Wednesday, May 29, 2013

STAR GIRL


http://fineartamerica.com/featured/red-amaryllis-pera-schillings.html

An homage to some amazing women, who were amazing through everything, at all junctures in their lives, whether being celebrated, or burned at the stake.



We’ve waited for the first snow of the season
For a while now, especially my little son


I peek from the picture window
To look for signs of a wintry mix
The weatherman was dead wrong
The sky is so beautiful it makes me smile
Ouch! I need lip balm
Winter sky clearer than ever
Orion strides confident Sirius at his heel 


At my feet
Incongruous on a woebegone Sunday night
Blooms a flirty blood red Amaryllis
In a pot of blue and white chinoiserie 


Starry starry night
I wish I may I wish I might wish upon a star tonight
Or on the geometry of lilies
That look so like stars come down from the firmament
Mandalas on my freshly mopped floor
Om Hrim

Star of David
Najmat Dawuud 

Lily in a pot, Lily Potter
Born in Aquarius in the sixties
With startling green eyes
Whose love rendered the Avada Kedavra useless
Against Harry 


A lily white

Pure and bright
Star of Bethlehem
Grows next to the red one
In her own pot of clay sweet-smelling 


Sweet baby Jehanne
Fleur-de-lys
Martyred at scarcely nineteen
Ended a war of a hundred years
You live forever in our hearts 


My eyes are drawn toward
The picture frame on the shelf
Compelled by the star shapes
Of yellow trumpet lilies
Seven on a stalk
Proclaiming their brassiness on a golden afternoon 


I get up to feed the fish
The sea cucumber the sea urchin and the starfish
But it’s only the aforementioned star shape I see with new eyes
Stargazer that I am tonight
Methinks there’s something different about him tonight
Aha!!!! Pentagram not hexagram
And if he should lose a limb he’ll grow another, the smart one
Also Vitruvian Man the symmetrical one
Starfish, reflections of celestial stars on the ocean floor 


On the refrigerator door is a calendar
With golden pentacles I’ve given my son
On days he’s done his chores
Seals of approval that’ll earn him cash
And a work ethic and some righteous amour-propre I hope
Solomon was given both knowledge and wisdom I’m reminded
And wish the same for my cherub 


I look out again
Okay so it’s getting cloudy now
Can’t see Cetus nor Andromeda
Not Perseus neither
It’ll snow or sleet or rain we’ll see
And my lilies will wilt with the heater on
I’ll water them well poor dears
And let them pretend it’s the Sundarbans in here
And I’ll be happy for the bare necessities
And Raksha Baloo Bagheera
And Kaa?
The googly-eyed one who hissed “Trusssssssssst in me”?
Should I? Trust? Him? 


Ha! I won the staring contest. 


Images of a littoral mangrove flood my imagination
Edenlike in their beauty
I have the distinct sensation of shedding exteriors
A clay mold splits open and I step out Woman
Red haired in a blue denim dress
My baby boy on my hip


                                                              ~ Sonali


Thursday, May 23, 2013

“I WANT”, DECLARED THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Previously published in http://elephantearspress.com/Gallery_E_2.html


I was wandering through 
My brand new home
And did a double take

Adjacent to the doorway
Leading out of the hallway
Was another door
One I’d never seen before
Or perhaps hadn’t noticed

On the door was a silver grey banner
With a little elephant in black outline
That had a pink petunia on its head
Behind him in a procession
Were lined up the letters
I WANT in a nice large font

I reached for the doorknob
And mindlessly turned it anti-clockwise


Then it started 
A trickle at first
A trinket or two
A big box of chocolates 
From the chocolatier new
A stuffed baby giraffe 
In a tux so handsome
A rug for my room
That cost a king’s ransom
A boom box that boomed
Too loud to bear
The kiss for Snow White
That dislodged the pear
A porcelain dove 
With beautiful eyes
A stork, a bear
A harmonica that flies
The leaky faucet
From the Lacrimose Co.
Now with a nice fat stopper
To end its woe
Luggage that looked like
It’d been around the world
An exquisite desk
Of rosewood burled

Suddenly I stood in a room chock-ful with answered prayers
  
                                                                                                                   ~  Sonali


 

SECOND BANANA


Abbot and Costello
Hitler and Goring
Freud and Jung
Bush and Quayle
You get the point

There’s a place for seconds in this world
A place the seconds scoff at
And yet sometimes wear like a badge of honor
And sometimes escape to better things

What would it take for you to step out of the shadows and deal with the spotlight?

There would be the epithets
Usurper if it were sudden
Whore if you were young and female
Especially if you looked good in a dress
Witch if you were older and respectable
Gay if you were young attractive and male
Madman if you were older decisive and male

There’s no getting away from that

Remember the little slumdog covered in poo?
Mr. Bachchan saw nothing wrong with him
It was those with time on their hands
And no laurels to rest on who created all the fuss

Merlin knows Arthur is to be found somewhere hereabouts
Humble attentive quick worthy of the destiny he must fulfill           

                                                                                       ~  Sonali

http://illuminatizeitgeist.tumblr.com/image/42427187889

QUANTUM LEAP

Previously published in "Diverse City".



My energy levels are strange
I can do nothing and yet
I feel I ought to spin the world on my finger
Where do I go from here?

"Jump", I hear.
"JUMP !!", I hear again
I'm so startled I jump without thinking
3-G's hit me and I hear a crush
I land

I love it here
Just as I am beginning to think
Everyone understands
I feel daggers in my back
Lotsadaggers
Friend and foe alike have chosen
To wound me

For forty years I have turned around
And offered my jugular as well
This time around I will keep on keeping on
If you want to be my friend
Jump


                                                                             ~ Sonali

Austonian5.jpg

Sunday, May 19, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapters 36-39


36.  Z  AND  HER  SECOND  BRUSH  WITH  FEMINISM

            Z was Amtraking to a friend’s wedding. Bored with looking out the window she pulled out a book and then put it away as the lady next to her looked like she was about to start a conversation with her, and Z mostly preferred chatting to reading when distracted and soooo did not want to appear rude. Through the small talk (about Z going to a wedding) and its meanderings she gathered that the lady and her friend were not married but a couple, and would not marry since the institution of marriage was suspect. Her boyfriend nodded in agreement with everything she said. She said she had been raised to believe in equality and love for all. Z began to really, really like the people. They were moral to a fault about their vegetarianism which made Z squirm about being a token vegetarian and essentially a bogus animal lover because she ate one every now and again. They were so kind to her she felt weird having gotten used to being the kind one in any interaction all of her life. They were very knowledgeable, and had clearly defined ideas about life, politics, and everything in between unlike our inadequate flaky little dilettante who was always ‘one the one hand but on the other’- ing anything of consequence. Z felt, by and by, like she had promises to keep and miles to go before she sleeps, literally and figuratively. How often in life do we have prophetic moments that we don’t know were meaningful in any way at the time, let alone profound? ♫The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind. ♫ The beautiful couple had reminded her of a pristine innocence she had begun to lose since the day Ma died. They had awakened in her a long forgotten dream, a soulful song, an idealism, a can-do activism she greatly admired but had not been able to cultivate in her own persona, a wisdom, an extra special brand of humanism that was heady and sweet.
            An elderly gentleman sitting next to this wonderful man looked like he should be wearing his shirt collar backwards but he wore the loudest pink tartan shirt, blue jeans, sounded exactly like Dennis Haysbert and made people around him feel they were in good hands. He nodded and smiled and flicked off imaginary motes of dust off his saxophone in the aisle and tolerated the young people.
             The lady excused herself to go to the smoking car. Z buried her nose in her book. Just a few hours more and she’d be a bridesmaid with Rachel getting married and most likely ditching college to move to another continent to be with her war correspondent husband. Z thought Rachel’s not getting that degree she’d worked toward for three and a half years was silly but she was happy to see her so happy. Z wished she could be half as happy.
            The elderly gentleman cleared his throat and struck up a conversation with the young man. “Man talk,” thought Z and stayed out of the interaction. But blowin’ on a wind came to her this astute observation by the younger of the two men who upon being asked why he was ideologically opposed to concept of marriage said, ”Now why would you buy the cow if you could get the milk for free?”

