Ritual Art, flash fiction by Neera Kashyap at Spillwords.com

Ritual Art

Ritual Art

written by: Neera Kashyap


The music was of ocean waves breaking on the shore. Anita had arranged a diorama – a forest of diverse green plants from tiny to full size; in a wicker basket she had placed amulets of lodestone which she explained were used by early modern Christians to enhance a woman’s powers of conception. Some plants – coriander, saffron and satyrion – were potent in stimulating male virility. As an artist who used ritual art for performance, she had gathered women friends who were mothers, to participate in this fertility ritual. Each spoke in turn of her experience of childbirth. I listened intently, my eyes and heart filling up easily. As the evening wore on, Anita lit a few candles in the center of the women’s circle, asked me to enter a large hollow sculpture shaped like a womb, and to keep my focus on the diorama.

The sculpture felt dry and tight. My first thoughts were of the three years of the IVF treatment – the first year and a half of intense doses of weekly hormone injections and blood tests. Month after month of physical discomfort, repeated cycles of hope and disappointment; another year and a half of daily injections and blood tests. The need for treatment had colored my life. How unlucky, how unfair that I needed to go through so much what other women did so naturally. Going at precise times to be screened no matter what work you had to do. My body treated so artificially for delivering a baby that should be delivered naturally. So sick and tired of the tablets, sex to order, the discomfort from feeling the eggs mature, the pain of their removal. And all in an antenatal clinic full of pregnant women surrounded by pictures of smiling toothless babies. Lying on a hard bed in a dusty store room full of old furniture for donor insemination – not once but six times with no one looking in even once.

As my muscles tensed with an all-too-familiar stress, I heard the music. The ocean waves lapped on the walls of the sculpture, moistening them it seemed. I focused on the diorama. ‘April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain’….Oh Eliot, it is indeed a wasteland. It is indeed ‘a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.’ I glimpsed Anita in the circle of women, indistinguishable from the others in the gathering dark. My heart surged with sudden gratitude, and my muscles relaxed.

In that enclosed space. I felt the ritual focus intensify. Suddenly, a single question formed in my mind, “Are you willing to be a channel?” This jolted me into an awareness that had never entered my consciousness: I was terrified of dying in childbirth. In that shock of recognition, something changed, like a spotlight beamed into a pitch dark cave. Later, astonished by what had happened, I could recall statistics of maternal mortality but knew of no woman dying in childbirth; instead, this felt like a genetic memory of countless women’s experiences, stored in the cells of our bodies. During the final, intensely focused moments, another sentence formed itself, startling me, as if speaking to my intense desire to control what we can’t control: “You don’t have to do this; it does itself.”

Time passing, waiting time, wasted time, the shrinking time window for medical intervention….all passed into time. Three weeks later I discovered I was pregnant.

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