Title – The Doodler of Dimashq
Author – Kirthi Jayakumar
Genre – Fiction
“I loved doodling – it had no rules. All you needed was space, and something to fill that space with.”
“The Doodler of Dimashq” is a fictitious story set around the civil war in Syria. As the title suggests, the story is about a doodler. Ameena is a fourteen year old school going child from Dimashq (Damascus) who loves to doodle – even going to the extent of being caught doodling during classes and being repeatedly reprimanded by her teachers. On one such occasion, she is called into the principal’s office. Expecting a similar scolding for her lack of attentiveness in class, the girl is in for a shock when her principal and class teacher are both present along with Ameena’s elder brother, and it is revealed that that will be the last day of school for her. Not as punishment for doodling, but the fact that her marriage has been fixed – something Ameena considers even worse than punishment, or being suspended or expelled. With her principal’s, teacher’s, and brother’s assurances that the family of the groom would be spoken to and arrangements would be made for her to continue her education at another school in her marital hometown, Ameena reluctantly collects her things and bids a final farewell to her classmates.
At her new home Haleb (Aleppo), Ameena settles into marital life. And doodles whenever she finds paper and pen, late into the night when she’s alone and her husband is asleep – doodling memories of her favorite city Dimashq. “Your heart beats with the motherland you are born into, the blood that the earth gives you courses through your veins, only to meet the earth when you crumble to dust”. The war arrives in Aleppo after Damascus. After losing her entire family in Dimashq, Ameena is once again faced with loss in Haleb. She was married at fourteen, orphaned and widowed at sixteen. “I wept for my past for it had gone. I wept for my future for I had none”. With the war all around her and the few friends she has made on the way – people like herself who have lost everything – Ameena uses doodling as a way to cope; even sourcing scraps of paper, stubs of pencils and crayons, or making a paste of ash (from bombed houses) and water to use as ink – finding any little way possible to preserve memories of places and people. No matter how much of her life and city is destroyed into rubble, Ameena builds it all up again in her doodles. “In Dimashq, Death was a houseguest. In Aleppo, Death had a permanent residence”.
An innocently narrated and heart-wrenching story of its child bride protagonist. The entire descriptions of the war are heartbreaking – not just as a reader sympathizing with the happenings in the book, but with the knowledge that though the book claims to be a fictitious account, we are still very aware of the situation in Syria. Ameena’s is just one story. There are so many more we hear and read in the news. Even more individuals that we don’t know about. Ultimately it becomes a statistic, but at it’s very core each individual affected by war has his/her own story – a story that may never be told; or even if it is, there’s no one to hear it.
The author’s elucidation of the heritage city of Aleppo is beautiful. As is her detailing of Ameena’s doodles from what she sees around her crumbling to dust. Each step of the way, you feel “this part is the highlight of the book”, but it just surprises you some more. And you end the book with the same feeling. I will refrain from elaborating more about the book, at the risk of giving away any spoilers, but the book leaves you in tears and at the same time with a smile on your face as you marvel at the writer’s ability to create such a piece of art cum literature.
The chapters are creatively titled according to the forms of doodles – arcs, lines, petals, circles, dots, swirls. Each chapter begins with a note about what that particular doodle signifies, connecting it to human emotions and behavior – arcs represent movement and fluidity; lines are rigid, adhering to structure and convention; petals adjust, they flow with a pattern and are versatile; creepers are resilient, they bend, meander and force themselves into spaces; flowers reflect positivity and happiness.
“Some day my art would adorn every corner of Dimashq. Some day, there would be long rows of children learning to doodle.” Some day – those very words symbolic of hope. As we sympathize with those affected by war, we hope for a better tomorrow. So many years since the war, and the world and Syria still wait for “some day”.
A must read book – for its tribute to Syria, the author’s storytelling skills, the entire dedication to the art of doodling. I give it a four star rating just because the metaphors get too repetitive at times – but that does not take away from this wonderful book.
Rating – 4/5