The Sublime Object of My Fantasy

by Nupur Shah

  1. Most days I am able to forget all about having been a once-girl who has to remember that she is a woman-now.
  2. This has nothing to do with wanting to escape my body in its precise particularities.
  3. For gradually (life is gradual), one settles into loving those things that one knows will never love one back.
  4. It is just that I like escape in general. Being elsewhere to be. Flight or flight?
  5. All right, judge me: my sense of self is a result of massive commitment issues.
  6. So, what? Even god has them. Wasn’t it the son who, nailed to a pair of wooden beams, wailed: Father, Father, why hast thou forsaken me?
  7. Apparently, god is not-god unless He forsakes whatever (whomever) He cannot bear.
  8. In moments of grace, I like to think that to escape is an attempt to just be.
  9. But to be able to just be comes with a lot of baggage: it is called guilt. For what amount of love can ever teach us how to live without suffering? Love being its own cause-of-suffering.
  10. And so forgetting is the only natural escape that, however (humans are clever), doesn’t feel like escaping because forgetting is never purposeful.
  11. Whereas everything human has to be. (Purposed with guilt.)
  12. Forgetting is what just happens; just like I happen to be a woman.
  13. But I find it really hard to forget, to escape being-woman when I am smoking.
  14. Sometimes, I imagine the wrath of god in the wake of the fall: how he must have wanted to destroy Eden by bombing it with a star. I like to think of that star as being a time-travelling, god-boggling Eve.
  15. Apropos of any of the above, I am aware of the existence of a pop band called Cigarettes After Sex, but I have never stooped so low as to let them entertain me. Instead, I entertain myself by:
  16. Thinking about the sex of cigarettes. What is it?
  17. This query arises in me, delicate as a smoke-tendril because a pack of cigarettes un-represses the primitive in me.
  18. Since even before I took my first drag, I have thought about a cigarette wedged in-between the lips as being an unconscious conscious phallic fantasy.
  19. Maybe why I took that first drag from an older woman I never mustered enough courage to kiss.
  20. Sometimes, smoking, I imagine female thighs: what if Stone Man carved the first flint stones off them and so invented the fire (of desire)? Which stone must have struck before: hetero- or homo-?
  21. On most days, my female flesh feels papery to me, as if it could be un/rolled at the will’s whim. As if under the skin, existence flowed through a river of tobacco-tufts. Pollution of the patriarchal soul?
  22. But this only happens when I am craving for a cigarette i.e. for the taste of myself.
  23. For smoking is the only alternative I have found for my childhood desire to kiss myself on the mouth, in the armpits, on my head, under my chin: all those deep places. So much more than the gory gorgons of Medusa, the impossible despair of Narcissus was my adolescent theme.
  24. But I hate mirrors (and kissing in general), for all sorts of things in the world act like mirrors; making you bump into you.
  25. Sometimes, for my post-dinner drag, I will walk far in search of a niche where a young woman (I,I,I) may unfurl her tendrils of fire, far from the public eye; searching for the safety of shadows. And it is as I walk, alone, into more aloneness that I’d like to have as my companion a Wo/Man-Body-Voice who rasps like smouldering embers a language only I’ll understand because I alone know what it is to move through fire. One who will and will not let me forget, fade and furrow into the chaos of confusion the-everything-of-this-world as effortlessly as I do.
  26. A cigarette is the only way there is to taste fire. One breathes air; drinks water; smells the earth; feels fire but also wants to taste it. Maybe why in erotic poetry, love is a kindling and the beloved, a flame of bittersweet agony.
  27. If the Hindus (my people) burn their dead, then I like to think of the act of smoking as a confinement of fire’s deathfulness; a blanket of paper rolled over the mortal body’s uncontrollable tendency to self-destruct. A tasteful breath blown across the threshold of potential terror.
  28. For some inexplicable reason (not least because I love the play and the man Hamlet), I have found it extremely hard to visualize Ophelia smoking. Some weird instinct tells me that that would make her hysteria appear a thousand times sexier still.
  29. This is uncomfortable proof of the fact that we derive no end of obscene pleasure out of the pain of those who suffer like us; those who, like us, lack all language because all the words in the world have been usurped by the Hamlets of the world.
