Hopes and Hyacinths
By Prakash Kona
My mother is a dark woman and it happens that I’m not different from her. As a girl I heard of the Black Sea. I thought the sea was black as my curls. I thought every sea must be blue, green or gray except the Black Sea and black islands filled this sea. I heard of a novel Black Beauty. That’s how I secretly referred to myself for years. Flexible I am as water but I cannot change my dark nature. I want the sea for myself every one of its black drops. If there is one animal whose eyes I would like to look into it is the black gazelle with brown shades that comes in my dreams. On the day I was born my mother told me that the night was a hall of pearls and I was sweet as the night. When it comes to her own child every mother is a poet. When my heart is heavy I remember the night of my birth. No year or specific time is attached to it but my mother told me that on the same day that I was born her sister’s daughter from the neighboring village attained puberty, and her brother who was living with her at that time told her the story of the cousin who married out of the group, and that night they cooked fish at home, the wife of the headman of the village cracked a joke on my mother’s belly humongous as a hill, her mind detached itself from the body, she was lying on the cot imagining to be somewhere in the dark heavens, drums played far away, she was asleep and not dying because she saw herself clearly lost among one of those black islands in a sea whose name she never heard of.
I am lazy as a hot day in summer. Let me dance and I’ll turn the same day into night. My feet can feel with the eyes and my hands with the waist. My body can feel with night as a star with the sky. Like poor children I felt the freedom of streets with an abundance of desires and no ambition or expectations of parents who set goals for their offspring. Like poor children I was in danger of exploitation but for the fiercely watchful eye of mother like a black panther on the top of a tree with me playing beneath caught in my own games. Later in life I knew that the freedom I associated with my nature was the outcome of countless sacrifices that mother made on my behalf. Only once I stood up to mother when she screamed at me for my lack of seriousness. Serious is one thing I cannot be. I have to take the world in bits smaller than grains of rice. A grain of rice is my world. I could be in a field or on a mountain. The size of the world I belong to would be no bigger than a grain of rice. I cannot increase the dimensions of the world because it would be hard for me to ingest anything larger than a grain. The best part of my nature comes from the smallness of a grain of rice in a pot as vast as the cosmos.
There are two things happening simultaneously at any point in life. One is that something is passing by me. The other is that I pass by something. I wonder if these two things meet at any point or that we live by the illusion of being performers. In oneness of the dust and the dark I saw the unity of worlds I live in. Death seems commonplace in times of scarcity and war and the brutality of a man comes to the fore. The unity of life is broken. I fear the insecurity of a man. He seems pathetic as a snail and more dangerous than anything in nature could aspire to be. When a man lets out the sword of anger he could bring the species to an end. Overpopulations are a poor indicator of progress. As long as the greed of the soul is untrammeled nature can only regret the evolution of man on this planet. I took to performance to moderate the soul’s appetite. I had to convince a world with a fading sense of conviction that a grain of rice is a solution to the world’s problems. In the grain is my past and in the grain is your future as well. Through a grain we are bound since history. To preserve that grain against which a man is determined to prove his prowess has been the sad goal of my life. These harsh times have made me a singer of stones. In a time when men are not a threat to the world anymore I would be an abstract painter. I thought I could be a poet but I had none of that fine line that makes a poem. For instance, if I said that my hunger of love was red sand welcoming the rain – I left it at that. The hunger would take me to bed and I would be dreaming of hungry millions waiting for bread. The rain that would quench the thirst of red sand would be tears and after a point I would be too weak to cry. My feelings would not let me lie for long. I would get up and run out only to see that everyone else had left for home. From the outside I could hear the chatter of homes along the way. But the silence of the night began to fill space. The artist in me cried for finishing lines. I’m too much of a vagabond to finish anything. Unfinished lines gave an edge to my personhood. I started games and I left in between almost with no regrets. I imagined that at some point I would bring this sensational aspect of my life to an end. That never happened until the day I saw that people were real and life is not a concept.
The wholeness with which I brought myself forward brought me joy and pain. The joy was that I could move on through life with few expectations. The pain was when others hoped to see the divisions of their life in mine. I refused to be divided. That would mean my soul drying up in a desert without knowing the sea. Myself as a being would come to an end after that. I would lead that dreary life of academics in language departments or bureaucrats repeating conversations pointless to the point of pointlessness. It means that I am dead and this body walks through life waiting in dread for another death to come. You cannot divide the dust from the dark. My dark eyes saw through the dust of the world. The lack of wholeness alternately made me sick and angry. True sacrifice is maskless but there is a hidden side to it. It knows itself in a way that nothing else does. The sacrifices that people make happen in oblivion. Almost unstated is the act of self-denial. The receiver of the message is as speechless as the sender.
