Outpost is Red Hot, light and dark and above all beautiful

Outpost is Red Hot, light and dark and above all beautiful

29 January 2015

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Yesterday I was at the opening of Outpost. Knowing my friend Samar Jodha and the fact that he had been working on this display for a while, I was expecting something significant and was not left unsatisfied.

 

Jodha is not the usual artist whose artworks would just be an ornament on a gallery’s walls. His work, whatever form it takes, is meant to induce thought, a sense of responsibility and social awareness and at the same time inspire and elevate with its embedded display of how beauty can originate from and perfuse all things living or dead.

 

Walking into the Gallery’s outer space, you are greeted by an open flame flickering, a gateway between the necessity for some heat in the Delhi night’s biting cold and the sense of where the artwork came from, how it was born, a prelude of the show awaiting.

 

The ground floor where most of the artwork is displayed showcases the artwork like any other gallery would: you get to see on the whitewashed walls and under carefully chosen lighting these huge glistening in parts works of art in copper or brass with ink imprints and sometimes with the apparent line of welding which reminds one of the Japanese art of Kintsugi when the crack becomes part of the object’s history and not something to disguise. Although I looked around and found only beauty on the walls, I was somewhat disappointed because this was not exactly what I was expecting of the Jodha that I knew.

 

It is then that I was told there were other parts of the exhibition and so following the guidance of one of the gallery personnel, I walked upstairs. Starting from the stairs, light had grown scarcer and I walked up carefully into an open sky exhibition where other artworks stared at you from different angles. Here, gone were the whitewashed walls, the parts of the ceiling that still existed were bare with rods protruding and the artworks were immersed in a darker atmosphere with very few spots and the moon as the only sources of light. It all lay there, under the sky, and somehow this display got to you and you started thinking more about what the artworks were, how and from what they were created. It slowly pushed you into the concept that beauty sometimes had a darker side to it and that in the half-light lay the beginning of a key to understanding the artwork.

 

I came down the stairs my head full of thoughts for the origins of that beautiful artwork, of the lives of those workers who had once used those panels as a home for themselves and was guided to the basement. The personnel at the top of the basement gave me a torch mentioning I would need it and to watch my step and need it I did. You walked down a flight of stairs and now were totally immersed in the life of the workers as you were no longer walking down stairs but down a narrow corridor, into the darkness, representative of the mines. A lady beside me asked in a nervous voice “Is there somebody there or is it empty?” and I wondered what must have gone through the mind of the workers as they entered the dark mines day after day. Did they too want to be able to rely upon one another? Did they feel nervous the first times they entered their dark workplace?

 

Upon entering the basement, one could barely see the artworks which were no longer even in half-light. They somehow lurked in corners with a faint source of light indicating where they were and as you walked on, the distinct noise of water dropping caught your attention and there it was in your mind’s eye: the mine with its darkness and the earthy and moldy smell of it around you, the noise of the water dripping above your head. The panels hung loosely in the room and with your torch, you were able to see more of what seemed initially small jutting pieces of copper alit and discover artworks that differed in shape from the ones above. It seemed like these works with their jagged edges and stronger linings that seemed like spines hanging wanted to speak more of the true lives of those who had once used these containers as a house. I was all at once elated and sobered by this glimpse into the harsh reality that lies beyond beauty and thought Jodha, my friend, you have done it again.

 

When I ponder upon the panels, I have to say that each corner of them seemed so different and so lovely and yet the artwork as a whole was beautifully harmonious with no part of it clashing with the other. It was such that I had had to take pictures of the whole artwork and at the same time of several parts of it and the more I did that, the more I had the sense that this artwork could be admired in every corner and each part of it would have a whole different outlook when examined in isolation.

 

So for those of you who are in Delhi, do go and see the artworks at Apeejay arts but see them if you can by night rather than by day because I sense that by daytime, the experience would be different although the artworks would still be as beautiful.

 

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Exhibition at Apeejay Arts – New Delhi

 

For those whose mother tongue is French:

Outpost est Rouge Feu, lumière et l’obscurité et surtout très beau
29 janvier 2015

Hier, j’étais à l’ouverture de l’exhibition « Outpost ». Connaissant mon ami Samar Jodha et sachant qu’il avait travaillé sur cette exhibition pendant un certain temps, je m’attendais à quelque chose de significatif et ne suis pas restée sur ma faim.

Jodha n’est pas votre artiste usuel dont les œuvres seraient juste un ornement sur les murs d’une galerie. Son travail, quelle que soit la forme qu’il prend, est destiné à provoquer la réflexion, un sentiment de responsabilité et de prise de conscience sociale et en même temps inspirer et élever avec la présentation implicite de comment la beauté peut provenir de et imprégner tous les êtres qu’ils soient vivants ou morts.

En foulant l’espace externe de la galerie, vous êtes accueillis par les ombres dansantes d’une flamme nue, une sorte de passerelle entre la nécessité d’un peu de chaleur dans le froid mordant de la nuit à Delhi et la reconnaissance de l’endroit d’où vient l’œuvre d’art, comment elle est née, un prélude au spectacle qui attend.

Le rez de chaussée où la plupart des œuvres d’art sont affichées présente l’œuvre d’art comme toute autre galerie le ferait: vous pouvez voir sur les murs blanchis à la chaux et sous un éclairage soigneusement choisi, étincelant en partie, ces énormes œuvres d’art en cuivre ou en laiton aux empreintes d’encre et avec parfois la ligne apparente de soudage qui rappelle l’art japonais du Kintsugi lorsque la fissure devient partie intégrante de l’histoire de l’objet et non quelque chose à dissimuler. Bien que je n’aie trouvé que beauté sur les murs en regardant autour, j’étais un peu déçue parce que ce n’était pas exactement ce à quoi je m’attendais du Jodha que je connaissais.

