Author Kirthi Jayakumar wrote in her notes:
…until Ameenah came to me one afternoon, unexpectedly, and stayed in my mind till her story came out. Day after day, update after update filled my newsfeeds. The war in Syria is everyone’s problem. With that in mind, I couldn’t show Ameenah the door. I wouldn’t, either. Her story found its words, forcing their way through my fingers as I furiously pelted the keys on my laptop, changing my life, forever. I may not be Syrian; I may not have lived through the war. But I’m human. And I can feel. And so, I leave this piece of my heart at your doorstep and knock thrice, on your doors of empathy.
I received Ameenah this morning, at the doorstep of my heart.
Ameenah — the child bride, the survivor, the helper, the mother, the warrior, and the doodler of Dimashq.
Ameenah — the soul of Kirthi Jayakumar’s latest book.
As soon as I met her, I knew I would spend my whole day with her; I knew her voice would be compelling, her story heartrending and important. And she ushered me to her Syria. Her Dimashq. Her Aleppo. Above all, her doodles.
I listened to her story as tears streaked down my cheeks. But she didn’t falter. She showed me the unquenchable thirst of war, and the never-ending quest for peace.
For Ameenah is so much more than a fictitious character to me, for my love for her cannot be contained in a formal blog, I have decided to write a letter to the young girl.
My dearest habibti,
That guy who shot that missile didn’t know that he was fuelling your faith in humanity. That guy who bombed your homes didn’t know that you would make art out of debris. None of them knew that their weapons were too weak to quell your indomitable spirit, Ameenah.
Love never came in colours, did it? Red for a lover. Pink for a mother. Blue for a sister. Green for a father. Orange for a brother. A dark hue of rose for a grandmother. No. None of it. Love was black and white, like the stains of ash black on the sheet of weak ecru concrete. Love was black and white, like death and life. There, or not there.
How can we ever thank Tete for what she has done for us, habibti? By telling you that you must never quit doodling, she made me realise that I must never stop listening to what speaks to my soul. The evil around us might not become exhausted. It would wail and wail and wail. But Tete made me understand that I must use my precious life to nourish my soul, instead of trying to ward off the evil.
The strains wove a magic that sounded like someone was doodling with music, instead of ink.
Ameenah, the world wept for Alan Kurdi, came to the streets, held candles, and shouted slogans. The world did something. But the very world would call you insane if you doodled or read or sang, when your city was being bombed. “Mad woman helps, but keeps scratching something on the paper when her folks are dying.” I wish your story would uproot that outlook, and make so many of us realise that we don’t dive into art to escape from our lives, but find our very lives there.
Every doodle that you made on broken concrete slabs is a eulogy, Ameenah.
Every scratch was a goodbye to the deceased.
Every stroke was a bold statement.
Every pattern was a quiet warning; wars may go on, but peace will be created in surprising ways.
Ameenah, you are my Anne Frank, my Liesel Meminger. In your art lies my hope and future. Between black and white, you have taught me to see a spectrum of colours. Between life and death, you have taught me to live. Thank you, for being vulnerable, for being brave, and for being human. Thank you for passing your hope forward.
That is all we need.