37.  THE  BAKE  SALE

            Z was very happy Aunty S, Uncle V and the LP would be coming to her graduation. Daddy couldn’t come because they had already planned a huge party for their fourth wedding anniversary and it was too late to cancel, RSVPs having already come in by the dozens. “It would’ve been nice to have Daddy here too and then go back to the big celebration at home, since it was a catered event at a club anyways,” she thought. But he said they had to be there to make sure the caterers got things just right. So much for missed celebrations. She had missed every diwali, holi, pujo, almost every birthday and wedding since she’d left for college. Everybody does that. And valedictorians cannot, unless they’re superhuman, be partying at school and at home.
This last year of college behind her she would be ready for the real world. Being a real person in training can get very tiresome, even boring, and embarrassing, by the time one turns twenty three, like having training wheels too long. Gung ho about doing the resume and pantyhose routine she had to rein in her mind and keep it on the job at hand, graduate.
            ♫Graduation Day♫ dawned hot humid hazy like a large pot of crawfish on the boil. It was surreal. The graduates were deliriously happy and a little anxious, or most were. Some kids just know how to navigate this world. They do not get the willies. But then there are the multitudes who go through life with varying degrees of insecurity slowing them down to varying degrees. Some do a better job of concealing it, that’s all. Miss Z was the kind who could hide nothing. Her jitters and her joy showed in their full glory, mixed emotions sending out mixed signals. When most of the population learns to get better at concealing their thoughts and emotions and motives Z spent her youth becoming more transparent. Was that good thing or a bad thing? Was this Existential Dualism at its dysfunctional best/worst? You the reader are the judge of that.
            The party of four was making their way to the outdoor arena set up for the ceremony. They were just a little late because the women had to share a single hair dryer. So now they had to park several blocks away and walk. Just around a corner they came upon a little group of people. They thought it might be the place to pick up programs or water bottles but it wasn’t. This was a bake sale. No ordinary sale too. It was Z’s first sighting of a real bake sale of this variety and it did something to her somewhere deep in her soul. Very quickly however, between her rational self and her spiritual self there was a compromise she didn’t like but accepted anyway. The loss of dignity her soul experienced was quickly glossed over with an urbane “But this is the real world.” And she walked on in her high heels, daring the muggy day and mortarboard to mess with her hairdo. She’d sprayed it so liberally with Extreme Hold that it stayed in place as good as Hillary’s. As her spikes sank into the soggy lawn she had a song starting to play in her head. She couldn’t remember where she’d heard it or how exactly it went, but the line♫ It suck to be me ♫ kept coming back to her like a refrain when she really ought to have been mentally rehearsing her speech.

38.  ARE THE  THOUGHTS  BETWEEN  YOUR  THOUGHTS REALLY THOUGHTS ?


          
           All packed and ready to leave for home she still had one favor to return to an aunt, by way of which she had to go on a customary blind date with her aunt's colleague's brother whose uncle knew her Daddy, a "nice fair Brahmin boy", as her aunt had described him. South asians, by the time we are twenty-two, master the art of meeting and greeting an assortment of oddballs sent their way by well-meaning relatives. One more or one less means nothing to us. It's the price we pay for fresh biryani and we are okay with the trade-off. Not wanting to make it the formal occasion families in India will turn it into bringing out the best china and silver and silks Z's aunt decided they would meet at a restaurant, so if things didn't work out, it would remain just another introduction, rather than ending up on the chalk board as a strike out. She instructed Z to meet him at a given time at a given place and so Z sat there reading a "Calvin and Hobbes" when he showed up. Z thought to herself, "Auntyji, not this one in a million years."
With that decision having been made Z was completely at ease and made an effort to help the poor unfortunate soul from Nebraska find his peace so he could stop stuttering. Over the course of dinner he told her about his family and asked her about hers. With a plane to catch in three hours the meeting was hurried and Z got up to leave. He excused himself to go to his car to bring back a camera. As he walked in the door Z looked up and was startled to hear Da Voice again,"Whether you like it or not, this is your husband."