C’est alors que l’on m’a indiqué qu’il y avait d’autres parties de l’exposition et suivant les conseils de l’un des membres du personnel de la galerie, je suis montée à l’étage. Déjà à partir de l’escalier, la lumière s’était raréfiée et je suis montée en faisant très attention pour arriver à une exposition à ciel ouvert où d’autres œuvres d’art vous fixaient sous des angles différents. Ici, loin les murs blanchis à la chaux !, les parties du plafond qui existaient encore étaient nues avec des tiges en saillie et les œuvres d’art baignaient dans une atmosphère plus sombre avec très peu de spots et la lune comme seules sources de lumière. Tout était là, sous le ciel, et en quelque sorte cet affichage s’emparait de vous et vous commenciez à penser davantage à ce que les œuvres étaient, comment et à partir de quoi elles avaient été créées. Cela vous poussait lentement vers le concept que la beauté possède parfois un côté plus sombre et que c’est dans le clair-obscur que résidait un début d’une clé de compréhension de l’œuvre d’art.

Je suis descendue par les escaliers la tête pleine de pensées quant aux origines de cette belle œuvre d’art, à la vie de ces travailleurs qui avaient autrefois utilisé ces panneaux comme une maison pour les abriter et ai été guidé au sous-sol. Le personnel à l’entrée du sous-sol m’ont donné une torche mentionnant que j’en aurais besoin et m’ont recommandé de faire attention où je mettais les pieds et j’en ai bien eu besoin. Vous descendiez quelques marches et étiez maintenant totalement immergés dans la vie des travailleurs car vous n’étiez plus en train de descendre par des escaliers mais empruntiez plutôt un couloir étroit, vers l’obscurité, si représentative des mines. Une dame à côté de moi a demandé d’une voix nerveuse “Y at-il quelqu’un là-bas ou est-ce vide?” et je me suis demandée ce qui a bien pu traverser l’esprit des travailleurs alors qu’ils entraient dans l’obscurité des mines jour après jour. Voulaient-ils eux aussi pouvoir compter l’un sur l’autre? Se sont-ils sentis nerveux les premières fois qu’ils sont entrés dans leur sombre lieu de travail?

En entrant dans le sous-sol, on pouvait à peine distinguer les œuvres qui n’étaient même plus dans la pénombre. Elles se cachaient en quelque sorte dans les coins avec une faible source de lumière indiquant leur emplacement et pendant que vous continuiez à marcher, le bruit distinct d’eau qui s’égouttait retenait votre attention et voilà que tout se révélait devant votre œil intérieur: la mine avec son obscurité et l’odeur terreuse et moisie qui vous enveloppait, le bruit de l’eau qui s’écoule au-dessus de votre tête. Les panneaux étaient suspendus lâchement dans la pièce et avec votre torche, vous pouviez voir un peu plus ce qui semblait initialement des petits morceaux saillants de cuivre éclairé et découvrir des œuvres qui différaient en forme de celles au-dessus. Il semblait que ces œuvres avec leurs bords dentelés et lignes prononcées qui ressemblaient à des épines dorsales qui pendraient voulaient raconter plus sur les vraies vies de ceux qui avaient autrefois utilisé ces conteneurs comme une demeure. J’étais à la fois exaltée et dégrisé par cet aperçu de la dure réalité qui se trouve au-delà de la beauté et j’ai pensé Jodha, mon ami, tu y est arrivé encore.

Lorsque je m’attarde à penser à ces panneaux, je dois dire que chacun de leurs recoins semblait si différent et si beau et pourtant l’œuvre d’art dans son ensemble avait une belle harmonie sans qu’aucune de ses parties ne soit en antagonisme avec l’autre. Cela était tel que je avais dû prendre des photos de l’ensemble de l’œuvre d’art et en même temps de plusieurs parties de celle-ci et plus je le faisais, plus je avais l’impression que cette œuvre pourrait être admirée dans chacun de ses recoins et chaque partie d’elle aurait une toute autre perspective si on l’examinait de façon isolée.

Donc, pour ceux d’entre vous qui sont à Delhi, allez donc voir ces œuvres d’art à Apeejay arts mais voyez-les si vous le pouvez la nuit plutôt que le jour parce qu’il me semble que, de jour, l’expérience serait différente bien que les œuvres d’art seraient toujours aussi belles.

Beauty in fusion

Beauty in fusion

December 3, 2014

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We all seek beauty, breathe it into our souls with ecstasy and revel in its various manifestations. We idealise beauty though it takes for each of us a different, special meaning that more often than not we share little of with others. Yet we all tend to try to blend in when challenged on our thoughts about beauty, about what it is that we relate with as being beautiful, we try to join a common chase for all that is beautiful joined like in a hunt for the rare yet opulent beast.

In our incessant quest for beauty, we have come to ignore the essence of it, occupied as we are with categorising it, restraining it, constraining it to the canons that we know or that we have read of. Somehow, beauty, like all other matters that we dwell upon must, it would seem, fit into yet another box that we can then stow away, content with the notion of having identified and qualified yet another piece of this jigsaw world that bewilders us. Some of us, strong in our sense of what should be beautiful, find the walls of our certainties shaken when we chance upon something that utterly clashes with our notion of beauty but we are still drawn by it, transfixed, mesmerised at the mere viewing of it. It is then, when our hearts and souls are immersed by the sense of that incredibly beautiful “non-beauty”, that we truly come to realize that beauty cannot and may not be categorised, that it may not be forced within the bars of a narrow definition of it, however much the system may wish to influence our view of it.

Beauty for me, is every small thing that touches the heart and soul and that inspires positive emotions. A piece of music, an act, an object of art in whichever form it may be is beautiful when it touches one whether to make one cry, laugh, feel loved or want to bestow love, feel elated, full of hope or even devotion.

When you are open to beauty, you develop a tendency to want to gather around you all things that are beautiful because you want to revel in that beauty constantly, draw upon it as a permanent source of energy. This may clash, however, with the simplicity of life required to continue developing oneself without the external distractions, the most prominent of which are the clutter that can be caused by collecting items, even of great beauty. A good solution to this apparently intricate dilemma is simply having pictures of all that one finds beautiful and to keep these available to one. When one has a vivid imagination, calling upon the memory of viewing something beautiful equates to actually viewing that item again.

