Shiva dancing the Tandava, the dance of creation and destruction.
In the small towns of the desert, children make houses of sand in the evening. Before going home, they smash those houses of sand with their feet and say, “I created, I destroyed.”
From Holbein’s 1526 Danse Macabre series. The Noblewoman.
In the last rites of most Hindu people, a close family member of the deceased has to take a bamboo stave and break the skull of the dead body already burning in the funeral pyre. It is called Kapala Kriya. What burns before you is nothing but body and so you must destroy it with your own hands.
Plague doctor mask.
At the end of puja, the worshipped idols made of clay (that took months to be sculpted) must be immersed into water. They must dissolve into nothing.
There are no graves, no epigraphs, no cemeteries to be visited years after the death. The dead cannot take space from the living. The dead must be forgotten.
The gods’ task doesn’t end with creation alone. What gods created, gods must destroy.
Even the ashes of the burnt body cannot be kept in urns. They, too, must be immersed into water. Your bones will not be found centuries later.
In my last love letter to this mortal world, I will write, “Break my skull, my love, and light a cheap cigarette from the smouldering ashes of my pyre.”
Viva La Vida / Frida Kahlo’s last painting
I dreamt about my grandmother. She died 12 years ago and I woke up in tears. I dreamt about her. I dreamt about the old woman I’d met in a Bristol hostel who didn’t want me to go out in the cold. She served me a dinner of three tomatoes, two toasts, and cheese. I thought about the old man who always had rock candies in his pocket for me. I dreamt about the chopped mulberry tree. I cried for the stray dog I used to call John and leave bread out for. One day he disappeared. I dreamt about my parents’ friend who died of a heart attack, with whom I’d shared a plate of roasted chicken just a few months before while singing loudly.
I still remember the time before the pandemic. I will remember the time after. I am alone, my love, I am alone in the corner weeping for the ones no one is weeping for anymore.
Why does my heart turn bitter like Campari?
‘mīr’ amdan bhī koī martā hai
jaan hai to jahān hai pyāre’
We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?
I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.
I’m like a painter whom a mocking God
Condemns to paint, alas! upon darkness;
Where, a cook with a woeful appetite,
I boil and I eat my own heart;
We are falling like pieces of domino. We are being buried in mass graves. Our immune systems are killing us instead of them. We cannot breathe. The earth that we thought we had conquered is closed off to us. Tigers are laughing. Fish are dancing in circles. Roses are more fragrant this spring. Sun ripened grapes are juicier this month, the deadliest of the pandemic. This good news has reached even the honeybees who are planning a wine party tonight. Mosquitoes are doing the cha-cha-cha. Wolves are urinating on our burning pyres. Deer and panthers have congregated on the outskirts to see the magnificent spectacle. Marie Antoinette’s severed head is rolling on the streets. We are the earth’s aristocracy. We must be shown our place.
Red roses and hyacinths are in bloom. There is a cool breeze on this sunny day. I am cooking chicken with preserved lemon and olives. Lola is dancing Salsa and Cha Cha Cha out in the garden. There is a black and white photograph of my grandmother on the wall. The sea is not far. We will go swimming soon. My son has brought a pelican from somewhere in the wild. There is a party tonight and I don’t have enough wine. The phone rings. Government has issued a ban on private vehicles. There will be a curfew from Wednesday. I hang up. There is a black and white photograph of my grandmother on the wall. I am cooking chicken with preserved lemons and canned tomatoes. Three roses and four mandarins on the balcony. I touch them, then sanitize my hands. The scent of Dettol fills the room. We will soon go swimming in bleach.
I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my thirty year old body and I saw 2 million deaths and 20 million infected bodies. I saw the body of a baby goat float on the Sundarbans Delta. I saw a crow eating the body of a cow floating on the Ganges. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a helpless horse standing beside a dead white horse on Esplanade. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a dream I was six years old picking flowers. I saw a man feeding pigeons in front of a homeless man. I saw a tiger drinking water. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a woman collapse on the streets of Paris. I saw my face in the mirror. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my locked door. I saw government advisories. I saw the quarantine stamp on a woman’s wrist. I saw a bottle of Polish vodka. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw the Spanish Flu. I saw the man I love fall in love with another woman. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw myself fall. I saw my unborn child. I saw Hiroshima. I saw a dream that I was six years old again. I saw my hand write. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw Vermeer. I saw myself. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a sheep chew thorns.
When our infected unloved bodies collapse on an empty street in a deserted part of the world, we will laugh like Zorba laughed at the collapse of the mine. Swans will roam the canals of Venice, gold fish will appear in the Thar desert, flamingos will walk the pink streets of Jaipur. We will see men we loved buried underground with their wives, we will say goodbye in unknown tongues to children we will never have, we will burn our parents’ bodies in hazmat suits. We will not live long enough to pluck even the unripe mangoes. We will dance in the empty Louvre on a Cuban song till the police come to pick our corpses. We will kiss Mona Lisa on the mouth.