By Shayontoni Rhea Ghosh
To sustain life
within an environment, or as a society
means to embark on a quiet pilgrimage.
One needn’t move.
There are no mountains to climb, no false prophets, no drum circles.
One never needs to see anything different from what they already see.
To sustain life, within
our cultural memory, our DNA, our systems of production and destruction,
is to remember that life is
every square millimetre.
Life is what fills, to the brim, the spaces between you and me.
To acknowledge life is to
remember, moment by moment, that
every finger you lift, every breath you take and every mouth you feed is already full.
Full of matter. Weight. Energy. Consequence.
To begin to remember ourselves as a life-sustaining society is to remove all illusion that we are the first to do so.
To begin to remember the ways of our ancestors is, simply, to begin to see.
Here is what I see-
A vial of ink has been spilt into the sky. It spreads, uneven and unruly. Sky-dwellers and earth-walkers make their respective ways home. A pattern exists beyond the ruin of invention – our bodies run to sources of warmth and light as the sun disappears, and run from repose as soon as he climbs the sky again. The black nights descend upon the unforgiving city, begging to be allowed into our homes, to be respected with our silence. We protest. We leave the lights on. We negotiate, we seduce, we are kept alive for another day.
A tree grows by the side of the road, and one day, the trunk is bathed in kumkum (red turmeric powder). The next day, a trishul (a trident, and a divine symbol of Hinduism) is planted next to the trunk, and slathered in kumkum.
Thus is born our sacred space.
Thus, the ground is set for years of obeisance, ritual and ceremony.
Thus, the neighbourhood gathers at the tree – using the space as a marker and a connector. The quiet ones sit, watching the blood red powder fall gently on their shoulders. Soon, some framed photos are found arranged neatly around the tree. Soon, garlands of tired marigolds are flung around the trishul. A brown dog with big ears curls up between the frames, yawning and smiling to herself, like she’s home.
Altars and mantelpieces dedicated to images of the dead adorn the living rooms of each household. Fresh food is offered everyday, along with water in copper mugs. Our dead feast better in the afterlife, than during their time here. Eyes shut at the beginning and the end of each meal, in respect and remembrance, and holding twinges of nascent fear. The ‘next meal’ is always an illusion, always five steps further than imagined.
As the weeping mother falls to the ground, her sisters fall with her. There is no manicured grief around these parts – no safe containers, no warning labels. Sturdy brown arms beat soft brown chests, bangles break and fall – cheap diamonds strewn across the street. A young boy lays face-down, a hole burning through the back of his head. The indifferent khakis keep marching on. The sisters reach the corpse before the mother can push herself off the ground. One brushes the gravel off his face, one attempts to dilute the ocean of blood with her tears. Their expressions of grief are a magnet for the community. Heads pop out from behind ruby-red curtains, some doors open. The people flood the streets. The child’s blood feels squishy under the rubber insoles of their slippers. His father brushes one sole tear off his chin; there’s work to be done.
Life slips through the cracks of time. Life exists in the blank spaces of our collective memory. We lose too much every day to remember what we have lost. A life sacrificed to the steel-panelled altar of capitalism is not a loss, but an inevitability. An unfolding of the natural.
As the ink of the night dissipates, and the cities stir, the call to prayer is heard. We wash our limbs, cover our ears, our eyes and our heads, and surrender ourselves to the voyeurs of our pathos.
To talk about a life-sustaining ecosystem in our house full of death is a limp attempt at connection.
What does it mean to connect with the land when you are sorting through garbage with your bare hands to find your next meal? What does it mean to grieve environmental destruction when the parasite of structural powerlessness sinks its teeth in, and reminds you, every day, that there is no escape?
Our backs are tired.
Our feet are tired.
Our hands are weary.
Our hearts are wary.
We open our mouths to be fed, and are violated by hordes of flies and the stench of rotting flesh. To them, an aphrodisiac.
Can we clean our house first?
Recorded by Karina Lutz
Shayontoni Rhea Ghosh is an artist and facilitator, born in Calcutta and presently living in Hyderabad, India. As an artist, her imagination is expressed through poetry, prose, rap, collage, and theatre. She has been self-healing her C-PTSD since her late teens with meditation, bodywork and journaling, and started learning coaching and counselling tools in her mid-20s. As a facilitator of Work That Reconnects and an active Weaver of the Network, she is learning how to adapt the Work to the Indian and greater South-East Asian context. She is building a creative healing studio called dot.