A Monumental Tale of Life

Aisha Nabi


We all have come across, at least once in our life time, a mesmerising sight of a tall and magnificent monument which casted a shadow on our little bodies. In that moment we are nothing but small, insignificant in-front of what has survived the test of time. So the question is what is this feeling and who are we in that moment when we lose an existence and certainly gain one too? For me, It started like any story would, in a womb. One certainly doesn’t know what it is to be a human until you have air in your lungs, light in your eyes, voice in your ears and a warm touch to your skin. There it all starts, over a horizon where there is no sense of dusk and dawn, truth and lies, black and white, it’s all but a sensation one keeps on lingering to for the rest of their lives . What does it take for a person to understand what is beneath their flesh ? In my story - half of me.
Here’s to celebrate the monumental and magical in my life.


Flesh and fluids , a space where I began to dream even before I saw the light and long before I understood darkness - a place where i breathed in life . Everything I could capture was with a touch , the only language I understood , and the walls of flesh which felt like shelter ,creating an intimacy between two bodies which for now are devoid of words. The veins around me carrying sensations , an emotion of what my journey would feel like , a hope and a fear of what I feel and what I ought to see. For a period of nine months I was the only resident of this place , my ecosystem was complete and it constituted just two of us - I and the vessel that carried me.


As the light enter my eyes , her image is the first to be reflected. It’s a smile , it feels warm , it feels familiar. Her touch -I think I understand this sensation , it’s an emotion , it’s happiness , it’s love. Her arms feel like shelter , same flesh with skin , same touch with words. I hear different words and feel different touches, none of which I am familiar with .It’s a place of more than two bodies , and I am to be touched by all in the room. They leave a mark on my bare skin, as I am being tossed between arms , my identity being mapped out . I wish to go the closure , to the shelter , to the safe space and right then she holds me , her bare skin caressing mine - her arms my shelter.


To all the women who influenced me , you are either plastic with perfect curves or a fairy with magic dust. How much world do I need to see before I understand it , what am I to be is in my hands, it is a beautiful barbie. My experience expands to virtual reality. I am friends with a few fairies, who preach me about goodness inherent in me. I have already started to dream to look like you and I often write you letters about how my parents fight and I cry out to you. I feel lonely but then I dance with you, it feels alright, I feel safe . Whenever there is a tear to fall, I picture you holding me asking me not to cry, I ought to be a strong baby , in the virtual shelter that I have created for me.


Dancing and dreaming , believing in touches still , real or not was never a question. I am scared of what the huge spaces of my house has to offer without her, I have found my solace underneath a hoary sky , next to a tree. We are friends and I talk to them everyday for two hours . More than words we use touch as a medium to communicate, i interpret each movement of the leaves and every blink of the stars. I feel what they say, as if imprinted on the wind that passes through the spaces in my fingers, gaps in my laughter. It’s an aura surrounding me, my safe space even if there are no arms to hold me, the presence is enough - it is shelter.


A place could be still but the meaning it has might change, at times the meaning also remains constant, but the emotion you associate to it changes. I am here with the same tree, 4 stars and the fairies who made a home for me but nothing feels warm anymore. I have started to sing a song to them, every night when the sun sets and the darkness takes over, I sing a melancholy. I feel shy and sick , I feel a change , I miss her , and it’s not something I want to compromise with. I can’t form any alternate reality for me anymore, an alternate safe space . The idea that a home should have walls with real people in it is taking over . It’s a rhythm of hope and helplessness that I wrote over the pages which were meant to be left unwritten. This melancholy is a transition, a wave which took me to the roads of verbal communication, a turn where I craved it , and just the touch couldn’t satisfy me anymore . The song itself altered my perception of a safe space, and what became my shelter were the words falling free to the rhythm on a dark night of clouds.


