For the War We Didn’t Fight — Subashini Navaratnam

In the hothouse the flowers suddenly bloomed, turning full, luscious, and bourgeois as though by sheer will of feminine impulse. Her grandmother, hair trimmed into a neat bob, sat by the flowers and gave them precise instructions: “Always comb your hair.” “You must always look neat.” “Make sure the hems of your skirt reach your knees.” “Try to attend the weddings of your relatives so that when you get married they will attend yours.”

Her grandmother told her favourite flower that if they had never left Jaffna when the time was right, she and her sisters would have grown up to be fighters, quite possibly terrorists, bringing shame to the family and war to the nation. “The war came anyway, but my flowers played no part! No terror blooms here.” And this is the important thing. It is not a place in which one could flourish, her grandmother explains. It is hard for fighters; death waits at every turn, their hair is often messy, and more than once they will willingly invite death before its time by exploding themselves into the people around them, rudely inserting their flesh into the banal routines of everyday lives of the oppressors.

Is that any way to blossom? To become something? Her grandmother is agitated now. Much better to bloom discreetly, to allow the scent of their soft petaIs waft inside of a room. She says this: Flowers are rich; they wake up every morning to the possibilities of good food, snug shoes, and prayer books. In this way, the flowers become women, but only after they have crossed all the right borders into the exalted space of— and here her grandmother stops to think.

She pulls a wispy strand of flyaway silver hair away from her right eye and fixes her gaze on the wilting flowers of her youth, some of them drooping, some of them reduced to withering petals on the burning floor of a bombed house. She cannot recall their scent.


Subashini Navaratnam – lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has published poetry in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Mascara Literary Review, Poetika Malaysia, Aesthetix, and Sein und Werden. Her writings on books have appeared in The Star (Malaysia), Pop Matters and Full Stop and she has published nonfiction in MPH‘s anthology, Sini Sana and Buku Fixi’s ebook, Semangkuk INTERLOK as well as fiction in KL Noir: Yellow. She tweets at @SubaBat.

Imageorchid sprig, © psyberartist, Creative Commons