The piece you’re about to read is the ninth in a collection of introspective, raw and impactful pieces to be published here on MEDUSA. Motivated by the cathartic power of writing and reflecting, many of our contributors are sharing the words they would offer to their younger selves if they were able to travel back, reach out and subdue the uncertainties they encountered earlier on in their lives. With such an open-ended prompt, the letters divulge a myriad of memories, affording insights into challenges faced, extending words of wisdom and ultimately honouring and acknowledging how much the author has grown and learnt.
Faiqa Mansab is the awe-inspiring talent behind this breathtaking piece. Her debut novel, ‘This House of Clay and Water’ was published to much critical acclaim by Penguin India. In the following letter, she confronts grief, rage and heartache, examining what it means to forgive and seek out compassion in the wake of incomprehensible suffering. It’s an honour to share her story. Overflowing with fierce intelligence and mesmeric imagery, Faiqa’s writing ruminates on the power of faith, letting go of resentment and holding tightly onto our dreams.
Take a few moments of calm to enjoy and let us know your thoughts,
CW: this is a letter discussing grief, cancer and serious injury.
Don’t be afraid. You will be able to survive without so much. When I look back at you from the vantage point of nearly half a century, I feel your rage still. I remember it. I know you had to kill your dreams, but the ones that extinguished with time hurt even more. I know you had to kill parts of you to become the woman socio-cultural pressures demanded. I can smell all that death on me still. Your dead dreams and your murdered selves are a graveyard I carry with me, and it is haunted by regret.
You bore the loss of your younger sister. Then your mother three years later. And four years after that, your father passed away too. Half your family gone…and within eight years of each other, and yet, you survived. Even though more than a decade has passed now, I can taste the grief in my mouth where it sits curled up between my tongue and my teeth.
Your two older sisters bonded further in their grief but you were left out in the cold. Your grieving and mourning were infected with rage at this loss, which didn’t make sense to you. It still doesn’t. It is hard to mourn for those who are still alive but are no longer in your life by choice; especially when you’re still mourning the deaths of your loved ones. I understand. It is hard when those you love vanish when you need them most. But this letter is to help you forgive.
There will be some great things too. Your biggest dream will come true, at least in part. You will get published. You will be an author. Your book will be published by Penguin! I remember how you protected this dream within layers and layers of other dreams, other selves, keeping it close and protected. This was the dream, a belief really, that stayed alight like a candle keeping you warm and steady when everything else seemed bleak and so hard. This one little light always brought you back from the abyss of dark self-annihilation..
You’ve suffered third-degree burns as a toddler, suffered three surgeries after that, all under the age of six. You’re tough. You have lived through some dark times. You thought you would die from the pain of losing your sister to cancer. And then your mother so soon after that. You needed her still. You needed your older sisters too…but this too shall pass. There will be more surgeries in adulthood.
I think the hardest thing to do was to let go of the rage. It stemmed from not being able to understand why they shut you out. And to finally understand that it wasn’t even out of some grand design or deliberate, it was just that they never bothered to make the effort to include you, to wait for you, to want you there with them. They had each other. You will suffer much because of their neglect, but trust me, you will be fine. Because that little candle that burnt on, despite the cold winds of death, isolation and failure and everything else that life brings, that candle is your faith and all it needs is a spark to stay alight.
I was so proud of you when you forgave them, because that is what your faith demands. Forgiveness brings you closer to God. And forgiving them healed you. When you were ready to let go of that anger, it left you stronger. What a surprise! And it freed you too, from that cloying need for them. Freedom comes at a price but you had paid it long ago.
I am proud of the woman you will become, but on the way: you will survive toxic friends, gaslighters, narcissists. You will survive compromising yourself, making mistakes that will cost you years, time and a broken heart. Your heart will, in fact, break many times. It is not as weak as you think. Neither is it as strong as you will begin to think, for many years. You will love the idea of being a phoenix and then realize that burning down to ashes costs you, even though it isn’t really a choice and that when you have turned to ash, you don’t always rise a phoenix with bright plumage.
You will become many women in your lifetime. One day you will realize the only approval that matters, is your own.