recorded these crickets at the end of summer, August 29th, upon my arrival to New York City.
I’m dying. That’s what I have decided and so suddenly I feel a wonderful sensation. Something akin to relief. I’m not sick or anything. At least no more sick than anyone else.
I do highly recommend it. Choosing the dying, I mean. I am quite sure it will make the next 40 years so much more enjoyable, easier. I am having such a marvelous time. I drink and eat what I like. Rarely get much sleep because I go out and celebrate my last moments. Every moment.
It’s funny, when I was living — really not so long ago as when I was growing, just sort of between the grow and the die — it was harder to tell who was, is.
But now, it’s easy.
A woman in my office asked me just the other day what I thought. Which was nice. I said, “Oh, for sure. You’re alive!” I can tell. It’s so obvious to me. “You’re definitely not dead.” I told her if she needed a testimonial to her vitality — say, for her files — I would be happy to provide it.
Last week I received a chain letter from the dying. I didn’t perpetuate it, though. I like when things happen.
Simple Rules of the Dying, it read.
Number One: Regarding Monetary Transaction: Treat money with respect but rid yourself of it as fast as possible. It is useless to the dying. Freedom from the chains of currency is one of our benefits. So spend freely.
Number Two: There are no rules.
Whatever. I’ve been watching the money. It travels far and fast among the living. It is powerful stuff. They often think they own it but they are naive like that (pish, listen to me, dying just a few weeks and authoritarian like a pro). When you’re living you wrestle stupidly with money; play silly games with it. Try to corral it in pens and harbors. But it can’t be kept. Money’s too watery.
So what to do today. I think I’ll write some letters. I still haven’t told everybody I’m dying. My mother will be so pleased I’ve joined her. She’s been lonely since dad crossed from the lovely fog of dying over the indigo line to dead. My sister of course was, is, has been, no help at all. She’s not even trying. Her statistics (the vital ones) are pumping away progressively, productively. I wish we had talked.
My lover and I scream in bed like animals now. The last three weeks we’ve constructed love all around the house, crushing things under our weight. We laugh at ridiculous aspects of our bodies and giggle slap-happily at sentences which have taken on new meanings.
Our whole vocabulary has doubled, trebled. I have dozens of new words for parts of her body now which make matters even more erotic and delicious. Sometimes she looks at me, throws a bowl at the wall and says, “Bibble clumby, slooperkoo!” which I take to mean many things and then laugh at my thoughts. She times me with a stopwatch and when I start cracking up she says, “<click> Flaxis. A three-minute thought.”
Ohhhhhhhhh (sigh) hhhhhhhhh God. (smiling and decrescendoing to empty lungs)
I must weep now.
It can’t be all good, dying.
Samuel is dead now and his meat withers in a wooden box below the dusted surface of this earth. In living and in dying (I wouldn’t know about growing for he’d revolved around the sun so many times before I’d even slipped into this corporeal sleeve) he graced … grace — gracious! He was graceful. And quiet — silent as the dead. But never lived (or died) a man so right and true.
Few things are magical anymore. And so it was that being near him was a rare and cherished treat in the lifetimes of most. One couldn’t elect to be near him for too long. This would have been crass and inelegant. So one could only ache to be near him even while all that small talk was made, leading to its inevitable end and separation.
Oh, but what talk. Like golden notes from Coltrane’s horn the words fell simply from his lips. “It was hot” and “Good afternoon” and “I shall pray for you” Spirits issued from those lips and carried the words to the ears of anyone who could hear them. From his big, black hands worlds were born and died. When he clasped them in prayer God took pause and form and listened.
Tears are the only remnant of his magic and they are liquid and clear and cannot be kept. They soak through everything: through paper, fingers, skin, feet, down through the earth, joining a river which flows deep below, which carries souls and spirits away.
Enough. I am dying after all. There is no time for cloying maudlination. With machine-like precision chisel from stone a life. You are dying. So be it.
