The lost letter: the pashmina of my fall

Dear Sun,

Today was a good day. As good as it gets. I’m grateful to God for the breeze that played with my hair, grateful for the weight that seemed to have been lifted off my shoulders. Yes I felt light. I felt ‘the unbearable lightness of my being.’ Acutely. Yes, my shoulders did not sag under the tremendous burden that they toted. My muscles were not ‘taut’, they have memorized the lessons they were unknowingly ‘taught.’

Yet when I return, my sadness returns. It is like a shadow that follows me around, sun or not. You follow me, Sun? I smile at the coincidence. My situation is such that I cannot fully bare my heart to you, yet I cannot somehow bear the brunt of unshared silences either. So even if it be silence, I gingerly place it upon your palms, hoping you would understand all it hopes to convey. Read not my lines, but my heart. I keep this leaf open for you to grasp from it whatever you can. Listen. Don’t fiddle with my fiddle. Don’t touch those high strung strings, for it can gash through your fingers and oh that sting!

Sun, why this ‘inheritance of loss,’ I ask myself? Why! I’m at a loss of words now.

Tell me, will you? How do we stop looking for the likeness of a shadow in the real form? How do we do that? What is it about unrealized dreams that they chase us even when we try not to chase them? Sun, my heart hurts. It really hurts so much at times. I try to put up a brave front, I really do. But sometimes, it catches me off guard. Sun, my soul is in the midst of a storm yet again, one that I have been struggling with, for quite some time. It undulates around a baseline. There is an ebb and a tide, then an ebb and again a tide. And thus I oscillate with the vacillations of my heart. From one extreme to the other. But my centre of gravity never seems to stir. I shake it. It shakes me too. But it sits still. I don’t know if I’m even making any sense to you, Sun. Even if I don’t, I must write. This is all I am left with now. The ruins of my words. See the macabre dance? I am so gullible, so naive. How can you fall into a trap twice over? How? The same trap. The same you. And the same fall too? I look at people around me and I marvel at their clarity of thoughts. On everything. Then I look within myself and I feel ashamed.

Of love I would never be sure, of this I always was….
‘Kahun kiss se mei ki kya he, shab e gham buri bala he
Mujhe kya bura tha marna agar ek baar hota’

Sun, I’m putting my fire out, extinguishing it with my own hands. Come blow those verses upon my heart and snuff this candle out, will you?

‘Ab tak dil e khush fahm ko tujh se hain umeedain
Ye aakhri shamme bhi bujhane ke liye aa’…

Sun, what is love? I try to bring it into the realm of my present condition. Is love an ache? An inevitably earned yearning? A longing? An insufferable suffering? A sudden separation? Is love that thin, fragile line that separates two fluids not meant to be mixed? Touching gently, brushing past each other, grazing barely, imperceptibly, yet never really meeting. Two lines running parallel to each other, intersecting very briefly, only to diverge forever.

‘Jaane ye kaun meri rooh ko choo kar guzra
Ik qayamat hui bedaar Khuda khair karey’

Why do we keep going back, extrapolating that graph over and over again in our heads? Hoping it would meet the x abcissa somewhere before the y ordinate devours it, reducing us both to zero? I think of the infinite possibilities onto my right. But I cannot lie. My gaze keeps returning to the left. That on my left. And that’s when life shifts leftward for me. Life, Sun. Life… Life is not elsewhere, Sun. But here. Now. So should be love, isn’t it?

‘Ragun mei daudte phirne ke hum nahi qayil
Jab aankh hi se na tapka to phir lahu kya he?’

What will quench my thirst? The well in the arid vastness of the desert or a mirage formed as your rays touch the hot, parched sand? The well is within reach. Within my grasp. It sleeps as I sleep and awakens as I wake up. While the mirage? It runs. Always. Never toward me, but away. It prevaricates. The lie breaks off the tie. Should I, then, not shrug off all lies? Should I drape myself in a white muslin shroud, embodying Death or should I warm my heart back to Life with my own pashmina thread? I know the roughness of the travails that would accompany the softness of the latter. I can feel it abrade my skin even as we speak. What all must I go through for it! What a long, sinuous, serpentine path! How arduous the task!

I know I must find that goat, befriend it, train it, tame it too, before it will bow its head before me, ready to be sheared off.