The problem with beauty when taken to the level of human beings is that it is often confused with the external appearance of a person and a quote to that effect is that “beauty is skin deep”. While it may remain true that we are often drawn to a person based on the external criteria of beauty we would have assimilated as our own, we seldom keep that initial frame of mind beyond a few months or even a few weeks. For most of us, beyond that external appearance that most of us have been taught to think as beautiful, we need a deeper sense of beauty, something that is beyond the mere skin.

Even when you take people whom one could consider as shallow because they do not go beyond the external appearance of a person, not willing to relate to that person or discover the actual human qualities that the person may or may not have, you realise that their infatuation with the external appearance fades with time. Such people get that epiphany when they realize that they actually know nothing about the person they have chosen based solely upon the external appearance as they have not taken the time to discover the human qualities of the person. More often than not such people realize as time passes that the person they chose for external beauty alone has dedicated more time to enhancing, preserving or restoring that beauty than to developing themselves from a human perspective. When one is really what is considered shallow, one would just carry on, encouraging the person to continue enhancing and preserving that beauty without caring about what goes on within the envelope presented as a delightful package. When one is actually not that shallow, the sense of novelty disappears and is replaced by a longing for something more meaningful.

I have often observed that people with an incredibly beautiful partner from an external beauty standpoint seem to all of a sudden get drawn to people who are referenced as quite plain as compared to their partner. Sometimes, they may even give up their relationship to then live with the other person, leaving their families and friends disconcerted on this sudden turn of events. I believe, this is simply the transformation of the notion of beauty – insofar as it relates to human beings – in the minds of such people. Their personal evolution then causes their view of human beauty to transform, thereby making it difficult to sustain the relationship they had before, especially if their partner did not evolve with them beyond the concept of a still-life beauty. They seem to then seek a person who has little to do with their previous partner at least from an external appearance perspective and also, quite often, from a human qualities standpoint.

Here again, one can say that beauty in a human being is therefore what touches one’s soul, what one relates to and that causes intense emotions. While we are mostly indoctrinated to react and feel positive vibes at the presence of external beauty mainly, when we are in touch with our inner feelings and true to our inner selves, we feel a sense of beauty in a human being when we feel what that person holds of internal beauty. Sometimes it may just be a form of kindness, a sense of humour that we relate to, a formidable capacity to love, empathy, wisdom, openness, simplicity and the list may go on forever as we each relate to different qualities that we find beautiful. We often discover, as we evolve, that the notion of beauty is not just different from one person to another but that it is also different from one age to another and one state of conscience to another within the same person.

Like in the case of objects, one does not need to possess beauty – unlike what some people do by insisting on having a relationship such as a domestic partnership or a marriage – by possessing or attempting to possess the person whose beauty strikes one as worthy of preserving around oneself. Friendship is another form of social interaction which allows one to enjoy the beauty of another human being without the need to “own” that beauty. Photographs too of time spent with that beautiful person can be a good alternative to having that person constantly in one’s life. Again, when one has a vivid imagination, one is able to draw from memories the sense of being in direct interaction with that person whose beauty touched one.

One last thought as I remember the saying « Beauty is in the eye of the beholder »: we need to preserve our individual sense of what is beautiful and avoid the generic input forced upon us by media and society as a whole. Let beauty truly be in our eye, according to what we perceive through our eyes, minds, hearts and souls for we don’t need to be identical to be One.

The Lady at the bar (4)

November 27 – December 1, 2014

(a shared writing effort with Lars Epperson)

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Arms outstretched towards the sky, he had quickened his pace and was almost running now towards the house as if he meant to embrace it. Something seemed to have changed in his mood and she wondered how one could shift from such a sense of grief to such a sense of glee without a transition.

Suddenly he stopped in his tracks and turned towards her. He did not seem to see her but was not looking right through her either. It was more as if he was lost in his thoughts and she was a substitute to the person who seemed to occupy them. He smiled at her, a smile that was all at once innocent, roguish and so disarmingly charming before speaking.

“Do you remember the old house? It was Sunday dinners; a tradition he wanted to keep: fried chicken mashed potatoes and gravy too much cooked to eat, worried him still, never quite able to carry it on.

Kids always seemed to busy the house where you pulled open your blouse.

– Do you like these?

– Uh, yes, think so, but never seen them outside playboy magazine

– Kiss them

Swimming in the creek, headlights shining on your nakedness…”

She listened to him as he alternated mimicking his role and that of the woman he had loved apparently, completely lost in his memories.

“Damn! Hated you/loved you; give me one more chance to nibble on your neck, down lower to your full breasts… I really need to make love to you, one last time”

She listened, not sure he was referring to his past love or to her as he seemed to be describing the love-hate relationship he had with her. Did he nibble on all his girlfriends’ necks? she wondered. She thought quietly about her own love habits and how it seemed that all human beings seemed to have their favourite likes and dislikes that did not really depend upon their partner’s likes and dislikes although they often had to make an effort to blend their favourites with their partner’s favourites.

What an intricate thing, she thought, this lovemaking where everyone was so different yet so similar. How was it that people even related to each other and were able to carry on feeling the same passion year after year if the things they did were so similar from one year to another, from one partner to another?

She was stopped from her daydreaming as she felt his gaze intensify on her and she lifted her eyes which caught his that seemed dark, brooding.

He looked at her, watched the wind play upon the tall grass blowing it first this way then that and wanted to tell her something but instead thought to himself “so many things I forgot to tell you.  Did I forget to tell you I love you?”

He gazed at her, saw her eyes widening and felt her searching him as he was searching her.

Again he wanted to say all those words to her but they just ran around in his chest as he talked to the image of her in his mind “Looking into your eyes, see the reflection, another time maybe someone new… shadows passing. I feel it fade. Yesterday, you would have wanted me to make love to you”.

She could feel that he meant to say something and she desperately wanted him to say it aloud but he seemed to be all at once lost in his own world and trying so hard to reach out to her and share with her his feelings.

He watched her expressions as her face changed from troubled to hopeful to pained to bewildered and he wanted to kiss her, to reassure her that everything was alright, that it had been a fleeting moment and that he was there for her like he had been for so long, like he would always be but the words failed him again.