39.  BILLS

Funding for the arts had been cut so even merit scholarships in the field were fewer than ever. Realistically speaking money was a necessary evil. Daddy was not going to say no if she asked but would she want to ask for two more years of college? And then there was this ultimatum from Daddy one Sunday afternoon when he had come out of his bedroom, a gin and tonic in hand, he had walked up to her as she sat at the dining table eating her lunch alone after a morning out with friends, “Marry the bloke from Nevada or else. He is my friend’s nephew. If you don’t, expect nothing from me. You are on your own. You will not be married from this house. I have done enough for you.” The unknown quantity from Nebraska was suddenly the unopened unknown Christmas gift. At least one could hope. Then there was the little matter of the pact she had made with herself years ago, to ask God for nothing for herself. Following which a few years ago she had left the dilemma of the ‘who’ and ‘when’ of matrimony in God’s hands. Now, pushed to make a decision, she had given herself a deadline as suggested by most of her family, her twenty-fourth birthday. She made up her mind to accept as divine verdict that which came her way by that hallowed day. And here it was, approved and stamped by the family, most friends, and Da Voice. She was just being ‘selfish’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘swollen-headed’ if she was going to wait any longer. Then there was the question, ”Do I go do the Greenwich Village thing or do I do the yuppie thing? Bohemia? Academia? Suburbia? Which? Which witch is which witch? Dorothy was confused. She had definitely strayed off the yellow brick road. Here were no ruby shoes, no Toto, no body that understood the aftermath of a tornado. The chorus at home sang sweetly of the luckiest girl alive who had been blessed by the gods and her dead mother in spite of being so spoiled and bratty. Hear again, hear again the Greek chorus speaking of Z’s luck. In an effort to stay alive among other things she caved in and went with the traditional wisdom of getting married “at the right time” because her aunts were getting gray hairs worrying she’d be too old to marry off once she turned twenty-five. The white picket fence and the baby carriage had never before been such a source of angst and hope. Academia could never provide enough distraction to take her thoughts away from the thoughts of applesauce and lullabies. “Bobos in Paradise we shall be” was her new mantra. So one afternoon she picked up the phone and accepted the proposal of marriage from Nebraska.   
Friends would have to be informed, good byes had to be said, she wouldn’t be able to meet them for cappuccinos at fifteen minutes notice any more.
She received thirty five overwhelming be-knight-ments on the occasion of her earning an Mrs., many more than she had received on earning her baccalaureate and two scathing reviews. Two to thirty five the nays lost. One from Rashmi, Rush Me, of the Rush Me and Slow Me duo from Ma’s circle of friends, recently widowed after eighteen years of being married to Mr. Chips. She predicted that with that kind of attitude she’d last no more than six months in Nebraska, so either her attitude had to change or her decision had to be revoked. “Have you any idea how happy I was when I was engaged to be married? Have you any clue how happy most any girl is at this time in her life? You look like some one just died.”
“If happiness is an attitude and not an emotion,” thought Z, “ I can develop a happy attitude,” and left.
The other nay came from Bill, Rachel’s husband, who had surmised she was thinking about getting hitched eavesdropping on Rachel’s side of the conversation so when he came to the phone he had a strategy forming in his head, it became apparent to Z a little later. He made no attempts at small talk, launching straight into, “Remember the after campaign party before we were given the shove off and sent to the kiddie table. We were at my parents’ table fifteen minutes. Every body who was at that table wants to know what you are doing with your life. The Governor’s wife asked if you’d read the Whitman book she asked you to read. She told me to ask you. My father wants to know if you minored in music. The new campaign in underway. My parents would be delighted to have you travel with them. And Zach. Rachel does not want me to say another word about it but now I will. She’s saying something about religious convictions. What are you doing girl? What has happened to you in the last six months? Have you lost your mind?”
“I have lost my way. This is my best hope yet. Ever body else, in my family, seems to think so too.”
“And you, what do you think?”
“I think I’ve made a good decision.”
“You didn’t tell me you had already made your decision, or I wouldn’t have said what I just said.“
“It’s okay. Friends need to be honest with each other no matter what. Since you’ve cut to the bottom line, to put your mind at ease I’ll tell you the real story. I have a complicated set of convictions, part country, part rock ‘n roll, between cultures, between generations, and what I need most in my life right now to just stay sane and alive is the pitter patter of little feet. If all else was pared away from my life I could live with the loss, but this one thing consumes me day and night. I won’t expect you to understand this if you can’t, but please just hear me out. Your brother is one of the finest people I’ve ever met but he’s as passionate about his beliefs as I am about mine, and let’s not pretend that three of every four of our fundamental beliefs run contrary to one another.”
As she was talking she realized Da Voice had been right. She was doing what he had said she would, and how. Things were falling in place effortlessly. She was edging closer and closer to her new life and didn’t know how.
 She had needed to know more about what her new life would look like, so over fifty phone calls she figured she was to spend most of the day in the wigwam, associate with academics, and get used to the new skyline, which she knew from hearsay and T. V., was beautiful, remote, flat, beautiful.
  “Worrying about the inevitable is the stupidest thing in the world so worrying is not on my agenda. I’ll give it my best, and like anything else, when you give something your best, it gives its best back to you, and so will marriage,” she proceeded to sermonize to Bill.
“If you were to bear witness with your own eyes, just once, the lives of people here among famine and war you would change forever. You would no longer have this skewed perception of life. I can try to talk my Dad into getting you a hall pass of sorts but I doubt he’ll oblige. So imagine for a moment you are not you, but someone documenting your life. The first thing you’d do is stop feeling so f^%!^) sorry for yourself.”
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself.”
“You’re acting like you do. Victimhood has claimed you ha?”
Z hardly knew what to say. She had been accused of pretty much everything in her short life, but playing victim was something no one had ever thought of accusing her of before. Here was Bill, in a war zone, documenting the lives of children there, telling her over a satellite phone she was playing victim. She hated him. She was “playing”? What bullshit. He’d never understand so might as well let it go, get to downtown for trousseau fittings.
She began winding down the conversation to a farewell speech at the end of which he said, ”You can be trusted to make the right decision even with a gun to your head so I guess you made the right decision. Have a good life.”
Z decided that now that Bill and Rachel were living in a place where people thought so differently from the way they did, by and by they’d understand her decision and absorb the underlying principles behind arranged marriages. They’d stop thinking she’d turned into this icky mail order bride. With that she got up to check the to-do list for the day and figured it would be best to take the train into town.
With an hour to kill she bought the daily newspaper and opened it to her favorite section. The bloke sitting next to her was surreptitiously reading the headlines she gathered as she put the paper down to look out the window and he tapped at the picture of carnage in a populous area, and said, “Why does brother blow up brother in these parts of the world?”
“Very astute, very forthcoming, very American,” thought Z, and decided she’d like that discussion. She knew she could pass for Arab with just the right emphasis on her  ‘kh’ ’s. Or Latina if she pleased, but she decided to put away that childishness and act her age. She didn’t say much except mirror his sentiment. She thought to herself, ” These issues are waaaaaay toooooo complicated for a ten minute discussion. Cain and Abel are still under scrutiny and no body knows for sure yet why that whole sad story came about. If people born of the same parents can kill one another what is to be said of neighboring nations? And then there’s the problem of identity. Thakuma gets so agitated hearing of the ongoing violence between India and Pakistan. Perhaps her identity includes both nationalities, having being born in Bangladesh. To her the division of India seems a questionable decision in light of its aftermath. And all that questioning comes from fifty years of being an American most likely. Yet brother fights brother in every century in every part of the world. Why? Why do people select one something from all applicable labels to represent themselves? And go to war over it? If you ask Thakuma where she’s from she says’ Fairview’ or ‘India’ or ‘Bengal’ depending on who you are. To a Bengali she’s ‘Baangaal’, meaning from the region now known as Bangladesh. My violin teacher chose western classical music as her sole source of identity and has no patience with any other definition of herself, and that is after being Polish, Russian, German, Russian again, American, atheist, agnostic, and a semi-believer exploring Judaism, Orthodox, and Baptist faiths at subsequent points in her life, having lived in Minsk for fifty years or more before moving to the USA. What if these two old ladies met for tea? For a samovar and glucose biscuit summit?”
She’d reached her destination and it was time to ponder sequins and petticoats, and ask again,
-  “Am I happy?”
“Yes I am. Rashmi, thank you for that.”
- “Am I a victim?”
“Not in the least. I made a decision based on popular vote, and the resounding applause thereafter, and that little oracle Da Voice.”
She skillfully excised from her awareness the fact that those who had cast their ballot in favor of this decision had never ever met the man they had made the decision in favor of. They had spoken just once to a friend of the family from the old country who had known the boy for three months and decided that their daughter would be blissfully happy with him despite her misgivings.
Like the sands that slip noiselessly through the narrow waist of an hourglass, Z slipped through the eye of a needle from one world into another. “This is the real world, and in this world this is how the wheels turn.” She had thought that thought a bunch of times ever since Ma had died. That thought was getting as comfortable as an old shoe. She lost sight of the larger perspective of the larger world and favored the miniscule details of daily humdrum things.
            Over the years she would, every time she encountered an uncomfortable truth about herself, excise it from her awareness and it would look an awful lot like an eyeball staring into space so she’d feel all wrong about throwing it away, so she’d save it in a jar filled with formaldehyde. One day the jar would turn Argus eyed, a thousand watchful eyes staring back at her, she who was once a thousand points of light had dwindled to a single point of stillness.
She had allowed the power of consensus and the power of convention to hold complete sway over her individuality. She had surrendered her personal vision to the care of those convention said knew better. That was logical enough for now no matter how soul-killing that was. All her failings had been pointed out to her so many times by so many people she could not possibly be right about anything she imagined. If her whole being was revolting at the thought of abandoning every hope she had ever had of doing just a little more than housekeeping and such or of being in a relationship she looked forward to, those hopes had to be quelled into submission. Some one who could not even walk or talk properly surely couldn’t do any thing of any worth in the real world, could she? The voices of encouragement had been so few and so far between, the lies she had been told by those she trusted so outnumbered the handful of truths they had told her she was lost in the fog of falsehoods but didn’t know it. She was tied up in knots like a contortionist gone to seed trying to bend this way and that to accommodate each lie in her ken and was told yet again she who knew not how to walk or how to talk needed a man, any man, or she had no place in the world.
Not designed to use force, not against something as tender and ethereal as a dream, she did not beat her dreams into pulp, instead she took each hope each prayer each desire she’d held dear to her heart since she could remember, and set them free like a thousand butterflies. They flew up to the sky and turned into a constellation of a thousand dimly lit stars to guide her on her way. One came down, a falling star, and she caught it, kept it in her pocket, saved it for a rainy day. The nine hundred and ninety nine blinkers in the sky were deaf mute sentinels that would stay awake with her all the years she couldn’t seem to find any zzz’s. That constellation represented structure, permanence, design, destiny, rationality, ethics, morals, values, and little angel eyes she worshipped with every breath she took. Be sure the mind has a thousand eyes and the heart but one. Shutter that one lazy eye and you’re doing fantastic in the real world. 
The real world is a university apart from the educational institutions of this world. It'll teach you things you never knew you never knew :)


   The End

EDUCATING Z - Chapter 31 - 35



31.  JUNIOR  

            When do you know you’ve been moved from one room to another while you were sleeping? When you wake up. Duh.
            Something along those lines had occurred at Z’s home during the summer between sophomore year and junior year. She was in unknown territory. Nothing fit.
            She was biding her time. It wasn’t worth getting into fixing things any more around here. Uncle E had said it, “The (saand) bull had destroyed the china shop. No amount of glue is gonna take care of that mess.”
            But then Z had had two years to get used to the facts on the ground, so what if she floated about on a cloud in the aery faery world of long forgotten music and centuries old stories for the most part. There’s something magical about 24 months, especially when it comes to adapting to sea changes. It was a little over 24 months since Ma had died, just under 24 months since Daddy remarried, and just under 24 months since she had left for college. She was beginning to grow up, get comfortable with traveling on her own, going to the bank by herself, getting a grip on the various structures of community at large, so on. Disillusionment with the world and family was the only unfortunate byproduct of this process, but just how long do you wish to worship false idols???
            The curriculum had fallen in place for Z like a little bit of magic. Every course was designed just for her it seemed to her. She took to academics like a fish takes to water. Or a duck? Whatever the real phrase might be, you get the point. By Thanksgiving she had arrived at a very important decision. She would no longer go home and get sick to the stomach. Instead she’d find a place to stay, and live in the library until they threw her out. Her morale and her health improved dramatically every time she left Fairview so why get sick on purpose? Of course it had taken 24 magical months to get to that realization/decision, but better late than never.
            The year saw all of the Juniors come into their own as individuals. Or perhaps Z began to see them that way. The sorority definitely was more mature and serious now. New York had made quite an impact on Julie, they noticed right away. Her understanding of the world of music had always been something to marvel at. Now she talked like a virtuoso. She played like one too. She had touched the soul of Music and you could see what magic that had done. Rachel was hardly a giddy girl anymore. She saw herself more as the other half of Bill who was a lawyer and political strategist in training. She spent an awful lot of time with him and his parents at Georgetown. That one fact now a year old had turned a very giggly gangly Rachel into someone you could trust to give you sounder advice than your grandmother could, now with her new perspective on Life. Iravati had MIT on her mind a lot. Clare had set foot in all the time zones of U.S.A, Hawaii included, as well as the MGM studios, also Universal and Nickelodeon. She had plans to see the locations where Mystic Pizza, and Driving Miss Daisy had been filmed. Melissa was toying with the idea of transferring to Stanford where her twin brother was, if they’d accept her.
            Melissa’s twin brother had surprised her one day showing up at dinner time while they had been eating beef stroganoff. He was a character. To him the sorority was an extension of Melissa. There were just more Melissas to harass. He had a week off so he decided to spend it with Melissa but he wouldn’t say he missed her. The twins had never been apart for more than two weeks at a time before they had left for college. While she was at class he wandered about blending into the crowd and regaled them with stories about his day in the evenings. His most favorite character in this parade of characters in his stories was an older unavailable ‘Miss Kegel’. That was most likely not her real name. She was with, according to him, ‘Mr. Legally Blind’. Somewhere along that storytelling hour of the day he had figured out Z never fully understood his jokes, not for 24 to 48 hours at least. He, however, had a Marauder’s Map (Harry Potter) of her mind so he knew where the blind alleys and blind corners were. He’d pitch his stories at just such spots much to his and the sorority’s amusement. Z, who prided herself on decoding people’s mental grammar within five minutes of meeting them felt very humiliated. Her head was getting transparent she was sure. People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. And this transparent person can see things no one else can, like they can see Thestrals now, and cannot see things most everybody else can. It is a pretty unfortunate situation for the bereaved.
            On Saturday they walked down to the ice cream parlor. Outside, waiting perhaps for other people, were ‘Miss Kegel’ and her ‘legally blind’ significant other, Melissa’s brother pointed out to them. Mr. Legally Blind was hot. He was nothing like the doddering persona with a cane that Z had imagined. Her first impression of him was a tauter, bronzer, smarter Gilderoy Lockheart. Miss Kegel was older than she had thought, with tightly wound boxes where her biceps, behind, and calves should’ve been, that made you want to scream, ”Lay off the HGH sister.” 
            “I thought you were jealous of Mr. Legally Blind,” said Z.
            “Because you, Z, are legally blonde,” said the Jewish brat to the Indian girl and laughed so hard he walked into a lamppost.
            That night they went out to a traditional Louisiana dinner and then walked the French Quarter, playing host to their out of towner guest, enjoying the change in perspective that comes with such an excursion. They each knew they wouldn’t be here for ever. The time for leaving their home away from home was getting closer each day. Z watched the rising crescent ♫moon over Bourbon Street♫ and vowed she’d always cherish the happier moments savored in this city.
            The year brought lots of fresh ideas, new ways of bending ideas, new tools for breaking open ideas, and such. Z felt like she was on a thrill ride in a carnival intellectually. She met new people who introduced her to new people and suddenly she found herself surrounded by an amazing group of some very sharp minds. Her waking hours were filled with sudden newness like spring showers after much aridity. For the first time in her life she saw the fabric of life interwoven with art, science, history, geography, religion, politics, and all of human striving and human consciousness.

