Of Ghettos and Invisible Lines

Remember all that talk about the world ending? The when? The how? Which beast will awaken in which city? Our theories, conjectures, the anticipation even?

Nowadays, I often think about those burning buildings of our VFX-ed imagination. Grey, candy-floss smoke raising its diabolical head into a sky of the colour of curdled blood. I imagine myself with a soiled face and tangled hair, running away from a deafening explosion into an undiscovered land with an old lover. Or into some version of a larger-than-life, Hollywood-style struggle of survival that I so rosily paint for all of blessed humankind.

Here in my 8×10 bedroom, overlooking concrete gardens, there are no explosions. Just the droning buzz of a fluorescent light, the sizzle of fish cooking in my neighbour’s kitchen, and the undulating voice of a news anchor from the television set.

Only weeks ago, I was in the midst of madness. Brushing shoulders with strangers, raising glasses, downing sadness, in technicolour pictures throbbing with life. I passed fleetingly under the glow of streetlights, covered my nose in damp alleys, and said a hasty goodbye to someone I love.

Had I known it would be my last in a very long time, I would’ve walked slower and breathed deeper. Held someone’s hand to absorb the touch of skin against skin – visceral, warm and moist with the blood of human kindness.

When the world came to a sudden halt, it choked on its own excesses, coughing up sorrows, maybe even praying for a masked superhero to swoop in like they show in the movies. But apathy was only returned with apathy, the collective sigh of diseased breath and then the deathly hush of sleep. This silence held no promise of adventure. The monsters left to fight had none of the suave style or tragic appeal of a poster super-villain. And how could I, framed in the whiteness of four blank walls, harness the strength to kill them?

Also read: How Much Longer?

These demons, disguised as afternoon shadows of swaying trees, spitting filigrees on my bed, hold me down by the wrists. They threaten to close the walls on my head, or bait me to the ghosts of the dead, or worse still, don’t visit at all. Left alone in a prison of solitude, the minutes roll into hours, hours into days. Time is amorphous, softening like clay that my restless palms can’t contain – they persistently drip drip drip like dirty water out of them, leaving the door of my den and flowing into the carcasses of thirsty streets.

The demons rumble on the roads as hunger in putrid figures, clamouring against iron gates that don’t open for worn out feet. They settle on children’s faces lined with dust, a little boy crying for his mother, another tugging at the loose end of his father’s shirt, his eyes asking, ‘How far is home?’

Home. Home for me has been marked out by invisible lines, it’s space spreading like roots from under my feet. I have nothing to fill it with. I want to invite a stranger to listen to my stories, my songs, my prayers, and fears, that fill up this incubator of tears that no one ever trespasses.

Meanwhile, other trespassers walk for miles at length, colliding against invisible walls that muddy hands can’t scale. A woman, determined not to rest till the baby strapped to her chest is buried in the soil of her own tribe. Another man, suppressing fatigue, counts his coins one last time before he offers them to bribe guards of impervious borders. They all march in numbers, rising, roaring, raging, and then crashing onto the shores of death.

Who will save us from a demon that we have birthed – stretching like emptiness for one and sucking up rationed air for another? A demon that widens the schism in our ghettos – some corrupt with surfeit, others polluted by the phlegm of poverty. The two united in suffering, but then separated by the desperate desire to get home, or away from it.

Dibyangee Saha is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in English from Jadavpur University. She published her first poetry anthology in 2018.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty