Our deepest conversations are soaked in midnight. One midnight 70 years ago cast a spell upon this land. Masses moved across a landmass leaving a trail of colour (only the white remained white, everything else was stained)
“Did you fold your hands in prayer? Or place your forehead on the ground?”- a simple question that made trains ‘spontaneously combust’, ancestral spirits be abandoned, and languages be banished.
We have been saying the same words, but let’s write them differently so we know who is who-
we say “jaan”, she writes “جان”, I write “जान”
We mean life.
جان: One midnight on an island in the south of this land, i found her to breathe with. I have a bad memory. I didn’t remember if there were lines to cross or whether we were crossing the line when i asked her to come to Pakistan. We both were given a 10 months crash course on 70 years of history. At the end of which someone had a heart to stamp her passport (someone indian, with a pakistani cousin or was it the other way around? There are many of them).
जान: This midnight, we spoke for 1 hour and 13 minutes on an encrypted phone line. Most of it was no secret — we’ve both inherited the curse of south-asian lovelore- ardent.We discuss: passports, lovers, the capacity for magic, the tendency for cynicism, pulsed with planning paintings on the street to overthrow empires with beauty. We were painting an image of a Khwaja-Serai exhaling roses in Rawalpindi, when I asked her (in my mothertongue) to join me in growing a Fearless garden.
We met and coded a universe together. Where everyone is welcome a thousand times. Where divine creation thrives. Where I am, as you are. Where we wear our bodies without shame. We have a secret language — her hindi, my urdu. My hindi, her urdu. We are lovers of all colours but we speak of whiteness too (amongst people who only speak in green and saffron).
Yesterday at midnight, when ii frowned at the loudly honking car with kids in green or saffron hanging out of its windows, waving flags larger than their tiny bodies, motorcycles whizzing around them with an air of fatality, ii recognized their return gaze: ‘killjoy’, it said
(thanks to Sara Ahmed for so apt a word in angrezi.).
What that gaze didn’t recognise is my capacity to celebrate, to celebrate the breaking of the Empire 70 years ago. Of having learnt how to break empires everyday after that. Women in our universe, wearing their browns of this soil, break empires everyday, exploring what might bring us together.
Our national anthems feel like breakup songs, and everyone is singing them tonight- our song is quite different. The Fearless Collective as it exists today is growing from many such conversations between Shilo Shiv Suleman in Bangalore and Nida Mushtaq in Islamabad singing across the fault line.