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Shutting out the world: Lithograph by Kavitha Shah.
Shutting out the world: Lithograph by Kavitha Shah.

C.S. LAKSHMI

IT is strange but the year that is gone seems to be literally sitting heavy on my back refusing to be off-loaded. It has given me a backache that is taking time to heal. The doctor's diagnosis: too much tension and stress. I could not agree more. It was a heavy year: heavy with tsunami losses, the trauma of rehabilitation, bomb blasts, rapes, unabated corruption all over, absurd debates on karpu and so many untimely and unnecessary deaths. How does one get over such a year? One feels like the girl in one of the lithograph prints of my friend, painter Kavita Shah, who lies down on her side, pressing a pillow on her head, closing herself to the rest of the world, for, everything has gone wrong.

Great timing

The lithograph print has been lying with me for long but this November, for my birthday, we got it framed. The timing was so appropriate. Just a month before, Sundara Ramasamy, one of the few writers I could call my friend, passed away in America. I was preparing for a trip to the North East and preparing the itinerary had been difficult. As if I were going into some deep jungles of Africa. We had just got over the July 27 trauma of floods in Mumbai when we had to spend the night sleeping in the office with no electricity and later go home in the morning, past the floating bodies of dead buffaloes. And then came the floods in Chennai and some more deaths followed. And amidst all this, we had to locate a place for SPARROW to be permanently housed. Some of the dream places that the agents showed us led to nightmares. One particular agent had told us that he would show us a prime plot in the heart of the city. He took us near the Andheri East flyover. We were wondering where the prime plot was, for, on one side was a tabela with buffaloes standing in the slush chewing away at grass or whatever had been given to them as feed by the dairy owner; on the other side was a garbage dump with unused cement pipes dumped on one side; and a boy came with a mug and not bothering about us, sat on one of the pipes and began to defecate. Our agent remained absolutely unfazed. He pointed out the garbage dump and told us in a kind of triumphant voice, "Prime plot; can't get better than this in Mumbai." The boy meanwhile had finished his job successfully and he emptied his mug and walked away. Our agent told us, "This is an ideal plot for a women's organisation. You can hold satsangs here. It is very accessible." That was when the thought occurred to me that I needed some help to cope with it all. As if sensing my need, Vishnu had got Kavita's print framed. I feel like that girl wanting to shut out the entire year. But one also keeps looking for signs of hope.

Hope in words

As always, some of my hopes for the future lie in books. That people can continue to write and write well is heart-warming. Also, the fact that the writings of people who have passed away continue to haunt us and inspire us is a consolation beyond description. May be some things and some people don't die; they live on. Like Sundara Ramasamy says in one of his poems:I spun the wind, tore out my nail and lighted the lamp
I melted my flesh, squeezed out my life and turned them into words
I pierced my heart, dipped in my finger and wroteThe lamp burnt out the wick
The wind blew out the lamp
My finger dissolved in bloodHoweverCan anyone destroy me?
Am I not the one who lives in words?
There is another image of hope that comes to mind. In the heart of Imphal, which looks like a city destroyed, there is a market called the Ima market. Everyone told me that I must see it. It was close to where I was put up. I went there and it was a large market filled with women vendors from all the villages nearby, selling vegetables, fish, hand-woven material, saris, towels, brass and iron material, bamboo material and anything else you can think of. They come in their colourful striped phaneks, looking bright and cheerful, ready to do their business for the day. Women, young and old. In one corner of the market there are women busy cooking rice, vegetables and fish for the vendors for their lunch, for, they come early in the morning and leave at four-thirty when it begins to get dark in Imphal. They have to board buses and vans with their trunks and go back to their villages. Next morning they are there again. That bustling market with those women seriously doing business is an overwhelming sight of perseverance that has remained with me. It gave me hope then and it gives me hope now, that women will protect this world from getting destroyed.

Something to cling to

And recently a small news item gave me hope. It was a news item on a woman who delivered her baby boy with no help or aids whatever, on a rock on the tsunami day. Later she was taken to a hospital and the people there told the parents to name the child Tsunami. In the years to come, tsunami will not be just a killer wave; it will also be the name of a growing boy. That, to me, is a sign of hope; the last straw I will cling on to, to help me cross this year. C.S. Lakshmi is an independent researcher and a writer. She writes in Tamil under the pseudonym Ambai. She is the founder-trustee and director of SPARROW (Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women).

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