Words, Love & Life – IV
There were three ladies trading stories in a wayside coffee shop, that I had dark Turkish coffee and mouthwatering pastries from. When I asked for milk to add to the coffee, the restaurant owner was offended. He tut-tutted and advised me to buy Americano. The elderly girls were kind and were full of sympathy. But they couldn’t help breaking into peals of laughter. I thought one of them must surely be Aunt Nesibe, enjoying an outing with her friends. She had kind eyes.
Aunt Nesibe, the seamstress and her husband Tarik, a history teacher had shifted to Cukurcuma, where an assortment of the lower middle class and impoverished dwelled.
After my arrival in Istanbul, it had taken just a day for me to find this place. I wished I could replicate Kemal’s desperate wanderings through these streets, for 339 days, peering into homes through parted curtains watching families at their evening meal and hoping hopelessly that Fusun might be in one of them . “When Fusun’s ghost began to appear in the poor neighbourhoods of the old city-Vefa, Zeyrek, Fatih, Kocamustafapasa-I concentrated on that side of the Golden Horn”.
Decades after Kemal visited these places, when I saw these names on road signs my heart lifted and I learnt from the friendly hotel boy how to say these strange names and like Kemal I felt a deep affection for Fusun’s beautiful and impoverished neighbourhood. He describes these narrow backstreets with impoverished old women in headscarves and young toughs and unemployed idling in the coffee houses with great affection. Though the modern Istanbul of the 21st century concealed much of the poverty, unrest and disgruntlement of its people, one did come across an occasional graffiti across some crumbling wall or see desperation written across some faces, if you were an obsessive people- watcher.
The political conflict of the 70s and 80s Istanbul is woven into the narrative, but the lover’s perspective of the violent neighbourhood, is fascinating read. Kemal says in the novel, “And so I came upon a broken marble fountain 220 years old, sitting in the middle of a cat-infested square, and the sight of slogans and death threats scratched on every visible surface scrawled by “factions” of the various left- right- wing parties, brought me no disquiet. With my heart convinced that Fusun was somewhere nearby, these defaced streets were for me, enchanted.”
The acceptance of Fate, of disasters, of doom, destruction catastrophe might come easily to these people who had experienced upheavals, both natural and political every season of their lives. When I boarded my flight there was news of bombing in Turkey. But nothing could dissuade me-it was “now or never”.
In a report, written after a month of my visit it says,
“…the government’s return to open conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in July 2015. Since that time, the return to conflict with the PKK has resulted in the deaths of at least 230 civilians and 230 Turkish security forces, while the president claims the state has killed 3000 PKK militants. Also since July, the Islamic State’s suicide bombers have killed another 135 Turkish civilians, as well as 11 foreign visitors to Istanbul just three weeks ago. “
In a little shop outside the hotel where I was staying an old man was selling beautiful ceramic artefacts. On a Television screen incongruously propped up among intricately patterned ceramic plates, there were scenes of a battle- I wasn’t sure if it was live and I asked the old man who spoke Urdu, he shrugged and smiled. An ordinary day in the life of Turkish people.
I found this nonchalance endearing, I encountered it many times in the seven days I was there. Perhaps this indifference towards fate and social norms is what Kemal exhibited when he visited Fusun, through hell and high water obsessively for years, though socially tabooed.
At the end of the traumatic 339 days in which Fusun and her family disappeared leaving no trace Kemal receives a note from Fusun inviting him to their home. The letter is staid and proper but it brings back Kemal to life. Kemal deprived of Fusun’s great love and therefore dead to the world, wakens. He writes, “A short letter, which I devoured with my heart pounding”.
This is the beginning of the many stolen hours that Kemal manages to wrest from unbending Time.
When he accepts the invitation, he restrains himself from rushing to her. He is uncharacteristically sober, Love transforms him, he is no longer the capricious rich playboy.
“If my aim was to marry Fusun in the end, and to bind her to me for ever after, I should take care not to seem too anxious, I told myself.”
When he is driven to the Keskin home the rain was coming down in sheets. I felt oddly happy to see it rain when I first walked down to the Museum of Innocence housed in the old Keskin residence.
Kemal is deliriously happy. He was carrying flowers and gifts, planning to propose to Fusun, unaware of Fate’s cruel games.