My intention was never to make a hurt upon a wound where already there was a cut. My enemies could never be as real as my friends. That’s how I realized that the sound of victory is a hollow one. Diplomacy – the art of not telling a lie without telling the truth – lost its charms. I could be no more diplomatic than a hammer is towards a nail. The shape of my forehead reflects anxiety. The shapelessness of my destiny reflects nothing. I respect the feelings of a suffering world as if it were I who was in pain. I am born to a star that cannot be seen. That’s where my darkness comes from. Standing on the shores of the Black Sea at night you feel the invisible star reflected in glossy waves. This water seems so much like a painting that I could walk on it. My sensuality is color. My body is colored every bit through and through. If I were not so closely bound to my narration the Black Sea would not be black either. I trembled with humility remembering my lover’s lips. The lover whose eyes were the Black Sea itself. Night upon night I dreamt of a body walking out of the sea deep into my arms. I feared being taken away by the waves. I passed out at some point and the body of the sea roaring wild as a tiger rushed upon land inside the dreams of a mad woman on the streets dancing in the moonlight.
Wanderlust sent me from the room to the kitchen and back to the room. In the space between the kitchen and the room I made decisions that affected my future in a lightless past. In the black sea of deserts my body ran from one time zone to another. To insignificant events I attached tender meanings. The humility in slowness and waiting came from my affection toward this body that I lent to no mirror. I touched the bodies of things. I left their souls alone. That’s how I was. My love impersonal as the dawn. The humanity of dust I conceived in men that were at heart children. If only they made space for the black seas of childhood! I destined myself to preformed connections. The game over we were really one. Before the game too we were one. In the game it seems like we were caught up with the magic of the game. Rules are for the dead. Living games need no rules. They need to be played in the leisure of the god who made the Black Sea in the leisure of a spirit greater than the conflicts of life. My eyes were prone to forgetfulness. I’m sure that I saw somewhere the face that smiled at me at the bus stop. I dared not ask for names out of embarrassment. I could lose track easily. I could believe in my rightness even when I’m completely off-track. I could stumble and have an accident. I could die and be remembered as a sentimental person. No one knows the blackness of the sea that I am. No one knows how I felt when I had to wake my body out of her fantasies. No one knows the poverty of rooms I lived in or the smell of kitchens that made me creative when I thought that the world was coming to an end.
It is the memory of my grandmother I carry forward. Her mother was the sweetest of women with a life harder than stone. Her will that could break a stone with the ease of perpetually trickling water came from having to wait for bread at the doors of those who owned the land. She could be devious when it came to men. Her unpopularity preceded her wherever she went though she had her many admirers. We were daughters and mothers and sisters of black sheep. We laughed to think so. Not many thought it was funny. Dangerous predictions of a calamitous end were made behind us. Vaguely aware of my past I grew up a weakling who took pleasure in nature more than the conversations of the household. I was naturally disapproved of. I preferred it that way. There was less scope of too many expectations leaving me free to pursue dreams. The sweetest of all smells is that of bread. I pursued the smell of bread until I came to the heart of a person. I could never go further than that. It is almost as if I would collapse with exhaustion. To make love to the body with the smell of bread is my dream. It means the one that reminds me of the hands of my grandmother. The bread of her hands is my definition of love.
The sunlight in black and white movies is my favorite image of the past. It grips you in a way that you want to be taken with your soul. The clarity of light as it leans on shoulders of the black hold me physically in a space outside time. I am there. But it is not the ‘I’ that writes about it. In a different sense I know my presence. The night is a ventriloquist uttering sounds in the heart’s lobe. No matter how far you go the road does not tire you. Silently the world meditated upon silence. In other times we gave our bodies to the care of the world. Sunlight steadily filled the ground and the shadows were more lovable than ever. I put my hand as a child would do in water and laughed with glee that I was no wetter than a cloud after rain. As I touched your hands I gave you my shadowy passion. You took from me all that is beautiful. I learnt to live with the sweetness of pain. If I were music I would outplay time. If I were the gods I would take away hunger from the faces of children. If I were the black sea – which I am – I would open the hearts of men to let out the madness of their natures fill the sky and come down as rain.
You never know who has taken the words from your lips to make a poem. Only your lips could have produced such a poem. From the songs of those who chose not to weep I thread flowers for your hair. Seeing your hair so beautiful in sunlight I weep in pain. Though I let heaviness press my soul to make words it was the experience of being with you that finally came upon me like dawn and I wrote like one possessed by shadows. Things had a strange feel during blackouts. You became conscious of the black sea at the edges. Children loved them. It was the essence of their nature to play in the dark. To be away from homework and the petty preoccupations of parents who must also pass time for short of anything better, those murders in the furious exchange of words, the dying soul that cries for water each day in and out, pining over futilities, the hydrogen of fantasies that bloats the imagination like a diseased body, brooding like cows but without the instinctual peace of animals, unreconciled and unrepentant, with bodies torn apart, our bloodless streets creep like avalanches on sleeping populations, the sound of fear is rooted in our character, greedy as hyenas and vicious as tigers we pass days as children of the light. The journey uphill was long dreamt of. I had my own character to fuel the madness of ghosts. There was no stage to support my feet. Out of fashion I made it to the top. Far below was the black sea of hopes and hyacinths.
I wasn’t returning.
Prakash Kona is a writer and researcher teaching at The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India. His research interests broadly include Women’s Studies, Film Studies and Third World Politics and Writing.