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Suffering September

11 Sep

This piece appeared under another title in India Currents magazine last Fall. I’m sharing it here, given that recent geo-political developments sadly keep it as relevant as ever.

Apologies for being AWOL. Daily life currently demands huge parts of me and the best I can do is ride the wave.

~

On a crisp September morning, a dozen years ago, I emerged into the sunshine feeling happy and ravenous. Having finished an intense summer at Syracuse University’s famed Newhouse School of Communications, I was easing into the Fall semester, thoroughly enjoying the thrill of learning. Breakfast was on my mind as I walked over to the Schine student center and waited in line for an omelet. Maybe I’ll add hash browns and toast, I was thinking, when an undergraduate student interrupted my thoughts.  “What are they showing on those screens,” she asked, and gestured toward two pull-down panels showing planes and buildings and smoke. “Probably a movie,” I shrugged and took my tray over to a table to watch. That omelet, those potatoes, and the carefully buttered toast grew cold and unwanted as I watched with dilated pupils and mouth agape a moment that changed the course of history.

Of course, when events occur that change lives, nations and entire lexicons, you hardly hear the warning bells right away. The enormity of shift that will follow isn’t always estimated accurately. Especially when you are a recently-turned 23-year-old who landed in the country with two bulging suitcases and a crock of naiveté. What I remember of the day is the not-so-flattering peach top I had worn with my jeans, a leaf pattern around the neckline. What I remember is running through the Bird library, to tell a family friend who had already heard. I remember being inundated with calls from folks in India, because nobody knew the difference between New York the city and the state—or maybe they didn’t care. I remember being in the World Trade Center, a mere three weeks earlier. I remember a picture taken in its foreground, young 20-somethings leaning into each other, laughing into the camera, unaware that this would be the last time we would see the twin towers standing.

 
You don’t need me to tell you that America changed that day, twelve years ago. Human anguish, horror and anger hit all life within a 1000-mile radius like a ton of bricks. Rhetoric and war and a decade long manhunt were only the most high-profile casualties of this emotional earthquake that equally crumbled bricks and the notions of security, terror and insularity. America darkened, its economy crashed, and against the backdrop of the nation’s struggles, my own newly-minted life in the country rode the crests and troughs of immigrant life. Industries creaked to a crawl, jobs grew scarce, and the then-President’s reaction to this atrocity bubbled over and scorched lands and people. Relatively cocooned in my student existence, grad school provided a buffer from the ugly realities of the next year. But there comes a time when the door is thrown open and you finally must walk.

The graduating class of 2002 walked out into a drastically changed reality—one of a tanked economy, financial uncertainty, and no warm welcome from a suddenly hostile America. Engineering students, fattened on stories of bulky sign-on bonuses and Silicon Valley embraces, felt like dethroned monarchs. Ph.D. candidates desperately delayed graduation for the next few years. Young people from India who never had to lift a finger in their lives were now grunting it out in food courts, temp jobs, and limited projects, the golden H1-B nowhere in sight. Many returned to their home countries. The ones with loans looked on in despair as ends simply refused to meet. America’s manpower loss, a small casualty in the face of the larger horror, was India and China’s gain.

Two years later, another war was announced. And I’ve always wondered how many rallied against it only for the havoc it would further wreak on their lives. Even as I traveled and worked and plodded along my own 20s journey of self-discovery, relationships and independent living, the rumble of 9/11 was never too far away. Millions before us were fed narratives of the American Dream, but we, those who arrived in the year of 9/11, saw the country at her naked worst—her breath craggy, her vision blurred, refracting her trauma on other innocents of the world.

I sometimes wonder how it must have felt, being part of the wave before that date seared in collective memory. To have known the tech boom, the easy green cards, the ubergenerous land of plenty. A country preceding brown skin hostility.  A time before I had to say my name, spell it out, and quickly share I wasn’t Muslim even to my fellow Indians, because my horns, you see, were simply waiting to burst from my skull if I happened to be one.

A dozen years later, as I write this from my serene couch in the heart of Silicon Valley, I marvel at how we survived—both America and I, on our respective but not discrete journeys. That we held on through the harsh times with resilience I didn’t know existed. That it is this country, and not the land of my birth, that has taken me on the ride of a lifetime—one I know is far from over yet.

Maybe we choose some of our difficulties. Or perhaps they choose us. We come out on the other side with battle wounds and weary spirits, but I live with the faith that I survived—and the hope that America, strange bedfellow in a stranger journey, will as well.

Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month: CSAAM 2014

31 Mar

Would you believe how the first three months of the year ganged-up against us, racing right by and paying no heed to our gasps?

Reluctantly or otherwise, this brings us to April, and another year of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month on the blogosphere.

CSAposter

Again? Yes, again. It hasn’t gone away, has it? Neither should your attention.

Please direct it to this page, and learn about our partners, the problem, and the crying, aching, screaming need for AWARENESS.

