Photographs by Nicola Tams
I had just returned from a four-day trip to Istanbul when I saw that a small cinema in Moabit, called Filmrauschpalast, was showing a Ben Hopkins film called “Hasret – Sehnsucht”. It was a film on the questions of the ghosts, cats and melancholy of Istanbul.
Afterwards I started to think about writing about this place using the memories which keep the form of fragments in my mind. All of these left-over memories are stockpiled, and exist without structure. I wonder whether I should write about Istanbul, whether it would be wise to write about something that I cannot grasp so well.
I wonder how to say something about a place that seems to have different layers underlining the visible? How to write about a place that I have only visited twice, a picture which has not yet taken shape in my mind? Yet I feel it writing in me anyway, something travels back and forth, looking for truths in the in-between space– where Hopkins locates his cats.
Hopkins says that the cats are one of the ways to start a voyage from the outer to the inner world, from what is most obvious – Bosporus – to what is most hidden – ghosts, pain and love. Cats are supposed to have several lives and they live all over, even in the most forgotten corners of Istanbul streets. They permit a way to access hidden layers of meaning. Who are these ghosts that Hopkins speaks of? And why does it sound so true when he speaks of melancholy?
So let us follow the unordinary paths of the cats, to see where we can find these sort of truths.
I saw cushion covers hanging from a clothesline in Beyoglu. It was as if they were expecting attention from passers-by. They waited and waited, but no one took them away. How long could they stare with their black, dull faces without eyes? What do they ask, if they don't want to know? Everything. They are lazy objects, but what if they demanded: "Come here, take a seat, and talk about your experience." How to make them speak?
I then walked into the "Museum of Innocence" where Orhan Pamuk tried to give life to literary "objects": Masumiyet Müzesi. In the museum he places all of the objects he gathered in his fictional book on Istanbul. For instance, he provided an envelope with a letter which, according to his voice on the audio guide, is so private that he would be ashamed to death if someone were to read it. But the statement stays untrue because we cannot read it. No account to be given here, either.
Why open the letter, when the secret is so much more inspiring? Why formulate things rather than letting them stay in the wind, covering the streets with the sounds of their heavy laughter? Can we fictionalize our lives? Is Pamuk diminishing the difference between a book and a lived life, real violence and violent language? How can we judge or grasp the thin line between one and the other and say: "This is not important." Or: "This is."
And how can we forget? Is it fiction, if someone tells me his or her story? Is it fiction if they lock objects into museum shelves? If it is, then I would like to see only what I want to see and write only what I want to read.
A friend of a friend once surprised me with the remark that she had once been blind. We both shared the sensation of having been watched, people staring at our bodies, especially as women. One day she decided that she had wanted to turn away from this. It would be easier not to be seen if we could just shut down our own vision. Like hundreds of cats that just close their eyes and sleep on a warm metal car or rolled over two chairs in a café. She was surprised to discover that when she was blind, she saw some things even better. I wish I were less afraid of the experiment she proposed to me and I could walk a couple of days through the streets keeping my eyes closed, blindfolded.
I have a picture of Istanbul in my mind. A woman's eyes look at the street, there is work to be done. A little girl's eyes follow the movement of a cat, a street cat, an Istanbul street cat. I watch the little girl who is watching the cat, she is holding her hand towards the cat, it needs to be seduced to stay.
The cat stays for a while.
There is something going on. The cat of my friend is in awe of the printer giving out sheets at an impossible speed, it follows the sheets with its eyes. My friend says that's because cats don't have a sense of machines, but I think the cat had an intuition. It stared at the working printer, amazed. Just like the two of us being surprised that we could find the correct printing driver and make it work.
Another cat walks over a broken mirror and does not seem to be struck by the fact that it is an object which can no longer be used. Nor does it seem to be struck by its brokenness or even by the light. So why do I write? To not forget? To not forget the few things I have and haven't seen, when there is still only intuition?
Hopkins begins and ends his film on depression, at the same time on a lost love for the city he had wished to be drawn into. He really seems to have captured some of its emotional truths – as fluid and vague as a dream, or a piece of music. Like those old Istanbul tango songs, street music was able to make people smile even in a rather melancholic moment. And yet I haven't taken part in that pain. Some façades, some lights that cut the lines, drew the city into a postcard, made it representable, effable, to be sent to someone else in the form of light, in the lights of storytelling. Is a witness full of lies? Yet Istanbul is itself a play of different greys which tries to escape the sun that puts people into shape, that gives them a clear identity.