32.  SOLAR  ECLIPSE
            Z set aside her comic book and tired of ♫chasing pavements♫ took the nicest path from the library back to her dorm, a green mile -- grassy knolls, manicured lawns, sidewalks covered with clover, vacant lots between buildings draped with kudzu – for your walking pleasure if you were willing to hop step jump detour duck etc. It brought perks with it – a little pond with algae and a water lily or two, low hanging wisteria for the picking this time of the year, dandelions to play wishing games with, four leaf clovers for the lucky ones, and a short stretch of an almost yellow brick road. If only she had those magic slippers.
            This last year of college behind her she would be ready for the real world. Being a real person in training can get very tiresome, even boring, and embarrassing, by the time one turns twenty three, like having training wheels too long. Gung ho about doing job interviews she had to rein in her mind and keep it on the page before her nose.
            She looked up at the blank blue wall in front of her and saw HWMBF sitting on a white chair, a little table with a black rotary telephone on it, a young lady she recognized from years ago in elementary school seated on a divan, and to her utmost surprise she heard her own name being spoken! She blinked, many more times than two or three, and resumed studying.
            A fortnight or so passed. It was afternoon again. She was slaving at her test prep again. And a swarm of angry little miniscule insects jet black and shiny showed up in front of her and spoke to her in a voice as commanding as the Snow Queen’s that she recognized right away after all those years, “Z, let him go.” Z replied, “I have. I will,” and followed through.
            Z could no longer understand the words on the page so she put her head down on the desk and said to herself, ”So this was why I needed to see that -- to put the matter to rest and seal the hushed casket of my soul.”
            Once again after many long years she felt the light in the sunlit was simply not enough to live by. When the lamp is shattered the light in the dust lies dead. And that which is dead feels nothing.


33.  MISPLACED   PACKAGES
Z would be flying home with extra baggage if she carried all her things with her so she decided to ship the books and clothes she didn't need and to that end was to be found waiting in line at the post office. In walked an old friend who was so completely out of context she took an extra second to say hi, what with the sunglasses and visor and all. He was leaving for Fairview that afternoon having attended a conference in town over the week. He asked if she knew his polo playing buddy just got married? 
Z said, "Of course."
"Who told you?"
 "I must be psychic," she said.
"No, seriously," he laughed,"who told you?"
"No one did."
"Ah, okay," he seemed to accept the fact Z was not willing to disclose her sources, not for a moment suspecting Z was perhaps telling the truth.
"Honestly!" insisted Z.
He said the bride was from Fairview.
And that confirmed to Z she was in fact not "seeing" things.    
She asked him the bride's name.
"We went to the same kindergarten school,"said Z nonchalantly.
Her friend nearly jumped out of his skin,"You know her??"
"Why, yes. We sat together first semester in kindergarten, until the homeroom teacher decided it wasn't a very good idea."
"I can imagine," he laughed heartily.
"She's pretty," said Z.
"Some might think so," he said, he said, looking very concerned.
"You know Z, I think you had a narrow escape."
It was Z's friend's turn to go to the counter. It was almost closing time. They said goodbye, and see you in Fairview. 
When Z put her pen to paper she realized her home address had become so alien to her it took her a moment to recall the street number where her house stood.

34.  THE  LONG  GOODBYE

Z had stashed away some cash from her summer jobs and as a present to herself took a trip to Colorado with her roommate and a few friends to “just get away from it all” there being a two week period of nothing between exam date 4 and exam date 5, a scheduling error overlooked for too long, and could not be remedied at this late hour. Back at their dorm she found a small package, her mail, and a note from her friend N the TA’s wife, waiting for her in the lobby. The note simply said, ”Call him.”         
“What does she know??” thought Z to herself. Then she opened the package from her step mother and found some homemade “imperishable” snacks in ziplock bags, and two letters from aunts who lived in the old country, a birthday card from a friend from high school, and an invitation to a wedding back east she couldn’t possibly attend.
The biggest shocker for the day was that she has assumed incorrectly the date on the wedding. She knew she had lied to her friend from Illinois and that was why. But she really had had no idea one little white lie, simply going from the present tense to the past, can affect a person’s reality so vastly. ”But what of that? What’s decided is decided. N knows about the matter. How does she?? “
Curiosity got the better of her and she called N and asked. There was no mistaking what N knew and what she thought of it. She was plainspoken always and now she was as direct as anybody could possibly be.
“Call him. Tell him what you just told me. It seems very likely he does not know half of what you just told me. See what he thinks of it. I know you think it might be too late to call but give life a chance to surprise you. You could always say you called to say goodbye. There is something called closure that people need before they can move on to the next chapter in life. You and I, because of our cultural heritage, sweep these things under the rug but it never works. Call him now before it really is so late it becomes inappropriate to do so.”
Z was horrified at the thought of having to do this, as much as she was torn by the need to just talk to him. Realistically, she’d look like a crazed idiot, so calling was pretty much out of the question. N was her friend and firmly believed the situation merited at least a phone call. The dilemma in Z’s head resolved itself with a, “How can I possibly say goodbye to someone I have never said hello to?”
“Sorry I forgot you have no heart.”
Stung by those words Z sat on the floor and after a long pause said, ”My heart refused to cross the mighty Mississippi so I left it there on the riverbank and came here by myself because the rest of me has to carve a life out of what I have been given. 
“Do you want me to come over?”
“No. I just need some time alone. “

Memories of Colorado made perfect sense now. In the deep of REM sleep she had heard a whisper in her ear, “Wake up, will you.”
            Not quite awake and not quite asleep she found herself in a comfortable space, like it might be the most natural place for her to be, that wasn’t her home, nor her dorm, nor this hotel room, but a place where she felt a sense of belonging.
            The exact same thing had happened the following day. The same wake up call, the waking up to a beautiful place, but just so sleepy from the high altitude effect she took a little longer to wake up. In five minutes the replay was derailed. She thought she had done or said something wrong. She started to drift back into the hotel room.
It took Z a few moments to put things in order in her freshly woken up head. She was wide awake now. She could see the outlines of objects against the light from the city glare coming in the window. Her roommate was snoring as usual. She could feel the textures on her quilt and the headboard she held on to as she sat up. She heard, clearly, unmistakably, the words, “Z, I don’t know why this has happened. I don’t understand why I am doing this.”
Z turned the lamp on and then turned it off again. Daybreak was hours away. She had time to think, to reflect, to neatly package this memory in mothballs and put it away. She had no earthly idea how her interpretation of this moment would affect the rest of her life. As always she had taken the blame entirely on herself.
 “If I do call now it would be weird to the max. I’d cry. I’d offer to fly on wings to be by his side if he so much as suggested it. It would be such a soap opera. After all the near misses this is the last one I guess and it looks like I need to accept this just as it is. He had three whole years to make this decision, and if this is his decision I can accept it for what it is. It looks like the goodbyes, at least on his part, have already been said. I’ve watched other people go through this and I know I can handle it. If N wants to call him she can do it of her own free will. If she does reach him and he asks to speak with me I’ll talk, but not otherwise. Lack of protest on my part was acquiescence N would surely understand. It’s a cultural thing. ”
A song floated about in the darkness in the distant future.
♫“If I never knew you I'd be safe but half as real … If I never knew you … I would never have a clue how at last I'd find in you the missing part of me … If I never knew you I'd have lived my whole life through, empty as the sky never knowing why, lost for ever. ♫
35.  PROMISES   PROMISES

