Bouquet of Nerves

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

NY Night Bridge smallStarry night, a large starry night with infinite trees, is the background of what seems to be an architectural form— a balcony, bridge, courtyard with pillars? In the foreground, a sphere with a curve draped over it like an arm. This drawing has the expansiveness that suggests eternity (or waiting for what seems like an eternity) and monumentality, as well as intimacy, a sense of security. A birthday present from my teenage son, this abstract drawing is titled “colic.” The architectural form is a crib, the starry sky is the sleepless, endless night of shared anxiety between a mother and her colicky newborn.

I am handed this drawing on my return from an evening in New York City, my eyes still filled with the lambent and the monumental, with sorrows hidden under careful inscriptions; riches, anxiety, loneliness, poverty, and also a plentitude of heart, a sharing of burdens. My son’s drawing belongs in the series of photographs I have just taken of the city— of monumentality and intimacy: endless tunnel ceilings, vertiginous buildings, old trees, sparkle, strangers caught sharing a laugh as they contend with waiting in queue together. Wear this city like a jewel if you will, or a sensible shoe— carry it like a bouquet of nerves, or an empty envelope— New York is resplendent and humble, so high and mighty it gives you the cold shoulder, so electric it sings you into rebirth.

“Colic” is about birth, and the anxiety and excitement of growth. When I read New York into this drawing, I see the loftiness of empire— starry and sorry— the darkness of hierarchies, the bond of empathy. I see the struggle for meeting the definition of nationhood, the founding fathers are in the high rises, in the homeless, in the cogs and wheels, in the sobs and hiccups of the centuries.

But it is my birthday today and this drawing jolts me into the realization that the night sky is still full of uncertainty, mystery and hope— colic is still a good metaphor for life, that I still long for my own mother’s protective arms, that nothing is sweeter than to be remembered as an extended arm by my son.