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Translating Silence

Flickr Creative Commons: gato-gato-gato

These days, I find myself thinking about my ancestors. I have no idea what they may look like.  I happen to think they inhabit the air I breathe. They played many roles to get to me. This is a limited and relatively selfish perspective and yet it’s an important one to write about.

I have a lot to unravel as a person that writes.

My ancestors played a lot of roles. Some of those roles are fuzzy and unrelatable.

I am more familiar with recent generations who are seemingly more linked to the silences and traumas I have held inside me. You too will hold these stories in your flesh, in the pace of your walk, within the seconds that skip between your blinking eyes.

By now I know the ancestors that played the role of a woman had played it mostly through silence. When silence grows in you, you perform towards your world quietly, without questions.

Silence is an act of self-preservation.

I find myself thinking about their opinion of me.

Mostly because I am writing things:  twisting and strangulating their absurd amount of silence into submission. Every year, I write something that surprises myself. Things like my body and its betrayals become easy to document on paper. Deconstructing my own ideas of love and my internalization of toxic patriarchy has become exhilarating painful things to write. Like picking at a lovely fresh scab.

First I’d write things, small tests, small truths fluttering about between the threads of a soft cotton veil (let’s call it fiction).

Over the years, I have opened up old wounds and let them spill into paragraph puddles. They grow into floods. I think they might drown me at first.

I know my ancestors are cautious people. They live within me and are in shock. When they see what I write their anxiety travels into my chest. When they really want to catch my attention they give me migraines. You need to really think if you can put this out there, they tell me. After all, generations of silence is a hard thing to translate. Careful.

And yet over the pandemic, when the days melt into each other, they come in my dreams. No vision, I don’t know what they look like still. But I can hear their thick whispers.


Are you sure you want to write that? (Please do)

I don’t think you should write that (But please do)

You’ll be finished if you write that (And it must be done)

This is the delusion where I allow myself to respond. I get to respond because of the access I found. This access comes from ancestors who oppressed others so much they built tiny little cages for their minds and hearts to pace about, day in and day out. I suspect my ancestors were told they were pure, proper, deserving. It’s easy to witness how casteism is an entitlement, and this entitlement becomes fragments of our reality, layers of life we thought were normal.

So, ripping the Band-Aid off was hard at first. I had to peel away stories I had been told by parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, of what I was.

Over the last few years, I find myself and my friends being sick. With some mental illness, anxiety, deep depression, or a secret threatening to burst open flesh. But now, since the world has changed, we see we’re collectively in the same ocean, but each on different floating devices. So now we expand our notions of suffering.

We see our illness is a response to the silences of trauma, of aches we were not allowed to explore, of historic submission. We suffer because of the cold apathy with which our ancestors settled into a stiff hierarchy. We suffer from the choicelessness they had when they were handed over an idea of legacy and purpose. We try to shake out the secrets and dark things they saw (and kept quiet about). We still see them, just in different ways.

It’s a collective journey, this idea of writing. Of being one. It’s not my individual mind that writes. It’s an impossible idea to think you are an individual capable of writing things that could conquer, heal, move, or disturb the minds of a reader. You are a scribe. Standing upon a cloud of silences, held up by thousands of bodies, faces, you cannot imagine. Who are still are a part of you.

About Rheea Mukherjee [1]

Rheea Mukherjee [2] is the author of  The Body Myth, (February 2019/ Unnamed Press).  Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in several publications including Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Out of Print, QLRS, and Anti Serious among others.  She is the co-founder of Write Leela Write [3], a design and content laboratory in Bangalore, India. She spends most of her spare time eating and making vegan hipster things. Learn more at www.rheeamukherjee.com [2], and follow her on Twitter [4] and Facebook [5].