In that room, sometimes at midnight, the sound of a galloping horse could be heard.
Outside an Anglo-Indian cemetery in Delhi, close to where my father lives, there is a man who sells flowers. On a hot afternoon, almost like any other, right before entering, I bought six roses. I’d never been to a cemetery before, the idea was strange to me, to remember the dead rather than forget them, to remember what, the names that no longer are, the lifeless bodies that lie under my feet, the bones that lie there in wait to feel again the sunshine that will perhaps be centuries older when someone digs them out.
Surrounded by death, or rather after-death, for what business does death have in the middle of dead people, I had vague memories of a life, perhaps mine, perhaps someone else’s, in a time when no history was being written, no cities constructed, no countries being conquered, all that came back to me were flashes of a fire, of bricks being baked to construct altars shaped like women to attract the gods who had created this mortal world out of nothing. Out of nothing? Yes, but someone in a dream once told me the secret that this world is apabhramsa. A man without a face had pointed to every corner and whispered into my ears: this is the corrupt earth. I was awake before I could ask corrupt from what, is this not the only thing there is, the one, the only reality?
“I cried, “I know of no other world!”
The soul answered, “Should it not exist because you know nothing of it?””
While walking, I placed a rose on any grave that I felt like but the only name I remember is of Peter, who you can find completely covered in grass and wildflowers in the middle of a sunshine that resembles smoke, who is perhaps the grass and flowers covering himself, my dear Peter, were you the one riding that invisible horse on the deserted Mall Road, my love, it was you, what happened, what do you still look for? Why does your spirit still roam this damned world?
“We cannot be sure when or where they lived. When: more than three thousand years ago, though dates vary considerably between one scholar and another. Area: the north of the Indian subcontinent, but with no exact boundaries. They left no objects or images. They left only words. Verses and formulas that marked out rituals …”
During the last sacrifice, I suddenly remembered, there is a last ritual of piercing the burning skull with a bamboo stave, to break the skull is to release the spirit of the dead. Nothing else remains of my first life except the words, the knowledge that I carry around from planet to planet, from life to life, from body to body, and the faithful fire that has not changed form.
Dear love, did no one do it for you? Was there no one to pierce your skull? Oh love, come back, come back once … I will do it.
Peter, in the room, I can still hear you. Don’t make me cry, my love, return, just once. I will fragment your body, burn every tissue, every piece of your skin. I promise, I will break your skull.
Saudamini Deo is a writer and photographer from India.