My father should never have had a son. Nor any children at all for that matter. But this is not an option for our people. Or I should say it has not been until now. He tried his best to be two things: a father and a scientist. He succeeded as equally as he failed in each of these efforts, with absolute precision. The result is that I spend most of my hours wondering why I’m alive.
Purposeless, I wander around the empty corridors of life’s hallways. I sometimes open doors and stick my head into rooms. I even walk in one or two to check out the wallpaper, the paint on the trim. But mostly I just walk past door after door; past the infinite choices. I examine the stark grey interior walls of life’s dusky halls.
He is still alive.
Even now he looks over at me with glassy, wide-open eyes, but he shows no recognizance. He veils me with his illness. And I am filled with a nauseating, selfish apathy.
No one knows my disconcern. I wait on him dutifully and assist him when he is in need. Soon I will change his urine bottle and then I will drain the fluids from the plastic bulb affixed to a long tube which veins byproducts from his entrails. I am a model child.
But I am cold and dry to him and his illness. I am incapable of reform or catharsis because the bastard went and got sick during our angry years. We havenÕt begun to want to resolve. (He gave me my stubbornness.) I hate his fucking attitude and I haven’t forgiven him for my youth.
He took it from me.
He knows, too. Behind those glassy eyes he knows it is too soon. And he’ll decide. Once again he has control over our relationship. He’ll decide if he lives so we can heal old wounds or if he leaves so his part of me rots for the rest of my life.
I don’t hate him. I must love him or I couldn’t be driven to such deep emotions. I don’t hate him.
I can say clearly and truthfully (and here I must be honest or I am more lost for it) that I don’t like him very much. I’d never have chosen him. I’d never spend time with someone like him. But that could be because of what’s happened since I was born. Maybe there is a somebody like me with different teeth and bones who would. A woman with less calcium and more osteoporosis.
If I had him for a class, I wouldn’t be like the students of his who parade in here with get-well-soon cards and flowers and plants he may never see if they’ll die before he does. I wouldn’t be one of the students whose name he knows who’s been to his house for barbecues and to help him plant roses or okra in the garden.
I know what a bullshitter he is. I know it’s so deep he’s even fooled himself. I wouldn’t be one of the students who spends my idle hours learning even more from the fantastic wealth of knowledge he has to give, to teach (I acknowledge that much is true — he’s got an incredible memory). I’d never want to sup from his vast table of words and equations or chew fat from his multicultural polyglothic plates.
No, I’d recognize him early. I’d come to class, do what I’m told to do. No more no less. I’d see him for what he is. I’d never fall into his net of worship and gardening.
This story is an old sigh. But wait, I must tend to my father. The old man’s bladder has impolitely intruded on his linens and across his already-stained hospital gown. He’ll need a bath.
I have been cheated by my vagina (I use the clinical term here in the hospital, call it what you will but if you’re playing me you better have a sweeter nothing than that) and by my bloody, crimson blood.
Not by the monthly, moonly blood of my insides. But separately and coldly by first my lack of a cock and second by an ageless river of blood known as Hindustan. The Brahmin Rive De Sangre of my past. Multi-cult-you’re dead.
“Hey Tikku-Tikka!” comes a voice tinny and thin. His only friend has come to try to cheer him out of his catatonia. “Yene pa? Sowkyum, ah?” he speaks in our native tongue before continuing in their adopted language, “Why you are always sleeping only, sir? Don’t you know vinter has long since uppity-gone and spring is coming?” He winks at me as he continues to speak to my unconscious father. “Now only is the time to rise out of your silly hibernating.” Each of his ‘t’s’ are hard, the way the British emphasized them through Brahmin teachers. He and my father studied together years ago. They speak the same language.
“And Shanti, what yaaah?” he says to me, “Beautiful girl you are like a spring flower only – like lotus.” He tries to make me smile and dutifully I give him a tiny corner of my cheek.
“Doctor, sir,” I ask — my father is lucky his closest friend is a specialist — “How is my father?”
I am to the point. I am to the point when it is just stupid play-acting for me to beat around the bush.
