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What happens when the past, present, and future dance together? This intricately woven story will make you wonder.
One of the top 5 entries for August’s Muse of the Month writing theme, with the cue “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am”, taken from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Each breath on the way to the top of the mound was an effort and my heart made itself felt audibly. “I am, I am”, it reminded me. “Yes, I know!” I wanted to reply. It was my heart, after all, that had propelled me to Dholavira, the edge of India where a strip of saline desert separates it from Pakistan. To the site which haunted my dreams for decades, and would be my workplace for the next month.
When I wedded myself to archaeology years ago, I cut off from everything else that would come in my way of researching proto history in the subcontinent. As I drifted through university, participated in excavations and presented research papers, I had no time for family or friendships. My real friends were artifacts I collected on digs and treasured in velvet boxes.
Dholavira was a pilgrimage I wanted to undertake for ages. It sprawled 250 hectares in the remotest corner of Kutch, boasted citadels and reservoirs that boggled the modern human mind and retained remnants of stone structures that had held together houses and workshops of the Harappans over 4000 years ago. The pink glow on the stones as I see the towering citadel walls for the first time at sunset make my heart turn over.
“I am back,” I whisper to the stones, running fingers over the rough surfaces, and then retract them as I realize what I have just said. I laugh uncomfortably to myself; I have never been here before. The desert wind whistles in my ears in the gathering dusk.
I am here with a filmmaker, who is making a documentary on the Harappan civilization. Long before sunrise the next day, we are straddling the stones, shooting the amazing wells and workshops used by our ancestors. By daybreak, I am tired and sink onto a low wall. The broken half of a huge pot lies nearby and I see pieces of a clay bangle, exposed by recent rains which have washed away the soil. I have been to several sites of ancient civilisations, but the very air is different here. Is that affecting my breathing and is it the sharp wind that’s making my eyes water?
I shiver. That’s when I feel that little hand around my waist and that tiny voice. “Maat…”. I turn around sharply to look into the brown eyes of a toddler sitting next to me on the wall. Windblown, wispy brown hair, tanned skin and those deep sienna eyes. “Maat…” he smiles now, showing a little row of perfect teeth, white against bronze skin. I jump off the wall.
“What? Is it a snake? There are plenty this time of the year…” the guide comes running up. “No, it’s him…” I point, and realize I am pointing to the bare wall. Mumbling something, I move away, but the feel of the soft hug has touched me in an inexplicable way. I feel different, somehow.
The day is a blur of activity as we hop across the site – ideating, scripting, filming. It’s sunset before we wind up and are returning in the jeep, when I spot the little one again in the headlights of the vehicle. “Stop!” I yell to the surprised driver. I jump out to investigate but of course, there’s no one. That night, he visits me again, in my dream. Sitting next to my pillow, he strokes my hair, smiles at me and I remember. Or I think I remember. I don’t know which.
A time in the hoary past, when burdened by an inexplicable urge to break away, I had run away from motherhood to spend my life with an artist. An artist who loved to deck me in the choicest of ornaments. I love your attitude, the way you carry yourself, he would say. I posed for him, and he made a bronze sculpture of me with my hand on my hip, decked out in the finery he loved, my hair in braids the way he loved it ….and I forgot my earlier life, the little child with brown eyes I left behind to live my life the way I wanted to.
I snap back to the present, still in my dream. The little one hasn’t given up on me, over the millennia that separate us. In his strange tongue, he still seeks me out. I remember that poised, confident woman – I have seen her sculpture in the Lahore museum. The one who continues to intrigue many, with her confident airs and intricate finery. But now, she is not the one I want to be. I reach out into the thin air, stroking the brown head, affection surging through me. I feel the little hands stretch out, and we are united again, after such a long time.
Pic credit: modern_nomad (Used under a CC license)
This is brilliant Aparna! Beautifully written. The Harappan Civilization has forever been something that has attracted and intrigued me. It reminds me of the time when I wanted to be an archaeologist. I eventually took a different path, but I still hold the study of our past very close to my heart. Thank you for this precious read!
This was haunting!
ohh gawd sent shivers and yet it is so beautiful. eloquent. loved the free-flowing narrative
Very beautifully written and reverberating!
hey appu proud of you , very well written.
Beautiful! Creative combo of fact and fiction? Well done, Aparna!
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