‘We Are Condemned to Sense: Hapticality, Phenomenology, Recovery’ – excerpt. by Azad Ashim Sharma


Creative Non-Fiction by Azad Ashim Sharma


September 2015. Mumsie messages me as I am just about to order my sixth pint in a rave in Brixton. It comes as a relief, this call to adulthood.


At some stage you receive a call, and you have to respond.1


I’m a little drunk; loud bass shakes the bar hits my solar plexus with a woof pint waves a little ripple of sound. I’ve got to move, feeling the urgency feeling me, unable to shrink the distance quick enough. I tap my card, down the pint in a couple of heavy gulps. 


I swim against the current of bodies, against the grain of the crowd, swaying as one corpus in a rhythmic harmony of bass. I break a little sweat and approach the toilets. 


The line for cubicles is always long in a rave. I’m leaving, just getting my jacket and I’ll book an Über, I tell her. That was the first lie.2


I make my beginning, the toilet wafting pungent piss into my nose as I fiddle with my keys and a wrap of cocaine.


I inhale as much as I can to straighten up.



The cab ride takes 45 minutes and I’m angsty the whole way, twitching with indecision, resentful that the party has stopped. I don’t want it to stop. I message my dealer and wonder if he would deliver. I’ve never asked this before. He says he won’t drop anything under an 8-ball3 that far out. Another resentment, my family home being on the very edge of South London. 


Against the smooth drift of the Prius’ engine, my legs are restless, my heart pounds in its cage; my thoughts race ahead. 



August 2014. We were meant to board a plane from New Delhi to London. 

It was hot and the plane was delayed. My dad’s staff didn’t tell us and just kept us waiting. I asked Gautam (dad’s PA) “how long” and his twirled moustache said “not too much longer.” 

Gyan – my brother, who lives at the interstices of severe autism and bi-polar disorder – was agitated. He likes to be prepared and we weren’t given that opportunity, to prepare him, to help him survive the onslaught on his senses and on his capacity to be in the world. 

It was too hot. He wanted to wear smart clothes, a pair of trousers, a button–up shirt, socks, trainers. And he was sweating in the wheelchair. 

He was too hot.

We got to the security check and the army officers weren’t sensitised. They removed Gyan’s earphones which helped shield him from the gurgled wails of normality. Gyan began to scream. 

The screaming got louder. 

This incessant screaming is called klazomania. 

He began hitting himself in the face with a closed fist, all over his head, his eyes. He started biting himself. 

People stood and watched. 

They watched when they had flights to catch, standing there, an audience with glared eyes. The whites of their eyes made the heat more intense, the entire air still with pressure, a tourniquet stopping all flow.



Mum and I have trouble remembering this event. 


This trouble to recall is survival as silent utterance, a blank spot, the needle skipping over scratched vinyl, hauntology as the phantom carer. 


I do not remember myself in this memory; I do not think mum does either. 


How can we re-member ourselves in a moment that dismembers our relationship to ourselves, to further the survival of another?


There are no explanations for what happens to the senses of an autist during such overwhelming moments. The label Self-Injurious Behaviour hardly seems to capture my brother’s intense desire to not ‘be’ in the ‘self’ and, rather than ‘injury’, the screaming and hitting mime how he experiences the world around him, a world that was not sensitised to him, a world he is too sensitive for.4


[Klazomania. Repeated hitting of the face; specifically, at the left–rear of cranium, on the soft tissue under the eyes.]


There are no explanations for what happens to the autist’s guardian(s) during a meltdown. 


[Attempts at sensory stimulus to ground autist in body; use of calm deep voice with slow instructions to ‘‘try and be composed.’’]


There is instinct. 


[Ask someone for water so we can medicate him. A member of the public asks if we “carry a cup for situations like this” as they don’t want to share the bottle with Gyan.]


There is survival. 


[Gyan’s nose starts bleeding.]


Time ebbs and flows between the points on the line, like punctuation, like scars.


[Gyan’s eyes become swollen.]




I approach Gyan to distract him with some sensory toys, a brush to comb his arms, to allow his body to place him. 

I try to get him to bite a teething ring, which we use when he is in these states to prevent him from biting himself. 

I pamper him, swaddle him, so that he is protected from himself. Mum tries to medicate him during my attempts at care-work. 

When Gyan hits me over the head, as I try to safely hold his flailing arms, to stop him hitting himself, the crowd exhales a strange cry, a collective gasp, but the only cameras here are for surveillance and not for the television. 


As we leave the airport – we are not allowed to fly on the orders of the Captain who witnessed the episode – I push Gyan in his wheelchair, he is half unconscious, because of his flailing arms, because of the clonazepam, and some old fella with orange hair comes up to me and offers some form of blessing to Gyan, who is unimpressed, confused, sweating. 