I return home from the cinema. As I am walking through Berlin Wedding, there is a gloomy moon hiding behind a cold German winter night and I wonder what is different. Nothing is left on the streets, just a couple of cars passing by and something is missing. The cats. There is no one to keep me company. I should be like one myself and cling on to someone’s footsteps as a jealous company. But I prefer to walk on. My hard shoes make an odd sound which reverberates in the empty street. A ghostly car whizzes by and it is as if I were in a different place. No cats, no pain but no happiness either. Just the explosion of some artificial lights, the street covered in black nothingness, and some publicity urging me to read it. I feel a nostalgic need for a chair to hold on to, but nowhere, nothing is to be seen.
Photograph by Prima Alam
(with special thanks to Juboraj Shamim)
My little brother Mohan has gone missing again. Haven't seen him around for an entire day now. Second time this week. I suppose as the wiser and more intelligent sibling I should be out looking for him. But this story isn't going to write itself! And I have tonnes of homework to do…
According to my best friend Ranu, kids in big cities aren't allowed out on their own. What a nightmare! How do you hang out with all your friends in the neighbourhood? How do you discover secret shortcuts and climb your favourite tree? How do you show up all of your friends by being the best at hide-and-seek? Or any other game for that matter. I've lost track of the number of times I've won the 'Biggest Star in the Area' annual talent competition. Since we all know each other really well, it's quite common for children to roam around freely and play in our neighbourhood.
Anyway, Mohan is becoming quite a nuisance if you ask me. Not that my mother notices much. Or at least she pretends not to.
"Where's Mohan today, Auntie?" a visitor asked Ma earlier.
"Oh I'm sure he's around here somewhere. Probably just playing outside."
That's a lie. We all know where he really is - next door with his other mother, Saira.
You're probably thinking, 'Two mothers! How progressive for a small town!' Well, let me give you some background before your imagination runs a marathon.
I was about eight when it all started, this other mother business, and it's pretty much been the same story for the past six years. Saira and her husband had moved in next door when Ma was still pregnant with Mohan.
As soon as Mohan was born, Saira was helping Ma look after him and all sorts. She and her husband own a shop down the road, so they were pretty much splashing some serious cash on fulfilling Mohan's every need. Not that I was jealous. Money can't buy talent and I'm priceless.
So my best friend Ranu said that her ma once heard Omar's ma talking about how Saira couldn't have children of her own and wanted to take Mohan away from us.
Once I even heard Saira introducing him as her own son! I didn't bother correcting her. She can have him if she wants. It's really my mother's fault, since 'Mohan' literally means bewitching. I think that's what he's done. He's bewitched poor Saira with his charms, or is it the other way around? Saira's cast a spell on him with the promise of an infinite supply of chocolates and toys.
Ma must have heard these rumours too, because things got a little heated at Mohan's fourth birthday party a couple of years ago. Brother dearest had started calling Saira 'Ma' and treating us like strangers. My mother was not pleased to say the least. A legendary showdown took place that day.
"I know what you're trying to do, Saira! Don't you dare try taking my son away from me! Just because you can't have your own!" Ma was literally screaming her lungs out. She was all red in the face with steam coming out of her ears and everything.
"Oh don't be ridiculous! I can't help it if Mohan loves me more than he loves you!" The Other Ma was being equally as loud, "And we all know that Maya is your preferred child and a girl genius!"
OK, I added that last bit myself. Although I am both the favourite child and a genius.
After this most eventful birthday party, Ma tried everything to keep those two apart. She was pretty harsh with Mohan at first, she even resorted to keeping him locked up at home like one of those city kids who don’t even know who their neighbours are. When severe discipline failed, she resorted to bribing him in order to keep him home. More sweets and toys for the bewitching Mohan!
In the meantime, Saira and her husband had adopted a cute little newborn of their own. Ma's worries seemed to magically evaporate as soon as this happened. Why would Saira want Mohan now that she had a baby to keep her busy? I mean, why would anyone want Mohan anyway? Spoilt brat that he is.
Nothing really changed though, despite the arrival of Saira's newborn. Saira and Mohan are still as inseparable, and insufferable, as ever. But Ma is no longer too concerned by any of it.
So now you can see why it's no surprise that my dearest little brother has gone missing again. I sometimes wonder what it's like for Mohan growing up with two families as well as having an incredibly inspiring and gifted older sister. Maybe I'll ask him, if he comes home today.
Carly Dee and Q Lei, Editors of BLYNKT magazine and hosts of BLYNKT podcast