✦ I seek solace here
✣ at night, they make vignettes out of us
✽ I stand here to witness the shapeshiftings in the wilderness
❂ the reflective frames guard against spying eyes in the day
＊the legitimate passage between ঘর ও বাহির
✿ Is the axis tilted already?
Scroll over the text for spills and errors ↓
I look at the dark mass in the mirror, the rim of my mouth distended to allow a comprehensive view.
A tooth is rotting.
The tooth tried to be invisible—it was at the rear end of the right side, peeking behind another molar. But its anchors made my jaws ache; a seismic realignment was in progress. I wanted to rid myself of this dysfunctional punctuation. The decay affected my face, head, taste, and smell; I was infected সংক্রমণ . The pleasure of ingestion was now preceded by painful consumptionচর্ব্য, চোষ্য, লেহ্য পেয়--. The microbe had permeated beyond the surface in wild ferment across membranesওপারে. I wish I could chew my tooth off.
The rot breeds a fear of contamination—the risk of abjection through dietary disruptions. Meatগোশত becomes abhorrent for the upper-caste bodyনিরামিষ, its consumption confirming difference with its counterpartঅরুচি on the margin. It disrupts the fiction of the self as autonomous, and establishes the skin as an unreliable envelope. The precarity of the body is established through the fear of abject edibles, and a prescribed shame looms over their admission.
One could perhaps resist this excess of difference through registers of refusal. The tongueজিব/জীব erases distance and consummates desire. It also translates this desire through language to a shared vocabulary. Is there a taste that exists outside the ambit of our legible capacities?
A lot of time has passed since I pulled out the tooth, and things get slow to the point of stagnation. The extraction of the tooth seems to have mobilised an extended sense of loss. How does one position oneself without an anchor, or one of many anchors? I exert more pressure than usual to move a limb in space, as if the air is thick with resolution to resist my movement. There is no urgency, no initiative.
The map is a floor planনকশা of my parents’ house—built on land that once nourished heavy
w i l d e r n e s s .
The landজমি is owned now.
The concrete stands on deep pits (that were dug into a cleared patch), iron beams, and a scaffoldশিকড় to hold the aspiration together. Houses are land-oriented modes of ensuring generational endurance. A proprietary assurance, the houseগৃহ (and its extension, the graveকবর) satiates the need for a root in the moisture of the soil—a yearning situated against the punishing legibility of documents. It is draining to carry the weight of vulnerability; one is suddenly alert to gravity.
The Muslim body in (West) Bengal is either invisible or aberrant in its hypervisibility. Our presence and lineage is met with either denial or amusement. In the absence of sartorial markers, our identities are rendered precarious through assimilatory impulses. We speak the same tongueজিব/জীব though. The risks and ruptures of the spoken word manifested first in school, when I called water “পানি” and not “জল”, provoking casual queries. The body only liquefied gradually in the face of this discomfortশ্বাসরোধ until it learned to take perfect, legible strides along the contours of this language as it was spoken in upper-caste circles. But I cannot narrate erasure.
✦ couldn't the scaffold be folded into an origami boat?
✣ a bird had flown in by accident once
✿ they call this a "sunset"; it's where my cat naps
❂ father offers the
.transcribed is water the ;here الوضوء
There are a lot of windowsজরুরী in the blueprint. My father designed it, and his claustrophobia manifested in the odd proliferation of openings on the concrete. The view outside lends a sense of continuity and direction to the architecture; one can trace the branches of the massive পিপল tree on the premises of the mosque that plays the
. day a times five أذان
.routine of segments neat into day the dividing, space and time marks أذان The
: disruptive oralities; spillageএঁটো.
Theoretically, there exist an infinite number of copies to this blueprint; its ontology is already reproducible. A colonial invention in the 1800s, the technical disposition of the print was widely used in construction and industry, characterised by lines on a sheet, shaping space from imaginationবাসনা. Numbers are then added for scale, as my eyes stare at a diagram otherwise comprehensible only in X-ray visionভঙ্গুর. I look at the relationships between room and terrace, sink and pipe, corner and ceiling. The print promises that we would live amongst the density of fixtures.