            Expected to vacate dorm rooms the same weekend as exams ended Z had to find a place to stay the extra week she had planned to stay to attend the annual bluegrass festival the city hosted. It gave her a week to transition between one world and another, college and home.
N invited her to stay the week and Z gratefully accepted. She felt like she could use a safe house to fall apart. N being the one person in the world who understood and sympathized and seemed to have some idea of the real world facts as well Z couldn’t wait to talk to her at length. Once she got to her place however Z figured she wasn’t designed to have meltdowns before an audience. She couldn’t fall apart, come unglued, let her tears flow. She felt better just holding it all in. When N tried to get her to talk she gave her the royal brush off.
 She had in her own mind pooh-poohed the Colorado incident and related happenings as nonsense but she had to finally admit to herself she was under so much stress she needed this break more than she had previously imagined. Going straight home would’ve been like going from the beach into a cryogenic pressure chamber so she might’ve gone into thermal shock. Add to that the oddest question in the world - How do you accept the fact that you are hurting when there is no logical reason to be doing so? – and you have a situation. Your life is falling apart and you cannot believe your life is falling apart. You cannot believe your life is falling apart. And you cannot believe that beyond the shadow of a doubt your life IS falling apart. You are drowning in a desert; you’re screaming but not a sound can be heard; you are praying but there is no God, or so it seems; the emptiness is oppressive; you’re sensitive beyond imagination but you don’t know if you’re dead or alive. And yet every minute comes and goes on schedule. Small delights like the perfectly browned toast or fireflies in the backyard must be honored. Daily routines must be honored. People in your life must be honored. You imagine that when you wake up in the morning this will end like a bad dream. Except this is no dream. And this is not night going into morning. This is when the dark night of the soul is just getting started. It’s about five o’clock on a cold winter’s evening for your soul, except this is about the same time as the summer solstice in the real world. And you are young and blessed in the eyes of the majority because the majority see with just their eyes. A few, a very small minority, of all the people you meet, see with their hearts and know you are not. The incongruities never end.
            There was just one more thing that she couldn’t understand. N, who awoke at four each day to get a few hours of reading and her hour of jogging done before her son woke up, would hover around the couch where Z slept at just about five thirty. As Z’s eyes fluttered open she’d say, “Z, when he contacts you don’t respond. Promise me now you won’t. You know how men are. I don’t want you getting hurt.” She’d repeat that again every evening, just when Z would begin to drift off. Z marveled at N’s ability to know exactly when she was waking up and when she was nodding off. “Comes with the territory of motherhood I suppose,” she thought amazed and amused in equal parts.
            Z humored her three days and then laughingly asked if she was programming her using some technique she’d learned like sleepytime mind control or something. N told her she was dead serious. That begged the question did she know anything? N swore she had not heard of him since he’d left and in fact she had never actually met him. Her husband knew him somewhat because every evening when he took their son to the park HWMBF would be walking to his apartment at about the same time. She said she just knew it in her bones that one day Z would hear from him. It could be soon. Z thought that was bizarre. Twenty days ago N had asked her to call him. That Z had thought was bizarre. Now she was asking her to make this strange promise over and over on a strict schedule and that was equally bizarre, in fact more. All the same Z promised fifteen times over seven and a half days she wouldn’t respond if he ever contacted her. “N is a sweetheart but overprotective and just a tad soft in the head. How silly. Why on earth would He Who Does Not Know My Name contact me, at this time in his life??” thought Z to herself. “He might not know whom to contact, logically speaking, since he does not know my name you know. These thoughts, these feelings, the premonitions, N, were all stuff and fluff. As far as I can tell nothing ever happened. All I have to do now is remember that very important fact. Other than N nobody seems to take it seriously. If they did someone might’ve actually said something that made sense in all these years. The family found out God knows how and just says mean stuff to hurt my feelings and get a reaction out of me like they do with everything else. If I stop reacting they’ll stop saying things. By and by every one will forget. I’m as silly as a bear of very little brain. When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. So this will never get out into the open.”
The day she was to leave N cooked them a traditional breakfast of idlis and chutney which the four ate on the patio in the cool of the early morning hours. N’s son woke up too to say goodbye to Z. They would drop her off at the airport. Z would be on her way to another facet of her worldly experience and be back for the very last year of a privileged existence as student.
For some reason undecipherable intangible indeterminate as Z saw it, she saw her surroundings with a degree of clarity she had never before experienced. The whites were whiter, the colors were brighter, the patterns showed in sharper relief. The sun just rising from a point in the horizon adjacent to the oak tree festooned with Spanish moss lit up the world, and Z saw splendor in the grass, dewdrops afire, more brilliant than the world’s most precious diamonds, dangling from the most impossibly green grass of summer, and scattered among them a few acorns adventuresome enough to stray so far from the tree. The two little resin bunnies that sat by the patio had a visitor, a curious young squirrel who had woken up bright-eyed bushy-tailed to explore his universe, the ends of his fur and whiskers aglow in the morning sun like an aura of the deified around him. N’s son had named the bunnies Peter and Benjamin. Button mushrooms sprouted at their feet making them seem very real and very at home.
            Z took it all in and savored it. She would always remember how good this felt. N and her husband had cared for her like they cared for their son and that had restored her in immeasurable ways. All it had taken was a little love, a little nurturing, a little Zen, some Suprabhatam, some genuine friendship, wholesome home cooking, a little fun, all at once in sensible portions like a well balanced meal, even though this was a very difficult time in her life, to fine tune a dial in her awareness, even if for a few hours, to give her a glimpse of what was possible if those conditions persisted. Unknowingly she internalized that newfound knowledge.

            So by and by Z forgot everything else, her promises to N, what people had said, what she had thought, what happened, her dreams – all were laid to rest. She’d made peace with them all. The clarity remained in areas of her life where love flowed freely, but in cold harsh hate-filled circumstances her eyes, her heart, her brain, her nose, her ears, all stopped functioning. She ached for a day when all would be well and tried to take the good stuff and sneak it, then force it, into the cold arid zones of her existence. Try as she might she always got beat back, with greater force and malevolence each time, over many years. Memories of happiness can warm your heart only so long. One needs real happiness to live by after a while. The hatred induced venom in her and it was spreading like kudzu and slowly choking her as she began to struggle to survive. She hoped Life would hurry up and show her the way to happier days. But Life, like rivers, knows this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. All the strife and fear and stupidity and falsehoods would have to be leeched out of her before the good stuff could find a home in her awareness. Life had someplace to take her nice and slow without telling her where or why or exactly when. All the artifice in the world wouldn’t change a thing.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapter 26 - 30





