Fairytales Competition 2018: Blank Space

An entry to the Blank Space Fairytales Competition


To Protect a Hollow Tree

In vain, I attempt to describe my visit to the Fabled City of the far, Far East. Let me tell you right at the beginning that there are only two ways to experience it – within and without. It is known that travellers to this mysterious city have always returned with distinct memories and conflicting feelings, and my encounter was no exception. An overlap of passages in time, of space and events – the city engulfs you as a whole with no desire lost and one strangely becomes a part of its present, the unseen past and its unknown future. The city however does not speak of its past, but contains it within like the lines of a hand; every segment marked with scratches, indentations and scrolls. You scan the streets as if they were written pages, the city speaks of everything you must think; and while you believe you are but a wanderer, you are already memorising names with which she defines herself and all her parts. You walk miles with her fabric as a the sole compass of time and space taking in the sights she offers to wanderers – a stunning view from atop the Emperor’s Dome and the magnificent vistas that this once prosperous city has to offer of its crumbling monuments. But the story lies in the way your gaze keeps returning to an uncanny edifice – motionless and omnipresent, it hovers over a veiled melancholy of what seems to be an extraordinary city in her past.

At this time, may I point out that in my experience, I have never encountered anything like this before – a lustrous object of monumental scale! The sheer magnanimity of this got the better of my curiosity and like all tourists, I decided to approach it myself. As I inched closer, the strangest thing happened – the air on my face became humid and my vision slowly blurred with every step. The light dazzled me as  I stretched out my hands waiting to touch its mysterious luminescent surface. I withdrew in an instant sensing a chill down my spine- the object was stone-cold. I returned with caution, gently making contact – one hand at a time. As unbearable it is to put into words what I felt, let me just tell you that this was no ordinary substance  but a material of a strength greater than any I had ever chanced upon.

It is known from history that a great many empires have held sacred the way to divide and rule. A great many structures have been raised and fallen time and again. So, there was one thing I was sure of: however this city may really be beyond this thick curtain and  whatever it may reveal or conceal, I was determined note to leave it in despair. Over the next few days of my travel, I began to investigate the this structure. After endless wayfaring, and no signs of protest, I decided to find my way to the famed Memorial of the Republic for traces of unfinished stories. This great city was built many times over and fell many times over. Each time, it was enclosed and grew within. These enclosures kept some out while entrapping some inside. Greater the enclosure, more the ones trapped inside. I could sense the irony of a great republic that was consumed from a decay within just as a desiccated tree rotting from within is protected by the bark till the very end!

I set out on my last day like a gypsy who does not know yet of the city that awaits him but anticipates the fortunes ahead. Every empire that was ever built on the ruins of the previous bore its order a metropolis that is designed to divide and speaks loudly of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ – of the ‘citizens’ and ‘unwanted aliens’; of the one who ‘belong’ and ones who ‘do not’. ‘Why then does this city or any city exist at all?’. I drew closer to the Memorial of the Republic.

Walking on pathways cobbled with stories and memories, I immersed myself at the Memorial Gate. While all ravelled in the happy moments amongst the flutter of ribbons in a celebration of the ruin, I paced towards what was a monumental breech – a defining consequence of one of the greatest walls ever built by humankind. I stood between tow towering faces – cut with precision in this endless structure connecting with conviction – the within and the without. Beyond lay another city – not distinct from the one on this side and absolutely as mesmerising as the one I wandered stretched to the horizon. It is true that after all that cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears and even if the thread of their discourse is concealed, or their rules are absurd and their narratives – deceitful, only ambition can defeat ambition. As republics of our time continue to hold a belief that their walls will last forever, the Fabled City is a whisper in time that reminds us yet again that a strong bark cannot protect a hollow tree and that the higher we build our walls, the greater are we entrapped within.

Inspired by ‘The Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino