My story ‘No Woman’s Land’ is part of Muse India Literary Magazine’s Fiction selection for Issue 86.
Hailing from the south, I have not been even remotely connected to the at times heart-wrenching, at times blood-curdling #partition experiences that I have read numerous accounts of. However, for some reason, it is a topic I keep revisiting in my mind. I remember, when my first children’s book got published and I was asked for an author bio, I had mentioned in it the following line:
With a belief that boundaries – physical or psychological – are for the faint-hearted, I’d rather be a global citizen with a boundless imagination.
This is something I truly believe in and hence, the very concept of regionalism, let alone any other ‘ism’ has never crept into my understanding of life. The idea that a mere length of barbed-wire can separate people and stop them from being human has always been hard to digest.
‘Why‘, I’ve often asked myself, ‘do I need permission to travel from one place on earth to the other when the earth belongs equally to all?‘
And so, while ‘No Woman’s Land’ is based on my interpretation of the trauma of partition, the larger idea that I am also trying to question is – Why Borders? The question is even more relevant today when governments of powerful countries want to build walls, decide frivolously on sensitive citizenship issues, make beggars out of immigrants and so on. Then again, the story for me is not only about the geographical border but much more.
What do you feel about this? Do read the story and share your thoughts.
The red effluent emptying into the sea through a pipeline is not a chemical; it is waste from a fish cutting factory a few hundred meters from the shore at Kadike beach, Udupi dist. If you want me to spell it out, it’s fish blood. And bits and pieces of fish too, I guess, my clue being the crazy number of eagles hovering around the point where the waste is flushed into the sea. Every now and then, they swoop down to pick up tiny pieces of cut fish that must’ve gotten flushed along with the blood.
After observing them for almost half an hour, I’ve decided that not only is this a case of poetic injustice, like I pointed out, but also one of rendering the eagles lazy, almost domesticating them! I stood for a few minutes exactly under the cover of eagles in the sky -they were flying pretty low and their white heads popping out of speckled coats looked awesome from below- but none was bothered by my presence; their eyes were all on what the pipe was spitting out.
The pic above is of one of the two pipes that connect the factory to the sea. Ambling along the beach, when I first spotted the red effluent though, it wasn’t gushing out of this pipe but what seemed to be a cloth embedded into the sand a few feet into the sea (see pic below). My detective senses went on an overdrive and I imagined all sorts of things… especially given the fact that there was news just the previous day of mutilated parts of a lady’s body having been found in Mangalore, not far from where I was.
‘Could this be someone’s mutilated body part?’
I shuddered at the thought.
A closer look revealed that my imagination was indeed fertile, thanks to the innumerable whodunits I watch on TV! The cloth was just a shoddy job at camouflage -it covered a pipeline that carried the effluent to the sea. I sighed in relief, but was soon angry at the mindless pollution being caused, no doubt by some chemical factory nearby. Seeing a local strolling along, I stopped him and asked him about the effluent.
That’s when I was told about the fish cutting factory.
My anger immediately dissolved into deep sadness at the irony of it all… imagine you are the ocean; how would you feel when the blood of your own children were drained back into your lap? Tears collected in my eyes as I looked at the waves lashing against the shore -a desperate ocean trying to collect every remaining bit of her children and pulling it into herself… back into the womb from which they’d all once emerged.
Yet, there is a counterpoint to it all. Yuval Noah Harari says in his book Sapiens that it was the Cognitive Revolution that made homo sapiens a successful species. I agree. The power of imagination did set us apart and it is that power that makes me imagine the sea to have a soul, to feel like I do, to react like I would. What if I did not imagine? What if the sea was merely lashing its waves ‘coz that’s what nature, as explained by science, makes it do? And the fish? Well, they do not have cognition; they might suffer physically as they gasp for breath and die, but they don’t grapple with concepts like ‘was my fish life purposeful‘. They just cease to exist.
And that brings me to the part where I realize how important a part language plays in our cognition. When I asked the local about the red effluent, his words were crude – fish cutting was the exact phrase he used. And it is his choice of words that has made me write this entire piece! What if he’d said fish processing? Sounds more mellow, more peaceful, more acceptable to the emotional bit of our brain, doesn’t it?
Note: What I’ve expressed above was typed onto the ‘notes’ app in my phone in one flow -from start to end. I haven’t edited it; it felt more authentic to present my thoughts in the exact same sequence they occurred to me as I walked along the beach… all in the space of fifteen minutes!