26.  ROWING   TEAM

            Monday morning, the first day of sophomore year, Z having gotten used to late nights and late mornings through the previous year was blinking at the sunlight flooding into her room. Someone knocked on the door. A disheveled Brit kid was looking for tea bags and had been directed to her room. She had arrived the previous night and was jetlagged and hung over and needed black tea, lots of sugar please. Z was quite sure some tea was in order and asked her to sit, introduced herself, was delighted to hear her name repeated back to her with perfect enunciation, and the British import introduced herself while Z made tea, literally. This girl was chockfull of words and details even while hung over and about the funniest person in the world. Z was amazed by the flow of language and ease of communication and the complete transparency this girl embodied. This girl was all the Britcoms on PBS fast forwarded to here and now. It was a treat to gather the first fruits of culture shock this teenage sage was experiencing. She, like most people who come to America for the first time, found it a place so far removed from the America of her imagination she was rattled, no matter how witty she might otherwise be. The Brit wit was clearly out of her comfort zone. Tea downed she ran off to get ready for the day. She was a first year on scholarship studying among other things landscape architecture, hoping to work for a movie house or a fashion house some day. She knew what she was doing, for in her three waking hours on the vast American landscape she had noticed the lay of the land from air and on the ground, the placement of buildings, the styles of architecture, the color of sunshine, the age of the mighty oak trees, the French sounding names of the streets. If you can do that at eighteen straight out of high school it bodes well for your future as a set designer perhaps on a Spielberg movie or something.
            Z took pause for a moment in the middle of getting to breakfast to think how the mention of tea had sent an unknown quantity to her door. Racial profiling worked for once. One time Ma had sent her to the local grocery store for milk, garlic and parsley. The checkout lady giggled as she corrected her entry, saying it looked a lot like cilantro so she hadn’t realized it was parsley. “Ya, you could make some serious mistakes in life putting racial profiles above all else. It has its place in the world at this time in history but it will completely stop working in a few hundred years, if the species survives a few hundred years,” Z thought as she got herself a not so clean bowl to eat her cereal out of with an, “Oh well, dorm life.”
            Z and the Londoner crossed paths a few times through the week exchanging a sentence or two. Then Saturday morning at breakfast time eating the customary cold cereal Z realized a lot of people were looking her way, or just above her head, looking in disbelief, the girls looking in disbelief, the boys in awe. Z thought she might want to think she had a halo around her head being such a good girl all week, as she had seen it happen in cartoon shows. Then she heard a soft British accent behind her, “Z, may I borrow your jacket for a wee bit?”
            “Sure,” said Z thinking perhaps the girl had spilled something wet on her shirtfront and needed cover to walk back to the dorm, and that probably explained the ogling males.
            “Thanks a million,” the girl said as she slipped on the jean jacket and ran.
            A little later Z found out that on her first weekend in America the  European had made the classic mistake of thinking no one wore restrictive clothing on weekends in the land of the free and the home of the brave, especially not since the feminist movement, surely if they did not back in old fashioned Europe. It took a little while to bring her up to speed. This was the deep south. The Bible belt. Moreover nowhere in America did one walk about without wearing restrictive clothing. And bras were never really burned by feminists, not in the sixties, and not since. And to not worry. She wasn’t the first to make that mistake and would most likely not be the last.
            Over the course of the next few days the Brit kid had hauled back several boxes of snorkeling gear, down parkas, snow shoes, skis, rappelling gear, from the UPS store across from the library. Her Mum had shipped them to her as she didn’t want her buying a whole new set with American money. The girl was ready and eager to re-conquer America from sea to shining sea. She’d put up a calendar on her wall with all holidays and off days highlighted and a map of the USA. She had frequent flyer accounts set up with a couple of airlines, the Greyhound and the Amtrak. She was asking all around if anyone wanted to go to Lake Pontchartrain for the weekend. That explained, in a quaint way to Z, why the sun never set on the British Empire for years and years and years.
            “Man, and we never left Fairview unless a relative died or got hitched outside city limits,” thought Z.
            And so, even though the dissimilarities were many, the group of girls that spoke a similar language, one of sisterhood and the pursuit of excellence, became a sorority with no name. One was Catherine, Catherine the Great they teased her for her expansionist attitude and Russian ancestry, because she always forgot a book or her shoes or scarf or something in other people’s rooms. Her roommate had thirty percent of the room only by the end of each week because Catherine would’ve spread her stuff too far and too wide. Guilt would take over and she’s clean up and apologize every single week. Julie was Chinese. She came to the sorority by way of violin and Shakespeare. She was a lot like Midori but hated the reference so they spared her feelings. Iravati was the other Indian kid in the wing who, over a period of time gravitated toward the group needing a common wavelength for social interaction to be meaningful. Melissa played chess with Catherine sometimes and took the same classes as Iravati (often shortened to ee-ra), math and science. Clare, the British girl hung out with them even though she was a year younger and a freshman. She might just’ve been the smartest of the group, finding her way through the world both feet firmly rooted in reality and greeting the world with a confident smile.    
  
27.  FEAST   OR   FAMINE
Sophomore year began to sink in bit by bit about ten days into the year. Z was surprised by the ease of these ten days as compared with the first ten days of freshman year. She had fallen into the swing of things in a minute. What a difference a year can make. And a new fact began to make itself known to her. The empowerment she had experienced from going numb had a new ally. Her head had turned into a machine. It floated a bit above her shoulders defying all norms. It was a work of intricate wheels within wheels with a face to one side. It had its downside though. Messages from the other senses took a while to go through the new and overly sophisticated routing system and often got lost. The bugs had not been worked out of its programming yet.
‘Divide and rule’ was an apothegm she’d heard thrown around a lot but did not recognize it as it manifest itself in her own life, in her own person, her own psyche.
The eyes saw everything through a film of gel. If she woke up in the pitch dark of night she’d pinch herself to be sure was alive and not dead. If she looked in the mirror it was to check for evidence of good hygiene and general presentability. She stopped seeing Z in there so she was afraid to look too closely at the stranger in the near distance in her room fearful of whom she might find.
The nose was getting sharper however.
The ears stopped hearing the melody so much and turned themselves more toward semantics.
The taste buds were fried.
She had lost the ability to tell between hot and cold like a leper.
CRACK!!! The fractured pieces of Self Other Time Space cracked once more into littler fragments but with a difference. Half the fragments were bright and half were dark. They tessellated into a harlequin pattern. The big fatuous ugly wanton agnostic genderless hairy disembodied Hand of Fate had rearranged them so, so she could no longer tell who she really was, or for that matter tell accurately what time it was, or where exactly she was, or with who.
The pattern must have had a subliminal effect on her for on a whim she wore a dress with a harlequin pattern on it, looking like a maid-in- waiting or she-jester to a queen of diamonds in a pack of playing cards. Conquered people tend to be witty. And highly suggestible.
 The conquered are controlled through fear and confusion. They cannot tap into their strengths for they do not recognize their strengths when they see them. They have, by now, been ridiculed for their strengths, their strengths turned inside out, and held in contempt for their failings so many times they have little self worth to lean on. Beaten yet again they learn to fear and trust those they perceive as more powerful and more knowledgeable than they. As the master’s gaze lands on something, the slave’s gaze follows there too. The eyes follow the eyes, the footsteps the footsteps, the ears the ears, always a little behind and in the spirit of service and obedience. They live to improve themselves and to please the eagle-eyed and the very discriminating master, in awe of the powers of discrimination and self-assuredness. And thus they learn to focus on their limitations. Given their ability to burn things with focus, as they turn their candent gaze toward the perceived and real flaws in their make up they end up burning a hole in their own protective outer shells letting the world in, letting all and sundry look into their souls. As more light from within shines through, more limitations are slapped upon them.
As the limitations go on mounting, they are convinced they are not this and they are not that; they cannot do this and they cannot do that; they can never be this and they can never have that. They hear their Masters’ voices in their heads all the time. Eventually they own their blots spots scars and dark pasts and presents and futures. The evil ones steal their power as easy as they steal candy from babies. Mark my words, they do steal candy from babies. And shoplift. And fudge on their taxes, cook the books, whittle away from the family coffers, tell lies with a hand on the holy text, so on and so forth.
  The balance of power shifts to the one who can inveigle better. It is all perception, baby. Never fact. Mainly fiction. Or rather, facts rearranged to present a reality that serves the Master and enfeebles the enslaved. And Z, who had patterned her personality after her mother’s, had never even heard the words ”Shut up bitch” or she might’ve said them to the Queen of Diamonds when her self control was flagging. She was so tired by now, her emotional reserves spent completely, her self control was teetering on the edge quite a bit these days.
 The fear the Transparents carry about is obvious to the world at large. Little do they know in this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength. God, our Creator, has stored within our minds and personalities, great potential strength and ability. Prayer helps us tap and develop these powers. But then this someone in a jester suit had abandoned prayer for a while now. The God who had served her up this smorgasbord of defeats in life could not possibly care for her, could he?
Mid-terms came and went. Julie transferred to Julliard with a promise to be back for Spring Break. She had to pick between accounting and music and the brave little girl picked music in the face of hostile criticism from family. She said she’d have time to work on an accounting degree in the evenings, and would they please send her a little money for those evening classes.
The new addition to the sorority with no name was Rachel, a Gweneth Paltrow waiting in the wings. Until she met Bill, a strategist waiting in the wings. But that’s another story. A nice one too.
In the winter break Rachel asked Z and Melissa if they would like to help with a minor political campaign in Olympia, Washington. It was just something homely, her parents were working on it, it should be fun, and a nice change from the Bayou. They both agreed. Iravati was going to Pennsylvania to her Uncle’s place. Catherine had a baptism and a wedding to go to. Clare was going spelunking in the Lost World caverns in West Virginia.
“In winter??!!” they asked.
“The price was just right,” she replied.   The girl knew no fear.
And so Z saw Washington state for the very first time in her life. It is so beautiful you almost have to close your eyes. The break was refreshing beyond belief. Rachel’s parents were the best, Mommy and Daddy, away from Mommy and Daddy. You could fall apart in their backyard and they would give you no grief over it. And they fed the kids rather well. They knew exactly what balance to strike between being parent and being friend to the adult child. The parent was protective, firm, clear, saw things from the perspective of who has given birth, and knew where to draw the line; the friend was a homie. It was probably a reflection of the balance they had achieved in their own personalities. You felt completely at ease with yourself when you met them, even if you were a painfully awkward youth so tired of struggling with your own concept of your own self, you hadn’t exactly had the time or the energy to figure out the world.
 Political campaigns are a lot of fun. You needn’t know a thing about them but like a football game you’ve been watching for a while you get drawn into them against your will. And then there are the personalities. Muffins they were not. And thank goodness for Rachel’s parents’ standing in the community, nobody dared breathe a word out of place around these young and impressionable girls. There was a pouty Miss Ouri who griped about the rain, the glue on the envelopes, etc., etc., etc. She presided over the girls’ activities, simple craft projects, for the first couple of days. She was niggling about the pieces of the banner that didn’t connect, ”I cut them to perfection. You did not put them together just right.” Another time a porcelain vase broke in the room. Must’ve cost $4.99 at the most, but she had to gripe about it for hours, until Melissa said, ”Why? O, Ming pottery that must’ve been,” and ended the sniffling. They began a little of the real campaign work like making phone call, telemarketer stuff. Then it was three days off during which they went through a whirlwind of Christmas parties. There they met Bill. Or rather, Bill tripped over Rachel’s dress or shoe, crashing onto the chair next to hers, apologizing profusely, and laughing a lot. Fireworks are hard to miss and hard to conceal. We’re talking Monte Carlo pyrotechnics. By the end of winter break every body knew. She had hoped to keep her parents out of the loop but that was so not happening. On the last day there the girls cooked dinner for the family and Bill, lamb shanks with oregano and wild rice with mushrooms. It was too late to be shy Rachel had surmised. Her sister had just come home. It was time to make introductions. She was at William and Mary. Land of Nod was beckoning at ten. Nessie was on the Discovery Channel. They served some Baked Alaska for dessert and Melissa and Z made their silly little goodbye speeches and withdrew to let the family have some alone time. They flew back to their routines the next morning.
January consisted of exams. February was only twenty eight day so it helped. And there was the mystique of the world famous mardi gras. The previous year Z had ended up holed up in her room during mardi gras owing to some poor choices in food and sleep patterns and the awful feeling of the possibility of running into people she knew from campus at the parade. How disgusting to come face to face with a teacher on Bourbon street.
This year she was celebrating a birthday on Fat Tuesday. How bad could it be? She’d be with her friends, sample some gumbo, try the king cake, make certain the girls didn’t have one too many Sazeracs. She hadn’t counted on Clare saying, “Look, Z is sampling the soup and licking the cones for once.”
“It’s my birthday, moron.”
Nobody ever gave Ira any trouble over her asian weirdness. They declared open season on Z. Iravati totally knew it. She had this masterful knack of going from social butterfly to fly on the wall in a nano second. She ducked all the teasing, a smile on her face, enjoying the spectacle of Z’s mind becoming playground for the sorority on brew. “That”, thought Z to herself, ”is my goal for this year of my life – to learn to fly under the radar. It must be soooo peaceful under there.” Z had, since she was born, been a human magnet for bouquets and brickbats. She elicited a response no matter what room she walked into. And hated it.
No one had informed her yet that choices made under duress are usually bad ones.
March was ho-hum, April, more of the same.
In May the plans for the end of the year celebrations were advertized. Somewhere in there was HWMBF’s name. She thought it might be a flyer recycled from the previous year and the corrections were not made for the here and the now, but who knows. It did leave something to be looked into, when the time came around. There were exams to study for. The end of the year came along. It was time to go home.


