Maraşlı- Silence As A Weapon Against This Cruel World
“my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height”
― E.E. Cummings, (34) My Father Moved Through Dooms of Love
I was in my thirties when I noticed that our childhood traumas don’t necessarily have to be huge things like abuse or domestic violence to be considered traumas. Since childhood is exactly when we start building our belief system and our ideas about the world, everything that happens to us or others around us, affects our future deeply. This is why, one of the things that I wanted to write about since I started watching Maraşlı, has been Zeliş and the silence that surrounds her. Although Zeliş has a solid trauma to back her mutism, things that may seem less significant to us may easily cause mutism in children. As Rumi says there are no small troubles.
The Right To Remain Silent
We are introduced to Zeliş’s story on the first episode. Her name is a variation of Zeliha which means nymph. As if to show us right from the start that she is a fairy in this cruel world she finds herself in. Her first appearance in the show probably begins as the happiest day of her life just like her father. Celal takes her to a concert for her birthday and gives her the puppy she always dreamed of having. While she’s playing with the puppy and having fun, Celal lies down for some time to rest on the grass. Then the shooting happens and she gets shot. After this terrible incident Zeliş stops talking. When the show starts we know that she has been like this for a year.
I’m not educated in psychology but according to my small research Zeliş’s condition is called selective mutism. There are different types of selective mutism and it almost always begins in childhood. Some kids choose to remain silent in certain settings like school where they feel more anxiety. Some like Zeliş prefer to remain silent completely. It Maraşlı we see Zeliş staying home with Şirin Hanım and she’s not going to school. From time to time Celal takes her to a clinic for treatment and he also mentions having taken her to 10 different doctors. This is the mental disorder Zeliş has.
Zeliş is a child whose parents have been divorced. She is staying with her father. Before the shooting she looks like a pretty normal kid. We haven’t been shown anything abnormal about their life before that. Her mom visits from time to time. Of course we now know her mom is Hilal and probably because of her job she couldn’t or didn’t want to take custody of Zeliş. So Zeliş thinks her mom lives in another city and works there.
This makes Celal Zeliş’s whole world. Considering almost every girl’s father is her first love, Celal is not only her entire world but also her safe harbor. After the shooting Zeliş didn’t just stop communicating with her father but she stopped connecting with the entire world. She didn’t just become mute, her whole reactions are demonstrating a disappointment and resentment towards Celal.
The child actress who plays Zeliş is called Bedriye Roza Çelik and she is 7 years old. I think she’s doing a fantastic job with Zeliş. She’s not overdoing anything and she gives a subtle and touching performance. Zeliş is innocent and quiet yes, but she does portray her emotions very well. Especially with her looks which are sometimes even accusing Celal. At times we can see love radiating from her face when she shares beautiful moments with her dad.
Mutism In Literature
At the time I started watching Maraşlı I was reading Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things” which happens to include a character with selective mutism just like Zeliş. This character called Estha (male) has a twin called Rahel (female). After having a traumatizing event happen in their childhood, Estha stops speaking and he never speaks again even as an adult. I highly recommend the book, it paints a very interesting picture and has an incredibly interesting story which is told very poetically.
Selective mutism should not be confused with other kinds of mutism which may happen because of a disability. As the term selective suggests, this condition is the choice to stop talking all together or partially. For the most part, it can be treated and it is considered a childhood condition because most people overcome it as they’re growing up.
As a choice, mute characters in literature or film demand more attention to their stories. We are used to using words to understand people so when a character doesn’t use words we pay more attention to their gestures, their eyes, their gaze. When voice is lacking we are forced to be more careful and use our other senses since our ears are not being stimulated.
Consider Jane Campions’s unforgettable movie The Piano where the protagonist was mute. Holly Hunter literally won the Academy Award without speaking a single word during the entire film. On the screen an actor has other ways to express himself/herself and sometimes the fact that, their character doesn’t use words makes the scenes even more captivating.
Same thing goes for Zeliş, I found her scenes to be most touching. She expresses so much with her silence. In the series Zeliş is sometimes portrayed as Celal’s weakness, where his enemies can attack him. However in the grey room Celal never accepts this. To him, she’s his daughter not a weakness.
