edition März-April 2024

The Body amid a Surging River

Text: Parvathi Ramanathan
Dancer, Researcher and Writer who has occasional morning affairs with poetry

A surging confluence in the streets of Berlin. I move with it. The sky laden heavy with rain-bearing clouds doesn’t keep people from gathering. Like meandering brooks, groups walk down dozens of side streets to join the larger river. The energy of the protest demonstration swells, spilling out onto the sidewalks. Above them, waving palms and scarves from the windows bring cascades of affirmation, reflected by the flags and posters carried within this liquid flow. The river billows, pauses and flows discovering new currents in its path. I, too, pause and flow with it. Feet shuffle ahead in small steps, a murmuring waterscape with an insistent presence.

What does it mean to be here when one is thinking about there? What does it mean to be this body, in relation to other distant bodies that lie still or are uprooted? A gnawing thought floats at the back of the throat. Could our river stop that deluge? Even the root of the tongue cannot coil around it to yank it out. When the tongue hangs out of reach, there is music and sound! dhum dhum thak, dhum dhum thak, dhum dhum thak. The timbre of a Djembe drum carries me swiftly ahead and suddenly I am in a different part of this flowing river. A familiar face that I usually see dressed in drag on stage –hello – our hands clasp together momentarily. Here on the street, their mouth stretches to smile and then contorts into a huge conical enraged megaphone.

The river is carried by choruses of chants and songs calling for freedom, peace and justice. Words, familiar and new, roll in my mouth. A Spanish language slogan near the left ear and an Arabic language one near the right one. Sometimes I begin with one and end with another. I tend to mess up the rhymes of a German slogan. One tries to hear well and say the words correctly. After all this is a game of correct words. Um Wörter ringen. To wrestle with, grasp for, wring around words.  A choreographer friend uses this German term to describe the struggle to adequately articulate each nuanced perspective in a collective space. 

The uncertainty of how and what can be said leaves an ulcer in my jowls. Will there be undercurrents of consequence? For others it is far far worse. The tide may push them out of this city that had long been a haven. Even as the discourse in Germany continues to evolve, I sense a profound sense of hurt around me. But the river gathers chewing on its hurt. Swirling saliva, Worter wirbeln. Voices echo and ricochet, calling and responding. Oh, if this city were a forest, we would be tropical island full of cacophonous bird life! Accelerating full steam, our sentences flow like an upwards waterfall. We validate and agree and raise and repeat, and again we repeat! Another voice picks up when one begins to tire. Perhaps this water channel is an island after all, convinced in our beliefs as much as another in theirs. It feels better to be in this flowing morphing river island than facing a screen that transmits painful truths. 4-year-old surv…scroll...viral ramen recipe…scroll…akkusativ pronomen einfach ler...scroll…Before and after aerial photos of…scroll…protest gathering at Hauptba…scroll…Geheimplan gegen…scroll…my fingertips flinch with an awareness of what is left half unread. Sometimes I join other droplets on the side and we make a little puddle. Swathed in my thick winter shroud, I marvel at the dame who is wearing fairy wings. Her feathers made of medicated gauze are scribbled with lists of names of aborted games in small side-lanes.

Our river drips into side-lanes and trickles into kitchen conversations among trusted ones. Here we nurse grief, compassion and rage – not to douse them but to feed our ways of action. My head finds the shoulder of a friend and her head finds mine. I hear a sigh in my ear. We breathe together.

At another liquid gathering, I bend down to touch the grass and look at my hand for stains. Berlin, Germany. Her proud earth has witnessed much. Indeed, what does it mean to be here when one is thinking about there? There are many “theres”. Here, a group of children – not more than eight years old being pulled in a wagon – begin to raise slogans. Their chants insist on the present. The future is distant. Ceasefire Now. We smile up at them and at the sky drenched with our collective hope.

I let myself fall back upon this river of connection and catharsis.

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