Backseats are my favorite. I have no desire to call shot-gun. With the window rolled down, and a mellow melody echoing from the speakers behind, the world expands before my eyes. It becomes more breathable. I become more alert to its magic. I’ve been told: if you’re looking for a sign, then that is a sign. I am always on the lookout for signs. They lend me hope when I’m running low on it. And on the 1st of March, on a day unlike the rest of it, I found a sign. While bidding Karachi adieu on my way back home to Lahore, I looked outside the car’s window and saw an engraving on a wall and a statue of a woman. And took it as a sign: to become more attentive to the stories told by the lines on the hand of a city. I found it, conveniently placed together, when I wasn’t even looking for it. And isn’t that the best kind?
This year has been stranger than fiction. It has been a whole trip – one hexed by the curse of fate to go downhill. Of chief interest to me is the 3rd month of this year: March. For me, March bears witness to the delicate but violent juncture between the “normal,” and the “new-normal.” How strange for a month to remind us of the brutal hand of reality that is powerful enough to twist, toss, and turn our existence and forcibly place it in unchartered territories. Before the world went into lockdown, and our days melted into each other, our days existed as separate entities: each carrying a new story wanting to unfold; a story waiting to be told. I look back at my life in March and find each day until the 13th to be filled with life. Not necessarily life that is exclusively pleasant, but life that is, you know, life. A routine- monotony that could sometimes be despairing but one that wasn’t soul-crushing. When I revisit March, walk back to its first week, I can’t help but wonder at the contrast of my life saturated in this year B.C (Before Covid) and the life that has come to be diluted in this year in the aftermath of A.C (After Covid).
I feel in awe of our oblivion. And I grieve our ignorance.
This series is an attempt at documenting my life in March – a month that has a rupture so profound it will be remembered by each person who has experienced it. And each person has. Across the globe. Across the goddamn globe.
13th of March is my doomsday. Except, the world didn’t end then. It continues to spin madly on. And we continue to feel dizzy by its unpredictable, often maddening, spins.
However, each day after the 13th of March still carries a story, even if it seems to have misplaced, or entirely lost, its previously earned glory. Days follow a similar rhythm, move to an unusual beat: tragic notes of which reverberate at an unprecedented scale. Lockdown locked us in, deprived us of life as we know it, forced us to normalise inhabiting a normal that is anything but.
I had a pensive moment observing a piece of art; a peace of art, an artful peace.
ah, to be a sculpted chiseled beauty: a woman standing tall against the backdrop of a pressing question on patriarchy’s mind on the wall. hand extended to offer consolation for the theft of history sustained by her kind. sturdy in its appearance with a captivating hold – the woman cued a feeling of inhabiting a hidden sensation of experiencing an apparent reality: the future is female, and she’s not only on her way, but she is also here.
in invisible cities, Calvino writes:
“The. city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”
the city, however, does not tell its past but contains it like the hands of a hand, written in the corners of the streets – as words scribbled on a wall existing on it to serve a larger purpose. Perhaps the question on the wall: Tum kya karti ho? is the reclamation of an unrecognized existence. Perhaps it’s a jab taken at patriarchy. To use the master’s tool to dismantle the master’s house.
To hurl back at it the words it uses to negate the work of a woman; to deny the work of those who aren’t men. The work that becomes invisible and yet essential. Inferior, yet essential. Indispensable, yet subject to an unjustifiable erasure. Integral, yet ignored. Vital, yet unimportant. Maybe these words are plastered across the wall of a city, written in the corner of a street, to induce a contemplative moment of reflection
on part of those who think them and speak them. Shame is a revolutionary emotion, isn’t it? And it’s often felt with the curtains drawn. And this campaign by Shan, here removed from its larger context, exists to pull the curtain. And reveal to the oppressors the language they embody that dictates, represents, controls, defines the behavior of the oppressed. I must add here a caveat: it’s uncomfortable for me to continue to work within these binaries: of the oppressor and the oppressed. It seems awfully reductive to employ these two categories to express a complex and intricate reality that is supposed to be contained within this boundaries that does no justice to the variety of human existence our world is home to. This is not how it’s always been. There existed a time when the world was home to all: to one just like to the other.
And this bifurcarion of oppressor and the oppressed threatens to ossify humans as static categories doomed to exist in this false dichotomy.
However, to call a spade a spade, I resort to thinking in a duality that I hope against hope is dismantled for perpetuity. I hope we get to exist on an equal level playing field: not in binaries, but in multitudes.
Where an oppressed is freed from the oppression of the oppressor; where Me is We; where you are no better than anyone else and no one is any better than you. Where the lines of a city’s past represent the whole picture and not just some parts of it. Where each line has a presence, a presence that does not exist at the expense and erasure of other presences.
some of these lines have become weary – the hand that contains them attempts to draw all over them with other lines: lines drawn arbitrarily with a potent dark ink cracks in which belie their supposed permanence; lines that exist with a powerful presence to direct some clusters of lines to grow and move in a certain way, extend in a particular direction, move in a specific manner. the city bears witness to the past all of its lines carry; it charts a history of them. But some lines take up more space than other lines do. all lines are considered to be equally drawn, however, some upon closer inspection appear to be more equally drawn than the others. these equal but more equal lines begin to carry weight; they gather more presence by acquiring power through a repetition of their imprints on the hand – a solidification of their ink on its landscape due to fierce and enduring reapplications of their power on the hand that contains them. they come to signify the written past on a city’s hand as the word that becomes History, and in that pursuit, these lines fight to deprive the other lines of Theirstory. the other lines are pushed to the peripheries of the hand; they are dulled into a passive existence on the hand. these Other lines seek to alter the shape of lines pressed firmly on the hand that contains them and sustains them, push through them, resist their strong grip on the Hand that contains them, join Them in communion, share with them a sense of harmony: of parts becoming whole – each line adding an indispensable feature to the grand design of the hand that contains them. the equalbut less equal lines are no ordinary lines though. have no doubt about their exceptional tenacity to remain afoot on the textures of the hand. attempts have been made to erase them, to diminish their imprint on the city’s hand, to dampen their presence in the city, to taint them with horrific violence, to exclude them from certain territories of the hand – to forbid them from venturing out of the hand, to restrict them to the inner domain of it, to deprive them of their power to grow out of the hand and continue further and further on till they change the arrangement of the lines dismantle the hierarchies of immeasurable lines printed in a pattern that situates some above and some below and gives no acceptable explanation for this grand injustice. These equal but less equal lines are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the hand lives on to have lines scattered across it that inhabit the hand however they deem fit – that they expand the hand to hold lines of each size, shape, color, form, texture, or no lines at all, just a Hand that holds the space for the lines to be anything the lines would want to be – the lines can turn into circles become hexagons that transition into triangles that break through the mold to become infinite. The city’s hand must tell the story of each line that it contains – must make the space for each line that it holds. The hand must be taken care of like the hand that is host to a multitude of imprints and impressions. The hand has on its surface the whole goddamn universe. Down below and up above and here and far and near and beyond. And the hand must bear witness to all of it.
On the first of March, I saw a woman in stone extending her hand in solidarity for the lines on a city’s hand that must challenge the ink that governs the city’s past to exist within it as recognised and visible entities. I saw the sculpted, chiselled beauty providing shelter to lines dulled into existence, lulled into submission, so they can grow louder in their response to the patriarchy’s question on the wall:
“Tum karti hee kya ho?”
Look at it right in the eyes, peer through its soul, turn it twist it, stand tall in the face of it, speak back to it with complete conviction, and beseech the wall to answer:
“Main kya nahin karti?”
– Karachi, 1 March 2020