Red / Zeenat Nagree

Red. In the grand hall, as the debate resumes, the urgency to arrive at a consensus multiplies. A faction of the monks say that it must be a fish, then a turtle, a pig, before it is human. In any form, this birth is a return, after a universe of possibilities in the womb, a dozen lives lived. The fish, they all agree, has a progenitor, the spirit, with its particular disequilibrium between capitulation and resistance. It lingers in the bardo. It wanders. On the other side of the window, it watches, and drifts away, still not ready. If we follow the word coitus, it takes us to a meeting. The spirit arrives to return to the womb to duel with its fantasies again. It settles in, a parasite. After the ejection, a seismic phenomenon however minor, steel meets iron, prongs reaching in. The reserve is emptied through the dilated orifice. The blood won’t stop, it will be gathered from elsewhere, it will flow because of the interruption. At another meeting, on a wintry night, the host houses the wanderer. Blind in the early days, its mouth attaches itself to the nipple, unable to return to the source. It will never taste the same, never swim again in those infinite waters. In its interminable period of floating, the foetus imagines a world where contact does not cease. There must be constant movement in such a conception, a single body that heaves, remarkable in its unending reach. After the cut, the loss is immeasurable. It is not surprising that in seeking the formless we arrive at sublime metaphors—the cloud on a mountaintop that envelops, the lava that flows under the earth’s tectonic plates then rises forth, an unpeopled landscape—which nevertheless leave us wanting. To turn inward is a quest for formlessness beyond accurate comparisons, a tentative towards occupying the vast interior of the self, of containing multitudes. Solitude, a necessary condition, lying down and looking up at the ceiling. The cracks are minor but they arrange themselves into the face of a man-tiger, a mutant. It leaps out reaching for the throbbing neck, holds tightly by its claws and drinks. Its thirst has never been quenched. Its tongue is thick and when its mouth open wide, a somnolence settles across the room, heads sink into furry pillows, sliding. What was lost seems recuperable through misidentification, similarities that never were, a belief in reflections and their unity. In a dream recurrent among port-dwellers, a ship of mirrors docks at the shore. The travellers, all apparent clones of the dreamers, upon disembarking trigger epidemics of ecstasy and madness, no different from each other. At midnight, after lightning strikes a tree, after the city catches fire, the dreamers who scratch their way onboard sail as custodians of the vessel, of its demand for devotion. The water is black and reflective, too salty, and they never recover from their thirst. To navigate, follow the stars, await what they will bring. Desire, like a constellation, emerges from lack. It cannot merely be gazed upon, it must be named and interpreted. The eye draws the line, several crisscrossing each other, there is a map. Cartographers have long struggled with defining scale, for it only complicates the problem of representation. The eye, however, has never bothered with accuracy. It looks at the other for a reflection of the self, it sees the ant in the garden as a monument, luminous. It walks the length of the riverbank and for the afternoon lays down to rest. In the evening, the sky is red, heavy, and the villagers look up with their mouths open. They fill their bellies with water, past the satisfaction of thirst and its propensity for balance. They contemplate the fish falling from the sky, and the sailors on the water, standing on the deck, waiting for the moment, when the waves will come rushing in, looking for the travellers.


Zeenat Nagree is an independent writer, critic, and curator based in Bombay.

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