mythology

The dragon’s tail

When Freya was little, her mother was always upset because she knew she would not get to be a part of her future. Not because of any physical ailment, but simply because she knew she would try and she would not be allowed to do so. Like swimming an up-tide.

Of her marriage, her mother could not even picture her own drawing room. It was her aunt’s. An opening hallway. Some guests passing around turmeric-colored rice. Rhythmic plate music. An audience of irregular desert dunes sitting at every piece of flat surface they could find. And whenever she saw herself in this place of future, her sadness was rather pictorial—her mouth turned in an upside-down U, at the sheer in-credulousness of strangeness of her daughter. Of people suddenly deciding to wear their clothes the other way around one day; as if Freya came out of some communal womb, up from the discolored sky. Do babies just fall after all?

She thinks about the word ‘daughter’ that the world created for her mouth to take up. She had not even remotely contributed to its invention. A daughter, because the world says so. But if the world gave it to her, the world can take it back too.

Freya married a painter anyway, in a place with mules circling around the leaking smell of the City trying to push in. Freya’s mother was upset. But then, she was already upset before.

It was as if the mother lived in a non-linear sad-time. Of knowing. Then, living. Of introspecting whether her knowing caused the living. And at last, if it was worth an ounce to give a shit about Freya at all.

She could have gone to business school.

*

In November, it snowed with a smell of woolen hats, florescent lights and falling men.

Trekkahum was a village of smiling eyes. Every second week of November, they stood at the other side of bridge (or whatever was left of it after the yearly slaps of winter-storms), cheering in their brown-velvet clothes and caps. It was a work of art—the whole view around the village—making me wish I was a painter rather than a writer. But here I am your writer in any case, and at the other side of the bridge stood a row of old men with some very rigid shoulder lines. Their silhouettes were dark against the white of snowy winds that blushed white at the normal symmetry of landscapes. It was as if someone had chafed the bridge with the lick of their wet thumb like rainy skies do to the autumn moon. 

Those who stood at the left, their dark contours roughly overlapped upon the distant village-night, in a much more humane bloom. A faint remote planet, it was as I f night was a phenomenon created by spaces between the people. A domestic darkness where snow is ceremoniously cleaned off. But that was the village. Where it was not, an ominous silent stood at the other side of the bridge. It was inconsiderate of human divisions of both night and day, hour or seconds. If you could be here–where I stand, you would have believed  me. The wind was louder than a village full of people.

They fought in the war. Old men of the ‘November Ceremony’ (termed thus for you and me because translations are often appalling) But none of them really understood what it meant. But then, did they knew what war itself meant? Ah, I cannot possibly answer that.  As far as they care, it is the general’s command. A school rhyme.

‘Old men cross the bridge/ Old men cross the bridge when the winter is nigh.’

The bridge was not rickety, as most people are force-fed to imagine. It was a long rock solid boulder. Cement. Originally a pathway for a pipeline. The snow reigned it now. Little hills of snow dunes conspiring to push away the bag of flours that men had lain to let this ceremony pass without any death. Under it, a raging height. Most people think of the heights as empty. Stagnant. But the air at heights have veins, they pop like an athlete’s leg. Each man who stepped on the bridge, stepped on the wind too. It had its cheeks full of ice. Fingers crick. Eyes bat.

And so the men cross.

Cheered by a crowd of people that sounded like a blown-away candle against the magnanimity of mountains that towered above their village.

And so the men cross.

A Ritual.  

After gulping down sips of some rice-wine, they joke. They joke about each other’s death. Cracked skull. Funny shaped limbs. Blood on ice. Winter crackling upon their bald heads. And when some of them do die, they drink some more and wait for the next November to come.

A Gamble.

*

May. Trekkahum. Freya and her painter. It had to be May; Painters color well in a writer’s writing in the summer season.

