For Saabi, this shehr was metamorphosing faster than she had thought it would. Though the city changed every time within the span of a refreshed newsfeed, yet this felt very different. A tufaan had traversed from a territory of nafrat and decided to settle in the heart of this place populated by glass buildings and roundtables which looked down at forgotten monuments and withering mausoleums, leaving people like Saabi caught forever in a maelstrom of searching for their pehchaan.
Saabi looked outside the window, in intezaar. Her nafs no longer recognized this city so she waited for the city to come back to her, like the sea capers back to its shore by night. Wasn’t it funny how the qudrat of this place was still the same? You could still get glittery fingers by touching the galaxy of streetlights or have sooty hands when dipped inside the black holes of slums.
A shamiana of loneliness eclipsed her sky. At first, she had assumed that this would last for a few months, and things will again be shrouded with normalcy but seclusion like this bore the strength of growing over time, and in the process coupled itself with a weird, queasy feeling in her stomach as the days passed by.
How could she have told her taqleef to anyone? She did not understand the language the shehr now communicated in, rendering her confused and disoriented. Saabi was inept to talk, inept to understand, inept to be a part of her shehr.
She usually woke up when the asmaan tastes afternoon. She would clench her aching bowel tight to prevent the pain from bursting it, splattering the walls with blood. As the shehr swam into an unfathomable mustaqbil, its gills were being choked, making it difficult for Saabi to breathe. So the only way to keep herself healthy in time was to lose a part of her to the previous night. With the city being isolated from its present, she was being isolated from hers too. And that was how both of them were changing. That was particularly how both of them were surviving – giving away their happiness to the past.
They want to sanitize our tongues, she reminded herself. They had come with flags and lampblack siyaahi, splashing it at anyone on their way whose zubaan blasphemed a color that belonged to an early orange sunrise. Except, this was ghuroob-e-aftab.
“Saabi, leave this lunacy. I don’t ask you to forget your zubaan. Just don’t talk in it,” her mother had suggested that day.
“This thing,” she pointed her tongue, with hands trembling, “This thing is not as kaaghazi to melt in their methane rain.”
Those people with flags and siyaahi made a chaotic night seep down on her face with the siyaahi, and threatened to anesthetize and operate on her tongue if she refused to throw it away. Saabi’s eyes burnt as the chemical stung them, and in that violation, she knew that no part of her body was bazaaru without her permission.
The zubaan is a part of her rooh. Don’t they realize that the rooh of the shehr is not different from the rooh of its dwellers, its muqeem? People talk a city when they utter a lafz. The muqeem is only a thousand anthropomorphic words, dwelling inside cramped houses.
Saabi squeezed her stomach tight, and reckoned that her nails would leave thin crescent moons on her stomach’s sky. She breathed the pollution along with the air to swallow the storm which was raging to make an exit when she would puke. The city rippled and contracted into a droplet. This would be the end, if she is correct. She wouldn’t know what the end of this city will look like. Saabi’s face was red, like a ruby.
She rushed to the bathroom, and bent over to the toilet seat, wreathing in pain like a thin line of smoke talking to mild breeze. She was in a conflicted territory of letting go and holding on.
Her body was light now. She opened her eyes. There was a thick carbon blob of black floating on water. The shivering inside grew. She rushed to window for the nazaara, and her nazrein could not believe what they saw…
On May 19, 2017, two graffiti artists were threatened by an extremist group in Delhi for writing in Urdu, one of the four official languages of the city apart from Hindi, English, and Punjabi. This story is about the threat to the identity of Delhiites when Urdu will cease to exist.
asmaan – sky, firmament
bazaaru – commodity
ghuroob-e-aftab – sunset
intezaar – wait
kaaghazi – literally, made from paper; could also refer to fakeness
lafz – syllable
muqeem – dwellers
mustaqbil – future
nafrat – hatred
nafs – vein(s)
nazaara – view
nazrein – what the eye can see, perspective
pehchaan – identity
qudrat – nature
rooh – soul
shamiana – ceremonial tent shelter
shehr – city
siyaahi – ink
taqleef – problem (could be mental, physical or psychological)
tufaan – storm
zubaan – tongue; mother tongue; or can broadly refer to language
Image courtesy: Chitra Rawat