He knew somehow that it wasn’t true and that this relationship between them that wavered between love and hate was bound to tear them apart and he realised that all the words in the world would do nothing to change that.

He smiled again at her, sadly, with the knowledge that the sense of heartbreak he felt was probably the one her eyes were conveying too as deep pools stirred in them with the downpour approaching. He thought softly to himself as he opened his arms to her and she ran on the backdrop of grass blowing in the wind “I know you won’t be here long; goodbyes, gotten good at them but hate that wait. Is it you, or me that goes first?”.

He held her tightly and felt again that mixture of bliss and pain as her curves melted into his body and he was submerged by her warmth and softness while at the same time realising that not too long after that they would be separated again. For now though, he whispered to himself as they clung on to each other and her tears spilled all over his shoulders “it is not over yet, it is not goodbye”.

Reading of this episode of the story: 

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Read the next part of the story “The Lady at the Bar (5)  here – https://geethaprodhom.wordpress.com/english-novels/the-lady-at-the-bar-5/

The Lady at the bar (3)

November 22, 2014

(a shared writing effort with Lars Epperson)

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Pulling up into the old home place. Lightning, off in the distance, waiting for the rain to hit the tin roof. Simple sounds, back in a life that once used to mean so much.

He quit caring; pain never overcame, came no more, left it on the doorstep, last time he walked out.

Waking; coffee on the porch. A whistle….there used to be dogs. He whistled, once again…nothing!

He watched her pull her dress up to her knees; grass grown tall brown, sullen feet, wet with dew.

She followed him, lifting her dress so that it would not get torn by the grass that had grown almost into bushes, dry, crackling as she walked through its bristles.

He seemed hypnotised by the house in front of him towards which they were both walking silently. She could see from the stiffness at his neck and shoulders that he seemed to be in pain.

She wondered what that small run-down shack of a house with its small holes like a bean bag bursting at the edges could have held for him to be so much in pain at the sight of it.

All of a sudden he started whistling, as if to beckon a dog but nothing came. She watched silently as his shoulders hung in sadness and wondered if she should keep following him.

Yesterday, she would have gone up to him boldly and put her arms around him to make whatever pain he felt go away but today, after their fight and despite his seeming to forgive her, she felt that somehow she had no place in that pain he seemed to be feeling.

She slowed her pace and the leaves seemed to rustle even noisier as she toyed with the idea of running towards him and throwing her arms around his neck.

He had slowed down too, his back still tense, shoulders hung, head still facing the house and he raised his arms towards the sky

 

 

 

The Lady at the bar

November 7, 2014

(a shared writing effort with Lars Epperson)

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She made many promises and I remember when we were driving looking out the window…

It was noon on a sunny day, one of her favourite moments when every living being was lulled into a silent sense of security that brought with it a sleepy lazy feeling.

Sun kissed thighs dark shades on, so she couldn’t see me looking; wouldn’t want to give her the satisfaction. A bottle of beam, shirt worn one day too many crumpled pack of Marlboros

She stretched and looked back at the driver who was holding on to the steering wheel like his life depended upon it. Ever since their argument that morning, they had been ignoring each other stonily. He pretending not to see or hear her and she pretending it did not matter as she strutted around in one of his favourite figure-hugging skirts. She knew he would notice as she barely wore skirts but he had of course chosen to ignore the flash of thighs revealed as she entered the passenger seat next to him. She looked out of the window again letting her hair dangle loosely over the side of the car so that the sun could play with its wisps

Fresh tank of gas so… where’re we going. Let’s take a spin, see how far this fast car can take us, looking for that last chance Texaco.

Outside the car, everything was alive with noise, the birds chirped cheerily, the grasshoppers sang, the bees buzzed around in frenzy and even the flowers seemed to say hi as they waved in the wind. Yet Inside the car, only the sound of the engine came through to them. She looked at him again; he seemed to be engrossed in his own thoughts now and not ignoring her. She wondered what he was thinking as he seemed to be puzzled. Her eyes lingered on the corners of his mouth that had been so soft when she had kissed them the night before and thought about how they had yielded to her lips hungrily while they were pressed tightly this morning, hard, unyielding…

 

 

Doll Tale 3: Leaving is living, Matilda

Doll tale 3: Leaving is living, Matilda

6 October 2014

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She thought that she would never have the time to leave before he came back. The events of the previous day raced through her mind as colours that would clash at the bottom of a kaleidoscope. The more she thought of escaping, the more she felt petrified. It seemed to her that there was no way out and she felt like a piece of Emmenthal squeezed in a sandwich between the two hot plates of a toaster which inevitably would make her melt, doing away with her.

To leave, to leave, to leave. She brooded over the word to the exasperation of her mind that revolted against her incessant litanies, her tiresome indecision. To leave yes, but to leave without a quest, without the possibility of winning… ​​ What for? To leave, but how to leave and how to organize oneself, what to do?  These thoughts incessantly ran through her mind like an infernal rondo making her feel dizzy.

Matilda was pacing in front of her car and could not bring herself to slip behind the wheel and take to her heels with her baby asleep in his baby seat. She suddenly stopped pacing, unbuckled her baby turned around and went back into the house. It would not do them any good to drive in her condition and she might as well take the train later she thought. She put the toddler back in his crib and he continued to sleep undisturbed. He had suckled his mother for so long that he was completely satisfied and had fallen into a deep, restful sleep. She stroked his cheek before heading down to the kitchen. Mechanically she took out the broom, vacuum, bucket and various liquids to clean floors and other household items and began to clean.

Everything was a victim of her zealous cleaning from the floor to the ceiling not forgetting the curtains, the dishes and the children’s toys littering the living room floor. She paused for a moment, realizing that she was stacking everything she was tidying into a pile of five. Today’s pain, for some reason, made her mind wander to the digit five.

