Sheesha Cafe

Smoke-

rose flavored, laced with sugar and butter.

I love Turkish sweets.

Gentle spice.

Soft flavors.

An array of colors.

Variant shapes and sizes.

Clay plates.

Blue-tinted glasses.

Wooden tables.

Silver forks, spoons and knives.

White embroidered napkins.

Dim lights.

Echoing Arabic music.

Glass vases filled with roses.

Words unknown but the meaning familiar.

The world forgotten.

Echoing laughter.

The scent of Turkish coffee lingering.

Pinnacle of hunger.

Calmness finally achieved.

Citrus flavors dancing on my tongue.

Warm pita bread between my fingers.

The Gateway to the Middle East.

The start of the Iftar Fest.

I inhale my final breath to rest.

Rosewater, Turkish nuts, Honey, Filo pastry, melted Butter.

I crave Baklava.

Ghost

The sun was brightest,

The air was hottest,

The rain protested.

She was there.

Old, wrinkled-

A raisin

Dry tendrils of snow-white wispy hair,

Bottomless hazelnut pools of emptiness,

Tattered clothes crushed by age.

She was there.

She was a nameless face-

Fading away into the atmosphere,

Like the shrouds of carbon dioxide that burry our cities,

Exhaled by you and I.

Under that ancient tree,

Tall, imposing and vast-

She was there.

Bending down-

Her bones creaked in silent protest

Fingers shivered, pinching

Black-blue pearls of disregarded fruit that

Fell from the tree-

Tall, imposing and vast.

She stood up again,

A shattered figure that somehow was fixed.

She stood back up-

A hawk without its intimidation,

A swan without its grace,

Her back slightly hunched,

Her thin, dry lips-

lines of trembling palms, quivering,

filled with the unknown berries.

Her clothes, murdered by the weather.

She was there.

She whispered words-

A vanquished language silenced by the air and

The brigade of vehicles and ‘modernity’.

Her eyes, for a brief second,

Met the jade green leaves,

buried under layers of dust-flavored icing,

swaying freely in the cool pre-rain evening.

“are you vanquished woman, are you vanquished?”

The jade green leaves seemed to whisper to her.

She didn’t answer.

She simply repeated her cycle of collecting berries,

While the world past her.

She was the fleeting image in the window of the car-

Forgotten as soon as she was seen.

The air is frost-bitten.

The sun is dim.

The sky is a battlefield of grey.

The jade leaves quiver.

The black-blue berries shudder.

Her skin shivers.

Passing by faces whisper.

Falling raindrops glimmer.

Her body gets stiffer.

Passing by figures bicker.

The smoke in the air gets thicker.

The daylight fades quicker.

The day is over in a flicker.

But she was there.

Blood Moon Rising

The sun never rose that day.

It only set.

The dusk never came that day.

Only tides of blurred faces of the dead.

The shadows didn’t lurk anymore,

The wind ceased to blow,

The ice wouldn’t freeze anymore,

The rivers refused to flow.

The earth was stained red-

Stained with the blood of miscalculation and failure,

Tainted by the stink of rotting corpse

And echoing the damned footsteps of an expected hell.

Eyes didn’t flutter open,

Valentine’s day was forgotten,

Christmas became the celebration of the dead

And people starved, even past their death bed.

The air echoed the voice of the forgotten faces-

The abandoned children playing in tanks,

The aging man deafened by the demented orchestra of shells

The shrieks of women stuck in a permanent hopeless horror

and the gold-clad minister smiled as he hissed for the world to see,

“welcome to hell,”

Gifts were guns,

The infant leaves grew ruby red as yellow and orange-

The symphonies of glee,

Melted away into the river of severed heads.

The sun glared, annoyed and disgusted.

The moon screamed in haunting silence

As the last beating heart finally stopped,

Frozen at last.

The sun never rose that day,

It only set.

The dusk never came that day.

Only the severed limbs of the orphaned dead.

Part Three: Palinoia

Its full.

Its all filled.