28.. CLARITY


            Z sat in the library a late wintry afternoon too tired to study, reading yet again some Charlie Brown, when her eyes were drawn toward a bound publication by the University Press lying face down on the table among a scattering of magazines and books some sloppy brat had left behind. She reached for it for no reason except to close it, help out the library help who would be doing so after a long, long day. She almost jumped out of skin as she dropped the book a few inches onto the table as it shut giving her the briefest look at the page it had been left open to. She knew who that name belonged to. Her fingers trembled as she feverishly looked for the page again. Mysterious and invisible lenses creating major distortions had begun floating before her eyes as she glanced at each page completely forgetting there was such a thing as a table of contents. As her breathing returned to normal and her heart slipped back down from her throat into her thorax she stopped the insanity and looked in the right place and proceeded to the page in an orderly fashion. It was an article on something she knew little about but she read it any way, a letter at a time, her eyes moving attentively over each curve each straight each junction each squiggle of every letter. She was completely besotted by the clarity of thought and expression. She understood completely every thing she read. It was like the five pages in question were illuminated. And somehow that had helped her gain access to their meaning. She sat down, shut her eyes, and felt her mental furniture rearrange itself in her cranium, windows being opened, fresh air wafting in scented and healthful, sunshine too, a clock chimed in the room, she had been transformed, born again, a new and improved Z, a more adept at understanding the written word than ever before Z.
            She had never guessed at this in a year and a half. HWMBF had brought into her life a certitude and a clarity born of it. It had happened so slowly she hadn’t realized it was happening. If she so much as breathed a word of this to another living or even non-living thing they’d think she was crazy so she never did share this revelation with any body. It just amused her and intrigued her by turns. She tossed it around in her head and studied it. And wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. It was like she had found a magic toy part prism part periscope part magic brush part golden compass part telescope part microscope part spaceship part deck of magic cards and so on. This was fun. By and by it became too much fun to keep under wraps, so in the most socially appropriate way possible she began sharing it, obliquely, in metaphors, via analyses of whatever it was that was the topic of discussion or food for thought. Denied the emotional aspect of the experience, given her disposition, her decisions, her premonitions, and the heavy duty grieving post loss of Ma and Kaku and home, she put her all into teasing out the intellectual aspects of love, loss, hope and healing from what was given to her. Good choice? Bad choice? No one really knew. She was often told she was cold and emotionless and needed to cry. But if the tears don’t come should you chop onions? She tried. Didn’t work for her. Thomas Hardy couldn’t make her cry! The Blues had no power over her. Alcohol made her sick, REALLY sick, from her one experiment with it, albeit a forced experiment, having to guzzle down some beer to make her very sweet and kind neighbor happy who had been more of a mother to her than anyone else in the weeks following Ma’s passing.
            Z’s voice began to change. Very perceptibly. Her speaking voice grew old and weary. Her singing voice got very finely tuned, smooth, mature,  in emotion-rich in sound, and sparkling. Suddenly she knew what the words meant and why they were strung together the way they were and why a note followed the one before. She had been allowed into the hallowed space of creativity that resides in the artist. That was a divine space and she dwelled in it in awe and thankfulness. She couldn’t understand what good she had done to deserve this blessing but loved it and accepted it whole heartedly. Her fingers touched the violin and it sang, soared, danced, like it had a life of its own. Her art had surpassed her and she stood in awe of it. She knew she was an instrument of peace and accepted that responsibility with genteel humility, not knowing again why she had been chosen but felt good about it.
            This wouldn’t last forever but three years of this magic filled her with love and awe and wonder enough to see her through plenty. Of course she did not know now but this was a bounty. She, a green stick split down the middle, would bloom where she had been planted, two branches reaching for opposite directions an illustration of the dualistic nature of life, giving shade bearing fruit, the Giving Tree, eventually.
            A year and a half from that day in the library there would come a day sitting on the patio at a dear friend’s house when she would find this thing this awesome clarity magnified manifold if only for a few fleeting moments and once again it would come seeking her out on a cold winter’s day bright with sunshine and laughter many many years from this day. It would come after her mind so murky it had become dark as pitch and devoured all hope all happiness all capacity for attaching right value to people and events everywhere. That kind of confusion is so thick you lose all instinct for self-preservation and walk into death traps if you are asked to. You have no idea when your dignity is being assaulted. You lose your ego to a point you could be convinced of anything by a little fudging a little conniving. The world joins in this game of minimizing brutalizing testing ridiculing you and you are so past caring you don’t know if you are dead or living. It is one of the saddest things that happens to people.
 Maybe we are born trailing clouds of glory. In this life we have to relinquish the old to be ‘born again’ and relive some of that magic that came with the stork flapping his wings. Just don’t be embarrassed about needing to learn to walk again or speak again. It will all be good.