They sit under the dark cavern. It’s ugly as if full of blisters and bird-shit. Yet ‘they’ wouldn’t be the right term to use. They are divided at the moment. She sings at the opening of the cave like an ancient bird. He sits right in front of her, cross-legged, with his papers and paints hungry for the slanting rays of the giant sun that almost burns his hand. Naturally, he is employing more reds today.

She loves the smell of the damp. She thinks it gives her the tangy-ness of an acoustic song, much more than the bubble-like stomach of the cave that cannot taste her music as she does. It is so very dark, she muses…it could be anything. A wolf’s eye. Endless dark fur of a giant black bear. A star in its deathbed. The viper’s widening jaw. Time.

She senses some movement. She stares and stares. The painter looks up and is irritated by all the staring. He goes back to his work, his hands should not cease.

A man in a grey suit and a woolen fedora hat comes out of the dark of the cave as if it is the most normal thing in the world.

He has a crooked smile. He pays no attention to the painter and sits near the girl. The painter hates his presence but he keeps sitting nonetheless, like a little child who does not know what to do when his mother stops near the billing counter to converse with her neighborhood friend. He puts on his disinterested demeanor and continues to toy with his paints.

The fedora hat man claims to be a magician.Freya is charmed like a little red-cheeked girl. He praises her music and gives her a coin. It is not a roadside-tip. The coin is magnificently worked upon. The painter looks up. It is silver. Moon. It also looks like a dragon that is trying to eat his own tail. The painter had never seen something like this ever before. And he was certain, what he saw, only he could see.

For days, the painter tries to copy this design; he is so obsessed with it. His hands are rummaged with all the stress. His fingers don’t bend well anymore. And one final day it starts, the dragon starts appearing all over the village. Every hut. Under a tree’s rolling chin. In the moon. In the sky. It is beautiful but it is not what the Fedora hat man showed her. The villagers do not like it. But he keeps painting it. He has abandoned all the mountains. The bridge. The falling men. Her eyes. Everything but the fedora hat man’s design.

Somewhere in the mind of some reader appears the caricature of poor Sisyphus. Is it me? Is it you?

And they say, every day he sits in the black-blistered cave and paint one dragon on each blister of this dark space. If you happen to pass by Trekkahum, you will find him closer to the original than I did. He is turning blind but it is no harm because colors come like instinct to him now. His hands move on their own accord. But even still, he cannot perfect the original. And I suspect he already knows that.

A dragon eating his own tail.

*

 

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After Chase

Selene by Mela Muller, 1910

What about the wishes that have a body of their own

Till they run under your sea-bed

Like wild hounds shooed away with the force of the hand,

Yet with the tread of fiction,

Sparks flying, what a relentless metaphor

For me to love you and name it in pitiful words

Of need

As if a nurse,

putting out dead men with the scent of her hair,

Called out for murder.

 

I put a face on you/ I fill you with my words

Lo, a mutt.

Of him, I made the sky/ of him, I made the earth.

 

A river I float,

I let him touch my eyes/ I let him droop to my waist.

 

And they made me the nun supreme of a dark little purgatory

With an uncertain hill-slope

‘Down I fell’, Alice murmured

Till I was both above and below

Lo, a mutt.

 

In the groves, Diana smiles at a shooting star

And traces it with her fingers.

Her body without an armour

                        Kali and her cosmic egg

Body without armour is an armour itself.

I have been thinking about it from a long time. Across time and space, in different languages of various literatures, folklore and legends—when a female sheds her armour, the society takes a bow. You might assume, I’ve been writing it all inspired by the Game of thrones episode. You’re right. Emilia Clarke did a great job in being a naked burning, Khaleesi. But Kannagi from Tamil Literature and Kali from Hindu folklore are already her predecessors.

It is also interesting to note that this naked woman, when she is accepted by the society, instantly transforms into a mother figure. The male gaze ceases. It cannot objectify its own mother. It cannot sexualize it. And yet, it is her sexuality that rages when she stands naked as if ‘She eats up men like thin air’ (Plath). Her body naked, hair open, her eyes wide open, and her legs strong. But why must she become so powerful?