Traditionally, Frejya and the Valkyrie picked up the bravest off the battlefield and escorted them to Valhalla.

The ancien regime died with the French revolution.

When the bullet rips through the ripe flesh of the adolescent teenager who was cheated by society and forced into war,

There I s no redemption.

“Keep calm and carry on,”

That’s all you can do.

There is no escape.

Societies destroyed, families shattered, shards of bone and severed limbs.

The soil is scarlet. Crimson. Red basically.

When the bullet rips through the muscle of the beating heart into two, that’s it.

Death overcomes you.

Don’t fear her. Let her take you. She makes life so much sweeter.

It’s a culture dedicated to warfare.

After all, torture is a form of communication.

This is not bravery. It is insanity.

Valhalla is for the brave, not for the insane.

The ancien regime died with the Russian Revolution.

Heaven died when humanity was born.

Part Two: Incineration

Stained with the blood of a thousand years-

Today and yesterday are slaves already. Tomorrow’s next.

The sun-

A golden arc that once represented the hopes and desires of an ever rising empire.

It’s now a floating nuclear bomb and the lazy cotton clouds are the white silk shrouds, concealing the haunting innocent faces who simply couldn’t get away- collateral damage.

Yes, that’s what we call them.

The winds- I imagine them to be giant silver sickles sharpened to slice into two equal parts and I imagine they’d do it with a gleeful grin.

Then, comes rain-

Showers of bullets fired from metallic cylinders-

lethal extensions of humanity, invented by the Chinese, adopted and improved by the Europeans.

“there will come soft rains,”

that’s what they all chant , praying for water to wash away the horror and sins of the battlefield.

Rain comes, but in no means soft.

A shower of bullets and grenades, of severed limbs and droplets of blood sprayed all over the sky, staining the earth permanently. Even if a thousand flowers, red, white and yellow bloom next spring, in their petals, the horrors of the previous year will never vanish.

Can’t you hear the echo of the voices?
the wailing children, the screaming men, the shrieking women.

Can’t you hear the silent wails of the trees whose roots are shattered by the incessant attack of the storm of grenades?

Can’t you hear the silent protest when buildings older than a decade of generations are blown up?

The earth is stained with the blood of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The skies are burning.

The skies are on fire.

Part One: Orenda

The orchestra of birds chirping early in the morning-

My 3 am alarm clock that repeats every few minutes. I can’t even reach out to slam it into a much desired state of snooze because this particular alarm clock is privileged enough to have wings that it flaps, flying for hours a day, covering a million times more than what I could even dream of doing on foot. At 3 am, it is already succeeded in making me feel inferior.

I wake up, officially this time, at 8 or 9 am,

“A respectable hour of the morning” as my mother would off course say. Any time later, even if it is just a few minutes past “the morning”, she would automatically classify it as afternoon, according to her watch off course. Naturally, the world follows a much more reliable system of the GMT, according to which, all time before midday is morning. Regardless, I’m awake- if by “awake” you mean the wonderfully dazed state of mind, where I float, halfway between the conscious and sub-conscious realms of my mind, drifting without a single care, watching the world and its events pass by my eyes- blurred, like the images I see from the window of my car. It’s the state for the rest of my day of course.

Morning becomes noon, which transitions to afternoon and then dusk. Or twilight. Whatever you prefer to call it. I know it as evening. Is it only me who finds it odd that 4 words describe one particular time of the day? How beautifully odd really. It’s why I love this language. Each day is a scavenger hunt for new words. Join me sometime. Hunting alone gets terribly lonely don’t you think? Besides, two arrows would hit wider targets right?

Have you ever noticed the skies at dawn and dusk? When I was a child, I thought the skies were stained with candy. I wanted some. I wanted to grow tall enough so that my fingers would grab those cotton-candy clouds, tall enough that I could stick my tongue out and lick the candy stained skies and the giant crimson lollypop floating in the sky. My grandmother heard of this. She didn’t laugh. I spent a large part of my childhood, deceived into drinking milk twice a day, along with curd and all my vegetables and whatever was given to me on my plate for my meals- breakfast, lunch and dinner, in hopes and expectations that I would be that tall one day. I obviously did not. What did happen was that I grew out of my innocent daze of childhood where I viewed the world through my rose-tinted glasses that made the world seem like a wonderful utopia. That is childhood.

I’m no longer a child. Now, the skies at dawn and dusk are on fire in my eyes. The infant rays of the sun pierce the darkness, bringing light. But it isn’t white. Its fire- a demented orchestra of yellow, red, orange and pink- screams echoing, bombs exploding, guns firing. The sky is a battlefield, stained with the blood of those who dare to step foot on it.

The sun rays are like the rain of bullets fired from a gun- revolvers and what not. A gun is a gun and the moment a person holds it, he becomes lethal. The bullet pierces through the young flesh of the innocent teenager who they bribed into fighting for them. A soldier is a pawn to them. Yes them, the ones who sit in their offices, sipping their expensive coffees from their white china cups, leaning back on their leather chairs, swirling around, swimming in their shroud of smoke, high up on floors with double digits. Soon it will be triple won’t it? To them, a soldier is a pawn. They forget, a soldier is a child of someone- a farmer, a laborer, or maybe some innocent teenager who’s lost enough to think that army life would be like a game of Call of Duty. No it won’t. There’s no pause button. Once the bullet rips through the flesh and shatters the heart, life is over once and for all.

Wasn’t it Stalin who said, “One death is a tragedy but a million is a statistic?”

I can’t recall exactly. I read it a while back, off the surface of a book whose name I can’t recall. Perhaps I read it in school, or perhaps I read it while I performed my daily ritual of surfing the internet. Regardless, to them, this applies. War is a board game. A soldier is a piece- a faceless piece whose death means absolutely nothing. The point of the game is money. The one who earns the most wins money is land. That’s all that matters. Only one can win and when that happens, the battle ends. The war never does.

The battle ends. The fighting ends. Cities ruined. Cultures and histories insulted and destroyed mercilessly. People dead- on both sides, and innocent spectators who just couldn’t get away in time and got sucked into hell and never survived to explain how bad it really was. Nevertheless, it’s a grim victory but a victory nonetheless. Thus, the skies that previously burned of war and reeked of the scent of rotting bodies transition into the calm blue, almost white really. That shade stays for the rest of the day until evening when the skies burn again. That’s how wars are fought really. There’s always a moment of calmness which is forgotten, absolutely ignored when the first bullet is fired once again.

Evening turns to night. Black. Actually, its midnight blue. Or Prussian. I don’t know. I didn’t really pay attention in art class as you can see. Either way, it is just dark you know? Its the absence of color all together. But that, I will see that shade again and I’m going to think its various shades of the same color but it won’t be. It would be ripples of black satin that I will see before my eyes for the next 7 or 8 hours as darkness fills the crevasses of my mind that would be normally reserved for dreaming. But my sleep is vacant, dreamless- just the way I like it.

After all, silent solitude is always appreciated

Juana La Loca

Mental illness is defined most commonly as ‘a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behavior or thinking’. Insanity is the point when the existing mental illness in a patient reaches an extreme level. Most mental illnesses are inherited. Just because they do not bluntly appear at birth and are developed at a later age does not mean that they never existed before. It simply means that the existing condition was dormant, just as several volcanoes peppered along the earth’s crust are. Sometimes, mental illnesses are openly visible but their symptoms are severely misinterpreted for normality. For example, extreme love of solitude at times can be interpreted for royal dignity which, is a trait that is very much acceptable and desired in a royal household. Or sometimes, the very thought of having a mental illness might be bluntly ignored by those around you because it is an absolutely unacceptable thing to suffer from. Thus, the symptoms might be bluntly ignored, and a state of delusion might be created. For example, in Tennessee William’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Blanche DuBois is very evidently suffering from a mental breakdown, which, is simply ignored by her sister and her brother-in-law, along with everyone that she interacts with. This is mainly because she is absolutely unwilling to accept that she suffers from a mental illness herself and does her best to create a façade of normality, which eventually does fail as she sinks far too deep in her own delusional world, unable and absolutely refusing to accept reality no matter what.