A residue of said wildernessজঙ্গল remains near the house. It is still home to trees, shrubs, creepers, birds, and a host of garbage on the ground from residents. Over the years, I observed how the soil swallowed the plastic refuse in slow motion and gave way to new shrubs; I imagined an unfathomable
✦ I know the streets, not the gates
✣ "এই রাস্তায় হাঁটলে গা ছমছম করে"; her words bit me
✽ site/cite into existence
✿ I cast a vote here a few months ago
⁕ The "landmark" on my address
❂ where the موذن
.day his of most spends
＊ Google would have been right about this route if not for incessant construction routines
An epistemic confusion emerges from the pain my tooth has generated. Have I misunderstood excitement as pain? Its register as decay on the documentনথিপত্র would then be a mistake. The sensory traffic of such a disintegration is হিজিবিজি—that lyrical tandem in the face of empirical failure. This illegible space resists depth, folding into itself in a pulsating expanse of marks, scrawls, and automatisms. This space is potent, and dismantles rhetoric and resolution. It is both affirmative and speculative—simultaneously a here and an elsewhere. In its scope, the body withers away from the record and transmutesবিবর্ণ into indecipherable matter. Bloodlines crisscross and entangle across histories of dispossession, eliding both the map and the page.
The house wants to remain erect against a(n) (d)evolving landscape—as a register of material presence and persistence in lineageবংশ. What happens when the body can no longer fight, protest, or even react to omissionদুরমুশ? Exhaustion sets in, and land gives way to a floating base. The roots form anticipatory knots, preparing for rot or exile. Poised between ‘“Indian’” and ‘“Muslim’”, life and ledgerখাতা পত্র, the body floats between the past and the future—a liminal space of irrecognition along the illegible marginaliaপ্রান্তিক of nationhood. The scaffold has started to shake because somebody is exhumingক্রীড়া a fantasy on the adjacent land. A bulldozer growls and raises dust.
The dust has begun to trespass into the circumference of our house, and the leaves help it thicken and obscure; the house takes refuge in হিজিবিজি for a while. Petitions are travelling and anxieties are in motion while daily errorsত্রুটি in nomenclature continue. My nameইতি has been written over and over—misspelled, corrected, and confused“নাজরিন”, “নাজরীন”, “নাzরিন” again—an illegible eruption from the script. Words have begun to putrefy against their own spectre, and I wonder if there is a perimeterসীমা to the ache in my tooth. I persist. আমি ক্লান্ত।
Najrin Islam is an art writer working between Kolkata and New Delhi, India. She is a postgraduate from the School of Arts and Aesthetics (2015–17), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, and currently works as a contributing author with Alternative South Asia Photography | art, and Critical Collective. Her research interest is situated at the intersection of moving image histories, archival politics, and institutional omissions. Najrin is the recipient of the Art Writer's Award (2018-19), conferred by TAKE on Art magazine and Pro Helvetia Swiss-Arts Council.
Suvani is an artist and researcher based in New Delhi, India. She works with sound and inter-media assemblages, and has been exploring various modes of transmission such as podcasts, auditory texts, sonic environments, objects, installations, workshops and live interventions.
In Refuge and Refusal: Notes on Omissions is a meandering cogitation on anxieties around erasure, starting with the ache of a rotting tooth to the systemic invisibilisation of the Muslim body in India. It takes off from the expression ‘hijibiji’ – a word that denotes the indecipherable in Bengali. What could illegibility mean for a body already on the margins? The author builds her thoughts around the blueprint of her family house, activated by spectral interruptions and linguistic slippages.
This work is optimised for desktop computers, and not available on mobile devices.
Runway Journal acknowledges the custodians of the nations our digital platform reaches.
Runway Journal is produced by a voluntary board and pay our contributors above industry rates. If you have found some delight in this content, please consider a one-time or recurring monthly donation.
We extend this acknowledgement to all First Nations artists, writers and audiences.
Runway is supported by