Five. The five children she would have had if one of them did not fall following a ski accident the year before leaving the twin free to develop in her belly and if the first, a long time ago, had not come out without a sound. Five if that first one, as dead as her heart had not been ejected at five and a half months in a creepy delivery where death triumphed over life. Giving birth to death, trying to smother one’s five senses to keep no memory of that moment and yet having that memory forever etched in one’s mind and through the five senses so alive at that time: the pain of her flesh, the vision of the doctor, of the pale white ceiling, the smell of ammonia and that more characteristic medical scent of hospitals, the sound that did not come, deafening to the ear despite her knowing that no noise would be there and the words, irritatingly encouraging, oppressive, unnecessary of the midwife who kept asking to push again and again because it would soon be over.

She stood up angrily and ran down to the basement where she vented her grief. She felt that she should as if by patriotic inclination go to war against the cobwebs and dust bunnies she had left to accumulate in the basement of her house during the aftermath of her pregnancy. These grey and sad dirtballs that rose out of the basement when she shook the rugs made ​​her think about the quirky songs of the past that her husband would mention to her and that, for her, were just as crass as those dust bunnies despite the fact that he thought they were funny and light jokes. She furiously shook the carpets which seemed to release a never ending trail of dirt in the air. How much dirt could these rugs still conceal she thought angrily.

She thought to herself that if she had known before she would have got rid of that gunk for it was not a light joke but a solid reality of today. Did he say a slight madness of yesterday? No, a reality of today, she thought banging the carpet she still held while her tears mingled freely with the particles of dirt coming out of the carpet and fell heavily to the ground or caused the dust to be again made ​​prisoner of the carpet. This floor was really going to keep a very vivid trace of her battle she thought. Everything had been removed, dusted, polished and re-shelved.

She took a deep breath and walked towards the kitchen in a daze where she rinsed her hands and mechanically prepared three sandwiches for the children coming home from school hungry and their nanny who would accompany them home before she left for the day. She then turned towards the mop realizing she had forgotten to remove the water on the floor. As she seized the mop, she reached towards the refrigerator to try to close the door before falling on her back nursing her elbow from the electric shock. She had forgotten that there was still that bad contact problem that her husband had not taken care of and that she had been standing with bare feet in the middle of a pool of water. The current passing through her body had dazed her but had also stopped dead in its tracks her furious housewife’s urge. She stood up, gingerly feeling her heavy and painful hand and proceeded to finish drying the water to prevent one of the children having to endure the same incident.

She walked slowly down the stairs to the basement to see if she had forgotten something. The cardboard box she had left in the middle of the room not knowing if she should bring its content up or leave it down caught her eye. It was a box full of old vinyl albums and on the top of the pile there was an album of ABBA and something broke in her at the sight of this palindrome. ABBA made her think of ABC and she had missed the ABC of all the signs, the ABC of sniffing those clues of treachery was what she had missed out. She grabbed the disc as well as all the others inside the box and began methodically to break them into two.

She then proceeded to the cellar, opened the door with the key hanging on a nail in the wall to the left side of the handle and looked at the bottles that adorned the wall: the “grand cru” bordeaux for special occasions were rubbing shoulders with “côtes du Rhone”, “blanc de blanc”, bottles of champagne, a few rare costly burgundy wines among other cheaper wines. She did not drink but if there was an occasion to celebrate she thought bitterly, it was this one. How to solve this dilemma? She took the first bottle of overpriced Champagne that met her nervous fingers and that her husband had asked her not to open unless he gave her the permission to do so. “Yes, what a good idea”, she said to herself, “let us pop the cork of the champagne like in olden times slicing its top off” but she realized that the Samurai sword was in the bedroom so she resorted to the wall. She drank a few drops cutting herself at the edge of the lips in the process. She took another bottle, a Chateau Margaux with a deep robe that went crashing against the white wall of the wine cellar. Many other bottles suffered a similar fate as she continued her relentless task.

When she left the cellar, the brackish unsavoury pond that decorated its floor kept emitting bubbles that she left to tremble and burst in the dark by turning off the light. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, rubbing her temples with her fingers that were numb from that mechanical task earlier. She heard above her head footsteps and laughter as the children came home from school with their nanny. She looked at herself in the mirror of the cabinet of the cellar and was shocked to see her livid face smeared with tears and soot. Slowly she walked towards the basin of the laundry room and began to clean her sticky face and hands. She then stripped off her soiled clothes, took a light dress which was folded in a basket of items to be ironed on top of the washing machine and slipped it on. She then climbed two by two the stairs that separated her from her children and rushed toward them with open arms. “Mom! ” they cried in chorus and she pressed them against her heart.

As always they had so much to tell her and she was always surprised and amazed that they could have so much to tell her each time they returned from school. Yet the day before she had listened to their stories and marveled at how different they were from the day before that. Every day they experienced exciting new events and every day, they like her marveled at being able to experience such interesting events.

In his room, their brother had just woken up from a deep sleep after his vigorous suckling at noon. He let out a long wail of one who is hungry again and Matilda and her children looked at each other with a knowing air. “You’ll have to feed again this greedy little boy,” said her daughter with a mischievous grin. Matilda smiled softly and extended a hand towards her. “Will you come and help me change him?” she asked her daughter. Her eldest son followed loudly proclaiming that he too wanted to take care of his brother and that changing babies was not a task reserved for women. All three climbed the stairs leading to the plaintive sound of the little greedy one who was claiming his own personal pantry on feet. In three, they were quick to change his diaper, then the two children watched their mother settle into the big chair and her eldest put the nursing pillow under her elbow while her daughter adjusted the blankets around her little brother.

Matilda gently stroked the baby’s cheek and the small mouth opened to grasp the nourishing nipple. And while life flowed in the gulps that her son took, Matilda felt life gently flow back again into her heart as she devised a plan to leave.

Doll tale 2: Mireille’s ways

Doll tale 2 : Mireille’s ways

27 September 2014

Domestic violence victim

 

Simon was a sweet soul. Everyone in his neighbourhood in a small suburb in Geneva loved him because he was always ready to and even volunteering to help anyone who came his way. A slight-figured man with a clean-shaven and very forgettable face, he was nonetheless liked by both the youngsters and the older generation because of his well-mannered and quiet ways.