29.  TO  SHATTER  THE  SKY

Decorated war hero who is mentioned in many history books for his bravery lay dead on the living room floor, three of the four Sorbitrols he usually carried in his pocket still there, his last conversations with family about how much better he’d feel dead than alive. He was home alone at the time, the T.V. was on, he’d been watching “Amistad” while drinking a cup of tea, the newspaper was next to him as usual, and he’d rented “An American Tale” for his sons. The family was just plain angry with him. Why did he not look for a cause to believe in? Was he not happy they would have a daughter soon, Tsangpo, once the papers were done? He’d promised his wife every time she was pregnant that if they’d have a daughter he’d buy her diamond earrings but they ended up with double trouble and he never did buy her any diamonds. He would’ve soon. Why did he not advance in his career? Why did he make every mistake in the book and out of it? Why would he not look at the glass as half full? God had given him so much, so much of everything most people can only dream of, so why did he hate his life and drown it in alcohol and smoke? Why did he walk about this earth like a soul lost in the desert? WHY?
Why did we, his family, who professed our love for him by berating him every time we saw him for drinking too much and smoking too much never stop to ask him why he did what he did? Why did we never let him speak for himself and listen with the “love” we professed? Why did his “friends” egg him on to his worst escapades knowing full well what it would eventually do to him and his children? Why were we so mean to him? He was never mean to us.
Each question burned a hole in her consciousness as she prepared to go home to the funeral the family had known was coming but was nevertheless shocked at its coming so soon. All those buddies who had poured him drinks, double with ice, after they had been told that the doctor had said it was poison for him were there to sing their eulogies and to pay respect to the surviving family. His sons were trying to be men in their preteen years. His mother was inconsolable. His wife looked lost, never one to make wise choices, needed help with little everyday choices now. Z saw herself in the boys’ faces and knew how useless words would be at this time and place. This moment was what it was and had to be accepted for what it essentially was – an end of an era and the beginning of another. She just hoped the world would be kinder to them than it had been to her. They were very much younger than she had been when she had lost Ma.
But the world will be what it is. Vultures will look for the wounded too young or too weak or too stupid to move to a safe place. Vipers will nest where eggs are for the taking. The Good Eggs never have the instinct to hatch in time. And so goes on the list of the bad things that would follow in the dead Hero’s wake. He had lived the life journey of Hercules of the Greek tradition, his labors completed, his sacrifices made, his mistakes made, his accolades won, he had worn the shirt dipped in poison and we all knew it now for sure. This is just how this story plays out with the Herculeses of this world, give or take a labor or two. That’s how the wheel of time had turned again. And yet again we watched and waited. Just a little late we found him lying on the floor. He had been all alone smoking his last cigarette. Once again we forgot this is not the dress rehearsal, but this is real life. We watched him drowning and yelled at him then for not knowing how to swim. He watched us too through the frayed veil of tears and self-deception that was giving way to complete despair.
“If only we had figured this out just a little sooner we might have saved his life,” thought Z. ”We’ve  lost so much in losing him we’re afraid to even think what might have been if he had just survived this darkness that had taken over his life.”
The buzz among the shloka spouting faction of the family was that her little cousin R had been born on janamashtmi, Lord Krishna’s birthday, and had hence caused Kaku’s untimely demise, the rationale being that those born on this auspicious day carry a curse that causes the maternal uncle’s early death, just as Krishna had killed his barbaric uncle who was a monster.
Z remembered one night the summer before when he was very drunk yet very lucid and calm he had said to Daddy, his big brother,”I know why bhowdi died. You killed her. I will die too,” and he smiled a sad knowing smile. He knew that that remark had made its mark. Then he saw Z was in the room so he smiled at her and asked, ”How is aamaar shonaar Bangladesh? Studying hard? You ought to.”
The family was doomed to repeat history. Why? WHY?? WHY DIDN”T WE SEE IT COMING??? ARE WE BLIND??? ARE WE EVEN HUMAN???
Z took the boys under her wing all summer and saw to it they had someone to talk to when they were feeling emotional, and did her best to help them catch up with their grade level in reading and math. She found they gave her so much more in return than she could have ever given them. They made her sit in the sandbox against her will. They made her watch the stupidest movies ever and the laugh track they provided could’ve been bottled and sold as an antidote to the worst case of sadness ever for millions. They made up words every time they played scrabble and awarded themselves made up scores. They taught her to laugh, to live, to lighten up, and helped her lose a lot of the gravity that had kept her from being her age. She’d begun to feel she was eighty-seven and a half before the boys snapped her out of that mindset and reminded her she was of their generation. From then on she resolved to deal with life with a sense of humor. On the day of her cousin’s birthday she invited his friends and all the children in the family to a surprise party and was most surprised herself when the elderly couple from next door walked in unannounced to bless the boy on his birthday and then turned to Z, ”Beti, life is a series of adjustments and you are in charge of your own happiness. You will succeed in life. Tum koi maamuli cheez thode hi ho.”  That piece of encouragement found a special place in her heart and was almost a motto for the years to come. It would take a very resolute entity to kill her laughter or her love of life.
Thaakumaa had regressed into her youth and childhood it seemed for she much preferred the company of her grandchildren to that of her children and the neighbors. Z and her cousins loved that about her. She told them funny stories of the old country. She shared their every joy and pain. She taught them all to sing “Tumi Ekla Cholo Re”, and “Aamaar Shonaar Baangla” which made Z sad sometimes because her uncle had called that ever since one day, when she was three, he had caught her singing that in front of the mirror. She’d hated it then but now she missed that. 
At the end of each day they all they all went their separate ways to deal with the darkness alone each in his or her own way. Thaakumaa prayed and cried and talked to herself a lot awake and in her sleep. They boys fought violently at times. Z cried and sometimes she couldn’t. Daddy drank like there was no tomorrow and spoke nothing to them that they wanted to hear so at the first sight of him returning home they’d slink away to other rooms. If Z said one word to him about anything that needed to be done, he’d ask her to take care of it. If she did, the step mother would say, ”Live like a guest. You are a guest in this house.” If she did report anything of this to her father, he’d wince, then smile, “See how tough she is. She will make it impossible for you to come out of your room.” Z had been watching the business come apart as the step mother completely sidelined daddy and took over the reins. Daddy reported to her every minute detail of every interaction he had with family, customers, and persons he should not be interacting with, like a child reporting to his mother the details of what had happened that day while she listen very carefully. It was obvious she had cut a deal with him, and there was something very strange about this woman, or what woman would lap up the sordid details of her husband’s misdoings with such unusual interest. And just how weird was Daddy to choose to be with a person like her? She took control over the employees who were hired for reasons other than their talent for selling wood and treated them like chattel. Ma had been such a contrast, looking out for the employees and their families like they might be her own, helping with doctor’s bills, books for the children, and such necessities. When Daddy said his new wife was entitled to her bad behavior she knew exactly what he meant. In his third year of marriage now he drank most of the day. It was difficult to find a good time to talk to him because he never was completely sober. Relatives and friends took Z aside and advised her to jump off this sinking ship. There was trouble brewing big time. The boys were not cared for at all. It was a good thing Aunty S and Uncle V decided to adopt them. It would take Z a good part of the year to stop making excuses for Daddy, to see him for who he had become, realize the father she knew was dead, accept and grieve that, and move on to seeking a life without the first family.
If only Ma and Kaku had known they’d shatter the sky as they left earth behind them they might’ve felt differently about dying. But the uninitiated knows only so much. Pain like love conquers all.
30.  WORDS   ARE   SILVER

            Mama had a little accident working in the kitchen, a little fall on a wet patch on the linoleum, and was told to rest her back. Z being in town was the LP’s chauffer two weeks. Rink side was an awesome place to be. The LP was working on a routine set to a Strauss waltz. This was quite an experience for Z. There’s a certain something in the air around people who are on a mission. This was a group of people dedicated to their craft and it was in some way like watching Degas painting ballerinas or perhaps Strauss writing his music. Z had her gloves on, a wool jacket on, and was still a bluish shivering version of her, thrilled to be there. The LP was a consummate performer. All those years of practice showed in the first fifteen seconds, and now Z knew why she and her parents had given their all to this endeavor, in the face of intense criticism from the extended family. There had been the ignoring, the ridicule, the harsh indictments, and this family had dealt with all of that with a smile and a nod and a “pleasure to have met you”.
            Just when the LP could do no wrong in Z’s eyes, something happened. Z heard, albeit a tired and wrung out LP since her mother had been unwell for ten days, offer something like a rebuttal to one of the coaches’ corrections. The coach looked sad and tired and did not persist.
            When they got out of earshot Z said, ”Do you ever think before you talk?”
            “You just talk. Why do you have to think before you talk?”
            “You sincerely mean you don’t think before you talk? Is that why you were so rude to your teacher? You might want to apologize soon. Here she is trying to help you and you are talking back to her?”
            The LP had by now realized she had made a booboo. “It just happened. I wish it hadn’t. Sometimes this just happens to me. And she the kindest person this side of the Mason-Dixon line.”
            Z thought to herself, “In our family it’s encoded in our genes. We succeed at work and fail at life, all because we’re running our mouths.”
            After a while Z thought she’d give the LP a little gift of a didi-ism, a little mental gimmick that she’d devised one afternoon when a very sagely friend in high school, Nalini, had asked if thought preceded speech, or vice versa, in her life, leaving her with a quote from some where “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence”.
In Z’s imagination a nice little box took shape. It was studded with gems and lined in black velvet. She dropped every word that crossed her mind into it and the words landed softly as silver coins. She closed the lid, waved a wand over it, and then opened the lid again. If the coins remained there, she said what she had planned on saying. If they had disappeared, she imagined they had turned into golden silence.