‘Hum aahuwaane sehra sar e khud nihaada bar qaf
Ba ummeed aan ki roozi ba shikar khwahi aamad’…

All the gazelles of the desert shall sever their own heads,
In the hope, that one day, the hunter shall come to hunt the already hunted
For you, a gazillion times over, dear heart…This is how I fool it, Sun.
But before my hangul is hunted down, it must make itself worthy of it… So it must be reared and fed with care…

And you know how I have to feed it? It has to graze not only on the grass of my existence but the roots of my grass too. And there is a lot of mud there, a lot of soil that has soiled it. What must I set out for, then ? The well or the mirage? The real or the imagined? The one that is, wants to be or that which was, but never really? Well, well! Should I simply accept the fact that, as I drink from the water of this spring, the thirst of the mirage shall always remain? That it is but a hole in the whole of my existence, which gives me the possibility, the opportunity even, to fill it up with so much else? Holy God! What must we fill such an abyss with? I live in the heart of a valley, I must know, mustn’t I? Valley, gorge, abyss, chasm. They ought to be inscribed in my DNA.

So, the softness of my pashmina, you say? I shall be alone in that life too. As shall I be alone in my death. If I tread the oft trodden path, I will have to spin that yarn myself, the spindle will prick my finger a million times, then I have to die a thousand deaths too as I dye it in my color. And as I thrash it onto the stone on the banks of Jhelum, to wash off the excess color, to mordant what must remain, my soul shall take a million beatings too.

‘Bal bal jaun mei tohe rang rajwa
Apni si rang deeni mose naina milaikey
Aisi rang do ke rang naahin chhutey
Dhobiya dhoye chaahe saari umariya’

And then I must still stand tall
As the freezing water runs over,
My feet, my soul and my shawl
I must hang myself too on those banks,
On the nylon thread, where my shawl hangs
That drenched, crushed, crumpled drape
Each crease with a story, each line mirroring those pangs
Felt by my heart as it thirstily drank
That bitter wine made by the crushed grape
As the pigeons fly by, up in the sky
Over the pagoda of my Shah-i-Hamadan
I must iron the shawl with no hint of a sigh
Escaping my lips in memory of the yarn
That prick, the iron hot pain, that anguish, the angst
All flowed in the waters of my beloved land..
I must now, steady my gaze and my frail hand, both
As the blackness of the block inks the plainness of my shawl
I recall the walls of the shrine, those ceilings, the pillars, one and all
And imprint those paisleys, those almonds, the flowers
From the doors and windows,
Kissed, touched, and retouched at unearthly hours
Thus that Faith finds its way from the wall, onto my shawl…
Hear now! Hush!
As the stillness of the dawn is broken by a heart rending cry
And the ripples created in Jhelum strike against those wooden planks
There, inside that sanctuary rests a lone figure
Head bowed down before Fate
Draped in a pashmina shawl
Tattered, jaded, moth eaten,
Clad thus, in the pashmina of her fall….
She sheds all patterns, all motifs now
As the chinar sheds its ripened leaves…
A stranger passes by, stops and bends over
Puts his hand tentatively over the bent figure
One push, and the body falls onto her side
The River had called her back home,
And both in Life and Death
It had been her Master, her only Guide…

The glaciers would have melted by now, you think? The rivers must have swollen. But would they have deepened too? And widened their chests to admit the sudden inflow and the gentle, subtle trickle? My Jhelum, my Lidder. When I dip my feet in it this time, I shall ask the rock how it fared in my absence. And I shall then share with it my own account. I must tell that story, Sun. One day, I will. I am told I cannot heal. For I cannot deal with another’s pain until I have dealt with mine. But I want to tell them, that I want to heal my own pain in others. Remind me, Sun, to untie a few knots that I might have tied and forgotten about.

Daeshi aesim gundmich, wain chem mitsraavin

With my love,
As gentle as the pashmina caressing the softness of your skin
And as fluid as the river that flows in our backyard
The river that separates you from me
(Or are we on the same side of it? United thus by an invisible bridge?)

(Dr Saba Shafi Makhdoomi is a doctor by profession, working in a cancer hospital in Delhi. Her debut novel ‘Leaves From Kashmir’ has recently been published.)