Of the Immaculate Dawn and the Mottled Terracotta Figurines

My mother''s hand served as a great insulation against all my distress and fears

Munir Ahmad
Srinagar, Publish Date: Sep 13 2017 11:07PM | Updated Date: Sep 13 2017 11:07PM
Of the Immaculate Dawn and the Mottled Terracotta Figurines

"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream"  Gorge Luis Borges.

Those were the days when I, a boy of very tender age, would walk beside my mother, holding her hand, along that circuitous road that kissed the fringes of the then clearwater lagoon called Brari Nambal. As the calls from the steeples of various mosques that dotted the whole area, would reverberate under that midnight blue, star-raddled dome, and which as a reveille would awake people from their torpidity we would wend our way amid that predawn bluish resplendence. The thick growth of foliage in the lagoon, at its start, which, because of the darkness, though not pitch-black, aroused in me a great fear of all the feline beasts -- the glimmers of whose eyes seemed as if great fireflies appearing and disappearing in a most whimsical pattern -- goblins and other apparitions that seemed to be underwater, breathing through the snorkels made from the tall reeds prodding the dark firmament, ready to pounce on us, once my eyes would meet those sparkling fireflies. So, to avoid any confrontation with my envisioned spectral images I would keep my gaze fixed on the road ahead and mumble all the necessary mantras meant to chase away my ghosts, taught to me by my friends' stories narrated while we used to shoot the breeze.

My mother's hand served as a great insulation against all my distress and fears, and was a huge relief from such meandering wandering of my mind: it would, like the hand of omnipotent god of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco, touch my flaccid fingures and fill me with all the ebullience needed to make me ready for the great journey. The silhouetted Kohimaraan hillock that stood out like a lone ranger, dwarfing the obscured surrounding structures over the horizon line, was sprinkled with a few pale dots of feeble light and appeared to me as a mythic guard, beaconing us and fighting for us our great duels with the Jalobdevs of those times. And thus we walked along that road in the quiet of the darkness that was broken by the only clap claps from the flip-flops of a few Nimazis rushing forth toward the great shrine of Shahi-Hamdan. At a little distance ahead, my mother took a left turn and made me trail through a narrow bylane; the verdancy of trees that uncannily lined and marked the path, and some clumps of flowers which the dim light of the night had turned nondescript, planted in jardinieres placed over the mud dykes enclosing those somnolent houses, seemed to be sedately lolling in their sleep, and thus watched, nonchalantly, our nocturnal peregrination. After conquering the ascending span of that narrow lane it debouched us at the concourse of the great shrine.

The bazaar outside the shrine was already abuzz with people of different ages, and a few children accompanying their parents, in the dying phases of the night: some old shrivelled faces brought to prominence by the yellowish streaks from the lightings fixed onto the fencing, fraught with a conspicuous, otherworldly search, were touching the palisade, their moist eyes peeping through its grille and letting their cold sighs touch the triple tiered roof, and which thereof were directed by the majestic spire, into an ascension, toward the heavens above. We entered through the arched gateway into the stony courtyard of the shrine. My mother made me sit on the stone steps on the left side, and let her hand go off mine with the stipulation that I might not move from the agreed on place. Thence she descended the steps toward the ladies' section to offer her Nimaz. Meanwhile I tried to fathom the prodigiousness of this abode of the reverend Saint. Numerous dark greyish pigeons atop the roofs of this humongous wooden structure thrown into prominence by the electric lights of various hues against the dark dozy sky, celebratingly enjoyed their preponed sacramental dawn, and fluttered in seperate coveys, in varied directions into the charcoal sky, only to return to their exact places. Their sweet and rhythmic cooing felt to be in symphony with the chants of the hymns emanating and wafting forth from the sanctum sanctorum, which sailed in all directions, creating a large nimbus around the venerated place. 

While my mother was going through the liturgical process, her veiled head prostrated before the all-powerful, I watched, with the curiosity of an inquisitive child, the all glorifying natural phenomenon that unveiled its mysteries in that ephemeral moment and changed melodramatically the vast canvas of azure behind the pristine architecture -- the subtle masterly strokes of colors being laid upon, aptly, over the heavens and which changed and blanched it, slowly, of its darker hues; the midnight blue fled and left behind cerulean, and cerulean then transfigured and gave way to its lighter and suave tints. Some dim strokes of translucent off-whites began to float across it, starting what happened for me the most immaculate dawn of my life. I watched this phantasmagoria unfurl before my eyes. Its stunning beauty kept me awestruck for a few moments. My mother finished her prayers, came back and jostled me out of this oneiric vision. With both of us having had our respective communions, mine with 'Nature', and in her case, with her god, we exited and found ourselves amidst a commotion of pell-mell buyers, haggling and buying all sorts of commodities from the roadside vendors: trinkets, comestibles; 'Massallas' of multiple varieties and colors, steaming hot gold-colored chickpeas in their circular wicker baskets, sprinkled with sautéed shallots and hemmed by fluffy bread, 'Lawassas'; fresh esculent leafy vegetables alongside bottle guards, neatly presented over barrows. Our few huddled on steps made us arrive at a spot where a beautiful woman who seemed to have emerged from some pages of legendary folklore was squatted on the roadside, and in her front, there were arranged in an artistic manner, the most beautifully sculptured palmspan terracotta figurines over a piece of oil-stained checkered cloth. While my miniature infantry and cavalry, the enamelled figurines -- ochre lions and mauve striped tigers; brown horses with white colored hoofs, some with riders astride, and some missing their equestrians; snow-white swans and tusked elephants dotted with black uneven spots all over them; multicoloured chanticleers with iridescent wings and strutting, vermilion crests -- caught me with great surprise I tugged at the hem of my mother's dress and urged her to buy me my most wanted paraphernalia.

   With my terracotta army bought in and stacked safely alongside some purchased vegetables in our satchel we walked back along the same route which by then was flooded with brilliance of the morning glory. The houses had shunned their somnolency and were animated with the spirit of life. The trees had been reinvigorated into their distinctive appearances, and the mellifluous calls of beautiful passerine birds which flitted among their branches, bestowed consciousness on them. The bleak clumps in the jardiniers had been resuscitated and segregated into beautiful flowers of pink and magenta fuchsias, scarlet geraniums, canary marigolds, and purple pansies and violas. The water of the lagoon, over which nebulous mists seemed to have descended so as to espouse and hide its wide bosom, had come to life, and some boats vaguely visible through that misty veil, appeared to be surfing along its ripples while the boatmen were lugging weeds out of it. As we reached the end of the lagoon, I no longer feared to meet my spectres, but there were no signs of them, and all the felines had abdicated the thicket and left behind viridian reeds which were shaking gently due to the morning breeze, and some orioles darted in and out of the copse. We were still a good distance away from our domicile when a horse-cart driven by a tan-colored elderly man approached and the driver welcomed us on board the rig, without any sign of hitchhiking from us. We clambered and made ourselves comfortable amid the milk-cans which grumbled every time the rig wobbled over the ruts of the track while the mare cantered along the misty path, and my eyes could see no end of the road, as some distance ahead of us the path seemed to lose its contours, and it faded and got lost into thick coils of the mist.

The author is an artist at IASE M.A. Road Srinagar.