- Children are the nameless landmarks of the war. Now, they are wearing bracelets on their little hands – so that they can be identified once they are bombed to death.
There is a nip in the air. In this festive time, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, let the music float.
Her daughter said that she is “a ray of light” for the family. Almost 80, frail and strong at the same time, she held the outstretched hand of the masked and armed Hamas guerrilla, and said, “Shalom.”
They treated her roughly in the beginning, kidnapping her on a bike, but, once in their own twilight zone, in the maze of endless tunnels which she found like a cobweb, they were gentle. Her husband has not been released. Both of them would earlier take injured people from Gaza into Israeli territory for treatment. They are humanists. As she spoke in Hebrew, she blamed the Israeli government for its abject failure.
A lovely little Palestinian girl. A ray of light for her family and community in Gaza. Beautiful –like lucid, winter sunshine. Killed in the mindless, revengeful, murderous Israeli airstrikes on civilians. Of the more than 6,000 dead here, there are reportedly 2,000 children.
Children always die in wars. Children have no clue about the war. Children are the nameless landmarks of the war. Now, they are wearing bracelets on their little hands – so that they can be identified once they are bombed to death!
How do you celebrate the festive season, the sublime recitations of ‘Mahalaya’ as Durga arrives, the ‘anjali’ and prayers in the mornings, and the heady ‘aarti-dance’ with drums and ‘ghanta’ in the evenings, as homage to the goddess, who has arrived for a brief visit to earth, while kids wearing bracelets are being murdered in cold blood?
Their children. Our children. Children unborn, in incubators, in dark hospitals without medicine, food, drinking water, electricity. Nameless children in their imagined homelands.
There is a tall tree with bushy white flowers that only blossom in the night these days. Nocturnal flowers with their hypnotic, seductive, ethereal fragrance. They arrive too for a brief visit just before the winter arrives. Like those fleshy, leafy flowers, burning orange and red, Palash, which turns the world into a canvas of passion just before Holi. Adivasis make colors out of these flowers. They come and go, like children, spreading the beauty of their unashamed beauty and innocence. So, where have all the flowers gone?
What is it about adults that they love wars and bloodshed so much? What is it with the West and the mighty State of Israel that they can occupy and capture land that does not belong to them, turn Gaza into the biggest open-air prison, shoot to death unarmed protesters, become ‘First World’ settlers after pushing the Palestinians out of their own homes, and then beat the hell out of them when they go for prayers in their most revered mosque?
As Durga comes and goes, immersed in the waters, the festive season arrives in a small village in the hills of Uttarakhand with a puppet show of a billion stars in the night sky. Across the expanse in the cold night, the sky unfolded in the distance into the valley, as if a tide in a moonlit night-sea was floating in the distance. You could almost hear it moving to and fro. But, no, it is not the sea; it is a mountain stream, gurgling away, rippling into stones and melting them, etherized and tangible at the same time, singing the song of the road – Pather Panchali.
You can let the water slip by, mesmerized by its infinite flow from the deep insides of the mountains; you can hold the water in your palm and drink it slowly, as it heals the inside of the soul with a cool, soothing touch. “I touch you, and you ripple like a river,” wrote Pablo Neruda.
There are four dogs and two little girls. They are asking the dogs to shake hands. They refuse to shake hands. Instead, the dogs give unconditional love and affection. Kids love animals, they belong to nature, all kids, in the kibbutz, in the hills, in Gaza and the West Bank, on the mean streets, barefoot, unwashed and emaciated, inside school buses looking at the world outside with infinite wonder, flying kites and playing marbles, looking for unknown planets and stars in the night. A mother tells her daughter, “Some of the stars in this midnight mountain sky are long dead. You are lucky to see them tonight!”
A little girl is drawing stars with colorful chalk on a black stone. Purple stars. Vermillion stars. Black and white stars. Twinkle, twinkle little star… how I wonder what you are!
Sometimes, her stars move out of the stone and fly into the sky and become butterflies. They say butterflies are free. Are they, in Gaza? So what are the butterflies doing in the rubble, along with the kids wearing bracelets?
In the hills, the wind moves in slow motion, and there is no festivity. Darkness descends suddenly like a premonition, and there is one lonely light in the distance. People are toiling hard on the fields during the sunshine day, growing vegetables, running an ‘aata chakki’ with the rapid current of a waterfall, trekking long distances home from the nearest town, because, as is the norm in most rural and inaccessible areas in India, there is no public transport. The government cares a damn.
No one is wearing new clothes, there are no loudspeakers blaring religious songs, no feasts being cooked, no mantras being chanted. On the day they feed little girls, a mother made puri, halwa and chana, as simple as it can get.
Inside an old trunk, there are old clothes, rajais, sweaters, that ancient coat with two buttons missing, the warm socks no one wears. A sweet smell of naphthalene permeates the corridors of as the trunk is reopened after a long time. There is a diary with a leaf and a rose petal. Inside the diary, there is a letter written in long hand, with a fountain pen, the ink smudged on the sides. You can still touch the ink, and the paper has yet again returned to its embryo, becoming bark and wood, still holding that familiar, fleeting smell, like the hidden memory of unrequited love.
Festivals are like catharsis in this unfinished journey of life. It’s in the air, like that heady smell of the nocturnal flowers. It’s a way of life, a cultural symbolism, life-affirming amidst the seasons of dying and death. A synthesis of hope and despair. Helping us once again — to whistle in the dark.
Open the windows of your heart. Let the stars fly away from the stones and become butterflies, like little beautiful mountain kids. Write a poem scrawled on the cool north wind. Rejoice that you are alive. Whisper a song to yourself. Touch the rippling waters of a mountain spring. Follow the unfinished sentence, the stream of consciousness. Take the water in your palm and drink it slowly. Like dew drops. Like nostalgia. Like love.
In this festival of lights this year, good has not won over evil. Evil celebrates its obsessive barbarism as if possessed. In the poorest house in the Hindi heartland, a ‘diya’ is twinkling, like the north star. In Gaza, and in the Israeli kibbutz, there are funerals and shared sorrow. The olive trees have turned into dust. And butterflies are not free. They never were!
This story was first published on lokmarg.com and republished here with permission.
Amit Sengupta is a journalist and teacher based in Delhi.