A consultant in the local insurance firm, Simon knew everything about everyone and was always available to help out with insurance claims even when his boss believed it would not be in the best interest of the firm they both worked for.  All knew and recognized that Simon was a decent fellow and had high moral values so his boss put up with his behaviour because ultimately, the boss too was from the same suburb which had once been some sort of a village. He would not have wanted to face the neighbours’ wrath if Simon had turned them off and some smart lawyer from downtown Geneva had enlightened them on the validity of their claims.

Simon had a wife called Mireille. She was all the opposite of Simon. Her hair was always unkempt and the smell that rose from her was often disturbing in the winter and outright unbearable in the summer heat as it turned into a stench of sweat and sometimes, on Sundays, a mixture of sour armpits and some cheap cologne. A sullen, ill-mannered creature with hardly any education, she was always glaring at people from beneath an unbelievably tussled nest of hair that barely left any of her face visible and seldom greeted anyone except the local priest.

All the neighbours never understood how sweet-natured Simon could have married and continue to live with such a woman. Then again, when you knew that Simon and Mireille had four children, you understood that the poor fellow must have got trapped in the marriage and him being such a sweet soul, he naturally must have chosen to “stick around” and make the best of his marriage rather than divorce and expose the children to grief.

Mireille, despite being unkempt and unclean, was somehow perceived as a very religious person, to the extent that some could qualify her as being a bigot. She never missed the Sunday mass except when she was visiting her mother with the children. Those were the only Sundays when Simon would come to the mass and tell everyone apologetically that Mireille had gone off to see her mother with the children and could not be there.

All attending the mass would then nod their heads understandingly and smile at Simon although nobody really understood why he was informing them as nobody really could say they missed Mireille’s presence. It was awfully nice of him though to show up and stand in for his wife despite the fact that everyone knew he had so much work on Sundays and normally could not make it to mass. He would then take some of the mass wine that father Mathieu had set aside for Mireille and go back home immediately after mass.

One fine month, Mireille skipped mass more than one Sunday and it was only on Simon’s uncomfortable fourth Sunday apology for her absence that people actually realized that Mireille had not been to mass the whole of the month. Some whispered amongst each other that maybe her prolonged absence at her mother’s place meant that finally Simon was going to be freed from her. Although some felt that it was a shame for the kids, they believed that it was probably the best for all as Simon would probably be able to file for custody of the children. Many neighbours gathered together that Sunday after mass and discussed how they could approach the subject and be of help to Simon in his future custody battle.

Father Mathieu who was leaving the mass and was passing by the Café-bar where they had gathered happened to overhear their discussion. He stopped and turning around to face the assembly told them that it was their Christian duty not to encourage this sort of a behaviour and that if they were going to let Simon know they would support him in a custody battle then that would equate to instigating his divorce.

Some of those present looked crestfallen but a small group who really empathized with Simon voiced their concerns that Father Mathieu should not have more understanding and support for a sweet-natured soul like Simon who was spending his life miserable in a situation which he should be helped to come out from. They further tried to prove the validity of their point of view by arguing that Simon being already a sweet and helpful soul, surely it could only be a benefit to the Christian community that such a man be freed from his misery to be able to carry out more community work for someone who would at least be thankful for it, unlike Mireille who seemed incapable of gratitude or any other positive feeling.

Father Mathieu said nothing but just stared at his shoes and the crowd, emboldened by what they thought was their successful convincing on their point of view pursued their reasoning and even tried to get Father Mathieu involved in the mission of liberating Simon. At the mention of such a possibility Father Mathieu started as if somebody had poked him with a hot iron and blurted out a sharp “No, I will not be a part of it” before walking away holding his head in his hands and muttering.

“Let him go, that’s the church for you” said Estelle the bar-tender. “They will continue to support even someone like Mireille just because she is supposedly a devout Christian but they will never help someone like Simon because he skips mass “. The crowd then devised how best to help and it was decided with the consent of all including Estelle who had half-volunteered that she would be the one who would be in charge of initiating the talks. As she was a tough stout woman who took no nonsense from anyone, including the late night drinkers that she would throw out herself by their ears, it was felt by all the gathering that she would be able to handle Mireille without much effort and at the same time be able to talk to Simon from equal to equal.

That night, Estelle closed her bar earlier after throwing out the last of the crowd that was still huddled in a corner playing rummy and set off on foot to Simon and Mireille’s house. Upon arriving at their fence she rang a couple of times before realizing that Simon had told them that both the gate bell and the doorbell had to be fixed so she hopped over the small garden fencing and walked quickly to the backyard as Simon and Mireille probably left the backyard door open like most of the neighbours.

On reaching the backdoor, Estelle realized that it was actually locked so she peered through the glazed panes to see if someone was nearby and could come to open the door. A dimmed light from the living room cast shadows around the walls and suddenly Estelle saw a thin bloodied figure dart across the living room followed closely by another less slight figure and even her tough heart skipped a beat as she recognized Mireille more by the tussled nest on her head than from the actual figure as nobody had ever seen her in anything else than very loose slacks and a big shirt that did not show much of her figure. Mireille was wearing a gown that was shredded in many places and through the shreds one could guess in the dim light that it was blood and skin that was oozing out. Behind her, closing in on her was Simon who seemed nothing like the Simon that Estelle knew. She could see his profile cut out against the dim light of the living room and he looked murderous, his hand carrying a belt that he was swishing above his head and at Mireille. At that moment, a small movement in the corner of the room caught her eyes and Estelle realized that it was one of the four children who was crawling towards his mother and tugging the bottom of Simon’s pants to which Simon reacted in a way that shocked Estelle into action as he just shook his leg and sending the child away from him with something like a half-kick.

The backyard door was no match for Estelle’s hundred kilogram massive frame and Simon froze as he saw Estelle burst into the kitchen from the backyard like some avenging Hulk. Estelle grabbed the child whom she put on the couch and then moved on to Simon whom she quickly immobilized against the wall before taking away the belt that he had been using to whip Mireille.

