by Renee Lulam
At the gates of Nazareth Hospital traffic is gridlocked for a couple of hours three times a day. Nazareth Hospital is a huge concrete structure that sits on a hill off Arbuthnot Road. Outside, on the roadside, a row of vendors sell cigarettes, kwai, alu-chana, and fruits. Right there, where visiting cars bumper to bumper against emergency and paramedical vehicles vie for space on the street with the pedestrians wedged on either side.
On particularly bad days, over the din of blaring horns and shrill whistles, pedestrians swearing and cursing, you might hear a high tune in a reedy voice. Your eyes will follow your ears across the other side where fruits are sold alongside tobacco. She’s been sitting there forever, this vendor with the kwai stained smile and a twinkle wrapped in crow’s feet. In the summer months when monsoon sets in and the feet are wet and murky puddles in potholes overflow, you might wade across the traffic towards the song. The tune will continue as she sings to you how much you owe her for the soh-phlang, that white chalky root that tastes of nothing. That tastes of the earth.
Through the veil of rain, as you wait for the gridlock to unravel, you might hear her serenading a customer who will find the areca nut wedges of her kwai are sliced too thin. Her placations will amuse you. She can alter her tune into a whiplash in a moment, that one. Her mouth can turn into a beast if you rile her; the occasional fool has cowered and wilted under an onslaught that a sailor would wash his mouth with soap for.
A stroll to Laitumkhrah in Shillong’s unhurried afternoons of late November will find her huddled in a plaid tapmohkhlieh next to a tiny coal fire in a small tin can. You walk up to her because it’s been silent for so long and you miss her song. You buy an overpriced orange, maybe two. Her oranges are rarely sweet, but the song that might follow you as you walk away could be worth it.
Birth of a Narrative.
Nothing matches the fear induced by a blank page waiting to be filled. The terror of its expectation paralyses. Take a walk, read a book, watch a film, cook a meal and yet, come back and there it is. Ever faithful. Ever waiting. And because you must fill it, or it feels like something wasted, a moment missed – you impose on yourself a stillness, a thought—a still thought.
Somewhere something forms. It isn’t a line, or a dot. It is a little less, a little more. A squiggle? An idea?
A squiggle that becomes a line and grows into a word, a drawing, a note – all partake of the most sacred mysteries of the narrative tradition. The word made flesh.
In this ancient city of fame and fortune
Bazaar twilights beckon and call
To the luckless and loveless
Groping their way
From murky depths of silver spoons and blue blood
While poets look for reasons to forget
Have-beens cling to what they have known
And the wanna-be on every street
Searches for the market places
Women with gold on their bodies
And men with gold in their teeth
Barter a morsel for the million dreams
Sitting in the dust from a thousand ruined civilizations
This ancient city waits for another time.
For things as they used to be.
The crack fills with dust
That’s seen ancient suns set—
A new story is told.