The urn, a yearning
pressed into bruise
mouthed it until I
learned its taste
Save me; save my
me to rest
I found some late hellebores and early daisies by the pond to distract me... Then work with students took up the rest of the day.
My social media is heartbreaking right now, with Indian friends looking for leads on plasma, drugs, ventilators, hospital beds...
My sister and I were wondering if our parents should get tested--I was worried about further exposure, but apparently there are teams that do home visits.
Late (very late) last night, a bookclub friend posted that their little one had broken their arm and that they were headed to the E.R. Big A was working in the ED, so I checked with him and gave them his work cell. This morning when I thanked Big A, I told him that when he's away, working nights, taking care of populations usually under-cared for, I feel I'm doing something good for the world too (although all I'm actually doing is wandering around insomniac and doomscrolling).
I first wrote about Amma's reaction here--so many years ago.
Picture is from Daffodil Hill at the Radiology Gardens earlier this week; they seem to have been bigger this time last year?
I wore a sari to work yesterday because I felt festive + I want to normalize saris and the difference they embody on my PWI campus. It was one of the intentions I had shared at the beginning of the term with my WGSS class, so when I showed up all floaty and colorful, they seemed quite happy and proud for me.
I may have tied it too high ("where's the flood?"--the snarks at my high school might have asked), but for the most part, I was comfortable and didn't trip. The tripping thing has been one of my most frequent excuses, so I had to re-evaluate why I don't wear saris to work.
Other Indian aunties are wearing saris to everything from construction jobs to yoga to designing spacecraft. Why don't I? I really do think it's because all the ones I have are gifts and meant for festivities and too shiny or drippy with zari/fake pearls/pompoms/gems/stonework. I need a sari wardrobe for work--but I feel weird buying stuff for myself so soon after a day when I got so many presents.
This one, BTW, is a 'house sari' discard from one of my mom's visits. In fact, it was from her first visit when At was a newborn, so it's nearly 22 years old. Very nearly vintage. Wild.
This isn't my birthplace and I am
louder for my heart is misplaced;
I dwindle but first I do no harm.
Then I turn calm, you must come
too--time shrugs on, on its own.
He hugs the walls when he walks
my sister says of our dad.
We should have bars in the shower
my husband says of my dad.
I think of my dad--
mightiest of his four brothers
how he sat all his brothers on his
meaty biceps--or was that Bhima
also second-born--I'm confused
by the words rolling in my mouth.
It's easy to break, ask water--what's
next in the shadow of time's coming.
Of first learning to trust every day's
ordinary dance, stepping to calm,
to harm; saying: I'll take it.
My father actually has six brothers, but my youngest uncle is seventeen years younger than dad and so the five older brothers were routinely referred to as the Pandavas in dad's childhood. Dad, although affected by polio as toddler, was somehow also the strongest and sportiest brother--captain of several teams in both school and college.
I routinely confused stories about dad and Bhima when I was a kid. Still do. I don't know if seating all the brothers on his arms was a dad thing, a Bhima thing, or a dad thing inspired by Bhima... and I'm not going to try to find out. Naturally, I was shaken when my sister told me this morning how weakened he's become because he looks not very different in photos and when we video chat.
The Mahabharatha because it is so long (the longest!) and has so many embedded frametales sometimes works on me as a reminder of how life is transient. Lives get lost in that huge narrative, and somehow recognizing individual insignificance is calming? Here, I'm reaching for an abridged version of that fatalistic calm.
Distance is a huge in the pandemic, and I yearn to see everyone 'back home' knowing it may not happen for months or even this year. So the other part of what I was trying to do was to call back to the old country "Bharat/Bharatha."
This year, we got to celebrate in the sunshine and make our offering at a reasonable daytime hour, with fragrant narcissus and paperwhites rounding out the pongal rice and jaggery laddu on the offering tray. To the millenary vedic sun salutation sloka*, which I was translating for the kids as I went, I added a prayer for enough Vit. D to help us through the pandemic.
Cousin P had sent the cousin groupchat a set of truly lovely pics of their traditional celebration replete with sugarcane, outdoor hearth, and silk-clad kids. So I sent this pic back to balance things out.
Not pictured: The very un-Pongal looking kids, one in the Phoebe Bridgers limited edition Punisher sweater they got from their older sib and the other human kid in the pink Mean Girls/Karl Marx mashup tee I gave them.