I have had the privilege to study a lot of feminist literature this last semester. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t come back to me now. I can make several connections and perhaps draw conclusions from these examples as to understand why female nudity, a taboo and perversion of patriarchal society, can suddenly become a power symbol. I will dissect the very heterosexual intercourse, if I have to, for understanding this.

When a women sheds, she is horrible to some, goddess for others. She is usually angry when she steps out like that and are later tried to be contained by narratives within the patriarchal discourse, in order to make sense of the event. In Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi, Dopdi—a negated word for ‘Draupadi’, the wife of Pandavas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata—belongs to a lower caste and becomes associated with insurgency in North eastern India. However, she is caught by the Indian military and is in the process, repetitively raped by several men. In the morning, she is told to dress up and show up at the Chief’s tent. In a brave decision, she chooses to walk naked, ‘her blood matted upon her pubic hair’, becoming an unspeakable terror for the men around her. Laughing and slapping her thighs, she asks, ‘are you a man?’ for they could only unclothe her but not the other way around. Kali was Sati before she was Kali. For her husband, she mutilates her father’s party—if you like your mythology in simple happy terms—and literally danced the dance of death (Tandav) until her husband stopped her from destroying the whole wide earth because in Tandav, with each step, you bring forth apocalypse in the world. If you ignore bringing back the Kali into the patriarchal narrative, you’ll see, that her power is the most terrible of all the naked ladies. Her armour (if not clothes) is the collective set of mutilated body parts. Severed hands become her skirt and chopped off heads as her necklace. Yet we exclaim in awe, she is terribly beautiful. Her dance, her tongue, her hair black as the ravenous cloudy night, are also markers of sexuality that does not design itself upon the platform of male desire.

Kannagi comes from ancient Tamil literature and folklore. Like Kali, she is a goddess too, although she was born a human. As a human, Kannagi had a good share of injustice being done to her. Her husband cheats on her and has a kid with another women. Yet she has to leave with him, hoping for his loyalty when he finally decides to switch back to her. But most importantly when things finally start looking up, her husband gets executed on a false conspiracy. Bam—women have limits you know? So she rips off her breast and fire burns the city. Kings die, the empire collapses.

Danny from Game of Thrones, had two naked-power-lady scenes. The first is birth of dragons and the second is burning of several Dothraki men when they threatened to rape her or simply, decide upon her life. Immune to fire, she burns them down and emerges naked, the figure of awe. Her narrative as well is confirmed to the figure of mother.

To move away from mythology, Mario Vargos llosa’s Who killed Palomino Molero, the restaurant keeper’s wife challenges a harassing police officer into ‘raping’ her by undressing and making lewd gestures at him at the end of the novel, in an epic break from submissive-timid persona.

All these women place themselves outside normal structure when they do so. You might as well call them Unconscious personified. I’m not referring to Freud’s sharp division of rational and non-rational, rather, I would like you to read it as categorical (Super-ego) and non-categorical (Unconscious). When she steps out of society’s categories, she can manifest her sexuality beyond male gaze. Now as to why must men be afraid of it? The answer lies in heterosexual intercourse.

Heterosexual intercourse in a patriarchal society is phallocentric. ‘Penetration’, ‘Key’ ‘Digging’, such is the imagery implied in this line under which women are bound to be the object. However, this is inversed when she steps out of this structure. She is a horror show, a freak. Yet people bow to her in fear. This is because of her capability to invert society’s patriarchal taboos (Luce Irigaray actually argues that women do not have a properly developed Superegos in comparison to men who go through castration complexes) and instead of ‘penetrating space’, she becomes the ‘devourer’. Not to put it too poetically, but she is able to suck back men right from the space from where she put them out. Should it then, not turn men into infants, reminded by the astounding power of womb?

Ace.