Mahur and Zeliş
In the second episode Mahur and Zeliş communicate for the first time. Being an artist, Mahur doesn’t need words to communicate with someone. As soon as she wakes up, she starts speaking to Zeliş, not like a sick child but like a regular child. She compliments and treats Zeliş more like a big sister than a mother figure. It’s interesting that she kneels down in front of her so that they have eye contact each time. Mahur acts like a big sister to Zeliş and I find it fitting because I kind of feel Mahur in a lot of ways is still like a child left hungry for affection. Maybe because she feels left incomplete, not having the chance to say goodbye to her mom.
In the family, traditionally the mother is the caregiver and the father is the protector. Unfortunately for Zeliş, both of her parents have failed to do what they were supposed to do. The caregiving is mostly done by Şirin Hanım and the protecting has not gone well due to Celal’s career choices. So far, Zeliş has been shot once, had to witness another shooting where she was also frightened to death by Savaş and she also had to endure a shooting at her own home.
So although he has the best intentions, Celal is not doing a great job. As for her mom Hilal, she was absent for the most part. Hilal finally shows up after the home shooting and she takes Zeliş from Celal which is quite understandable. When Zeliş and Mahur meet and Zeliş clearly likes Mahur a lot, I felt like Mahur was like a big sister figure for her. Someone to look up to and do fun things with. Someone to remind her that she is still a child who should play and run around and make friends. Someone to remind her that not all the world is cruel.
In a way I feel like what draws Mahur to Celal is not his charming personality (!) but the way he takes care of her and protects her as a father would without waiting for anything in return. That’s also one of the reasons I kind of see Mahur as a sister rather than a mother figure. I still think if they get to spend more time together Mahur will have a great influence on Zeliş and she will help Zeliş’s recovery more than Celal and Hilal.
After all, each woman expects different things from a man. We mostly look for what we are missing the most. At the same time that Mahur meets Celal, her relationship with her father starts to get heavily strained. This is where Celal comes in as the compensation and with also a bonus which is a different love than a father can give.
The human heart is complicated. Think of it like this, we have a different set of emotional needs that need to be fed. Just like Zeliş who needs more compassion and maybe more positivity in her life, Mahur needs a different perspective and a deeper understanding of the human soul. When our needs are being met, we become addicted and want more of what we have been fed.
Silence and Sufism
In mysticism and sufism silence has a great part, maybe because they are more about “being” than “saying”. The famous saying “silence is golden if words are silver” points in that direction too. Only a silent person can really hear. Most times, we talk too much. Celal himself is a man of few words as well and champions being silent versus talking.
In most self seeking practices silence has an important role. Silence is different from meditation. It is being present without reacting to the world, not just listening to our own head or thoughts but listening to the entire world and everything going on around us.
Sure Zeliş’s silence is not the kind of silence which she endures to walk a spiritual path but her silence eventually will have an effect on her as well as her parents to grow and learn. Even though it’s a difficult journey for all of them, I think in the end it will be worth it.
Her Father’s Daughter
When you feel let down by the only person you trust it’s hard to bounce back from that. I really appreciate Zeliş’s role in the story. Even though at times people accuse of her being cruel against Celal, I don’t get the accusations. She is an 8 year old little girl who has been thorough a lot. A lot more than even an adult can take. Celal will have to be patient because she deserves the love and affection.
I also appreciate how the character is written. Something like mutism wouldn’t be easy to overcome and there are many families who struggle with it together with their child. I find the character useful also for raising awareness for kids’ mental health which should not be overlooked in any way.
Most of us think childhood is the easiest time of our lives but it actually isn’t. As I wrote in the beginning lots of things may cause trauma and some of these may even seem insignificant at first glance. Bullying, emotionally unavailable parents, cruel friends, demanding parents, peer pressure, sibling competition are only some of these.
As much as Celal or Hilal love their daughter, they are proof that even the most loving parents may unintentionally cause their kids harm. The father-daughter dynamic of Maraşlı makes it even more interesting to watch because it adds a new layer to the existing layers of love and crime fighting. I didn’t even get to talk about how it also finds a paralel in Aziz and Mahur’s relationship, maybe I will in the future.
Dear reader, how are you feeling after the Maraşlı covid break? Did you miss the show as much as I did? What did you think about this essay? Let me know your thoughts, find me on Twitter, I’m @edsavaseri there. I love hearing from you, your comments always make me feel great, so let a girl know. Make sure you check my other articles on #Maraşlı on this blog. Have a great day, wherever you are in the world right now. I’m sending you peace and light from a cool Istanbul night.
*My previous articles on Maraşlı are, here, here ,here, here and here.