Earlier this week, I began to find various articles remembering Monika Ghurde on my Twitter and Facebook timelines. I had hours to spend on the Delhi Metro, commuting across the city, and I discovered seven pieces published simultaneously in different newspapers, all authored by women who had known Ghurde as a friend.
I had not heard of Monika Ghurde till I read of her brutal murder in Goa. The first thing I came to know about her was that she had been a beautiful, talented woman, a perfumer, who had been tortured and raped before she was killed by an intruder in her home. Now I was reading testimonies that sieved through shock to tell the story of a life lived remarkably, a person who created meaning and beauty.
The other news that dominated headlines this week was the encounter of eight undertrials who had escaped from jail in Bhopal and were shot dead by the Madhya Pradesh police. Various videos of the encounter made us witnesses to the violence. On our screens we saw bullets being shot from close range into the lifeless bodies of young men lying on rocks. The soundtrack of shots and excited male voices directing each other for the sake of the video being filmed. On social media, there was also the noise that sought to justify and celebrate these killings.
Najeeb Ahmed, the Jawaharlal Nehru University student who had gone missing after being thrashed and threatened by a group of students belonging to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, remained missing for more than two weeks. His mother and siblings have no idea whether they will ever see him alive again.
Some days one finds oneself in a place where anguish and horror is so overwhelming that one wonders how to look away and talk of anything else. How can we process what we experience? We can distract ourselves, but violence chokes our life energy. It permeates through our skin and makes us nauseous. It brings back memories we had hoped were buried forever.
I return to the words of the friends of Monika Ghurde to seek solace. When our own rage feels helpless and choked, we draw energy from the articulate anger of others. When our own sorrow flaps like a wounded bird, we find consolation in the flight taken by other people’s words.
“Who must I write this for? For your friend? For your loved ones? For those who met you once or not at all? For the future? For the present? For myself? For the dead women whose stories yours must now join? I want to tell the story of laughter, because in every frame of every memory of you, there is laughter. Life-loving, life-grabbing laughter. But how to tell a funny story about a dead woman,” asks Tishani Doshi in a piece titled, “A Letter To Monika”.
“The fear, anger, sorrow and despair I feel is bigger than what happened to Monika,” says Margaret Mascarenhas, almost as an answer to Doshi’s question. “I was railing against violence against women and the grotesque, cavalier, sociopathic way it is treated in the public domain.”
Why does it hurt us when the wound is not ours, we are often asked. Do we have the right to grieve for those we have never met? We question our own emotions, trying to rationalize them, so that they may ebb.
“Kaun rota hai kisi aur ki khatir ai dost, sab ko apni hi kisi baat pe rona aaya,” wrote Sahir Ludhianvi, perhaps looking to answer this same question. It is not for someone else that we cry, my friend. It is always one’s own story that triggers our tears.
“There comes a time when some people use their life experiences to subtract superfluous identities, and become who they fundamentally are,” writes the poet Arundhathi Subramaniam. “The truth about Monika Ghurde is different. And I hold fast to that truth: that the fragrance of crushed flowers lingers a long time after the horror and the prurient public gaze subsides, long after the last news reports are done and dusted. That is the strength of vulnerability. That is the strength of flowers.”
Tishani Doshi, who coordinated the writing and publishing of the articles, shared how anxious she had been leading up to the publication of these pieces. “What was important was to have the sense of collectivity of voice, the synchronicity—because sometimes you cannot grieve alone. And this is also larger than just grieving for one friend, it extends into a much larger territory of violence.”
The boundaries between the personal and the political have always been thin in our lives, if they exist at all. The threshold between our public and intimate spaces isn’t as concrete as we like to convince ourselves. What happens to others who get reported about is just a whisker away from happening to any one of us. Read together, the seven pieces bring alive a woman who rose beyond and despite her fears to embrace the potential of who she was born to become.
“She was a creator and a mediator. Her senses were alert to wonder. Someone like this is easy to love and it’s right to love them,” writes Deepti Kapoor. In other essays by Katharina Kakar, Amrita Narayanan and Akansha Sharma, the words, flowers, scents and laughter appear again and again, leaving the reader with a sense of a radiant life.
“I thought I wanted distance, but I don’t. Because only when I step into my heart, even as it is breaking, do I feel true. This is Kintsugi,” writes Mascarenhas, referring to the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery. “This is how you fix what is broken.”
These intimate testimonies seek as well as provide succour in the face of overwhelming distress. When we lay bare what is deeply personal, it is with the intent to heal ourselves and others. We aren’t lying when we seek to recreate beauty to counter distortion. It isn’t dishonest to reach out to strangers and touch their soul. We never know what we may leave behind that helps to revive and rehabilitate the life energy in the other.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar.
Also read : Natasha’s previous Mint Lounge columns