Dr Krisha Kops
Once upon a time, a fine gentleman with circular glasses painted a not-so-fine line and divided one country into two. Some claim the line is green, others say it is orange, still others claim it to be red. It depends on what they are looking at: a map, the planet, or the sufferers of the line. Over the years, this line has eaten its way deeper and deeper into the earth, through frozen soil, sediments, clay, shale and sandstone, through the earth’s crust, mantle and core, feeding on iron, nickel and magnesium, until reappearing on the other side of the planet, albeit obscured by the blue of the South Pacific.
This line left such a deep chasm between the countries and their people that hardly anyone knew how to cross it, and those who tried nevertheless met an abysmal, black death. When they plunged into the darkness of the gorge, there remained no corpse for others to burn, wash, or desecrate, only the eternal echo of a cry that tried in vain to clamber the walls again. This chasm also dug itself into the hearts and minds of the people, an abyss between the left and right chambers of the heart, the two halves of the brain, which grew deeper and wider, year by year.
Only in one place, where the line was unusually narrow, there was a two-storied house, built by the hands of history. Buddhist, Hindu, Turkish, Afghan, Mughal, and other architectural styles brought the Silk Road together in these walls. The peak of the roof was reminiscent of a Buddhist stupa, the masonry of Hindu temples, the wood of Turkish mosques, the decorations on ceilings and walnut walls of Mughals, Persians and Afghans. The balcony, made of wood, mud, and bricks, was of the same ornamentation, but most importantly, it faced the moon. Lilies and tulips grew on the clay and peat roof that kept the house cool in summer and warm in winter. The rooms of the house were symmetrically distributed so that no tremor could cause it to collapse, neither that of a line nor that of continental plates measuring their forces with one another.
In the middle of this house, in the bedroom, where the patterns and colours of the wooden ornaments fought for dominance with those of the carpets and upholstery, there was a bed, a canopy bed with thick panels and a curtain that could make you disappear. This bed was on the spot where the line had left no gorge, only a mark. It had split the mattress in two, had cut up plates and cups in the kitchen one floor below, had left a portrait with a scar running across its face.
As with the other people, it had divided the souls and spirits of the inhabitants. On the eastern side of the house lived those of one country, on the western those of the other, and, like their involuntary cohabitants, they left no stone unturned, no wood untouched, to make the other party voluntarily vacate the house. What followed were some of the loudest and wildest saturnalias ever seen, west of the line. East of the line, in return, they entirely changed their day and night rhythm, having breakfast at dusk, lunch at midnight, and dinner at dawn. Some cooked pork, others sacrosanct beef, without letting the scent of roast escape the house. Rubbish was left standing, in the hope that the wind would blow the stench to the other half of the house. There were threats, by both sides, to set the house on fire, to burn down the trimmings and the façade, until they realised that such a fire would not leave their side of the house unscathed.
In the bed of the central bedroom slept a daughter of the West Country and a son of the East Country. They thought nothing of it. Their hearts and minds must have been so divided that though they slept in the same bed, they did not even reach over and touch. Besides, sleeping places in the house were scarce, and one did not want to concede the bed to the others. So they erected a wall of pillows in the middle of the bed, not modelled on Buddhist, Hindu or Turkish architecture or any other, but merely on that of universal separatism.
During the first few nights, the daughter of the West and the son of the East did not so much as notice each other, the pillow wall was too high, the abhorrence of the neighbour too strong. At most, his snoring reminded her of his presence, just as her babbling in a dream reminded him of hers. One night, however, a gentle earth tremor displaced one of the pillows. Just a little. Though reluctance was great, curiosity was greater, so the daughter of the West slowly opened one of her eyes in the candlelight, just enough to peer over. And what her half-closed eyes beheld amazed her, especially since she had been constantly inculcated with how hideous the inhabitants of the East Wing were, with rotten teeth, crooked noses, and abscesses on their bodies.
He, however, was nothing of the sort; on the contrary, he resembled her now that he wore neither his traditional robe nor his mark on his forehead. His skin was brown like hers, even his dark hair bore resemblance to hers, and his lips were just as sensual. All night she lay there like that, one eye closed, the other slightly open, squinting to the side, looking for likenesses and differences. There were always dissimilarities, the protruding Adam’s apple, the dark whiskers, the strong upper body, but they did not seem repulsive to her, rather attractive, as if they were the counterpart to her, the East to her West, the saying for her sacrifice.