If this is the case for a normal individual in the 20th, supposedly ‘modern’ century, it was a million times worse for the heiress to one of the most important thrones in Europe in the 15th century. Simply accepting that there was something wrong with you at that time was absolutely unacceptable because it could possibly threaten the legitimacy of the throne itself. While, in this case, it would be very favourable to most, it could have caused absolute outrage. Moreover, with the context of the middle ages and the fact that it was Isabella I of Castile that introduced the infamous Spanish Inquisition in Spain, actually admitting that even a slight possibility of mental illness did exist would result in absolute death or torture of ‘purification’ for both the victim as well as the one who diagnosed her. Thus, it was absolutely unacceptable to even suggest such a thing. Thus, the delusion of normality and the absolute ignorance of everything and anything else was a much safer route to take. As humanity tends to gravitate towards the easier and safer route, it is not all that surprising that many historical personas who did suffer from mental illnesses have been diagnosed in the present or the 20th century that actually allowed for the possibility of insanity as well as the gradual cure for it to exist.

Juana was born on November 6, 1479, as the second daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Their marriage had united Spain. As a child, she was a quiet soul, preferring quite clearly solitude and silence over the rather strenuous lifestyle of the imperial court as most royal would indulge themselves in. This however, was appreciated as it was interpreted by most as ‘royal dignity’. This also suited her rather intelligent and intellectual aura that she had developed from being taught rather well by the famous Italian humanists Antonio and Alessandro Gerardino. She was intelligent, serious, hardworking and pious and she read a lot of books.  She conversed fluently in Latin, danced gracefully and played clavichord and guitar. Thus, in many senses, she was the perfect princess but that is to be expected. After all, Queen Isabella I of Castile at the time was one of the most respected monarchs of Europe, well known for accepting nothing less than absolute perfection down to the smallest details. Off course, this extended to her own children, who, from a young age were specifically groomed to expand her own kingdom.

At the age of 16, she was betrothed to Philip “The Handsome” of Austria (1478-1506), only son of the Emperor Maximilian I. In 1496, after a rather dangerous journey on which she was accompanied by 22,000 people, Juana finally did arrive in the Low Countries, that the 18 year old Philip was already the ruler of. After a rather dangerous and strenuous month at sea, she finally disembarked, suffering from seasickness and a severe cold. Her to-be-husband was nowhere to be seen. Clearly he was not all that interested in meeting her and thus, she was greeted by his sister, Margret. But when they did finally meet, both sides experienced lust to such an extent that both ordered for the closest cleric and forced a ceremony and a day later, they were officially married in public. However, neither of them was taken by each other’s personality. They simply wanted to consummate the marriage as soon as possible and thus, in great haste, they were married. By all means, both of them could not have idealized their teenage years in any better way.

Both were far too careless to begin with and thus, it should not be a surprise at all that both suffered a rather unhappy life. However, Philip was attracted to her, acting upon his own carnal desires. Juana on the other hand, became absolutely infatuated with her husband, both for his cheerful, boyish personality, which would have been rather refreshing for her as she was used to her mother’s regime of frozen perfection. She was also infatuated with his physical appearance that she found rather appealing. She was not the only one though. One of Philip’s greatest pass times were chasing after the women in the Court. Therefore, his tall, athletic build as well as his long blonde hair would have been appealing to more than just a few. Interestingly enough, he was only nicknamed Philip ‘the handsome’ after his death, never once during his life. Philip had absolutely no intent on amending his philandering ways. However, Juana had inherited her mother’s perfectionist ways and expected a much more composed and scrutiny-free marriage. At this point itself, it is evident that their reckless wedding would cause both of them severe unhappiness till their death.

