Have you ever felt grief hitting you under the belt? The blow that hits you like a sledgehammer, making you immobile and numb to pain because of an overdose of pain! This feeling would’ve been experienced by people waking up after a troubled sleep a day or two after the loss of a beloved person. The real feeling of the seeming unreal becoming reality! That’s the feeling that one feels and undergoes while reading The Doodler of Dimashq.
The sickening news of destruction, inhumanity and chaos remains just news from a faraway land. A land that has no connection with us. A land that we read about and share posts on Facebook and Twitter – not to mention the factions we divide ourselves into, attacking vociferously one while defending doggedly the other and becoming experts on World Politics. What Kirthi Jayakumar has done is, give a face to Syria and personalize the demons pulverizing the ancient human establishment. This comes at a cost – that of our emotions.
Ameenah is a normal girl of Dimashq, like the Elizabeths, Claires, Meenas and Valerias of other parts of the world. She is fourteen when her world changes topsy-turvy. Her school education is put on a pause as the war inches towards Dimashq, and she is married to Fathi, of Haleb. Fathi proves to be a doting husband and respects the feelings and emotions of Ameenah. Soon enough Ameenah continues her education in a school in Haleb. All through her life Ameenah takes comfort and interest in one thing – her doodles. She doodles whenever she gets free time.
Ameenah doubles up as a household helper to Fathi’s parents during the evenings and early mornings while her daytime is spent in school. In her spare time, she smuggles herself and her little bag with all her doodles to a quiet place and starts doodling. Everything that she sees and experiences becomes the theme of her drawings. And she guards them religiously. The doodles are her world.
The pains that Ameenah’s family members undertake to send her to safety are enormous, though mentioned only in undertones. Kirthi has skillfully played it subtly to be heard loudly. The scene in which Ameenah’s parents bid farewell to their daughter as she goes with her husband to his house is heart-wrenching, forcing the reader to close the book and stem the tears threatening to run down one’s face. Visuals form in the head seeing a tiny and frightened Ameenah sitting in the car with Fathi, as her parents, standing side-by-side, watch their daughter leave to a far-off land, with a stranger. The entire scene blasts one message through the air – the helplessness of the Syrian parents.
Life never seems to be fair to Ameenah. She has just settled in the Fathi household and becomes used to her loving husband and school when comes news of her parents’ demise. She becomes an orphan at sixteen. Seeing her parents’ bodies laid side by side – making her remember their farewell to her, she comes close to madness losing track of all things around her. The author Kirthi Jayakumar writes as follows,
“No. I didn’t cry. I just died inside.”
No stronger words could’ve been written. The actions of Fathi turn out to be a strong moral support to Ameenah who flounders on a miry quicksand of anxiety and melancholy. The way in which he recites poetry to her and brings solace to her is maddeningly sweet in an otherwise turbulent world of Ameenah. Bereft of family members, Ameenah draws closer to Fathi and all that he has to offer. When the last stronghold of Ameenah crumbles, with Fathi and his family being blown to smithereens, Ameenah changes. The hope that she brings into thousands of people through her drawings are wrought beautifully by the author. There are incidents that make one long to shout out while some incidents make one cry. A myriad of emotions cocktailing and frothing between two covers – that is The Doodler of Dimashq for you!
The best part of the novel is the theme conveyed through the story. A story of hope amidst depression, the light of life shining through the grim dark world and the message that humanity does and will continue to prosper through one act or the other. It could be as small or seemingly insignificant as a doodle. Remember that a drop of water is a life line for one who is parched. So is The Doodler of Dimashq, spreading joy and hope in spite of its background. Kirthi Jayakumar scores yet again. Not to be forgotten is the smooth and easy play of words in English by the author. Excellent language skills! The publishing house, Readomania, shares the glory in this domain.
Readomania has proved its quality and its determination to be away from the milling crowd of publication by bringing out this spectacular novel of hope. Kirthi Jayakumar churns out words that are sharper than the shrapnel ricocheting through the dusty streets of Haleb, either making hearts beat faster than is usual or making hearts stop doing their regular job. She always manages to change the rhythm of the heartbeats. Ameenah becomes us and we become Ameenah. We can empathize with the people of Syria. Their grief becomes ours. We stop living in other places. We enter the warzone, dodging bullets and diving into tunnels from barrel bombs. As for the cacophony of falling buildings, low flying planes, thundering helicopters and raining bombs, it is always present. For we are in Haleb. We just passed Dimashq. Didn’t we cry and lament over the ghost towns that lie wasted and in ruins? For us, Syria is no more a news. For we are part of the country and of the world. We are humans. We care.