Brief escape from time
Every month, Mysticeti features a visual or sonic prompt and invites readers to share words inspired by it.
In December 2021, we wrote expressions about experiencing mysticism and liberation, inspired by this painting by Maira Bose ~
I SAW THE SEA AND BURIED IT WITH A WAVE by Aditi Sundan
For Aditi, the painting evoked an atmosphere of horror and beauty, which she relives in a recollection of an incident from her childhood. Through her use of poetic prose she hopes to blur the boundaries between the past and the present for her readers and lead them to stand in her place, facing the ocean.
I have lived on land my whole life, the mountains rather, deserted from the sandy shores of infinite beaches. I believed that any encounters I had with the sea were from an early childhood, existing only in second-hand memories handed down to me over and over until they were imprinted onto my brain. The imprint, as if a scene from a film, no subjectivity of my own, no emotional record of incidence, apart from a nostalgia that seemed appropriate but impersonal. Sometime during my second year of college, a buried memory came rushing back to me and broke through the continuity of what I had come to think of as my own memories.
It was during a class on Romanticism, where our Professor attempted to explain to us what the idea of sublime meant. I understood it as the depth of beauty and terror, the horror and might of what nature could be, and whatever could make you feel the same way. Overwhelming. Awe-inspiring. My professor might disagree with the lesson, but I believe, I understood it. A mountain-child, my mind turned the way of the grave and reproachful mountains back and beyond my home in the Himalayan foothills. It was a slight reflex to think of the ocean, a voice in the back of my head that insisted it could contribute. I turned around to face a dark ocean, under the gathering clouds on a bright night. A memory of awe, a hint of terror.
The forgotten dark sand beaches of Daman came rushing back to me, a brief holiday tucked in between a longer trip across the region, so solitary, so unlike the handed-down memories of Bombay and Goa beaches with their festivities and crowds of people. This slice of an almost empty beach, almost as if behind a glass window, on arrival had seemed so far away, so strange, to my early-adolescent self. Every few hours, I moved closer to it, until the evening, paying little heed to the warnings of the people behind me about how the sea was alive, a creature, almost, in itself: that it sneaks up on you when you turn your back to it and as the night falls. I sat on a rock a little far from where the waves were caressing the sand. Vaguely, the memories of a salty sea breeze and engulfing, warning, darkness make their way back to me. Vividly, my gaze fixated on the horizon, the impossibility of it, and the possibilities of this endlessness. I remember that when I got off the rock, I landed knee-deep into the water. Startled, I looked to the sea once again. The word unforgiving comes to mind. Ruthless. And the stirrings of desire. To be engulfed by the darkness, throw caution to the wind, and be submerged in the all-encompassing nothingness, there, at the horizon. Immediate retreat. Fear at this magnetism that pulls me to this restlessness, at the possibility of my own willingness.
I watch the sea rise, as the horror and draw of the glistening night climb onto one another, swelling with new anxiety in my chest. I am frozen in place, the wetness of the sea climbing further, the breeze, sharp against the receding warmth of my lungs. I imagine the cries of the land dwellers, calling out to me as the sea comes for me. As it surges ahead, I let the sea take me in its forbidden embrace. The memory of a wave. I am knocked off my feet; the spell is broken. The noise and swirls of white remind me that I’ve been gone a while. My sense of time escapes me, and I rush back, wondering if it is midnight and if a search and rescue party is off looking for me. Anticipating my parents’ anger and claims of worry, I walk into the hotel lobby and catch sight of them sitting down for dinner. I walk in, eyes darting towards the clock in the dining room. “Oh good! Where were you? And what do you want for dinner?” my mother asks, half looking at the menu. The clock strikes: 10pm. I lean over the table in an attempt to keep my semi-drenched clothes out of sight, “Just looking around.”
AN ANNUAL AFFAIR by Sristi Suman Ray
Late one night towards the dying end of November, we took all his things to throw into the ocean as a part of the ritual. We had been doing this for five years, every year since my grandfather died. During the ritual, a photograph of my grandfather is kept at the very front. This is a 6x4 inch black and white bust-shot in which he is wearing a white shirt and his usual black tie. I have never witnessed the end of this ritual and have always wondered what they do with his picture. Do they throw it out and frame a new one every year? To me, this seemed like a strange experience - an errand that is most singular, profoundly meaningful, and yet pretty pathetic. Or maybe they keep the picture? If they keep it, then where does it stay? Do they keep it in their temple next to the other and lesser important gods (because I have never noticed his picture in the main part of the temple)? Do they keep it somewhere else – safe and hidden with a sense of sanctity? If so, do they keep it face down or up? Exactly how do they place him in their psyche - is he a loss that is so revered that his picture is kept face down? Or is he a somewhat sublime loss, and therefore beautiful, and part of the thread that has kept the family together?
We fill ourselves into my uncle’s car, sometimes two of us sit in the front, and we drive along the short stretch of road to the beach. It is a beautiful road, with small government offices and houses designed in the typical colonial style which still survives in some parts. The vegetation is tropical, and as we get closer to the ocean we see saltbush and sea oats summoning the sand. On a particularly humid day like today, we can smell the salt in the air, saturated and crustacean. As we drive further along the length of the beach the crematorium comes into sight - its humble spire sticking out from the top of smoke and ash-dust.
“They’ve installed electric burners now,” says my mother. My mother loves to talk about things in the news with certain people.
“Electric?” asked Tikidei, our housekeeper. “How do they burn bodies with electricity?”