His flirtations set off her jealous rages, which would be a constant theme in their through the course of their married life, as well after his death. Philip was lazy and irresponsible, and he detested arguments. Juana was irritable, haughty, touchy, and moody. Often, she was depressed and suffered from nervous fainting fits. Each time they had quarreled, Philip punished his wife by avoiding her bedroom for days. Juana would then cry the whole night and bump up against the wall. Still, despite Philip’s flagrant unfaithfulness and the way he was treating her, Juana remained madly in love with him. It was quite clearly an unhealthy relationship.

Juana gave birth to Eleanor in 1498 and Charles in 1500. The heir’s birth was celebrated with great splendor and after 12 days he was baptized. In the period 1497-1500, Juana’s elder siblings, Juan and Isabel, and Isabel’s baby son, all died, leaving Juana as heiress of Spain, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean islands. Therefore, Juana and Philip were requested to visit Spain. On arrival in Toledo, Juana threw herself in her father’s arms, and hugged and kissed him. Queen Isabella I, however, was too devout and too self-disciplined to feel much sympathy for either her overwrought daughter or her pleasure-loving son-in-law. Due to her mother’s chilly treatment, Juana’s nervousness increased. Cheerful Philip found the grim court life in Spain both tedious and trying. The sequence of religious services seemed endless, and the summer heat blazed like a furnace. To his abhorrence, the Spaniards either kept their women hidden or used formidable chaperones. Philip got the measles, too. Once he was recovered he wanted to leave as soon as possible, but Juana was pregnant again. After a violent quarrel in December 1502, Philip left Juana behind. When she learned of it, she went berserk. Juana wanted to ride after him immediately, but her mother had her locked up in castle La Mota. Juana lapsed into brooding silences, knowing that Philip, back in Flanders, would surround himself with Austrian beauties. She refused to come back inside for 36 hours, despite the fact that it was freezing outside, demanding to follow him, her choices fuelled by her obvious irrationality. She ‘threw herself at the iron bars of the gates until exhaustion overcame her’ and even went as far as to threaten the bishop with life imprisonment and torture if he did not allow her to leave. When her mother did come to visit, Juana insulted her with a particularly foul language. At this point, she was clearly not within the realm of ‘normality’ which had been narrowly and sharply defined by the social convention of the time.

Naturally, when she did return to Flanders, the infamous incident of Juana cutting off Philip’s mistress’ hair, followed by a series of long quarrels which lead to her protests involving hunger strikes and then her infamous indulgences in love potions and sorceries under the influence of her maids followed. Disgusted, Phillip had the girls dismissed and had Juana confided to her room. Post this; their quarrels became more and more intense. It is reported that she would lunge at the people around her with a broom stick. Her descent into her supposed insanity had now begun clearly.

In 1504, Queen Isabella I of Castile officially died and that was the point when Juana’s life was thrown into absolute chaos as no longer there was any strong, demanding woman to dominate the men around her into acceptance. Amusingly, she had left the throne of Castile to Juana alone. As for Aragon, they would not accept a female ruler and thus, the throne returned to her father. However, the men around her were greedy, clearly not content with the fact that now she ruled over one of the most powerful empires of Europe. Phillip was not content in being King Consort. He simply had to rule as King of Spain but her worst betrayal came from her own father who asked the Spanish Treasurer in Flanders to read out his notes about her insanity to the Cortes. Worried, they proclaimed Ferdinand II of Aragon as curator. The problem was, her mother’s will allowed for Ferdinand to rule Castile if she was unwilling to do so or in her absence. However, for as long as Juana did rule, Ferdinand was not allowed to be the King of Castile. Overcome by greed, he chose to claim the throne for himself, regardless of his daughter’s existence and claim to it.