In a cupboard of cluttered clothes, underneath an old newspaper, I see a face that I have been familiarised to only in thoughts. It’s my sister’s portrait. At this point I need a face to make me believe that things would turn out to be fine, no virtual reality to guide me through but a person . I have never met her but her smile has a sense of warmth to it, similar to our mother. I hold it in my hands as tight as I could, making sure that it feels the intensity of my grip and a wish comes true . How naive can I be, at least I know I am naive by now. I look at the picture and create a future right at that instant, where my sister comes home with my mother .Last time when I talked to my mother , she said she’d be home when my sister comes . Hence I look at the picture with an emotion which is pushing my existence to the threshold and at the same time denies me what I craved for- a verbal communication. For that moment it made a home for me, where I was vulnerable but there was something of a warmth associated to it. I decide to just sit there for hours to embrace the same with a touch.


He is not like any conventional father , he never taught me how to ride a bike or how to respond to a bunch of bullies, the connection is much more intimate, it feels like the one with my mother, it feels feminine . Even if he’s busy at work he would make time to feed me on time, make sure that I am dressed decently, and I speak in a soft manner . But somehow I find it hard to accept , hard to accept that my father is doing what my mother should have - teaching me how to be feminine . Nonetheless for a span of a year, he’s the only face I have seen in the walls I live within , I don’t see him often till late night and it scares me but i know he would be back, to construct a shelter for me which alters itself with the tick of the clock. So I wait by the door, often holding a knife in my hands, the existence of other bodies tend to threaten mine, I wait and I wait for my safe space to arrive. Just for the night, the walls become home.


She’s back , both of them . Though it is not the home it was before but people add value to the walls, to the vacant space , be it in a building or a heart. The meaning of this house has changed to me multiple times . It started as a home to mere walls and now a house . The main change is I feel safe inside out. I still talk to my tree friend and the 4 stars and now it has turned to gossip, I talk about all the events in school . The more I get closer to the real people, the more I distance from the virtual .It’s something I am aware of, but I refuse to accept . The idea of giving up a space once being shelter is too much to bargain about. Even after her coming back, it could never become the home it once was, where there were bursts of laughter and now it’s just bursts of cries. I keep running back and forth, my space keeps on changing, I enter the house and often run out of it . By now I really don’t know if the shelter are multiple or none.


I feel more aware of what is around me, it’s people of similar skin and flesh . None of them seem to have the warmth I am used to, it’s a different feeling, an emotion of growing up and out . There is a salon down the lane to my house, I go there to transform myself into something beautiful. What troubles me now are my crooked eyebrows, dried up lips, black colour of my hair, brown colour of my skin, this is not what they call beautifulI ,I want to change it all . I feel more associated to the world which is outside the house I have lived in and the virtuality I have dwelled on. The parlour is a place now that makes me feel a little more accepted and appreciated. It’s definitely not the shelter I have been looking for or clinging to, it’s more of a notion that I need acceptance and there are only a certain ways to achieve that.


I stand here everyday with uncertainty in my eyes. I see what it reflects, am I happy ? I am unsure . I see my skin with marks, a drop of foundation - well yes . How much of it is that I can really conceal, for my eyes there is no such lens. I touch my mirror image, I feel a struggle , a longing to become one with the same . I fail, everyday it’s the same tale, I stand in-front of myself trying to become one with an entity that I see . What is it that I am trying to find, I have no answer to it but then I smile, and seeing it reflect makes me happy. I feel safe with my own projection, I smile and then I speak but somehow it never feels like me. I always feel it’s someone else I am talking to, someone else that I see . Even then hearing my own projection, seeing it move makes me feel a little less lonely.


Dig deep they say, look into your soul . I don’t understand what a soul is, feels to be a metaphor . Clueless but in motion, I pick up a razor, it tangles with my flesh, becomes one with my body , a part of my existence. Where am I - a dark room curtained to privacy. It’s my little reside, and the razor my friend. As I let go of the air congested in my lungs, the razor falls on the floor which is ironically kept clean . I no longer understand what words mean, they sound hollow and the only language i am left with are the bruises on my body. But they are not to communicate, I keep them hidden, concealed, it makes me feel safe . No one can read it , no one should, it’s my body, my canvas, I prefer it to be left unread .


