Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Doodler of Dimashq – Kirthi Jayakumar

“The moon had been appeased. The sea grew gentle again. The butterflies danced in the space between the two. Peace had been made.”

Ameenah, a child bride from Dimashq, or Damascus, yearns for peace her entire life. However, peace is as elusive as a little bird on a tree just beyond her reach. Apprehensive at first when she marries Fathi and moves to Aleppo, she finds happiness with him, his parents and his grandmother, who she “would make my own, cherishing that bond dear till my last breath.”

Fathi keeps his promise to Majid, her brother, and sends Ameenah to school. However, Ameenah has a special gift, the art of doodling, of bleeding ink over the sheet in ornate lines and intricate designs. Through her doodles, she attempts to make sense of the violence that is soon to become a constant part of her life as she gets embroiled in the Syrian war, losing the ones she loves most in life. From then on, it is a constant struggle to use her doodles to give solace to children who have felt the sorrow of loss.

It is easy to fall in love with Fathi – he is gentle, understanding and kind, a lover of beautiful poetry with which he woos his child bride. Above all, he has Tete, his grandmother, “as old as the hills” with “that timeless quality that wisdom had – ever silent, but present, always reliable but never seeking to be sought.” When Tete tells Ameenah to pursue her hobby, and do whatever she wants, our hearts melt at her understanding of the young girl’s passion.

“You have a heart; you have a voice. You have a story that you keep adding to, everyday.”

Ameenah’s life is buffeted by the winds of destruction as the war in Syria continues its killing spree. However, she comforts herself by saying, “Wounds have a way of settling, even if only enough to let you function and move on with life. Nothing changed in the world around me. Life was spiralling on, like a feather caught in the wind, being blown about this way and that.”

When another brutal blow orphans Ameenah all over again, little Maryam comes into her life. “Do two alones make a together?” She turns into the one bright spark that urges Ameenah to stay strong, as resilient as a creeper that bends, meanders, dances and waves about to fill the spaces that she is forced into.

It is now that Ameenah begins to doodle pieces of her heart that had “names, faces and stories behind them”.  She throws herself into the task she has chalked out for herself, “the dream of being able to bridge grief and peace of mind with doodles”.

How simply Kirthi Jayakumar drops the name of Rami at various junctures in the book, till he lands up in Aleppo, looking for the girl who doodled to keep peace in the middle of war. The doodler strives to find her own life, and love, in a brave, new world. Is the war finally over for her? Will she be able to follow her dream to tell the world what destruction looked like, and how she had left her doodles behind at Dimashq, at Haleb and finally at Latakia?

Kirthi Jayakumar has a poignant voice that plays on one’s heart like a lyre, soft and serene at places, but which suddenly rises into a crescendo, creating raw sounds that wound with the graphic images that go with them. She writes beyond her age, a wise soul who is rich in experiences and compassionate beyond words.  

“The storm does nothing to you until you are in the eye of it – for it is then that the calm settles, and you see the destruction it brought in its wake, and you will see the destruction it would leave as it leaves.”


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