Tamorim Sarva Paapagnam Pranathosmi Divakaram
[You radiant as the Japa flower, heir of Kashyapa, the creator of days
destroy my darkness and all corruption I pray to you, O Sun.]
My children's love passes right through me
(like an arrow, like a bullet)
My parents' love steeps all through me
(like a tantrum, like a blush).
I fear death; there are deaths I fear more:
My deaf father sleeps deep
through knocking, my mother and sister
My tired children sleep past the blare
of smoke alarms, heavy
I wonder if I can shake them awake
like a pair of dead batteries.
But the world does its singing, then
my body curls like smoke
plummets, coaxes with folded hands
draws doors in heartache.
So let me tell you how I scan the dates
of people's lives, guessing--from
the headlines of their last year--if death
might have felt like a blessing.
Also, as she said after she read that poem, I completed it "so fast!" High praise indeed!
8000 miles away
my sister is moving
her furniture is being taken apart now
it will be put back together again, very soon.
She remembers how I arrived at her
house in Delhi the week before she did,
how I cut my hand open unpacking boxes, how
I made that a joke about my rakta dan--"blood sacrifice."
I don't remember this story. But
she giggles and so then I giggle and then
we tell each other how much we love each other.
When will we see each other again? (There aren't even plans.)
And I want to say: Take a break!
Need to ask: Are you tired? Is that heavy?
But I look at the telephone; I just... miss you.
There's more air than we can breathe between us.
Exile now feels like breaking--
like an earthquake--inside out, fragile
as though an eggshell holding hatchlings,
a coming to--on the other side of worldliness.
There are stones in my throat all day
so I stumble. I speak slowly as though in
a foreign language (all language feels foreign,
cannot say what I feel, clots like moonlight in my brain).
I just parrot from poems I read:
"Art thou weary? Art thou weary?" I dream you
give the movers the address, but Bangalore traffic sounds
harmonize it into my name, send it--back in a whisper to you.
Tomorrow is Diwali and I want to get this down in the hope that I will be able to set it aside for a little bit. I've been carrying it around since yesterday when I read a thread on Mona Eltahawy's Twitter (since then, I've seen a few news outlets calling it the "Kashmore Tragedy"). The details are so horrific I can't say them out loud without choking and I don't really think I could pass it on to anyone else.
But the story keeps going around in a loop in my head, knotting now and then around the old nodes: the precarity of being a single mother; how difficult it is to love and grow a girl child in this fucking patriarchal world; the horror of captivity and unending rape; lives where people move across the country for a job that pays about 250 dollars; knowing people are out there victim-blaming--saying things like 'bad choices' and 'where is the father?'; what care and support are available to the mother and child; why support wasn't available to them previously; the courage it took for the mother to go to the police instead of prolonging the cycle; if the police treated her with respect; the bravery and compassion of the ASI (assistant sub inspector?) using his wife and daughter as decoys to catch the rapists; were the ASI's wife and daughter given a choice in the matter; worried for the ASI and his family now that his name and likeness are all over media; knowing there's so much more abuse I'll never even know from within safe spaces in families, communities, and professional + emergency services. Why are so many men/humans such trash?
On the Enby parenting group, one parent recently asked what our own lives might have looked like if we had the freedom of gender choice we support for our children. I know I've always wished for genderlessness, especially in professional settings. And in so many other settings, I'd have loved the possibility of having what Wanda Sykes calls a "detachable pussy."
Dussehra is one of the many opportunities to renew and reset in the Hindu annual calendar. And I spent yesterday hopeful for all kinds of pandemic and election magic.
Today I quietly panicked in the car on my way home from teaching and made a list of things we'll need to stock up on. (Not because I anticipate shortages, but I DO NOT WANT to be out there.)
Here on the magic rock, is my little woodland Nu dappled in sunlight and lost in thought (they're very into plague doctor philosophy and aesthetics right now).
Another discovery: the story "Amma" by Sindya Bhanoo in Granta, not just set in my hometown of Chennai, but IN MY SCHOOL! OMG.
It was Fall term prep all day over here. Also, locking down meetings next week in my calendar helped--instead of holding hazy, all-day items in my head, I now have specific times and that's doing wonders for my general sense of preparedness and well being.
I kept getting adorable texts all morning from bestie KB and mock called her out for procrastinating via text message. Then I went off on a tangent myself and did some editor-stuff for the current issue of Jaggery (needed to be done, but not right now). At least it got done? I did a ton of other more normal procrastination as well, putting stuff in various online shopping carts and re-watching a few eps of Veep.