“What the f… is going on here” screamed Estelle who was well-known for her colourful language. Mireille, as always with her stony demeanour, just glared at Estelle and said nothing. Estelle felt the rage bubble inside her and knew she was close to hitting Simon if nobody would break the silence so she dropped the belt on the ground. Attempting to calm herself down, she said again in a loud voice “Mireille, put on the lights and can one of you tell me what the f.. is happening here?”.

Simon, eyes downcast feebly responded “I tried to stop her. She would not listen so I had to take the belt”.

“What do you mean take the belt?” raged Estelle. “I saw you using it on Mireille. She was not the one holding it”

“I tried to stop her” said Simon again

“Are you f..  telling me that she was hitting the kids and you tried to stop her?” barked Estelle

Simon paused, looked at Mireille who was turning on the lights, then looked at Estelle again and his expression softened changing back to the Simon they all knew. “You know me Estelle” he said. “I would not hurt a fly”.

Estelle faltered. She was sure she had seen him kick off his oldest son who had been crawling towards him but then the light had been so dim. Maybe she had imagined it. Could it be that this demented woman had attempted to hurt the children and Simon had then lost it and started hitting her with the same belt she was attempting to use against the children?

What was she thinking? Of course it could not be possible. She turned towards Mireille again who was walking or rather limping slowly back towards them and she got another shock as she took in the swollen closed left eye, the reddened right eye and the gashed cheeks, the slashes across the neck and the cut lips. She felt sick as her gaze went down to the bruised breasts and thighs from the gaping holes in the gown. It was only from Simon’s gasp and Mireille’s cry that she realized that she had increased her pressure against his throat.

“Please, please, let him go” begged Mireille.

Simon, eyes rolling, could not utter a sound and Mireille begged again “Please Estelle, just let him go”.

“What the f… do you mean let him go? Are you going to tell me that you don’t want this murderous b… dead? I don’t know what has been going on between both of you but I have seen enough tonight to know that you should not be here with your children”.

“Where would I go?” said Mireille in an eerily quiet voice

“Anywhere, but the furthest from this f… place” said Estelle. “Are you a f… idiot? Don’t you realize that one day you are going to end up dead?”

“I have nowhere to go” repeated Mireille in her stony toneless voice.

“Of course you have somewhere to go, you can go to your f… mother’s house” yelled Estelle. “Can’t she put you up until the social services find you something where you can stay with your kids?”

“My mother’s been dead for over 5 years Estelle. She passed away before our first son was born” said Mireille in a quiet voice.

“What the f.. “ started Estelle and her voice trailed off as the full horror of the situation started to sink into her brain. She realized then that every time Mireille had skipped mass it was not because she was at her mother’s house as Simon said but it had probably been because she was in no state to be seen.

Estelle stared in disbelief at Simon, marveling at how he had fooled them all into believing he was a meek good natured fellow while all the while this monster had been abusing his family right under their noses and they had all been sympathizing with him for his miserable life with Mireille. She tightened her grip again without realizing it.

“Let him go Estelle, please” Mireille pleaded again. “It is not his fault, he is ill. He loses his temper because of his illness but then he always regrets and makes amends”

“Like hell he is going to be ill when I have finished with him and you better tell me you’re finished with him too” blurted Estelle.

“Let him go Estelle” repeated Mireille in a firmer voice. “One must always present the other cheek and not rise against one’s spouse. Marriage vows are sacred” she continued.

“Are you a f… lunatic or what” Estelle ranted at her. “What other cheek? The one which is torn apart from the belt handle or the one that is swollen from the beating?

“You don’t understand” Mireille said. “He is sick but I can cure him. Father Mathieu said that I should be patient and obedient and that I should do all I can not to provoke him but to bring into his heart the love of Jesus Christ our Saviour. He who has given himself to carry all our sins will also bring peace into Simon’s heart and everything will be alright. What God has united no man can separate”

“Nonsense” screamed Estelle. “I knew that Father Mathieu was up to no good, I just did not realize the extent of it. What idiocy has he put into your brains now? If Simon is indeed sick then he needs a psychiatrist, not a wife whom he can beat every time he feels like it. I don’t know anything about your marriage but nothing justifies what he has done to you and nothing justifies what I saw him doing to your oldest son. You must leave this house now and if you don’t do it on your own, I will make it happen”

“Estelle, please, let him go” said Mireille again in a pleading voice. “Social services will not help us throughout. They will only help in the beginning during the time of the police investigation and then we will be left to fend for ourselves. Father Mathieu has already told me how it will be as he has seen such situations so many times before. I am not educated and it will be very difficult for me to find a job. Simon has a good job, he pays for everything. It is not that bad aside from the weekend. Please, Estelle, let him go”.

Estelle slowly released her grip on Simon’s neck and he adjusted his gait, collected himself into his well-natured mask again and seemed about to say something before he froze under the hatred in Estelle’s look and thought the better of it. He retreated slowly to the other end of the room and sat on the couch where Estelle had placed the child earlier. The child hurriedly dashed out of the couch and towards his mother who winced when he clutched her bare and sore thighs but held him close all the same.

Estelle backed slowly away from both parties until she felt the other wall behind her. Her mind was racing and she could not decide what the best thing to do was. She remembered how in other suburbs there had been cases of drunken husbands and always the children had ultimately been placed in a home because the mother often was deemed incapable of ensuring a decent income for the children or had resorted to prostitution as a profession and the father was considered unfit to take care of his offspring. This could not be happening she thought. Not in their nice quaint suburb with its beautiful gardenias and poinsettias, with its quaint green coloured fences and beautiful hedges. This happened in squalid neighbourhoods where people took drugs and houses were shabby with broken windows and squatter tags across the buildings.

Estelle breathed out a sigh and said in a steely voice “Okay, here is what we are going to do until I have decided what is better. Simon, you are going to ask one of your friends to lodge you for a week or so until I can think more clearly about this whole matter.”

Simon was about to say something when Estelle cut in icily “I don’t care whether you have a friend who will lodge you or not and in fact you can go to hell for all I care but either you are out of this house tonight or I am calling the police immediately. “

Simon grudgingly nodded in acquiescence and Estelle continued “You will change your common bank account tomorrow to Mireille’s sole name and you will open another bank account for yourself where she will wire half what is in your common bank account now and tomorrow first thing in the morning you will also request your boss to systematically wire half your monthly salary into Mireille’s account.” Simon scowled but nodded yes again.