Dr. Subramanian or “Dr. Subi” as all his American friends and patients call him whispers across my father to me, “Hold on, Shanti, Subi-Uncle will make this good. Give it time.”
I want to scream into his face, “Oh you fat fuck! It’ll be made good like you made my brother good? Like you made my mother and father’s marriage and my family all made good?” but instead I say in my finest South Indian accent (readopted for my request), “Will you please stay here for some time for me? I must go to the toilet and then … I am feeling hungry.”
He looks uncomfortable in his ill-fitting suit with the idea of sitting here away from his Mercedes not on the way to his tee time (or his tea time) at the club.
“Never mind,” I whisper.
“No, no,” he replies, wagging his head like a googly doll, “go ahead.” And I leave this room for the first time today.
The sky is a flame. Twilight is my hour of peity. All these long weeks, these purpling, pinking moments have marked the passage of my servitude. One. Two. Three. Four. They say prayers are heard and answered best at the end of a worthwhile day.
What bullshit. There is no machination or imagination behind any of this. Time just sweeps along and we stupidly with it naming things: sun, sky, clouds, God.
I am hurt and angry and impossible to assuage with talk of prayer. Only the sweet angel Time can cure me, Time so vast and beautiful … fucking sexy draped across the sky in quick-sinking sunlight.
I will come. I will come. I am. Oh, I’m coming. I’m coming. Oh God! I’m coming in Time … in Time.
I am not fingering myself. The hands, the lingering fingers of the sun tickle my insides as he fades away. “Rosy fingers of dusk” is more like it. There’s time to clean myself up before I go back to his bedside and to night.
My brother hated me. He loved me too much like I love my father and so he hated. He hated, too, all of the boys who came to try me. He hated the attention and the eyeballing and how I’d suck on my little finger and laugh. (“It’s not a pinky, silly, it’s a brownie!”) How I’d have any boy I wanted while he got only the Mexican girls.
The white boys, the black boys, the Mexicans, they all showed an interest in broadening their cultural awareness. They all looked, saw and learned what da Gama opened up to the West: the legs of the most beautiful women in the world, opened up for sale by a tiny Portugee with an overaggressive cock.
“ohhhhhhh, de la India!!” said the gas station attendants, “Y porque tu puede hablar espanol?”
“Oh, no,” I’d giggle, “just un poco espanol.”
My brother hated them and all the American men who took me from him. No, not just me – todos las mujeres de la India. No wonder he was so fucked up.
Listen sisters, a poem. A poem for my Indian sisters:
You’ve come so far
and I’d be the last one to say
but please turn on your backs
for our Indian brothers today
Give them good cheer
they are alone and afraid you see
because they don’t want any of these bitches here
and they can’t have you or me
Sometimes I dream that he had gotten away. That the letter never came and that he had gone out West. In my dream he’s gone. And in my dream other letters come. There are stacks of letters from the Golden State in my dream. I read them as I pack them into a small, brown valise.
“California is like heaven,” he writes, “or home. The ocean my dear Shanti, it is our mother. Our father, the sun firing infinite jets of love into her belly gave us life …”
and other letters: “We are all here … black, white, brown, yellow and peach. At night we trickle, laughing secretly down the dormitory halls of this city and we make love in colorful combinations.”
And in the dream as I read and pack these silly, naive letters one by one into the valise, I know that I am going West, too. I’ve jumped aboard the freedom train like my parents did before me only this time it’s stopping further still down the line. Stations further from the bloody fucking cult-you’re past. You’ve lost us already.
Tonight, without telling me, the good doctor Subi-Uncle will pull the plug. My brother is dead, my father dying and me? I’m free and free and free as el vallejo de San Joaquin in the Golden State of California.
The idea called India today affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people. This idea is embodied by a geographic area which has ever-changing borders in the minds of those who name(d) it. We who were born on Indian soil know it. Those who were not but who are related to India in some way feel a very powerful relationship between themselves and India.