Often I sit in the left corner of my room, my hands holding onto to my head, pressed in my knees. I can’t breathe, I wish to conceal , my hopes and their disappointments, I could never be upto the mark , just a body whose head has been in her imagination . What have I lost and who have I become, it’s a blur but I want it to be black . The blur confuses me so I take a pill or two, swallow them, I still cannot breathe, I choke and I cry. I use it to suppress but my emotion surpasses, it makes me feel cold yet I choose to linger to it . How often how long , every night till the morning, I wish it to change, I take another pill or more - “ don’t feel don’t feel don’t feel “ , and at this moment all I can feel is to let go and set free .


My thoughts seem to have just stopped , in this moment I am as still as a dead man . I look at myself in the same mirror but the perception is different. There is something so odd about my appearance, these long locks, people have often complimented my hair and I hate all of them. With my eyes wide open I cut every lock liberating me from the burden of expectations, not only of people but of myself. I stand on the threshold of my slow death and a revival, i certainly don’t know where to go, but as the metal clings to the locks of my hair I feel light. I can see a smile washed out with tears but it’s beautiful. Salvation comes to us in different forms at different times, mine was a mere haircut. This salvation is my new shelter.


My dreams have changed, I have started to see stories, have control over it , and alter the dreams in any direction . What appeals to me the most are the adventurous ones, I fly and I float, I dream and thereby live . I have the liberty to take any action I wish to, I can’t alter the surrounding but the outcome of the dream I have full control over . I wake up tired with a light headache, it doesn’t bother me, as soon as I wake up I wish to go to sleep again and that’s what I do. I spend most of my days sleeping ,it’s the only time I feel accepted , it feels like happiness , it feels like freedom, it feels warm. These dreams have created a place for me where I wish to stay , feels like a happy ending every time. A whole new world-my shelter.


It feels like I have been hallucinating, all the time, down all the roads. I open my eyes it’s a barren land, and then I see green . Butterflies flying through the uneven strands of my hair, I see future riding them to chase the nectar unknown. I press my lips against the dew drops, feel it sliding down my lips, soothing my scratched voice, turning it to a garden of life. I run over the Chinar leaves, it sounds of autumn- the destroyer, and a thread of hope tied around each branch of the tree, this is an unknown reality. I remember it as a blink of an eye, but the stillness conspired to be a three year long memory.

This stillness knitted me as new, all wear and tear stitched together, in a realm of silence. This stillness adopted silence as its functioning mechanism and it became my new language . My silence, my space, my shelter.


I have explored the hills and waterfalls of the valley , the vast tracks of land covered with flowers, it smells of summer, the scent of wood diffused in perfect proportions into the air. Every time I take a route up a hill or down a cliff, it’s a different experience . I have memorised this place for 18 years of my life but none of it looks the same. It changes with sun and snow, blossoms and fall, laughter and a cry, song in unison and a song alone. Kashmiri culture is a very important part of these mountains, be it pheran(a garment) and Kangir(a vessel), Rista and Goshtaba( Kashmiri cuisine) , Lal ded and Haba khatoon . I can never part myself with the essence of being a Kashmiri, it’s something I have developed as soon as I understood what the word Mouji (Mother) means. It’s not only a structure in itself, it’s a structure within me . I didn’t realise it for long enough that I have a sense of belonging to this place. As I was lost in my own thoughts I could not perceive my connection with my motherland. Gradually as I stepped into the world of social structure, my motherland was the first structure I encountered, accepted, appreciated and loved. It’s not just a place of beauty and attraction, meadows and lakes, furniture and flowers, it’s a clue to my identity, something I hold dear.

Existence is not linear, I have grown in and out in various directions like any tree that expands its branches in different realms of space and dimension. These tales have blossomed over the branches and certainly reflect who I have become yet it doesn’t define me. 

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