Mum and I look like clowns carrying the circus of goods we need to help Gyan: a portable keyboard, a bag dedicated entirely to his medications, a bag for passports, our own hand luggage, Gyan’s iPad, and a separate bag for Gyan’s soft stimulating toys, for occupational therapy, to help him stay in his body and calm his body down. 

I push on, mum carries on, Gyan cries at the lost opportunity of a plane journey. He loves planes,  being in transit, perhaps that’s what he is or how he experiences the world, in transit, between places, liminality as ontology.

Gyan has bruises all over his face. His weary eyes, lacrimal and bloodshot, caught by the swell of numbness that he builds in himself, to keep the world and his senses at bay. 

Dad and Gautam fly through security, unimpeded by protocols. 


The crowd disbands. 

People move on. 

Some people are able to move on. 

I am not sure we have.



2015, in the Prius. I think-feel myself in this phenomenology of longing for a book or a cigarette to contain the disruption. 


There are no theories that elucidate (self) care in (failed) practice.


Normally, I am a restrained hedonistic socialite, who only enjoys these things with friends. But I do not want the party to stop.5 


I kiss Mum on the top of her head and go to piss upstairs.


Afterwards, I reach in my boxers where I had moved the 8-Ball from the letterbox on arrival. I take out an entire gram and inhale it through a rolled-up fiver. 


Downstairs, I’m unable to smell anything as I wipe Gyan’s arse. 


I see a bruised face. I see bitten wrists. I wipe his arse – feels like forever. When/where does the shit end?


I see a bruised face, bitten wrists, a lump on his forehead. I hear mum crying on the sofa. 


I take Gyan upstairs, he leans on me for affirmation, to assure his unstable gait; concussion, I presume. We wind across the slate and then the wood, all the way to his bedroom. I know to not turn on the light. I guide him to his bed, helping him remove his pyjama trousers, giving him a fresh t-shirt. I lay next to him and cradle his head as he begins to cry. 


Back downstairs, I pour mum a glass of wine and one for myself. We sit down in silence watching the late night news headlines. She brushes her teeth, not long after finishing her glass.


When I am confident she is in bed, I heat a Pyrex plate in the microwave for 20 seconds and lay the coke out on it, using my National Insurance card to crush it down and break up the white rocks into a fine white power. I take the wine out the fridge and, as they say, I crack on. 



Books v. Cocaine: The nose moves between lines of text and lines of cocaine.6 

In my right hand, a book; by my left hand, the hot plate and the gear. This productivity blurs the edges of myself; I imagine myself drinking ink instead of wine, snorting letters instead of white powder, and the reverse was also true, as if the text becomes thick white lines between text, the impression of my fingers on the page becomes a red wine stain, the sign of life, the crest of being touched, a mark, a sigil.

Time and space compress into the quanta; an hour into a minute, a minute into a second, the irregular breathing, the alertness. A couple of hours go by and I venture outside barefoot on the patio, looking at the street lamp over my back yard’s fence, opposite the Territorial Army base, beside the bus stop, against the midnight mirror. For every star in the sky, a line of cocaine.

I strip naked and go back out for a cigarette and lay my whole body on the patio. It’s so cold it feels wet; I can do whatever the fuck I want, I think, slipping into and out of consciousness. 

I wake up an hour or so later with rain lightly caressing me. I jump up and run inside, it’s only 2.30am. I dry myself and get into bed, naked still, feeling the duvet envelop me. My brown skin against a Zara Home blue-green floral print. 


I am a brown Ophelia, post-modern Pre-Raphaelite.


1Responsibility as response-ability (Karen Barad). Mum’s message read: I need you to come home, Gyan is having a meltdown.
2I text back an interval.
3An eighth of an ounce . How much? 400. Okay I’ll wire it now. Safe, 45 minutes. Leave it in my letterbox. No issues.
4“Self Injurious Behaviour and Autism,” Research Autism (02 Nov 2017) http://www.researchautism.net/issues/11/self-injurious-behaviour-and-autism/Research [accessed 1st September 2020].
5Mum says: I’m sorry I had to call you back but I didn’t know what else to do, I can’t manage him alone anymore, he’s too strong for me. I’m dying for a piss, I reply. Go upstairs, he’s on the downstairs toilet, shitting. Give me a moment and I’ll do the cleaning. Thank you.
6Dealers don’t give student discounts. The books are cheaper. There is no excuse for a cokehead to be illiterate according to Orwell’s methodology.


Azad Ashim Sharma is a poet and essayist living in South London. He is the director of the87press. He is the author of Against the Frame (Barque Press, 2017) and Boiled Owls (forthcoming). His poems have been published recently by Stand Magazine, the Asian American Writers Workshop and Gutter Magazine. His prose has been published by SPAMzine and is forthcoming in Magma Magazine. From October 2021, Azad will be working on a creative-critical novel as part of a PhD English and Humanities at Birkbeck.

15 January 2021