In 1505, Juana gave birth to a daughter, Mary and the following year in 1506, Philip and Juana set sail for Spain to claim her inheritance. Upon their arrival, Philip and Ferdinand used a mediator to negotiate an agreement for the government of Castile, without consulting Juana even the slightest. Naturally, she reacted furiously and they exploited this to make her seem far too incompetent to rule. The following month, Phillip came down with a fever and chills. Within a few days, he was unable to swallow and speak, all while he suffered from profound sweating. Pregnant again, Juana stayed by his side constantly and within 6 days; he was officially proclaimed to be dead. Several claim that it was Ferdinand II of Aragon that had him poisoned as a way to appease his daughter who was engaged in constant and violent quarrels with her husband prior that. Another thought expresses that Ferdinand did poison his son-in-law but only to reduce a future competitor to the throne and this is the thought that I am inclined to agree with, especially considering he really was not too bothered about his daughter’s very existence if he could not accept her to be the future ruler of Castile.

Whatever happened, most would expect her to be much happier as one major threat to her throne had vanished. Moreover, she would not have to be thrown into violent arguments with him any longer. Most would expect her to be rejoicing at her long awaited solitude. But that never happened. In fact, quite the opposite happened. After his death, Juana gave birth to a girl child who she named Catalina after her sister. Heavily pregnant and grief-stricken, Juana clearly lost her clear thought process. While accompanying his body to Granada for the burial, she demanded that the casket be opened. She demanded that they travel at night to avoid women being tempted by his remains. It is reported that she would stroke his remains and it is unclear as to how much of this is actually true and how much was simply fabricated by her father who used her behavior as the perfect opportunity to steal Castile from her and locked her up in a castle, where she would remain until her death. If she was not insane before, she would clearly be insane now and off course, insanity did run and quite evidently that too in her blood, both Hapsburg and Trastamara. Her maternal grandmother, Queen Isabel of Spain was considered to be insane and was as well, locked up for years. Here, Juana is said to have developed a series of mental illnesses such as Manic-depression or bi-polar disorder as well as Post-traumatic depression. As for Ferdinand, he remarried to Germaine de Foix, the niece of the King Louis XII of France, Spain’s traditional enemy and lived a life plagued by series paranoia. He never did have the son he hoped to have.

After his death, Charles, Juana’s son became the King of Spain as Charles V of Spain. Briefly, she was released from her 11 years of prison and she was absolutely disoriented, completely unaware of what was going on. She had no idea that her father was dead and that her son was now King. However, according to Castilian law, Charles would not fully be recognized as King until Juana’s death, and he refused to release her from her imprisonment. He finally abdicated in 1555, retiring to a monastery, dying three years later. His son became Philip II of Spain, husband of Mary Tudor, who ushered in Spain’s Golden Age. Juana’s other son, Fernando, inherited the Holy Roman Emperor. Juana’s youngest daughter Catalina remained at Tordesillas with her mother for sixteen. However in 1625, Catalina was stolen away in the night and married off to King Juan III of Portugal. Juana was plunged into deep despair at losing her last child. After forty-six years of captivity, Juana of Castile died at the age of seventy-six. She was buried beside her husband Philip in the cathedral in Granada, across from the tombs of her parents Ferdinand and Isabella.

The question however remains; was Juana of Castile sane or not? Mental illness seemed to run in the Trastamara and Hapsburg dynasties, which can be attributed to the tradition of incest that seemed to run strong, not only in those dynasties but in most royal dynasties. After all, the aim of all royal dynasties was to keep the money and influence within the family and not to butcher it between different individuals. Juana was either schizophrenic or bi-polar. It should also be noted that ‘insanity’ was an all purpose diagnosis used to control women who were considered out of hand, too intelligent, or dangerous. Could she have ruled her country? Historians have been debating this question for centuries. Since she never got the chance, the world will never know what Juana might have been capable of but it seems clear given how her sister Catherine fought against Henry VIII’s attempts to divorce her that the women of Castile were absolute warriors. Moreover, similar traits have been observed between Queen Isabella I of Castile and Juana, her second daughter. Thus, if she was allowed to rule, perhaps she would be as great as her mother, despite the fact that her mother did introduce the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, she was betrayed by the men around her- her father, her husband and then, even her own son.