One night later the earthquake shook the ground. It had announced itself a day before, but no one had heeded the warning. It caused the bed to shake, the painting a floor below to swing, the dishes to vibrate, the pillow wall to collapse and the heart of the daughter of the West to race in such a way that her arm, seeking a hold, sped across the forbidden border and embraced the son of the East. It was only afterwards that her mind caught up, realising what she was doing. The son of the East was torn from a deep sleep. He did not know what was going on, he thought he was dreaming, until he became aware of the situation. At first, he wanted to tear himself away, to strike down the enemy who had dared to cross the border. But there was something in this embrace that immediately soothed him, a helplessness, a trust.
The earthquake had extinguished all the lights, and he could only see her silhouette illuminated in the moonlight, a silhouette with ups and downs that reminded him of the gentle foothills of the mountains where he had played so carefree in his childhood. And he, too, had to realise that all the stories they had told him about the women of the West were not a bit true, at least, as far as he could judge in this dim light. Instead, he was overcome by the feeling that this helplessness was gradually claiming him, almost demanding his embrace. They lay motionless for a while, as if this was the most prudent response to the uncontrolled, violent movement of the earth. He noticed something taking possession of him, the trust moving from her over to him. When it finally took him completely, he turned to her, as slowly and motionlessly as he could, for fear of interrupting or destroying something, and he returned the embrace.
Some cooked pork, others sacrosanct beef, without letting the scent of roast escape the house. Rubbish was left standing, in the hope that the wind would blow the stench to the other half of the house
They told no one about their encounter, confessed to no one about their sinful feelings. On the contrary, they participated more than ever in the tirades of hatred about the other inhabitants of the house. And as they did so, the people worked themselves into such shouting rage that when finished they hardly had any breath left. But this was only a pretext, a preparation for their nightly encounter, which took their breath away in far greater fashion. Every night, when the earth shook—and this occurred often these days—when the pillow wall collapsed, candle lights went out, pictures and dishes danced, they crossed forbidden boundaries, sought a hold on each other, became more and more familiar with each other. In the process, they hardly moved. Instead, they let themselves be moved by the rhythm of the earth trembles, rubbed against each other like the earth plates, and thus they let nature take its course. In this way, they crossed the line that a bespectacled man had once drawn and all the borders and ditches that followed, even those between their bodies, with tongues that entwined to form bridges, hands that interlocked to build crossings, and any other body parts with which to wedge and knot.
No one noticed anything, for the border-crossings of the daughter and the son were disguised by the earthquake, hidden by the falling curtains. Every morning they found them, the pillow wall stood as it had the night before, only creases here and there as remnants of the night’s infringement. On those nights, not only did they get to know one another, but their own hearts and brains healed back together. This made them feel more than they had ever felt before, sometimes even too much, especially when the earthquakes stayed away for weeks. Yes, this made them think more clearly than they had thought before, at least, when the feelings were not disputing their thoughts, made them realise that their whole world view was based on a line that was as arbitrary as it was erasable. Not only were they growing together, the inhabitants of the West and East were gradually getting to see that the gap between the two countries was also narrowing. The scar of the portrait faded, plates and cups found old united form, left a crack here and there, a vein, even the people believed that something was moving inside of them.
There are two endings to this story, depending on whom you ask. In one, the daughter of the West and the son of the East make love so often and passionately that they merge, navel to navel and mouth to mouth, eternally one, just as the land is united again, the line disappears and with it the chasms between the people, chasms that mirrored the ones within them.
In the other, the residents of the house get wise to the couple, gradually realising that the pillows are back every morning, but always in a different arrangement. In the only moment of togetherness they will remember, the residents of the west and east wings burn the sinners, fanning the pyre with their most savage abuse. Fire and sparks leap onto the house, the stupa top shines brightly, the balcony collapses, ornaments melt and everything burns down to the façade. At the same moment, the earth tears open wider than ever, swallowing the house and its incredulous inhabitants in its dark maw.
Dr Krisha Kops was born into a German-Indian family. He is an author and philosopher with a proclivity for intercultural and global justice-related topics. He studied philosophy and journalism in London, before receiving his doctorate (Hildesheim University) with a thesis on intercultural philosophy. In addition to lecturing and researching, he writes on philosophical and literary topics. With his debut novel Das Ewige Rauschen (The Eternal Rustling), a family epic set between Germany and India, Kops won several prizes and scholarships. The novel is being translated into various languages. Krisha Kops lives in Munich and Madanapalle.
Sahyr Sayed is an artist and educator. She graduated from the National College of Arts in 2012. Working across painting, assemblage and installation, Sayed investigates and recontextualises the objects and materials of home. Home exists for Sayed as an extension of the female body; her work questions the boundaries and hierarchies that rule these domains. In 2022, she co-founded the June Collective, an initiative working to build connections between artists and shared creative spaces. Her work is exhibited across galleries in Pakistan, India and Turkey. Sahyr is teaching at the NCA, and lives and works in Lahore.