Reviewed by Nandini Varma

Green is the Colour of Memory

Title: Green is the Colour of Memory
Author: Huzaifa Pandit
Publisher: Hawakal Publishers (2018)
Pages: 64 (Paperback)

In a class on Mahmoud Darwish, we are reading aloud “Promises of a Storm” – a moment where the poet’s eyes search for flowers blooming beneath the ashes – ‘I will go on serenading happiness/ somewhere beyond the eyelids of frightened eyes.’

After class, I reach out for a borrowed copy of Huzaifa Pandit’s book of poems, looking for poetry as real as Darwish’s, and read the first poem, “A Kashmiri Fairytale”, pulled out as though from the same song of longing for happiness that Darwish sees in the future.

‘Green green grass will dance in the drowsy sun/ of warm, warm May/ we will quarrel and quibble night and day…’ writes Huzaifa in the poem which opens his debut collection, Green is the Colour of Memory. Consisting of 36 poems, this book stands out not just in the truth it aims to convey but in how it brings it to us through narratives that we don’t quite get to hear or read microscopically in newspapers or news channels that have promised a responsibility of recording history and have failed repeatedly. Little pieces of history are recorded in Huzaifa’s poems.

Huzaifa Pandit comes from Kashmir and writes poetry that deals with the everyday realities of those living in Kashmir, as well as what it is like to carry that identity into spaces like local train journeys, to having brief encounters with people outside Kashmir, to academic spaces, and it is themes such as these that appear most prominently in this collection as well.

Camus had once written, ‘Art cannot be a monologue,’ asserting that an artist cannot create in isolation and must speak of the ‘reality common to us all.’ Huzaifa’s work emerges as an excellent example then of this art, in the form of poetry that creates a tiny corner and opens its arms wide for a dialogue to begin; not only does he offer us a counter-narrative, he also engages with the reader through the sharpness of his language—sometimes you hear it from close quarters and sometimes it is a distant whisper making space for you to step in. Reciprocating then, it is in reading his poems slowly, that we’re in sync with their breathing, and it is in their breathing that we find our own lives momentarily paused. Yet there is transcendence, yet we are being transformed.

When the book opens, we find the poet addressing a denied harmony — a quarrel which is softened by love, a moment so far away, one may only see it in a fairytale. What does one do then? What does one do? It is perhaps in search of an answer to this question, that the poet begins many poems in the collection with dreams and returns to nightmarish encounters, or eventualities.

All the labels are yellow-bright like the setting sun. It bothers Akbar. Not the colour but the memories. These labels are everywhere. On the refrigerator. Inside the refrigerator. TV, washing machine, dish washer, plates, cups, shoes, shoe rack, bed, switches – anything that can have a label on it has a label on it. The whole house is plastered with them. One fine day, there was even a label on his forehead. It read Akbar. The label on the refrigerator says, refrigerator (cooling device). On the shoe rack it says shoes and on the shoes it either says mine or not mine.

The wind rattles the window panes. Dark, grey clouds hover above the skies of Derby. He sits up on the edge of the bed, staring at a point just in front of his toes. He doesn’t move, just the occasional blink of an eye. An eerie silence that has crept inside his soul since Noori’s departure haunts the house. Last night he broke three ceramic plates, a cup, and a glass just after he had washed them. It was no vent to any frustration. He did not smash them against the wall. He is too old, too tired for that.

He walks into the kitchen and opens a container with a label on it – Lisinopril. His blood pressure has gone haywire since he had taken the terrible decision of sending the love of his life away. He pops the pill and washes it down with a glass of water.

Akbar is sixty years of age; he has unkempt hair and a bushy beard. The wrinkles on his forehead and under his eyes are like little cracks on an arid piece of land. He stares at her handwriting, the slant in the R’s and her upright T’s. It has been more than a month since she left for the old age home in Belper, a quaint village on the outskirts of Derby. Last month, when she was still home, they had a spat. With nothing left to label, she had wanted to label herself; it set him off like a firecracker. And in that moment, he knew that Noori, his loving wife, had to go. In the beginning, she sometimes forgot if she had taken her pills or if she had locked the door – banal things, it hardly affected them. Heck, they even laughed about it. They could laugh at just about anything. Loud farts and sudden sneezes. Jokes of unknown comedians on TV, the accent of an old Scottish lady living right next to them. But dementia is like cancer; it grows worse with age. Her mind stopped retaining important things. The kettle on the stove, the food in the pan. One day, while she was out for grocery, she forgot her address. Akbar found her in the parking lot, crying like a kid separated from her mom.

She stopped cooking, doing dishes, washing clothes, dusting and wiping tables – all the things she had loved, all the things she considered her duty. Instead, she started labelling everything. She rummaged through the drawers and turned the house into one big exhibition of yellow labels. Why don’t you take her to an old age home? A friend suggested. Akbar never talked to him again.

He opens the refrigerator, licks his parched lower lip. There is no food. He closes the door and the label stares at him. He presses it with his fingertips. A rumbling sound emanates from his stomach. He orders a meal and seats himself on the couch, twiddling his thumbs, crossing and uncrossing his legs. Outside, the dreaded rain has arrived.

His mind wanders to his first day in England. It was raining that day too. And almost every day since. He was a boy of twenty-five, with bubbles in his stomach and a giant smile on his face.  Glad to have left Kashmir, glad to be in an ‘evolved’ country, glad to be among the company of women of different races –white and black and brown.  Compared to back home, everything was in high definition. The streets of London, the famous telephone booths, parks, houses – everything was crisp and refreshing. He had enrolled in Derby University for a course in analog systems (an excuse to get inside the country). In truth, he would have even chosen a course in shit hauling to come here. The first thing he wanted to do in the new country was have sex. Like every student he knew from the subcontinent, he wanted to hook up with a white girl. He wanted a brand new start to his life with no interference from his relatives, from people he hardly knew, from the suffocating society in general.  Where he came from, even the sight of a ‘white’ female forearm titillates horny men more than the native breast. White, English speaking women, dressed in short skirts and cleavage revealing tops gave him a painful erection. His first few days were spent in a state of constant erection. He masturbated every day, sometimes even twice or three times. Teeth clenched and with pants down, he would plunge into libido land. But when he was around girls, he grew conscious – about his skin colour, his hair style, his body odour. Would they want to have sex with him? The question plagued him.

Back in India, he had a plan for wooing British girls. Gandhi was all the rage in the western world; he decided to casually slip in his name when talking to white girls. His march towards erotica was backed by such lines. Little did he know it was a congregational line of all Indians looking for a fuck. Youthful Gandhis obsessed with puritanical sex.

He was never going to sweep a white girl off her feet; he understood that pretty quickly, so he did what all desperate, horny losers do – visit whore houses in neon lit establishments in dark alleys full of scantily clad women and choose the whitest girl, all the while his heart about to burst through his chest. He would gulp and point to the girl of his fantasy. Alone with her, he would smile and greet her, try to make small talk and in about two minutes, he would run out of words. The room would descend into complete silence. Just the sound of his heavy breathing and his heart pumping blood.