  30. This thought always in my mind whenever I smoke, no matter how many ‘mindfulness’ strategies I employ to evade it: what is living? Some people do it so well, and others? As if life were a bottomless well, every drop of its water locked inside their own paralysed limbs, making it impossible to move either in or out of its dark confines and into the light flickering at the end of their own mouths: their words.
  31. Another way of saying the above is that I think of smoking as the luxury of a limbo between a silent scream and the scream of silence. For smoking has always seemed to me to act as a kind of stopper on the void of the [self].
  32. In other words, our rebellions are really the only way we have of coping.
  33. But, contrarily, what if smokers were the kinds of people who actually enjoyed dying? Like the poets, of whom someone said that they were a little bit in love with death? Smoking as a symptom of the death drive, hastening the inevitable end…
  34. What is also inevitable, according to an unpublished survey, is that a smoking-drinking-partying-woman is more likely to be seen asking for it than one who self-confines within the walls of repression.
  35. Although the question of just what is being asked for always confuses me.
  36. I remember the root of this confusion from once, from very early on in my smoking career. Having forgotten my lighter back at home, I’d had to ask a stranger smoking across the street from me (there were no nearby shops where I could’ve procured a matchbox). After having lit, I went back to being on the street opposite. He was chivalrous enough to share his expensive lighter, but not so chivalrous as to be able to control his gaze from roving up and down my she-smoker’s body.
  37. And what could I, apparently asking for it, do, but stare back, rooted to the radical ground of my own where I flicked my ash as casually as if I were blind to his intrusion into my mental space.
  38. But I wasn’t blind. And nor was he.
  39. For what I detected in his smoker’s gaze was a kind of anxious terror at the sight of me. Think Medusa, and he, a swordless Perseus for I was wielding that sword in my mouth. As if he knew, somehow, just by looking at my fully clad body that descended down from my flaring mouth, that I really didn’t need him, (or anybody of his anatomy), even in the event of being unclad, for I had more than taken care of my pleasure by myself.
  40. And he was right: as stated above, I have always thought of the cigarette as a phallic fantasy. And I think that this is a collective image, and which could explain the taboo over smoking women (at least in the kind of conservative ‘third world’ culture that I belong to).
  41. As if a cigarette were a sign that she is more than capable of providing for herself i.e. why I have noticed smoking being much commoner amongst working (middle-aged) women than amongst young adult girls (in college and their early 20s) who may still be financially/materially dependent on their parents (like myself).
  42. My cigarette was only halfway done by the time his got over, following which he left. As he was receding into the distance, diminishing by the moment, I thought: maybe he got an erection; maybe he fantasized about me naked. And that maybe he was able to control himself from making any glaring moves by the very means that had seduced him: the cigarette that was being sucked in and out, in and out of my autonomous mouth, marking (isolating) me off as dangerous territory.
  43. In that moment, despite me being as much a lover of men as of women, I felt the chasm called sexual difference widen the void between my private and patriarchy’s public world; as if somehow, I, with my cig hanging on and off me like a mobile paper-penis, didn’t belong there, out in the open one with my desire; and if, in any case, I did, it was only as the object of his rape fantasy. By now, he was a dot on the ever-receding horizon of my sight and even as I tried to forget all about my own dizzying thoughts, I couldn’t, and remember thinking: that maybe why he walked off (having finally lost the battle of stares) was because he must have felt that the faucet between his legs wouldn’t be enough to extinguish the fire he had seen me move through, as I sucked the tobacco in and spat it out, but not before feeling it fill me down to the depths of my inner being, my lungs, where the like of him would neither be needed and nor wanted.
  44. What I mean is that I am my own desire for fire. My cigarette, the sublime object of my fantasy, may happily exclude the whole world, despite all its allure of sex and promises of love.
  45. Why I started by saying that I like self-forgetting: makes the burning feel cool, like the inevitable wane of the moon.
  46. This is all I wanted to say.
  47. And so, smoked to the last tendril of thought, let me stub out.

Nupur Shah lives in Mumbai, India, where she is pursuing an MA in English. She has been previously published at Visual Verse and The POET Magazine, among others.