thing was most definite, she was the ‘little dreamer’, she was the Namoona , the girl who dreamt of others’ lives and helped them to see their existence when they knew nothing. But who was Namoona?
“On a fine morning, blood was shed for religion ad land in Avtaar. The Masjid was raided by soldiers who blocked all the escapes and doorways. Panic rippled across the Imaams and the refugees. Kabir wasn’t there; it had been suspected in the morning, returning from his daily visit to the market, he had been captured by soldiers. Mumtaaz knew when he did not return that the Muslims were in great danger, and so was Kesarli. So were you.
She his you, in the dark recess of her room. Mumtaaz knew not what may happen either to you or to her but she knew she was faced with only this opportunity. She tucked the one and only note of money she had under your head and said her prayers over you. The best was done for you, the best she had power of.
When the soldiers came Mumtaaz was in tears. She knew she had seen you for the last time. This time was more alone than when she left her mudhut in Pakistan. She was to leave her husband, Kesarli…and she knew soon her life. The soldiers took her and all the refugees. Not a word was spoken, no effort was made to escape such was the fear instilled in them. These refugees had gone through much pain, and they had heard of tortured victims of hatred. They knew one wrong movement would lead to torture, but what they didn’t know that death was already their fate regardless of what they did; it was what they believed that mattered.”
Namoona stopped. She felt an overwhelming amount of emotion well up in her. If she was given the choice she would not have gone on, but an invisible power forced her to go on, to reveal. The dreamer knew not what was to come. For the first time she had lost her guidance of thought and power to tell. It relieved her to know she would no longer have to wake up in the dark of the night gasping for air and ideas to chase away the screaming in her head of somebody’s life she would now have to tell. She wasn’t going to miss her throbbing heart, and imagined crying in her soul. She also now knew who she was, a woman of worth, a woman framed by life, not standing on the frame detailing lives that required framing. But most of all she was human ;subject to pain, to fear…to emotion.
“One of the soldiers singled out Mumtaaz Hakim. She didn’t fight back, she knew she was lucky to have survived this far. The world slowed down around her and the soldiers; slowed down to a standstill when every second was eternity. She would do nothing but shut her eyes against pain, horror and hatred. The soldiers led her to a side chamber where they spat on her one by one. She kept her eyes shut tightly, her lips pursed and the overwhelming desire to vomit was suppressed.
A soldier took out a razor blade and started cutting her hair and then parts of her scalp were deliberately cut. Mumtaaz could feel her toes cringing in the pain and visualized the blood; her blood. But that woman was brave. She said her prayers in her mind, too scared to say them out loud. She was devoted to her religion right till the end. After they had finished with her head they made various cuts across the body; then they left her to bleed to death slowly, slow enough for her to reflect on what she believed and how wrong it was. They left her in misery and pain, fighting against hatred; they left her to die. They left all the refugees to die, to bleed their beliefs away. Hours later when the soldiers had left, people were brave enough to come to the Mosque only to discover 291 bodies; all cold with death, all seeped in blood.”
A knot churned my stomach. In my throat a stony cold lump choked me. In my eyes tears burned. My blood was coldly chasing oxygen, an eternal cycle around my tense body. My mind was numb with pain, confusion, death, hatred, sympathy; and sentiment.
My essay still lay on the dreamy blue of the desk. Tears fell onto the writing, creating random pools of ink out of structured words so carefully manipulated, but manipulated zestlessly. The shadows had moved across the wall, and the refracted light had settled, very accurateley, on my mentor’s face sending her into a daze of sleepiness.
The room had been possessed by the stickiness and drowsiness of heat. Everybody had been lulled into a delirious state of daydreaming; even the most talkative found the heat wringed their tongues dry of words. Daydreams and fantasy had won over essays. Randomness over structure.
My fingers were now stiffened by pins and needles, my wrist was marked by recessed lines created by my only symbol of beliefs and career to be; my pen. I moved my fingers and imagined each finger having a heavy aluminium thimble on it. My eyes were wet and the panic and horror of what I had just remembered clung onto me like a film of sweat. I lifted my head and stared at the instrument of words.
So this was my existence, my life; my future. I was no artist, no musician or academic as the outside world believed. I was a dreamer, a fortune-teller who had the need to write everything down. I was ‘Namoona’, I wove patterns in words; not in marks. These patterns were no longer just words, but lives; lives of people who knew very little of their paths. Their existences were inhuman until they were told the pattern.
That’s my life, my reason my existence.
I still do not know where I come from, but that is the irony of what I do, of life. Does anyone really know? Are we subhuman, those who don’t know? The lives I create, dream and write of says very little in this great universe of existence.
I am Namoona. The little dreamer. The instrument that leads to other people’s lives. To other people’s sentiments. Sentiment is not a feeling worth getting accustomed to. A feeling too easily grasped, too hard to let go.
I am a chamber victim to emotion and blankness.