Share the URL with your friends: Facebook, Twitter, email, your own words over a cup of coffee. Whatever your method, get talking.

Join Twitter chats that address the issue from various professional angles (I will be doing one and will update time and date details on this post).

We want to hear your stories. If you have none to share, lend us your ears because the world has far, far too many.

Thank you yet again, lovely readers, for sharing with me this month of personal experiences that break our hearts and make us want a better world for our children and their adult avatars.

CSAAM 2013

31 Mar

April is almost upon us, and it is time to turn our attention to child sexual abuse awareness. Yes, yet again. Today and everyday, to keep all our children as safe as we humanly can.

I’ll make this short, I promise:

Please head to http://csaawarenessmonth.com, where you will see personal testimonials, expert advice, twitter chats, information sources and resources, workshops, an iPhone app and plenty of posts across the blogosphere, all centered around child sexual abuse awareness.

You can choose to be an active participant in conversations, a channel of information through your own social media feeds, or a recipient of material you need–the choice is entirely yours–but any valuable input/support would be appreciated.

For more on how to contribute to this effort that is now in its third year, please go here.

Feel free to link to this post, tweet about it, put it up on Facebook, or email it to anyone you think will benefit from knowing more about CSA.

Thank you for reading. Spread the word. May we protect our young ones from this scourge.

The Wail of Trincomalee

25 Mar

Bring me fresh spices from Trincomalee

How can I, they be all dead there

Cardamom, pepper, and orange leaf tea

Only arms and torso and head there

~

Vetiver, sandalwood, tales of yore

Colonizers were led there

Rivers of tears are what’s left of the war

Savagely mothers have bled there

~

Orphaned children amass at the graves

Who will see that they’re fed there?

The peace of existence that everyone craves

Forgot to be born and bred there

~

Show me the signs from the paradise hills

Angels now fear to tread there

As dusk descends and bird-call stills

Spirits howl in their bed there

~

Pearls and ships and eastern winds

Vast fortunes lay spread there

What nature offers, man rescinds

No one will rest their head there

~

The flowers are gone from Trincomalee

To adorn the pyres, they said there

And those of us left by fortune’s decree

Must shortly depart in dread there

Popsicle

24 Jan

Death comes in many flavors, like ice cream. There’s swift, silent death, like the swoosh of a bat’s wings, where you fly into the night, leaving trails of an uneasy hush.

There’s the long, spiral, slippery slope—gradual, painful, the life ebbing away oozingly, never quite dead, always getting there.

There are bursts and tumbles and explosive deaths, and you sizzle out of the sky like a damp squib, while they murmur platitudes in white-clad circles to those left gaping.

Death can be a stranger, unrecognizable around the corner, until you come face to face with his ghastly visage and you already know it’s too late.

Death is a seductress you want to succumb to. She’ll spirit you away to sensual things.

You wish you could pick your flavor. But in this here candy shop, you’re stuck with a cone, sticky stuff dripping all over your hand, until you reluctantly, resignedly, take a bite.

Watch: The Body Uncolonized

19 Nov

Sunanda raised her shirt and surveyed her midriff in the mirror. Silently, she contemplated the smooth expanse of her belly. Creamy, vast and unclaimed by childbirth, it was protected territory, only her own. Occasionally, Rashid would lie on it, glancing up at her under-chin, as they whispered into the night, but for the most part, the land that radiated around her belly button was a newly cast map: uncreased, uncracked, studded with the mile markers of freckles, and defined by what it wasn’t rather than what it stood for. The stretch of skin that covered her digestive system, her innards, reaching upward to the diaphragm, plunging downward to the pubic triangle, lived and breathed for itself. It was whole. It was calm. It was unperturbed.

Eyes still pinned on her reflection, she reached for the prosthetic stomach, slipped it under her clothes, and waddled out to stock up on groceries.

Watch: The Body Neglected

2 Nov

Dayma rose with the late winter sun, twisting her hair into a knot, her saree coiled tightly around her hips, and stepped into the courtyard to wash. The stone floor felt cold to her bare soles. It matched the freeze that spread itself through her loins. Uninterrupted, they were left to themselves: drowsy, hibernating, patted fondly to sleep.

Her duty as oldest daughter-in-law began and ended in the kitchen, and the noise and chaos of their large household came to a firm halt in the silence and stillness of their clean-to-a-fault bedroom.

Dayma thought of herself as a healer, the comforter of baby boo-boos, applicator of turmeric on kitchen cuts, banisher of in-laws’ migraines, reliever of joint pain, soother of ruffled spirits.

Dayma was a human ice pack, the chill drawn from her unstirred vaginal walls that housed a castle with a geriatric spinning cobwebs under its attic.

She radiated calm, even composure, as she stepped back into the bedroom and placed the earthen container of steaming tea by her meditating husband’s prostrate form.