Mulberry Maps

Mulberry Maps

The shards of glass tainted with blood lay scattered in the room like the crushed mulberries trampled by the foot of naked children in an abandoned backyard. If one could switch on the lights of that room, or perhaps, hang the sun on the ceiling, one would see the impressions of the fruit on Neel’s right cheek, on his arms and on the barren yard below his neck.

But in the Room number 21 of Highfield apartment, where Neel lived with his husband, Joseph, everything was dark for the past six months. It was only on one ordinary day when Neel decided to hang the trembling sun on the ceiling. He picked up his phone and called his mother several times.

However, it was the fifth call when he finally got the courage to speak up.

“Maa, Ne..el. Neel.”

“Neel? H..how are you, son? After six months? six months! six…”

“I want to come back to India. I can’t live here anymore with…”

“Oh, did it take you so long to understand that there wasn’t any closet at all? After untying a seven year-old marital knot? I always knew that leaving Sayema to marry the firangi guy‘ could be the worst decision you could ever take. So now you know how unnatural same-sex marriages are? And why can’t they work? Look, it’s not too…”

The courage that took four phone calls to build, shattered in four questions.

“Maa, I haven’t called you up for this. I am still sure about my sexual orientation. I can’t stay with Joseph because…he beats me. My decision to marry a man wasn’t wrong. Joseph isn’t the right one. And, I can’t stand these episodes of violence.”

“Domestic violence? Is that what you mean? In the same-sex couples? Who do you think will believe it?”

“If it rains, the water falls over our roof, too. The heterosexual couples are not the only ones who’re getting drenched. The storms affect everyone. It doesn’t knock the door to check the sexual orientation of people, Maa. Don’t build another closet for me.”

“Goddamn your closets! Somebody threw a word in the air and everybody is sneezing this term ‘closet’ since then. Closets! Closets! Closets!”

Maa hung up the phone.

The mulberry like impressions on his skin grew darker. The sun fell from the ceiling.

But at that time, he knew how to catch it.

He rang up Sayema, his wife who had helped him in getting out of the closet.

“Five months of suffering and you didn’t call me even once? You need to pack your bags and come to my apartment. He’s not the only man out there. We’ll find the right one for you. First, we need to get a lawyer and talk to him about the divorce,” Sayema said as she peeled the mulberry maps from his skin.

“Do you think getting a divorce for a homosexual couple is easy, Sayema?”

“Is living there easy, Neel?”

Neel knew that answers to both the questions were same. He didn’t know what the future would bring, but he knew that he had to get himself out of the land of crushed mulberries and fight for his rights.

He kept his dull pants, vibrant shirts, the leather shoes and the ball of sun in his briefcase and walked away.

The only thing that he left behind were the mulberry maps, a deafening silence and a tale of courage.

~ Eshwarya Khanna

(Photography by Arif Khan, Editing: Eshwarya Khanna)

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A letter to the people who lost their childhood to violence and abuse.

A letter to you; the one who lost his childhood to violence and abuse.

To You.
The one who sleeps at 9PM everyday, but wakes up at 1AM after his alcoholic father enters the apartment and throws his bottle of whiskey on the floor. Yes you, the one who gets beaten up while saving your maa from your daddy’s wrath.

To you.
The one who thought that opening the door to let your uncle in would mean having your favourite cotton candy in your hand. But darling, you should have known that price of having one candy is equal to one moment of violence followed by infinite series of flashbacks for the rest of your life.

To you.
The one who spends more time with broom, utensils and broken baskets. The one who wakes up to obey memsaab’s commands but never of his own heart. The one who is lashed with Sahab’s leather belt that he had wanted to wear around his waist.

This is for you. For every one of you; who lost their childhood in violence and abuse; the ones for whom hide and seek meant hiding in the store room for almost an eternity, until somebody comes up to switch on the lights; the ones for whom skipping moments was harder than skipping rope perfectly for 10 minutes; the ones for whom snakes and ladders meant just falling down from stairs; the ones for whom childhood didn’t sound like nursery rhymes but like their own sobs and screams.

Just wanted to let you know that even though your childhood was dark and haunting, your life isn’t. Because one phase of your life can’t paint all of your life with its own shade. I know that walking on a road with a heavy baggage is hard. Keep it on the uppermost shelf of your almirah and run on the streets of unknown cities, honey. I know things have always been easier to say than to do. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying. I know that your childhood can not be relived, but for how long will you not let yourself swim in the moments that are waiting to kiss you hard? If not for somebody else, do it for yourself. Do it for the ones who are writing this letter to you, hoping that you will paint sunshine on your scars.
Will you let it go?

Let it go.

 

~ Eshwarya Khanna

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(Artwork by Aditi Mali)