Ethel Karskens

India (I)

Ethel Karskens
India (I)

On Jesse road, we overtook dying dogs, holy cows, faded ads on which women with giant rings bless us from their divine laminated gaze. We passed multicoloured buses, arms in agony were escaping from the windows, their palms staring at the sky while dark eyes were following our scooter crossing the dust of Kolkata.


I raised my left hand from the seat and let it swim in the boiling wind, touching with my mind the instant where I’ll reach the millennial chaos. Women with bright clothes, officious flags of the Indian storm, were waiting for the signal to cross. My host and improvised driver shut down the engine and let them pass, let the scared children following their maternal lighthouse.

Kolkata, March 2018

Kolkata, March 2018


Varanasi was about meeting Indian women, again. Varanasi was to understand, one more time, the testimonies of WW: what had the women from Vietnam to Belgium, through Myanmar, China or Iran had in common? Why did their stories collide so well?


Then, there was India by herself. India, the only shore in a moment of hesitation that I couldn’t get rid of. India because she confides to who has seen life in death. India because the first seconds of the day were flying into dreamers’ arms: every detail covered a divinity. Under an outrageous sky, destinies were struggling trying not to fall on the carcasses of years waiting for the rain. Under the half-open mouth of the grey grey sky, I could hear their anthem whispering come with me.


“A woman, to be a real woman, must smile like a young girl, think like a man, work like a horse and be elegant like a lady.”


The quote was standing somewhere in my grandma’s house in Brussels. It protected my movements and words, while I was busy on the second floor with my rhymes, my Asian, Persian and European faces; with my marble ideas because nothing was more important. In these words, I read repeated stories of women meeting on the road who had no other choices than crawling. The chin raised towards the sky. Humanity on their shoulders.

Line in for the temple, March 2018

Line in for the temple, March 2018


In front of my camera, for the microphone, they were answering the question « What is a woman? » with the ink of their wounds:

Being a woman (looking at the at the passerby in the street, escaping from her thoughts) …  Being a woman in loving until forgetting herself

Being a woman… a synonym for feeding the next generations

Being a woman… Feminine noun I guess. Hoping for something better

Being a woman, bringing peace by accepting violence


Some of them stood up in their ideas, with a raw heart expressed in front of my serious face, sometimes moved, the rage of being a woman. I admired without limit the purity of their anger, I heard in the shaking of their voice the blunt injustice, so wide it becomes sacred.


The other woman, the woman of my life, a cane in her hand was calling me to have me soaping her feet that she couldn’t touch anymore. In exchange, she would wear my tears and my laughter and reminded me with her tired face (sometimes in peace, sometimes restless) the eternity that was left for me.

The other woman, neither feminist, nor misogynist was from a generation and an education with different fights. She was smiling at the immortalised stories without seeing gender, only the flow of the Seasons. The portraits of these women only carry a life made of exoticism, at the edge of another world.


Her passing had neither brought the flags on the balcony, not the tears of strangers. No one knew her fights, some people remember her laugh. Her end was only my synonym of an Earthquake on history. When drawing again the prologue of existence, on which her voice was the cycle of life, I saw human loneliness. And I got scared. And I wanted to see the woman in her to make her immortal.


On the other side of the world, she still existed. Her messages carried her voice. Her name, written in my notes and yelling « CALL MAMY ». She would sit next to me while I was writing, with a glass of rosé in her hand giving me chocolate. The other woman of my life had passed away but was still breathing in my daily life.


India is for the ones who think they have seen life in death. A universal mirage, painful in its beauty. An ode to women.

Varanasi, March 2018

Varanasi, March 2018


On the road to Varanasi, there wassparks of her soul in the air. Near the Gange corpses were burning days and nights, there lay the secret of her end and her beginning. On the faces of strangers, in the anonymity that had sprung in the arms of the crowd. I would say bye one last time to the other woman of my life who one day had hanged on her wall “A woman, to be a real woman, must smile like a young girl, think like a man, work like a horse and be elegant like a lady.”


The Poorva Express saved me at dawn. Between the yellow cabs, under the harassment of street vendors, my grandmother was laughing at my despair. A nice laughter, something that was floating in the air with the chai and the curry. On the platform, women-ants with a severe face were wearing houses and harvests in between the great human and animal rush. The doors of the train opened. The waiting turned into a race. Varanasi was waiting for us.


Agra, July 2016

Agra, July 2016