Thursday, May 7, 2015

THE CITY of DOORS: an exercise in restraint

We did with the city what we could. We fanned the fumes from its ruins and observed them carefully, eager to divine its secrets. It was not all smoke. Colonies stitched their way across the banks of the river, their vibrancy palpable. We stared out at them and nodded to ourselves, applauding our efforts...Fat men loitered in abandoned alleyways. They clasped their offspring to their chests like secrets. They cast telling eyes on us. Out in the distance, the begging cup still clanged. 
- Bernard Matambo 
Let us imagine the city of Dipati. That it is beautiful is not in question. Many have moved entire lives to see its closed shores. That it is a land of plenty is obvious not least to its neighbours who smell the cooking pots all day. Let us imagine her people are healthy and those who are not, have access to a healthy dose of recourse. It is a land filled with teachers - some roam the desert and memorise all they know passing it onto their young, others stand in classrooms and all who sit before them leave with their names on important pieces of paper. In theory. All is well. But there is little work left from the pot of jobs. It is magically depleted. And the teachers wear their duty as a heavy cloak cast upon them. The pot is near empty not unlike the pot of land which too is insufficient - though if you stand upon a certain hill with joggers walking past you imagine you allot each man piece of ground to make a home on. In theory. 
Legend has it this is a city so beautiful there is little worth in imagining living elsewhere. It is safe, if you do not rob the wrong house. It is quiet if you do not draw attention to yourself. It's playgrounds are filled with boys humming as Christian choirs while they hold the hands of girls with veils across all but their eyes. 
No question, this city is indeed a wondrous place. In theory. There are air tight policies to govern everything. In theory. In reality monitoring and evaluation are frowned upon. Each project begins but never ends. And no budget is final, it is agreed upon as per policy but need not be honored. The burden is upon the people to pay at least twice for each project. Everyone sees this. The youth say they do, but they must eat and dissent denies the belly its due.

Though there are cows in the north of the city the milk never reaches the south. Though there is firewood everywhere, it is rationed for only a few have the capacity to gather it. And everywhere there are gatekeepers. And it is not necessarily money they want. Their addiction is locking doors. A kind of OCD. The gatekeepers make habit of shutting doors in the faces on the non believers. The system is as religion. Dipati is a gracious city she tends the ones who cannot take care of themselves. But she does not reward initiative until it cannot be ignored. Then the men in their suits will call and the song makers summoned to the airport to welcome the champion whose crown is given in another land. Often the gatekeepers are not the ones to eat the fruits from Dipati's inner courtyard, they merely stand guard. Centuries at the city gates. Evil? Perhaps. If so theirs is not born of malice but tradition, whose hold is as the promise of gold. Not malice? No, only habit and belief. Faith need not be logical. It need only say 'these are ones to enter and these are not'. And think of it, if the young with their brave new world enter the inner courtyard and speak their new tongues of access as necessity not privilege, of apps they build (what is this?!) and of books they've read on what happens to the dispossessed and show the kings for what they do not know, what will become of tradition? And them?
Perhaps the keepers see themselves as protectors of all.
Time stands still in the inner courtyard and each time that door opens tradition's chain fractures. This is the duty of the keepers, not at all to keep the young out as to keep the old time in. When the young come with their new ideas and new ways the guards scuttle, they send forth the most stringent tongues amongst them. Often old and blind for to look upon the youth of Dipati is to change a man. Surely. They whip at the young in only the local dialect with its inbuilt hierarchy. and keep only the desperate who do not rage at this dying of light. Once inside, the kept-young are churned through a rigorous system of re-education. You will not know them within a year. They too sulk at the helpers'desk, they leave early, they frown at what challenges, they speak of the ones left behind as traitors to uniformity. They champion mediocrity. Defend its gates, now with their own lives. They change into gatekeepers. 
Nothing changes in Dipati. Except the young who grow into what they said they would not become.

In theory.

If this is us in a tunnel there is perhaps, toward some end, something resembling light.

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