“Now beat it” growled Estelle before adding “and remember, I am not Mireille and I will always know where to find you so don’t try doing anything funny because I will be coming back to this house and checking on everyone every day.”

Simon went up the stairs to the bedroom where she heard him put some clothes together into a suitcase that he came down with and he then walked towards the front door, opened it, looked back scowling at Mireille and then pulled the door shut behind him.

Estelle then went towards Mireille and proceeded to inch her slowly towards the bathroom where she found a first-aid kit and tended to Mireille’s wounds. Passing the corridor she was surprised to see a sunny picture of a very pretty Mireille in a wedding gown standing all teeth flashing in a smile and hair impeccably shaped into curls around her soft and warm face. At that unexpectedly beautiful sight tears rolled down Estelle’s cheeks as she thought of how much they had misjudged Mireille and never given her a chance to feel welcome in their midst. She thought that if only one of them had been more understanding, more welcoming maybe Mireille would have felt comfortable enough to share with them her situation and they could have helped her earlier. She just could not fathom how year after year this woman had borne that monster one child after another and carried on in this living hell. She looked again at Mireille who was also looking up at the portrait of her wedding day.

“I used to be pretty, yes and that sometimes can be a curse. Simon did not like men looking at me. He would ask me to dress less provocatively and not to doll myself up to entice their looks.”

When she caught Estelle’s surprised look she added “Yes, I know, I don’t look like I used to doll myself up but I was quite vain you know. I liked wearing pretty things and having my hair curled up nicely. God help me, I used to like it when men thought I was pretty. I never had a proper education you know so there was nothing else for anyone to admire than my looks. My uncle married me off quickly to Simon right after I finished my apprenticeship and I never had a chance to go even to technical school. Simon has a temper because of his medication you know. He does not mean to be nasty, it is just the medication that makes him lose his temper when we are discussing. He is always sorry afterwards.”

Estelle tried to find something comforting to say but being the tough bartender she was she failed to find something comforting to say and all she could do was grunt.

“Father Mathieu also said that a woman should not bring ungodly thoughts into the mind of a man who is not her husband. He said I should repent from having such thoughts and should try to be a better wife for Simon. He said Simon was not responsible for his behaviour and it was the devil’s work putting these ideas of seducing men into my head which then angered Simon. He said that as I knew Simon’s condition with the medication, I should try to be a better and more Christian wife so as not to provoke him. I tried you know. I tried so hard…” Mireille broke down sobbing. All those beatings she had taken silently but now, staring up at that beautiful picture of herself taken on a sunny morning when she thought her heart would burst with happiness, she could not bear the anguish she felt now. All those years that had gone by while day after day she was less able to feel any happiness and keener to just not displease Simon, all those hopes crushed and how she had slowly turned from that beautiful sun-kissed smiling girl into this sullen, grey woman.

Estelle held Mireille’s sobbing body gingerly trying not to hurt her more than she was already hurt but it was difficult as she was bruised all over. When finally Mireille’s outburst was over, Estelle half helped half carried her up the stairs and put her in bed before tending to the children. Two of them were fast asleep in the big bed in their room and she cleaned up the oldest before putting him to bed with his siblings. The youngest was also fast asleep in his crib and she marveled at the children’s capacity to not be disturbed by the fuss that had been going on downstairs. They probably were used to such noises and grew so accustomed to it that it did not wake them anymore she thought with a pang of guilt. It was also true that she herself had not heard anything much apart from the pitter patter of feet before she had seen Mireille dashing across. Probably Mireille never made a sound so as to preserve her children as much as she could. Estelle was torn between cursing Mireille for letting this go on for so long and admiring her for trying so hard to make things work despite the dire situation. She was not sure what to do so thought she should maybe discuss this with someone who had more experience than her with such matters.

The following morning, I sat at the typewriter, writing down the horrors that came out of Estelle’s mouth as the social worker who had brought me along was not very quick at typing. I was a volunteer at the abused women’s shelter at the local Commune near the suburb where Estelle lived. I watched Estelle and Florence as they discussed various options and typed away all what was being discussed my heart beating at the idea that some women could be living in such slavery and misery just a few kilometers from the heart of our lovely international city. Geneva, the city of neutrality, the city of human rights and human rights’ militants where so many immigrants held a hope of a better tomorrow.

Mireille was awarded full custody of her children and the judge ruled that she would keep the house. She started working with Estelle as waitress and people, as if to compensate for their lack of insight earlier, tipped her heavily. Simon did not lose his job and did not go to jail as Mireille did not press charges and there were no hospital records and no police had intervened earlier to have a case to present the general attorney. He was awarded visitation rights but limited to one hour per week and under strict surveillance but he never used those rights. Simon’s boss maintained his job more to help Mireille than for Simon himself. All those who used to like him before and enjoy his company now scrupulously avoided him as they could not understand how any medication could lead a person to behave like that with his family.

I saw Mireille from time to time when I did my volunteer work at the shelter. I used to take down notes while she talked with the social worker and the psychologist and marvel at how she could continue to think that she was to blame for Simon’s reactions. I never saw Simon and never felt the inclination to go and see what he looked like although I did go to meet Estelle or Mireille’s children a few times when I was not far from the suburb. Every time I entered the suburb I marveled at how people there could have been so oblivious to such human suffering a few meters away from them. I took a seat and looked on from the Café-bar as the sun slowly set and a crowd gathered to play rummy. The scent of gardenias filled the air from the nearby pots as dusk slowly fell and I watched Mireille and Estelle smiling at each other and exchanging jokes. Estelle was the only person at whom Mireille smiled but for all others she would only offer a sullen face. I took out my wallet to pay as I got ready to leave the place and head back home. Somehow, I felt that I too shared some of the guilt this suburb felt each time we looked at Mireille and like many others I tipped heavily and sighed with some sense of relief as I stood to leave.