Last Friday, the feminist thinktank Prajnya held an event called “Letterbox of Resistance”, part of its 16 Days campaign against gender violence. At different spots in the city through the day, volunteers wrote postcards and letters by hand, to be mailed off to people, organisations and institutions to which we had something to say.
But what did I have to say? I stared at my postcards. My mind was just like them: blank, but prettily doodled.
It was unnerving, after endlessly attempting dialogue and insisting in its usage as a radical force, to be confronted by my own silence.
Not loaded silence. Not withheld words, just their sheer absence. Given the opportunity to distantly but directly address someone and give them a message, I found myself struggling to think of who might benefit from this interesting form of intervention. I took cues from others at the table. So I wrote to the Nadigar Sangam about misogyny in Tamil cinema, but not to specific actors. I attempted a pro-intersectionality message to the seat of power in New Delhi but between instinctive apprehension and educated cynicism, it flopped. I applauded those who wrote to kids they knew, but couldn’t think of anyone whose parents would appreciate my preaching to them. I thought about my own family – in fact, one of my friends addressed a postcard to a relative of mine, who badly needs some schooling in kindness – but still came up blank. So much for being the one with a way with words!
Years ago, when I had read Aamer Hussein’s epistolary short story, “Nine Postcards From Sanlucar de Barrameda”, its luminosity had led me intoxicated to my own rendering, and an inspired series poured out of me. Postcards that could not be sent, as the story will tell you if you read it, because their intended recipient did not care at all, for them or for me. Instead, I wrote each one and emailed it off to a friend. There were nine, for Hussein’s were a map (mine osculated the Pondicherry border). They contained lines from Basho and things I didn’t even know yet were true, memories, questions, and the sum of what it means to be sentient to an abandonment before it has cicatrised into amalgamated trauma. It became the first story I finished writing for what became my book that’s on shelves now.
I thought of those postcards that could only ever be received too late, whose intended address had changed over the years, from deceiver to rightful receiver (that would be you, my dear reader), and how passionately I’d penned them. While straightforward messages about a cause I care about so deeply eluded me. It was a lesson update in humility: expression is one thing, communication is another.
One last Letterbox of Resistance postcard sat before me. I’d stared at it for over an hour, doodling and crayoning it idly as I reflected on what my inarticulateness meant.
In the end, I sent that last postcard as a note of gratitude, and a surprise. It was meant to uplift not just the addressee, but also – after all this voice-raising and silence-swallowing – me.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 1st 2016. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.