01 January 1970
#WeekendReads

In Exile

A grown woman, her chest undressed, her sari undone around her waist. She had no arms–she was shameless. 

People pass by the poster of M.F. Hussain put up outside Jahangir Art Gallery during his condolence
People pass by the poster of M.F. Hussain put up outside Jahangir Art Gallery during his condolence Getty Images

They brought me ten-rupee posters of the greatest women on earth. Mona Lisa, Pietà, Shakuntala… I am an old man, I know things. I shook with laughter and winked at them, “So many clothes!” 

They knew my name. They had seen me with the movie stars. 

They had signed the petition to banish me. 

The chap who brings my food, he shapes his brows. His face is so plain I want to paint it.

I asked him yesterday, “Do you know who I am?” He took my paints away. 

Philistine! Wife-beater!

This room here is all right– 

Red-red-red–

so much Matisse. 

But it gets cold, really cold, especially the toilet bowl. 

I spend my evenings looking at my phone. Old pictures, old things, places I hope to see again. 

Sometimes I look at them so long, they dance in my eyes like a Paul Klee mosaic. (Paul, how I used to love him!)
 

M.F. Hussain's famous horse sketches painted on the outer wall of Pundole Art Gallery at Fountain.
M.F. Hussain's famous horse sketches painted on the outer wall of Pundole Art Gallery at Fountain, where he often came to paint Getty Images

My phone is also my alarm clock. It wakes me up and takes me to my village. I smell the soot in our tiny lamp shop. I pick the lint from Abbajan’s sleeve. I climb the tree inside the mosque and click Agfa pictures while they kneel. I crouch on the floor in the madrassa and draw demons in the dirt with a twig. I sell my books at the corner pawn shop and buy yellow paint to make them green. 

I roam the streets of Meena Bazaar with a mirror in my pocket to watch Lakshmi.

Now I have no mirror. Only memories. 

They pressed eight charges. I told them the story of Venus de Milo. 

Ammi died before I could learn her face. Father waited till I was six to get himself a new bride.

The new mother, she was kind. Loved me like her own son. Combed my hair and cut my nails. She even made me cuddle her. 

But she would not let me see her things. “The Devil will take your eyes!”

I found Venus in an old silk sock. Hidden beneath the petticoats under the sewing machine. 

She was the strangest thing I had ever seen. Pale blue, like a sick chicken egg; S-A-I-G-O-N- made in.

A grown woman, her chest undressed, her sari undone around her waist. She had no arms–
she was shameless. 

I touched her all over. Front and back, and front again. 

Will they chop off my hands too?

Click!– she split in half. The scent of a thousand lavenders covered my hands (and just like that, I remembered how my Ammi looked). 

They caught me. They sent me away. They burned my effigies. 

This room smells of nothing. 

Today my window is winter. I want another spring. 

I want to run my hands over faded treetops and colour them right. 

Sahana Ahmed is a fiction writer and poet based in Gurugram. She is the India Country Chair - World Peace for G100 Club and is curating a list of inspiring Indian Muslim women for Rising Beyond The Ceiling. Combat Skirts, her debut novel, was published by Juggernaut Books.