Those born at this moment, in these hours, weeks and months fall into a different category. They are the contemporaries of nations and countries named.
They will come to call places India, Israel, Ecuador, Panama, America, Europe & etc. There is lessening influence from the time when they were not named as such. As the years pass those who called other names, or fought for other names or fought naming, grow older and eventually die.
When a person who thinks carefully about names has a child, it is a moment of great importance. For many, naming a child is an important act, but for many others naming does not stop there. The act of teaching names to a child is equally important. Because the names one teaches may live for at least another generation through this act.
Early in his essay, “Damme, This is the Oriental Scene for You!” (New Yorker, June 23 & 30, 1997, p.52) Salman Rushdie makes use of a newborn name: Indo-Anglian literature. And in so doing teaches the many children of his revolution a new name. Whether this name lives for another literary generation depends upon its use and its use, as with all language, is a function of its necessity. Indo-Anglian literature is, by the parameters of its creation, a contemporary art. Contemporary arts throughout history are marked with factors that distinguish them from previous movements. Among these factors perhaps the most impressive is risk. In contemporary arts risk may become more valuable than endurance.
History is dying.
The era of the written word as a valuable and trustworthy guide to understanding is yielding itself to other processes by which we come to estimate the world around us. The diversity of the tools and media we have available to estimate and distribute estimations of events and acts around the world are affecting literature in unprecedented ways. The historical word, first spoken, then written and now reduced to an accompaniment to images in both written and oral forms, is dying.
In its place a concert of word and image and sound and space and portrayal and metaphor are being utilized to represent truth. The modern citizen of the physical world must deal with this as the ideological world shrinks to the size of a p-nut in the palm of an Indian boy running the aisle of a plane travelling a tres grande vitesse on 16mm film, 24 frames per second.
The greatest contemporary artists in the written history of the arts have been brave. In the face of change and alteration of beliefs, they have sought methods by which they can represent truths. These artists exist today. They seek trust. They try to represent hope. They are as Gandhiji, conducting “My Experiments with the Truth.” In this way we are living in a very complex time for an artist or writer who wishes to participate at the most important, the most global, the most contemporary level.
Indo-Anglian writing and arts share, with the arts of other ancient cultures (Afro-Anglian? Chino-Anglian? Sino-Anglian?) the new joy of working in the Post-Colonial Era. Indeed, the joy of supporting the end of the colonial era in an effort to support the whole one-ness of the human species. At his wonderfully unifying musical concerts, the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti used to say, “You can say many things with English, but in order to say many other things which are true you must break it, which is why we speak broken English. This next song is in broken English. You must break your English to understand it.”
In this country, we are faced with a unique set of problems as artists and writers trying to represent truth with the tools available to us. We are subject to the philosophies of the dominant culture in the United States of America, which paradoxically represent the Colonial Attitude in a different aspect.
To be an Indo-Anglian writer in the United States is to choose to be a contemporary artist working in a contemporary arena to represent truths which affect millions of people using the tools available in the most powerful country in the world, an awesome task.
The writers who represent post-colonial Indian thought in literature in English are dedicated to many similar topics, but writers who are Indo-Anglian face the same difficulties with naming as anyone who wishes to express: we do not want to be grouped. And yet we are all tied to this land mass which, as an island something like 45 million years ago smashed its way into the continental spread of Asia forcing up the formation of the tallest mountain in the world and the twisted masses of mountainous geography in the North of India. Such a violent, willful act of inclusion seems so contradictory to this desire for independence.
Choosing to be here in the US, I struggle to represent the truths I experience despite this. In the United States the way in which the cultures relate has been poisoned by the specter of racism. The complex way in which racism was born, named and now has insidiously changed itself into a thing which can exist despite the stated collective desires for freedom, peace and equality is a direct function of the way this country has been created. It is something for which everyone who lives here is responsible.
In conclusion, I care about where you are from … but how we behave now that we are all here is what concerns me most.
M.T. Karthik, Harlem, August 10, 1997
[did not appear in the New Yorker magazine]