“Oh, it’s like a burner - there’s fire, you see…” my mother is impatient - she usually likes to discuss the matter instead of falling into the depths of definition.
“Yes, I heard. One of our neighbours,” my aunt begins to say, then turns to my other aunt and adds, “this man, you remember who drove you to what’s that place called…”
I was thinking about the crematorium and what it must be like. Women and kids are usually not allowed to attend the last rites there. I have always imagined it to be a place without electricity – with the only light coming from the burning pyres, maybe three or five at a time. They said bodies burned one on top of the other during the pandemic. I could not imagine how electric burners, or whatever they are, fit into the absurd, rather ridiculous drama of death and everything elaborate that comes after.
“I’m glad they’ve brought in those burners,” my mother said, her face resembling the pale colour of a lonely sky. I think she was talking about adapting our manner of suffering, as much as we adapt our manner of joy. You see, joy has not been amplified by our advancement as a species and neither has suffering become less solemn.
We drive past the crematorium and stop at a quiet stretch of the beach. A few fishermen are making their return to the shore, pulling their fishing boats behind them through the sand. They leave behind marks that look like french fries. In the distance, the moon looks weak, and against its light, a few shops are selling real and fake sea shells - their keepers are smoking bidis while watching the late-night news on YouTube.
After parking the car, we start walking towards the ocean, making our way through the sand just like circles of onion move in a bowl full of thick batter. Once we are knee-deep in water, they give me the bag full of things.
“Throw it far and throw it with all your strength. Wait - wait for the moment the waves begin to return. Wait for a big one. It will go away as mightily as it comes,” said my uncle, bobbling my little cousin in his arms. To me, the waves seemed to be coming and going in a simultaneous rhythm. At the far end, close to the horizon some big ones were breaking upon the chest of the sea. And close by, some tiny ones were making small leaps, back and forth then forth and back. What is the motion? I thought to myself - how do I decide what the ocean is doing at any given point in time? Tumultuous waters. When I was younger, my father used to tell me something about the waves and how they were created by the moon. What was in front of me was not as easy as that theory. When must I throw? I have the strength, but is it enough to counter all other variables? Will the bag go away forever as we want (need) it to?
“Here, give it to me,” Tikidie said. She took the bag from me and launched it in the air. It went high. And far. The women laughed. There was a sense of secured finality in the act.
“Here. It is all coming back,” my uncle said pointing to the sand a few meters away.
A dozen broken pieces of coconut, charred, were pushed by tiny waves onto the sand. A few spots of magenta and yellow were floating on the crests of the approaching waves.
“The flowers. The ocean won’t take anything; it will give everything back,” my uncle said.
Nobody said anything. We stood there, watching the waves give us back our things, piece by piece. Something about it was devastating. I looked at my cousin, she was clicking pictures of the horizon.
“There’s a boat coming,” she said. The faint glimmer of synthetic sails was visible under the moon. She clicked a beautiful picture.
“Can you see the bag?” she asked, zooming into the picture. I was curious. There it was – the black bag, with newspapers and other things.
“Check if you can see the ash too,” my uncle said. My aunt laughed.
On our way back we bought a big tub of ice cream with jellies, nuts, brownie bits and syrup. The memory of that day is like a word cloud in my head. Some words appear bigger among the innumerable smaller ones.
The way back was short like the sting of a caterpillar. The next day, we woke up in his house – there was no sign left of what we had done, our strangely destined relationships to each other, or of our collective losses. Same time next year, we would be here again – grown and changed, maybe with the same old jokes. We would be there again, trying to throw the bag of remains, playing our little game with the ocean.
PERFORMING OBSERVERS by Vanshika Randev
On the port, we stand, facing the sea.
Watching, as ghost ships cross,
barely and briefly missing each other.
Watching, as the lighthouse guides them homeward,
rays reflecting, glimmering against the waves.
Watching unsuspecting men pass on rowboats,
so sure, they’d bypass the storm,
caught by surprise and swift, cruel urgency.
Watching, as shades of blue merge into each other.
As parts of ourselves part to give way for change,
splitting down the middle, parting at the seams.
Every song, story and dream,
crashing then collapsing, striking cliffs and the shore.
Old instincts, reflexes, habits making themselves known,
every now and again. Laying forgotten, dormant.
All a phantom blue. Lingering, demanding to be seen.
Moving towards the shore, sprawling against the sand,
only to be pulled back out, fading right past.
The grip over reality, only transitionary.
Watching waves sink and settle,
a constant, ever-evolving rhythm and hum.
White against blue against the dark undercurrents,
ripples cascading and building, thoughts replenishing.
An everlasting ebb and flow, an instrument of calm and chaos,
knowing this is how the story goes.
A powerful, resounding crescendo, colliding into itself.
Making more of whatever it was.
The crashing of the waves; the greatest of performances.
Demanding constant applause.
A quiet song, carried into the night.
And we watch. Knowing we constantly head seaward.
Watching, as it all fades to black.
MYSTICETI AND FRIENDS:
Maira is a multidisciplinary designer and visual artist. She derives her inspiration from art movements, cultural practices, rock n’ roll and nature.
Aditi is a writer and aspiring researcher based in New Delhi. She regularly boasts about the views of the Pir Panjal mountain range from the roof of her house in Jammu.
Sristi likes to learn a little bit about everything under the sun. She did her studies in English from Ambedkar University and currently works with Teach for India.
Vanshika is a 22-year-old writer based in New Delhi. She currently works as a Junior Editor.