That paradox called ‘normal’

By Khytul Abyad

Illustrated by Rayhan Galib

‘Normal’ is a word caught up in perpetual conflict. Its meaning has shifted, diminished, evolved, and been reproduced. To the average person, ‘normal’ is subjective. Yet, from the perspective of someone whose sense of normalcy is distorted, the act of asserting subjectivity stems from a place of privilege, where one can define ‘normal’ for themselves.

As a child, I believed it was ‘normal’ to seek refuge in shops, anxiously waiting for the sound of gunshots to fade. During my teenage years, I considered it ‘normal’ to have to avoid certain streets and certain roads to block out the piercing gaze of the deployed soldiers. Now, my concept of normality revolves around living day by day, without meticulously planning for the future.

During high school, I found myself surrounded by a large group of friends who frequently called me, enquiring about what they delicately called the “situation”. I lived in the most volatile part of town. We would casually mention on-going protests, having deemed them ‘normal’. Perhaps it was just an internal joke, or maybe we had unwittingly started associating hartals and the disruption caused by army deployment with a sense of normalcy.

When addressing Kashmir, politicians often use the phrase, “normalcy has returned”, leaving us to question whether this ‘normal’ signifies either the dystopian or utopian reality that remains. In administrative contexts, normalcy is often linked to “peace”, but then what does peace truly entail? In 2019, a dozen armed men were stationed outside my street, four in the alley just by our main door, with a police officer every few steps. To us, it was suppression — we had to speak softly, all too aware that our every word could be overheard. However, Indian media channels were describing this status quo as “peaceful”.

After suppressing my thoughts for far too long, I have realised the importance of expressing myself even if it makes others uncomfortable. All I am doing is sharing my normal life, just as they do theirs. I have embraced my version of normal. It irks me when people claim that my art is political. I didn’t choose to call home a land engulfed in turmoil, thinking, “I’ll go there, research, and create art about it.” Happenstance led me to this tumultuous place. Perhaps, if I lived elsewhere, I wouldn’t be thinking these thoughts or writing them down now. But we only have one life, and this is the one I’ve been given. And in this one life, if my work is honest, it will inevitably be political.

We don’t make political art by choice. Politics worms its way into our work because art is entwined with life experience, and life is intricately connected to the physical world that we inhabit. 

When we were young, many people around me tried to dissuade young boys from engaging in politics, urging them to steer clear of protests and conflicts. However, the people that I know who grew up alongside me have, perhaps unsurprisingly, all become a reflection of one another — and, in turn, me.

In this cacophony of terror and violence, where uncertainty reigns and stability is naught but a fleeting dream, the concept of normalcy is an elusive quarry. The war-torn place that I call home has transformed a simple word into a paradox and a mystery. ‘Normal’ is a riddle with no clear and obvious answer.

Normalcy here is a fragile thread; it is a precarious balance we strive to maintain amidst the shattered debris of what was once intimate. It is the ability to find solace in the mundane, to find home once more, in the middle of every flavour of destruction imaginable. It is the familiarity in language, in dreams, in faces whose voices echo through the rubble, and perhaps that’s the closest one can get to defining ‘normal’ here.

About the author: Khytul Abyad is a visual artist and writer hailing from Kashmir. Khytul’s artwork revolves around personal experiences, often serving as an intimate reflection of her memories and emotions in the political backdrop of Kashmir. Her diverse artistic expressions encompass various mediums, including installations, drawings, and writing. Her academic journey includes degrees from Kashmir University (BFA) and Beaconhouse National University (MA ADS). Between 2019 and 2020, Khytul was awarded the artist residence at the Guru Scholars program in Buffalo, New York. Currently, Khytul is focused on pursuing an MFA-Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, allowing her to delve deeper into her craft and explore new avenues of artistic expression.






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